Four Months To Fearlessness: a journey I didn't know I needed

Saturday, January 2, 2016



 It might make more sense if the maiden voyage of this blog began on a topic that was more lighthearted. Something whimsical or funny like the ungodly amount of saddle pads that I currently own. But when I sat pondering what I should write about for the first post of this blog, I knew the past four months contained more writing material than could fit into one entry.
I began 2015 by setting new goals for riding. I had decided that I was actually going to achieve my goals this year; goals I had been too shy to admit to having lest someone scoff or make fun.

“Not this year,” I said.

No, this year would be different. Nothing would keep me from chasing my dreams. Those dreams were mostly centered around debuting at First Level dressage with my horse, Amadeus. Our lateral work was decent enough and he was ready to start learning trot and canter lengthenings. Why shouldn't we? But the big dream lay in my desire to qualify for and compete at U.S. Dressage Finals, an honor I had been coveting since the competition's creation in 2013.

Dressage Finals is a national, head-to-head competition between the highest scoring competitors in each region in both amateur and open(professional) divisions. To qualify, a rider must place at the Regional Championships in an eligible test and division or through a Wild Card drawn from class competitors at Regionals. Each competitor performs the test they qualified in from Training Level through Grand Prix.

I had full intentions of achieving that. I prayed about it, believed for it. 

I. Was. Going.

Of course, our show season started out a little rockier than I intended. I needed a 62% or above at two different shows, under two different judges in order to even qualify for the Region 9 Championships. 

At the first recognized show of the season, I scored a 59%. It wasn't a great test. Our leg yields didn't really happen and I set Amadeus up terribly for our canter transition, causing him to pick up the wrong lead. A wrong lead I was too nervous to notice until several strides later. To be honest, the judge was pretty lenient to even give us that high of a score.

Okay, so it wasn't great. I didn't have the best attitude about it, but I was determined to do better next time. So, we practiced. We got a little better. Cue the next recognized show.

Amadeus was simply amazing. Our hard work had paid off. He was light, he was forward, our leads came flawlessly. Our leg yields left some things to be desired, but this ride was a HUGE improvement from just a mere month before.

We got a 53% and the vaguest feedback a judge had ever given us. I don't even remember what our score sheet said. I didn't even really care. Sure, we didn't get the score we needed, but my horse had made progress and nobody would convince me otherwise. Besides, I had five more chances to get our scores. It would be fine.

And then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained-okay, I'm done.

I don't have an indoor. It didn't really matter because the local covered arena was flooded, too. About the time I was seriously considering building another Ark, it stopped raining. The sun came out. The ground dried. I could ride.

Gleefully, I made the thirty minute drive to where I boarded Amadeus. I practically skipped out to the barn. I caught Amadeus from the pasture. It was going to be a good da-

He was lame.

I can't say I was overly surprised because all of the moisture was a recipe for a hoof abscess. A hoof abscess is a localized bacterial infection in the inner structures of the hoof. The horse's body fights the infection in the form of pus that can come to a head and bust in various places, generally in the sole of the hoof. It's gross, it smells, it drains, it's a pain to deal with, but it's fixable. Sudden lameness, heat, and an increased digital pulse are a few of the symptoms. I'll link some information about hoof abscesses at the bottom of the post. A properly treated hoof abscess usually clears up within a week.

Unless you're Amadeus, in which case, you'll spend six weeks waiting for the world's slowest draining abscess to heal. Your horse will trick you into thinking he's fine as he gallops pain-free across the paddock, but when you poke around his hoof, more icky abscess junk drains out. 

Ewwwww.


Flash forward to the end of The World's Slowest Draining Abscess. Amadeus was sound. We started getting in shape again. We had to skip four of the five shows that we could have qualified at, but we had received one qualifying score at Training Level. September 1 would bring a chance to get the second. It was too late to qualify at First Level, but I would happily settle for Training if only to get the opportunity to at least make it to the Regional Championships.

 It was the first week of July. Amadeus was a little fat, but we should be able to swing it.

Amadeus and I in July 2015
The next five weeks of conditioning brought forth some of the best rides of my life. Amadeus had never felt better. I had never ridden better. We looked fantastic.

On August 20, we took a hack to give ourselves a break from the arena. It was a relaxing ride, one that reminded me of how much I genuinely love horses. The next day it rained, but nowhere near the caliber of the unending showers of the spring.

