Second Chances

One morning after feeding the horses I came in groggy plopping down on the couch for a few minutes before I began the rest of my day. I mindlessly surfed through Facebook to see if there was anything that needed to be seen when my thumb stopped on a post.

A woman was looking to rehome her thoroughbred that had a life changing issue forcing him to be retired. Immediately everyone told her to put the horse down even though he had many good years ahead of him. His main issue was that he no longer could carry weight on his back. Half of the people said to put the horse down to prevent kill buyers from getting their hands on him, and the other half said to put him down because he no longer was viable for any form of competition.

Well, I have something to say about this.

I believe if a horse isn’t in pain, wants to live, shows joy each day, then you fight for that horse. Racehorses, and all other horses, give so much to us. They don’t ask to run around big ovals or small circles around barrels. We train them for it. and they take part due to their relationship with us. When it comes time for them to be retired, they need us to stand by them and do what is right.

I’m tired of people thinking that a second career has to be some form of competition. There are all kinds of second careers for horses. A horse can be a therapy horse. I helped rehome a thoroughbred with a young girl that suffers from bad anxiety. The horse suffered a double bowed tendon from racing, and he wasn’t supposed to do much of anything anymore. These two coming together changed both of their lives. That is a Second Career.

My friend Sherrie Courtney of the very good Thoroughbred rescue Racing for Home, recently took in a horse named Brooke’s All Mine from Gulfstream Park. After arriving at her place, Brooke became terribly lame, and some thought she might have to be put down. However, Brooke still had that spark of life shimmering in her eyes, and Sherrie saw that. She did everything she could for her after finding out she had several chips and a hole in the cartilage. Brooke ended up having to get arthrodesis surgery. This is a rare surgery, which fuses joints, so several surgeons came to observe it. Because of Brooke, they learned how to do it, and who knows how many other horses Brooke will save. That’s a Second Career.

(Brooke is now walking around quite well, and she recently returned home. If you wish to donate to her rehab needs, please visit Racing For Home’s page at https://racingforhomeinc.com/)

My horse Quarter Horse Harley came to live with us to be a companion for my horse Shandoka. He was a great companion for him, and Shandoka absolutely adored him. I think people underestimate the importance of this role with horses, and it is a perfect job for a horse that suffered a career ending injury or getting old. A companion helps prevent ulcers by reducing stress in the other horses. Horses are herd animals, and they need to have their friends. Being a companion horse is such an important job. That is a Second Career.

Harley is now a companion and teacher to Chaco, Dulce, and Sueño. Harley taught Chaco and Dulce about trail riding and keeps them calm. He will also teach Sueño when it’s his turn. When I trailer Dulce for rides, which can make him very nervous, Harley always comes. Harley keeps him calm in the trailer. That is a Second Career.

Let’s not forget about Peanuts who escorted and kept the great racehorse Exterminator calm on his way to the starting line. Exterminator out lived a couple of Peanuts, but he always had the spirit of this pony by his side. If you compete, your horse that needs to be retired, or a horse looking for a home that can’t be ridden, can go with your horse to competitions to keep them calm and focused. That is a Second Career.

When Chaco became severely lame, and even after he had great improvement after his first Noltrex injection, an a person I did not know wrote telling me that I should put him down….that having a “pasture rat” isn’t worth it. He needed to earn his keep. I must say this was a punch in the gut. Chaco has so much life, loves to play, and always tries to find ways to outsmart me on our walks to snatch grass. He ran for a year after going down in a race with three pebbles lodged in his stifle destroying his cartilage. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves all of the time I can give him, because he gave so much to humans. As long as he wants to live, I will fight for him. He is teaching me so much. That is a Second Career.

When the neighbor’s grandchildren come to visit, they always come down to see my horses when they are on pasture. Chaco, my tallest horse, gently drops his head for them and lets them love all over them. Their mother told them that her kids have never been around horses before. When she asked me what kind of horse he was, she couldn’t believe that a thoroughbred could be so gentle and calm. Chaco is educating young kids and older adults about how amazing thoroughbreds are. He is an ambassador even though he can’t be ridden anymore. That is a Second Career.

Horses make great therapy horses. A neighbor down the road works with unwanted drafts and children with physical disabilities. Horses amaze me in how they can heal broken spirits and minds regarding vets or others who struggle with PTSD. Let’s not forget that incredible video of the OTTB in France that walks the halls of hospitals visiting with patients he decides need him the most. https://youtu.be/XypgQoOBuBk

Horses don’t have to jump, do piaffe’s, or wind their way around barrels to be worth their weight in gold. There are so many second careers that a horse can have, so before you toss a horse away due to an non-life threatening injury, consider what else your horse may be able to do. Talk with your vet about the possibilities. Talk with people in different fields with horses such as therapy horses to see where your horse can fit.

