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16 June 2019

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WDCTA Memorable Moments

WDCTA Central WI Chapter wishes to recognize and applaud our member’s horsemanship activities and asked member’s to share clinics attended, shows competed in or judged, goals accomplished or are still working on, a new horse.... anything members did with their horse or with other’s horses in 2015.  We all learn from each other and wish to encourage horsemanship sportsmanship.  WDCTA Central WI Chapter is proud to introduce active member of the WDCTA Central WI Chapter Cathy Wunderlich, Brooklyn WI.

Memorable Moments – Cathy Wunderlich

I acquired my new horse, Benjamin James (BJ), in June 2015. He is a 2000 imported New Zealand Thoroughbred, that can be sweet, sassy, and everything in between. He was imported by and previously owned by Leah Lang-Gluscic, of Freeport, IL. Leah had schooled and/or competed with him up to Advanced Level Eventing, when she began experiencing him having chronic soundness issues with his back and hind end. Following a series of physical exams, in July of 2011, BJ was diagnosed with moderate to severe kissing spine disease (KSD) via radiographs, both at the withers (thoracic) and lower (lumbar) areas of his back. While a number of different therapies did make BJ more comfortable on a day-to-day basis, he was just not able to school and compete soundly at that level of eventing without discomfort. While BJ’s heart was still in the game, his body just wasn’t able to keep up.  Leah retired BJ from upper level eventing, gave him some time off, and leased him out to students for low level eventing in which he could do comfortably.  Following some time in a career in low level eventing, Leah had actually gotten BJ back in late 2014 from being leased, and boarded him at my farm while she was wintering in Florida. The thought had occurred to the both of us that he would be a safe, potentially sound, and fun mount for me in 2015, as I was due to deliver my 3rd (boy) child in late May and wanted to be able to still ride and compete in the 2015 show season.

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Following the decision to take BJ on as my own, I wanted to set him up for as much (physical) success as possible to keep him sound and comfortable. I did quite a bit of research about equine KSD, and was pleasantly surprised on the availability of information on the web. I had read an article, “How to help your horse kiss ‘Kissing Spine’ goodbye”  that indicated there are professionals in the industry that believe with the right physical therapy program, the symptoms and effects of KSD can be reversed (although the bone deterioration cannot). I had corresponded with a specialized vet from the UK mentioned in this article as well as other US physiotherapists, on an exercise program to slowly bring BJ back from an extended period of time off and set him up to be as physically successful as possible schooling and competing at Beginner Novice eventing. I had gotten several ‘horse yoga’ exercises to do both unmounted (book called “Activate Your Horse’s Core” by Narelle Stubbs & Hilary Clayton and mounted demonstration video at that are designed to help build and strengthen their abdominal core and back muscles. 

In mid-June 2015, about a month after I had my baby, Colton Mitchel, I began riding BJ several times a week on walk rides only, and doing the unmounted core and back stretching exercises. The professionals I had corresponded with and Leah stressed how important it was to build BJ’s core and back muscles, slow and steady, and absolutely no cantering in the first two months of bringing him back. We went on cross country walk rides for the first several weeks, so that neither of us would bore from the monotony of the riding arena. Then we slowly built in trotting, working up to longer stretches at a time. I had set our 2015 goals to compete in the August WDCTA Capitol Mini-Event (CME) held at The Horse First Farm, Brooklyn WI, and then a USEA recognized 3-day event in September at the Otter Creek Farm, Wheeler WI.


Cathy W
image © Kristine Fisher, used with permission

I continued to build BJ’s weekly regimen, and took ‘walk-trot’ dressage lessons with Leah. I didn’t do any jumping with BJ, or any cantering for that matter, until two weeks before the CME, as I didn’t want to push BJ too hard and risk a setback. I suspected that with BJ’s prior experience that jumping would come easily for him, and the dressage would be my biggest obstacle to overcome. We had one jump lesson and one dressage lesson with cantering before the CME, and they both went perfectly. We were ready!

At the CME we had gotten a dressage score of 37 in the adult Beginner Novice division, putting us in  second place. I was fairly happy with our first dressage outing, but knew we had quite a bit of room for improvement. Next, followed our stadium jumping round with 1 jump refusal, no rails and no time faults. Finally, we rode a double clear XC which moved us into first place! It was my first time jumping BJ outdoors, and over a cross country course… and he was an absolute champ! He was very attuned to my signals, and just as excited as I was to take on the course. I was completely ecstatic over our weekend and first show together!

Cathy W
image © Kristine Fisher, used with permission

However, the week following the CME, BJ was extremely sore in his back. His back wasn’t ready after all to take on three phases in one day, and the total time he spent under saddle. I sought out both chiropractic and pulsating electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) for him, to help relieve him from the soreness and stiffness he was experiencing. Both therapies made a world of difference for him, and within 2 weeks of the CME his back was no longer palpating sore.

Cathy W
image © Xpress Photo, used with permission

Learning from everything at the CME, we had 5 weeks to prepare for Otter Creek Fall 3-Day Horse Trial, and do it in a fashion to bring BJ’s back and core strength along as quickly as possible. This would be my first 3-day event in over 20 years, and I wanted BJ to be at his best. We primarily did lots of long XC walks, transition work on the flat, as well as lateral work to try and build BJ’s back and core strength. We had a couple dressage lessons to get BJ and I working together, and to obtain the reach, impulsion and the swing in BJ’s back that is important for a decent dressage score. Following lots of focused strength building, once again we were ready!

Competing in Adult Beginner Novice, the morning of the first day of the event we rode our dressage test, and ended pleasantly on a score of 34.5. There were a few particular moments that I knew we could have done better, and those are for us to work on going forward. That afternoon was stadium jumping, in which we pulled off a double clear round that was right on target. The only things we could have improved on to have a more perfect round were one short distance, and leads on some of the roll backs. Saturday was the cross country course, and once again we were double clear- water obstacle and all!  We nailed our optimum time…and had lots more to give. We ended up 3rd place out of 13 riders in our division, and I couldn’t possibly be prouder at how far we had come in the three short months since our partnership had begun.

Cathy W
image © Xpress Photo, used with permission

Following Otter Creek, I closely watched BJ for any signs of soreness in his back, with concern we’d have to potentially re-evaluate his show career.  I had worked extra hard the past 5 weeks to bring him along as well as I could to ensure he wouldn’t struggle in the days following the 3-day event with comfort, as he did following the CME. And, not only did BJ not show any signs of soreness palpating his back after Otter Creek, he moved under saddle with suppleness the best he had to date. We had truly succeeded!

BJ is truly a special horse with a relentless dedication and heart of gold. I feel so very fortunate that our paths crossed, and I look forward to learning the depth of his talent as we continue to play and ride together in the years to come.  I hope that by raising awareness in others, that horses with KSD can also continue to be successful with the right care and exercise program.”

WDCTA is proud of Cathy and BJ’s horsemanship, dressage and eventing journey.  Created in 1971, Wisconsin Dressage & Combined Training Association (WDCTA) is a non-profit organization that offers educational activities, sessions, clinics and shows in eventing and dressage throughout Wisconsin within Central WI, Kettle Moraine, Southwest and Upper Peninsula Chapters. WDCTA is a charter member of the United States Dressage Federation (USDF). WDCTA welcomes all breeds & riders….Youth/Jr Riders, Adult Amateurs and Professionals, please join us!