On August 25, it was dry enough to ride. Our show was next week. We were ready. Even though this was our last chance, we would qualify. I knew it. We were going to be better than ever.

I merrily walked out to the paddock Amadeus was in. He was standing in his run in shed, which wasn't odd for him. I greeted him, put on his halter, and started to walk off. He didn't move. I clucked, I pulled, I urged. He refused to take a single step forward. At this point, I started to feel panicky. Something was wrong. I ran back to the car where my mother was and told her what was going on as I began texting my trainer to ask for her help.

While I waited for my trainer, I went back to see if I could get Amadeus to move. Very reluctantly, he took a step forward. His knees buckled and he sat back in an attempt to place the weight off of his front legs. My heart started to break. He was in serious pain. He was acting like he had foundered, which was odd considering he wasn't turned out on grass.

Waiting at the vet(8-25-15)
Founder is another term for a condition called laminitis. It is an inflammatory condition of the inner tissues of the hoof wall. All hooved animals can be affected though the exact cause isn't widely understood. A horse can founder for any number of reasons, but it usually happens when they are eating lots of fresh, green grass. I'll include a link to more information at the bottom of the post.

My trainer arrived and we managed to get him walking. He was incredibly tender footed on both front hooves. We got him into the trailer, heading straight for the nearest equine veterinarian. The drive seemed to go on forever. I didn't feel oriented enough to pray, but I remember pleading with God to let it be something simple and easy to fix.

We waited a while before the vet was available to look at Amadeus. He picked up his hooves and thumb pressure on his sole was all it took for Amadeus to flinch and yank away. The vet took radiographs of his front hooves to see if that revealed the problem.

What we discovered was that Amadeus had extremely thin soles. A horse his size needs around 17mm-20mm of sole depth to protect the inner bone and tissues of the hoof. Amadeus had 4mm on his right hoof and 5mm on his left. The vet said he wa
sn't sure whether he was trying to founder as well or not. He couldn't pinpoint a cause. He recommended Amadeus be put into wooden shoes to let the sole grow out and treat any possible founder.

First set of radiographs
I'm a self-proclaimed control freak. I didn't like being told that this treatment may or may not work and that there was no way of knowing if this would happen again. An appointment was made for the shoes to be put on that Thursday, but I went home frustrated, distraught, and confused.
I spent a lot of time by myself crying that evening. Desperate, I cried out to God, begging him for a solution.

“You've got to give me something to go on,” I remember saying.

The next day, I went out to check on Amadeus and hang out while my trainer gave a lesson. At the lesson's end, the woman riding asked if I was going to hop on Amadeus. I told her no and explained why. After discussing it for a few minutes, she said,

“You know who could help you? Sammy Pittman.”

I had never heard his name before, but listened intently as she explained that he was a veterinarian and farrier that specialized in hoof problems. My trainer agreed that this was an avenue worth pursuing. I got his number and soon was on the phone with him.

Sedated(8-29-15)
I'll be honest. After explaining my situation, he gave a very detailed answer about what he thought we could do to fix the problem. It was very science-y and factual and I didn't understand a word of it. When he finished speaking, I told him that I felt better already because I could tell he knew what he was talking about. We agreed that I would send him photographs and measurements of Amadeus' feet while he worked us into his schedule. In the meantime, I canceled the appointment for the wooden shoes.

August 29, Saturday morning, Dr. Pittman pulled in with what can only be described at the Ghostbuster version of a truck. After discussing Amadeus a bit more, another set of radiographs was taken as well as a venograph to see where the blood flow was going. It was concluded that there was minor damage to the laminae of his hooves; the vein that runs down the front of the coffin bone had been pulled away and the sole was dying off as a result. To quote the veterinary invoice:

“DDX: Laminar structural failure(mild at this juncture), resulting in folded circumflex and compressed solar vessels. Cause unknown, but not likely EMS or grain overload. Possibly purely mechanical secondary to longer toe lever and wet conditions.”

The crux of the problem
Special, elevated shoes were applied to compress the vessels in Amadeus' heel to encourage blood flow to his toe and sole. Casting was placed over the shoes to help keep them on. I was to keep
Amadeus on stall rest with limited movement for two weeks. If he remained comfortable, I could begin hand walking him after that. The vet would be back for a recheck in three weeks.