There are all sorts of Second Careers that require no competing or challenging riding.

If you have to rehome your horse for whatever reason, you do need to worry about your horse falling into the wrong hands. There are stories all the time. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t give your horse away for free. This brings the bad guys out. If a kill buyer can get a horse for free, they will.
  2. Write up a contract specific to your horse regarding care, visits by you, update pictures, and how if they decide they don’t want your horse anymore, they contact you first. This will usually chase the bad guys away.
  3. Get four references. Make sure they can afford your horse. Find out who supplies them with hay. Ask to talk with their vet.
  4. Talk with other rescue organizations for tips on how to place your horse successfully.

Sherrie Courtney added, “I’ve found that adopting to someone with whom there is some kind of a connection (vet client, trainer’s friend of a friend etc) has worked best for me. So I always know things are ok. I ask for updates (photos) a few times a year so as not to be a pest. Contract can state all of this as mine does.”

When I was struggling with severe exhaustion caused by Covid, I had to lean up against the fence panels to get my breath. I needed to get my horses fed, and my body was fighting me every step, every breath. I tried to not cry, not panic, and breath.

I couldn’t catch my breath.

Chaco walked up to me, put his nose on my cheek, and I felt his breath. His breathing calmed me down, and my breath began to slow down matching his. We stood there breathing together until I got my strength back. He pulled back and looked into my eyes before sauntering off to play with Sueño. His Second Career is all about taking care of all of us, and he is so good at it.

Chaco’s Noltrex Miracle

It’s bitter cold, and a snowstorm is on the horizon. I tighten up my jacket around my waist to block the wind. I’m standing next to Chaco begging his left leg to stay strong one more night. Just one more night, I whisper, that is all we need. I hug him to the point of annoying the heck out of him, when I see resignation in his eyes. He is starting to give up. Scared I head back to the house where I watch him on the cameras. I see an image next to him. I check the other cameras, and this image makes no sense. The other horses are on camera 3, yet there is another dark horse standing with Chaco on Camera 2.

Chaco, if you know me or followed my blog for a while, went down in a race several years ago and was run over by two other horses. He got kicked in the stifle, broke his pelvis, and broke a rib. The kick in the stifle is what haunts him to this day. That kick caused three marbles the size of adult teeth to break off and meander and destroy the cartilage in his femoropatellar joint. I fine myself every time I call them chips because they are anything but chips. After three hours of arthroscopic surgery, it took that long due to difficulty finding one of the marbles, I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to maintain his stifle.

The three marbles before they were removed
You can see within the circle the area that broke off
The Marbles
All of the damage

If any of you suffer from arthritis or have a horse that does, you know winter brings on feelings of dread and fear. How will they get through it? You wonder if this the winter where it becomes clear that your beloved horse can’t do it anymore. It is not easy for you or the horse, and it is a grave challenge for Chaco. Last winter he struggled, but this winter he plummeted. He slipped on a bit of mud, and his leg went downhill. He no longer could put full weight on his right leg. He was trying to tripod it meaning he was standing with his left leg directly under him trying to support his hind end. Instead of getting better, he remained the same no matter what I did.

I feared that his racetrack injury finally caught up with him, and the time to say goodbye was near. However, despite the pain he obviously was in it didn’t diminish his spirit at all. As long as his spirit was strong, then I needed to fight for him. I heard about Noltrex, a new type of injection, but it was available anywhere but our country. A few European friends told me about it saying how much it helped their horses. When this happened to Chaco, a friend got injections of Noltrex on her horse’s front knees in the states. This is when I found out Noltrex was finally available in the US, and I couldn’t believe the transformation on her horse. However, would it work on a stifle? The answer is yes! It is made for joints like the stifle. According to their FAQ:

What joints should I consider injecting with Noltrex®Vet?

The short answer is any joint. Initially, Noltrex®Vet was recommended for high motion joints. Common examples would include coffin joints, fetlocks and stifles. However, other joints considered low motion joints (limited movement, but important) have also shown great improvement from Noltrex®Vet therapy. The most common example of a low motion joint would be lower hock joints.