The Special Shoes
The next weeks were spent mucking the stall and trying to keep Amadeus entertained. As I studied the radiographs, I realized how close of a call it was with Amadeus. How close his ever so fragile coffin bone had been to the ground. How God had heard my daily prayers of protection over Amadeus and stayed true to His promises. I was grateful because it reminded me how good God was. This was an issue that needed to be dealt with and He pointed it out before it became more serious.

Still, I was eager for it to be over. I knew my goals of Dressage Finals would have to wait until next year, but I wanted to ride. I wanted Amadeus to not be on stall rest. I wanted things to be normal again. I was impatient and I needed things to happen exactly when I wanted them to happen.

Amadeus was sound when we began hand walking to everyone's joy. The vet decided to push our appointment back another three weeks since Amadeus wasn't sore. I was annoyed. I fully expected a miraculous amount of growth according to my prayers and I didn't want to wait to see it. Left without a choice, I trudged through the next three weeks, trying not to be ungrateful. Amadeus was practically climbing the walls of his stall and our fifteen minute hand walks weren't nearly enough to curb his energy. I prayed that I would be riding him again by Halloween.
Stall rest

Fun fact: stall rest is just another phrase for Hell. 

Our appointment arrived and more radiographs were done. 13mm on the right hoof and 15mm on the left. Progress. Not the progress I wanted, but progress I could be grateful for. Amadeus was put in a rocker shoe with a 20 degree wedge. I could increase our hand walking to thirty minutes and, if he remained sound, begin riding him at a walk in three weeks.

I'll admit that I was disappointed that things weren't going immediately back to normal. I may have pouted a bit, but with some prompting, remembered that I had a lot to be happy about. Amadeus had made progress! A lot of progress, actually. I would be riding him soon! But stall rest with a rambunctious horse can be frustrating. Imagine being an avid athlete and being bedridden against your will. Not fun.

Three weeks passed with Amadeus staying sound. The day before Halloween, I had the opportunity to ride. I put it off for a few days because Amadeus was especially hyper that day and I liked the idea of keeping my head attached to my shoulders. Nevertheless, the Lord had answered my prayer.

In a few days, I tacked Amadeus up for our first ride since August. He got SO EXCITED when he saw me bring out my saddle. He practically shoved his head into his bridle. After spending some time walking him on the ground, I got brave enough to hop on his back. He was calm as we stepped forward together for the first time in two months. We only made it a few feet before I broke down into happy tears. I had never felt so relieved and thankful to be riding. We were going to be okay.
Our first ride back


During those twelve weeks, God had begun a work deep within me. I have trust issues. I want to trust God to take care of me, but when it comes down to it, I try to do things out of my own strength. Take care of Amadeus by myself, deal with my ingrained fears by myself, answer life's questions by myself. Here was a situation that I couldn't control, one that I had to trust God completely in.

It led me to a pretty dark place. I asked a lot of why questions. When I couldn't always find an immediate answer, I let fear grow within me. It was over the next six weeks that I realized, I couldn't control anything. Not one thing. I couldn't control the diseases of the world, what evil people decided to do. Worst of all, I couldn't control God. I couldn't make God do anything. I was forced to trust Him and every single part of my control freak nature screamed in protest.

I became afraid. Paranoid to the point that I spent most of my day reasoning out my fears only to have another bad scenario pop into my head to send me spiraling again. Sleep was my only reprieve. I had no control and I hated it, I hated it so much and it scared me senseless.

But I wanted to trust God. I knew within my spirit that there was no part of God that wasn't good. 
There were parts I didn't understand, but if I could fit the God who made the universe, who breathed the stars into existence, the God who is so holy and righteous that He cannot look on sin, the God who died on a cross just for me; if I could explain that God in a short paragraph, in a way simple enough for a human to understand...how big of a God would that really be?

I spent two weeks musing these things. Fearful thoughts consumed me, despite my desperate attempts to let go of what I could not understand. I was so terrified and broken that I was left with no choice, but to say, “God, help me.” The moment I did that, such peace fell over me. Peace I hadn't ever felt. I realized that simple cry was all God was waiting for; permission to step in and rescue me.

You see, God never forces Himself on you. He calls out, prompts you, sure. But He never makes you accept Him. That's a decision you have to make for yourself.

One by one, my fears started to subside. Fears about my future, fears about Amadeus, fears of being helpless; they left me. It wasn't easy. There are still days when I have to really work to rest easy in that peace that passes all understanding. When I get really afraid, all I have to do is pause and remember what He has already said.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

I'm slowly beginning to see that it's not what happens in life that makes the difference. It's what you decide to see. God's perspective or yours. That is easier said than done when you're in the middle of the storm. Trials are a product of living in a fallen world, but how amazing is it that God chooses not to look the other way? What are we humans to an Almighty God? Yet He chooses to love us and care for us. Even better, He chooses to use the ugly parts of life to shape us into something better.

His first time in turnout
in over three months
Our next appointment went well. Amadeus was at 20mm and allowed to be turned out in dry conditions. I was allowed to ride him for longer periods of time. His shoes were adjusted at a lower angle. I was renewed with a steadier faith in God. The light at the end of the tunnel was growing brighter.

December 31, 2015, was our most recent appointment. Amadeus has stayed steady in his sole depth and we were released back into full work. We will continue to monitor his progress until we are certain what we are doing will work long term. It will be a slow process, but I can see the first hints of daybreak coming.

In August, I was prideful, neurotic, and full of reasons why life wasn't fair. As I stand in this new year, I am humbled by the mercies and grace of my Abba, eager to see His plan for my life, resting in His promise to watch over my horses and me. I can't claim to be fearless, but I am braver than I was. All because God knew exactly what I needed, even when I didn't see it.

I often see life as a mountain to be scaled. Sometimes, it can get hard, but the view is always worth it. How could I possibly have climbed this mountain with the baggage I was carrying? You cannot bear the weight of the world and expect to reach new heights. If I had known what would happen on August 25, I would have ran the other way, screaming. But where would I be without the refinement I received? Would I have collapsed under the burden of my fears?

Maybe. I don't know. I don't know a lot of things, but I know I would have been miserable. It's hard to be happy for long when you judge your quality of life based on your circumstances. When your joy comes from the Lord, the rocky parts of life don't seem to quite so rough.

I'm unsure of how to wrap this up. I promise the majority of my posts will not be this long. I needed this to be my first post, though. I am so eager to share what God has taught me. 
I leave you with this:

When I began this journey, the future of Amadeus and myself was filled with a lot of maybes. Would he stay sound? Would the treatment work? Would we be able to do what we did before? Nobody knew exactly how this would turn out.

Nobody except God.

Indeed, when everyone else said, “Maybe,” God had already declared,

6 comments :

  1. THIS. IS. BEAUTIFUL.
    I'm being dead serious, Ashlyn. It's beautifully written and I am so proud of you, girl. Sososososososo proud. Love you!

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  2. Thank you, Susan!! Sorry it took me a few days to reply. I love you, too! <3

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  3. ASHLYN MY BRO. ♥ ugh I have been soooooo lame. but I'm here now hello. WHAT IS THIS BEAUTIFUL BLOG I FIND?? Of course it belongs to none other than my beautiful sister. ^.^ I also just lovelovelove your minimalist design. It's so yummy. eep.

    Ohhh my gawwwsh, girl. I remember seeing your updates about Amadeus' condition on instagram, but after reading all that, gosh. You guys went through a lot of junk together. (Also, gotta admit, anything about abscesses or the like had me cringing. I remember when me and Katie used to take riding lessons way long ago a horse at the barn had an abscess and MAN IT SMELLED BAD. omg. can't handle.)

    "I want to trust God to take care of me, but when it comes down to it, I try to do things out of my own strength. Take care of Amadeus by myself, deal with my ingrained fears by myself, answer life's questions by myself." < UM YEAH that is totally me too. x) I have been learning a lot (lot lot) about trust lately. And how everything is gonna be okay. Really. It is. And reading this post has just really inspired me. YOU ARE AN INSPIRING PERSON, YOU KNOW THAT? You totally know that. ;)

    "I can't claim to be fearless, but I am braver than I was. All because God knew exactly what I needed, even when I didn't see it." < THAT is beautiful. And quotable. And everything I need at the moment. Thank you. ♥ THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING YOU ARE AWESOME.