What is Noltrex? Here is how they describe it:

Noltrex®Vet (4.0% Polyacrylamide) is a highly viscous, non-soluble, synthetic hydrogel for intra-articular injection. The hydrostatic pressure inside the joint presses the gel up against the inner linings of the joint where it forms a fine, lubricating film. By restoring functional joint lubrication, Noltrex®Vet reduces friction and physically protects the joint from the adverse effects of overuse which leads to inflammation and pain.

If you want to learn more about Noltrex, here are the faq’s: https://www.iselp.org/index.php?src=documents&srctype=download&id=77&category=PDF

I decided this was it. This is what he needed, and I wrote to my vet asking him to order it.

A friend of mine acted as devil’s advocate for me even though I really didn’t need or want it, yet it was appreciated. She is very anti-injection, and she also believes if a horse can’t be ridden, they should be put down. She challenged every single one of my decisions and helped me realize, much to her chagrin, that I made the right choice to go ahead with this.

I understand why people are anti-injections. Many people do it to mask serious injuries and work a horse beyond their capabilities. I have neither hope nor plan to do this. All I want is to give him more time with his horse buddies, to let him enjoy his life, and to spend more time with him if he is pain free. He deserves it. If I’m lucky, maybe I can pony him with Dulce a few times this summer on easy rides. Maybe he can pony Sueño on his first excursions into the forest. He is such a good mentor to Sueño, and I want him to keep teaching him what he knows.

My friend says that all I’m getting is borrowed time. Is that such a bad thing? To borrow some more time for him? He is a happy horse that loves to live. He somehow survived a really bad wreck on the track, so I think he deserves to have someone fight for him and give him some more time. He lives to play with the other horses and to sleep in the sunshine.

The morning of his first injection, I ran out to check on him. His left leg was holding strong. His eyes sparkled despite the pain I knew he was in. Hope coursed through my veins. I loaded him and off we went to the vet. The thing I like the most about Noltrex is no special machine is needed like for IRAP. My vet doesn’t do IRAP, and instead of needing five injections as it was recommended for Chaco regarding IRAP, he would need two at the most. I didn’t need to go to a vet I didn’t know. Instead. I got to go to our primary. All positives in my mind. The injection went in well. He didn’t fight it or even flinch like he did when we tried the ProStride.

First Injection

I wondered if I’d see any improvement at all after the injection. When I got him home, I was surprised to see that he no longer looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He stood squarer, although he still favored his right leg some.  He was supposed to rest for three days before I started taking him for two ten-minute walks a day. On the third day of rest, he protested a lot. He dumped his water bucket, which he would only do if his stifle didn’t hurt. He has to put one of his front hooves into the water bucket, and then he leans back onto his hindlegs pulling the bucket over. This was a great sign! Off we went. He did really well. Each day we went on a walk he seemed to improve more and more. From what I learned; the horse will improve over the four weeks after the injection. Also, you aren’t supposed to put them back to regular work for ten to fourteen days as inflammation may develop at site of injection. Since Chaco has a severe injury, my plan is to bring him along slow.

Each day I saw him improve little by little. He stood more and more square, and I finally could trim his hooves again, which is a huge relief.

On our walks he began to trot. One morning it got down to ten degrees, so I ran outside dark and early to wait for Chaco to wake up. When he got up, he took three stiff steps, and then he walked normally. It took all day, if not days, for the stiffness to disappear in the past. Maybe we finally found a way to get him through the winter!

I about started to cry when he began spontaneously resting his left leg. This means that he is standing with full weight on his right/injected leg.

Resting the left leg is one of the most beautiful sights to my eyes

He improved to a point that thrilled me beyond belief. It brought him back from the edge of the abyss, but he wasn’t to the point where I felt he could be turned out with Dulce or Harley. This is one of my goals for him, because he so needs to be with another horse. They say that if your horse improves to a point yet stalls, to get the second injection at the 5th or 6th week. So, for Chaco’s 12th birthday, he got a second injection, and I’m hoping and praying this brings him to a place where he and his best buddy, Dulce, can hang out together again.

What is next? Well, today is his 12th Birthday and Dulce’s Adoptaversary. I plan on loving them both incessantly all day. Chaco gets to rest for a few days, and then we start going for walks again. After a couple of weeks. I will start to incorporate some pole work into his daily walking to try and strengthen the muscles on the right side. He will be getting body work done once or twice a week to try and help balance his body. He has stood and worked a certain way for four years, so we also need to work on reeducating his body posture. Hopefully, he and I will go for some lovely walks through the forest together soon, and he and Dulce will be able to hang out together once again. Yes, borrowed time yet sweet, wonderful time.