    Love you so much!! And I can't wait to read more from your lovely blog. :)
    ♥,
    abbiee

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    1. ABBIIIEEEE!!!!!!! :D I'm so glad you're here!!
      YOU'RE TOO SWEET OKAY.
      Thank you, I worked very hard to do as little as possible with it bahahaha.

      Dude, I swear, my farrier barely found the stupid thing, the drainage hole was barely the size of a pinhead. I wish I still had a picture of it next to the farrier's thumb xD Very nasty nonetheless.

      Gahhh I have such trust issues. I am Queen of the Control Freaks. Even now, I still have days where I'm like, "WHAT ABOUT WHEN I'M 45 WILL I BE OKAY THEN WHAT IF SOMETHING HORRIBLE IS GOING ON THEN" Like, the rational part of me is going, "God has got it. You'll be just fine." and the not so rational part is like, "YOU DON'T KNOW THAT *sirens, horns, and flashing lights*"

      And I'm pretty sure God is giving me the side eye because I go through a panic, calm down, rationalize, panic again cycle almost weekly hahaha. But I am learning when I start getting too crazy to just say, "Yo, Jesus, take this from me before my mind takes me hostage". I have to really fight with myself, but it IS getting better, praise God. I'm so glad this could be inspiring, really that's what I wanted when I asked God to give me the words ♥

      THANK YOU SO MUCH OKAY I AM SO HAPPY EEEEEEE!!!!!

      -Ashlyn

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  4. WELP, lets start off by saying, if Abbie up there is saying she's lame for having commented on Jan. 8, I AM LIKE, WAY LAMER. XD I AM QUEEN LAME. DUUUDE. I am sorry it has taken me this long to comment, but I have been so looking forward to taking the time to read through this whole post because I've actually wanted to learn more about what you do with riding for a long time now! I see you mention it all the time on twitter and I was just like "dang, sometime I wanna hear the whole story!"

    On an embarrassing note, when I read "where I boarded Amadeus" and my brain thought for some reason that this meant like mounting Amadeus. Like boarding a plane, but instead it's a horse. And then after a few seconds I was like OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. XD and proceeded to feeling like a ditsy female. Anywho, moving right along.

    It's so great to read about the journey you went through with Amadeus and his health issues because I remember when that was happening and you texted Susan and I and we were both praying for you guys. Reading about how your faith took you through this...wow. Like, everything you said about feeling fear about not being in control and having to trust in Him-- I can so, SO relate and I NEEDED to hear this. Like a looot. Like sometimes I feel like, yes, I trust in Him with everything but I am still fearful about so much. And dwelling on fears isn't trusting Him to take care of you. So, man, yeah... that just really speaks to me.

    "You cannot bear the weight of the world and expect to reach new heights." BOOOM. That. Wow.

    This was the perfect first blog post for you, Ashlyn, I loved reading about your journey this past year! That's why I was like dang, I need to go back and comment on the very first post. I'm so stoked that you're blogging now!! Gaaah. Planet earth needed you to be a blogger. It needed to happen, haha.

    Love you, girl!

    Kate

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    Replies
    1. DUDE. No worries, man, I know how busy we all are! So many things going on. My next post is definitely going to be about more of my personal riding life; I promise this isn't just a sounding board for my gripes and rants lol!!

      Bahahaha!! That is hilarious!! I mean, I do use a set of steps/mounting block to climb on, so it could be said it was similar hahaha!!

      Gah, I can remember it like it was yesterday. It doesn't feel like it's been five months since then. He is doing SO much better now. I can see a difference in the way he carries himself and I realize he was masking his pain for a long time. Which makes me feel super guilty, but without an x-ray, there was no way of knowing. I'm so glad you can relate. I still go through "fear periods" where I have to talk myself down from the edge again. I get kind of triggered by things other people are going through and then I'm like, "I have a really good life." And instead of just feeling blessed, I start expecting the other shoe to drop. Does that make sense? Nonetheless, I always come to the same conclusion: God is good. End of story.

      Thank you so much, Kate!! It means so incredibly much. I love being a blogger! Now, if I can just get more varied and stop only posting about the parts of the horse industry I hate XD But hey, I've got it out of the way, so I'm free to talk about my ponies and clicker training and dressage and such!

      Love you!

      -Ashlyn

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