I want to thank my vet John Shull for putting up with my constant questions, and for doing such a great job with Chaco. A big part of the reason why Chaco was ready to go for a walk on the third day was because of the excellent job he does at injections. Chaco was barely even sore the next day. I am truly grateful to have such a great vet in our lives.

Who was that horse that I saw on the cameras that night? I don’t know. I was sure a horse had jumped the five foot fence into their dry paddock. Of course that wasn’t the case. All I can say is that I saw a dark bay horse eating alongside Chaco until I didn’t. A wave of comforting faith that all would be well washed over me…..

Stop Trying Part 3

My grandpa was probably the kindest person I’ve ever known. Our horses loved him, and when he went in with them, they all ran up to him. I remember the first time he taught me to shake hands with a horse. I have no idea how old I was, and to see it, I need to close my eyes. It is more a sensory image, because I was so small. I know that my mom was standing behind me. My grandpa urged me to hold the back of my hand up to the horse while tucking in my thumb. He always said that you don’t want the horse mistaking your thumb for a carrot. I’m not even sure which horse it was…I think one of the mares. Maybe it was Chiller, our racing quarter horse at the time. I can feel the soft nose on my hand, that warm breath, and a smile that emerged not just on my face but my entire being when the horse accepted me. I then looked up at my grandpa, and there was that smile of his that I lived for.

He had a way with horses that I’ve never come close to. I loved it when my mom dropped my brother and I off at his home, because he almost always took us to see the horses. When we were there, except for the time spent following Charlie the turkey around, I watched him. I watched how he caught the horses, brushed them, checked out their legs, loved on them, played with them, and how he simply stood with them. I think a lot of us forget to do that; just stand with our horses. We’re always doing something….picking their hooves, brushing them, training them, taking them for rides, but we rarely hang out with them. He did and the horses would walk up to him and then walk off. He never chased them.

One day I wanted to pet my horse Big Ruckus. I followed him everywhere, and I never could get a hand on him. The faster I walked the faster Ruckus walked to get away from me. Frustrated and broken hearted feeling like my horse hated me I went up to my grandpa feeling like an utter failure. When he asked me why, I explained how Ruckus would never let me pet him. He told me, “Stop trying.”

He didn’t mean give up and walk away. Rather, in order to find that connection with Ruckus, I needed to let go of my need for it and chase Ruckus around with it. Horses don’t always agree or understand our goals that we impose upon them, so they run away from them. Sometimes the best way to get anywhere is to surrender it and simply be with your horse. My five year old mind wasn’t too sure about what he meant, but I decided to copy my grandpa. I went back down to their pasture, and I stood there doing nothing. Within a few minutes Ruckus came trotting up to me, and I got to pet him. He then grabbed my shirt, and he started dragging me all around as we played.

I’ve spent hours asking myself what was it about me that caused that to happen that day. We were riding around so relaxed, and when we went to a trot, it all changed. He had been a bit nervous in the arena, and this is why I spent a lot of time introducing him to it. When he seemed settled, I asked him to trot. Was he settled? I don’t think so. I think he was anxious horse, but he knew how to bury it like all horses do. However, that day something gave, and he showed me what he had been burying. My failure to acknowledge that the muscles underneath me were saying, “I don’t like this place or this situation,” pushed Dulce to that watershed moment where I could finally do the bodywork he needed, which is a good thing, but…..it isn’t good that I misread him.

Now that it seems time to ride him, I’m hesitant. I finally got him to such a great place, and even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all, missing out on what his body is telling me.

I can hear my grandpa whispering in my ear saying, “Stop trying.”

I think I was trying too hard with Dulce. I wanted to show everyone what a great OTTB he is by what he could do instead of paying attention to the fact that his mind needed extra help. Work for him meant anxiety, and I want work for him to mean fun. So, I need to stop trying.

I keep thinking about Shandoka, and how we always played together during training. I don’t want to trigger Dulce again, so the other phrase my grandpa said a lot about horses that is being whispered into my mind is, “Get creative.” The word “deconstruction” keeps going through my mind. I need to deconstruct. I need to deconstruct the way he looks at what work is, and recreate a new and better way for us to enjoy our time together.

Some may say he is a hot horse, but that really isn’t it. He gets anxious the moment he sees a saddle, he paws and shakes the trailer when loaded, and that day in the outdoor arena, he went into a posture I never asked for, and began grinding his teeth. Work stresses him out, because it caused him pain. I need to deconstruct everything with him in order to rebuild. I want to show him that our work together won’t cause him any discomfort, and if it does, I will stop. I’m listening to him. Currently, I’m breaking everything down into small blocks, and going over them slowly with him. If I notice any anxiety, I immediately do the Masterson Touch on his TMJ area until he relaxes, and then I break up what we are doing into smaller blocks.

This means that I need to deconstruct my views on training, and explore new and different ways of working with a horse. I never thought my training methods were harsh or wrong, but I do think that there are other more creative ways. I’ve been looking at Mark Rashid, Tik Maynard, Alexander Nevzorov, Carolyn Resnick, Manolo Mendez, Ray Hunt, and others.

I have the chance to create something so different for Dulce and Sueño, and to do that, I need to change me as well. No more goals the way I’ve used them. Throwing out expectations is required, and time to work in a way that allows their bodies to stay in balance. I have no idea what this will end up looking like, but I’ve begun to experiment.

For the past three days I’ve gone out and done what I would call interactive groundwork. What is that? I have no idea how to tell you. All I can say is that I am as involved in the groundwork as they are. We move around together. I keep my eyes on theirs. We yield hindquarters and forelegs, but it is all through a dance that I do with them. Twice I’ve done it without a lead rope and once with. I’ve never done Liberty work before, but it amazed me at how quick Dulce and Sueño picked up on what I was asking them to do. Most of the time we work at the walk, but every now and then we go up to the trot. The thing I like about it so far is that Dulce and Sueño seem to be having fun. They let out these great sighs, their heads and ears are up and on me as we dance with one another. Will this help in the saddle? I have no idea. Time will tell. All I know is that I stopped trying, and that part of me that died with Shandoka came back….that creative side that loves to play with horses….that five year old standing in the pasture imitating my grandpa as Ruckus walked up to me is coming back to life and my horses seem to love it.

Dulce’s Uncomfort Zone

Ever since I brought Dulce home, I found pain in his body. His poll was locked like all racehorses, but his seemed to be locked up in a super max prison. He guarded his entire body, and would pin his ears wherever I touched him until he realized I wasn’t going to do anything but pet him. Petting him with the back of my hand eased his anxiety. His entire body was on guard against any outside force no matter how light the touch was.

The areas where I found the most pain in the beginning were the poll, TMJ, shoulders, and psoas area. I also spotted three straight white lines on his withers.

I tried Tellington Touch first, and he hated it. He stomped his hooves, his tail swished, and those ears became glued to his head. I switched to the Masterson Method, and he responded immediately. I used the lightest touch, or what Masterson calls “ethereal” touch. I barely skimmed the hairs with my fingers. I searched and searched for blinks, which indicate a source of pain, and stayed there with that ethereal touch until he released. A release is expressed through yawns, movement of the jaw back and forth, sighs, head shakes, and my guys like to rub their heads on me. At the end of this blog, I will post links for you regarding any of the massage methods mentioned here.

The thing is if I ever tried to take anything a bit deeper with him, he’d go back into protective mode. His body would tighten up, and we were back to ground zero. He constantly teaches me that my goals are not his.

So, when we had that moment in the arena, it was a watershed moment for us. Somehow, the door opened wide, and he couldn’t slam it shut. He let me in completely; not half way.

He released more and more with the Masterson Method, but I could tell that his ribs were stuck. Yes, I took him to a chiropractor, but it didn’t last. His muscles brought him back to ground zero again. I needed to create the change on a muscular level for his bones to stay in a healthy place, and that rib cage of his was screaming out to me for help.

I began researching and watching video after video. I ordered a book on Osteopathy. We have no osteopaths on the Western Slope, and I feel that osteopathy addresses the muscles and resets the bones. I didn’t feel comfortable doing any of the thrusts, but several of the other moves were easy for me to do. The most important thing is that Dulce responded.

Layer after layer came off. His body was healing, and he was able to bend better as we did his active stretches out of Helle Katrine Kleven’s book Physical Therapy for Horses. I love doing these stretches every day, because they tell me where my horses are at. What can they do or not do? As we progressed, he became more and more supple.

The pictures below are a few of the active stretches she suggests.

Dulce used to struggle with doing this one. He could reach his head straight ahead with a twist, but not straight ahead and up. After all of this work, he now does it easily.
This one used to be difficult for him to do while keeping his head straight. He used to turn his head to the side. Now he can easily reach to the side with his head held straight.
He never could bow before I successfully reset the muscles and his C1 and C2.

The ribs, the ribs, and the ribs. He was so tight in the ribs, and this is when I found April Love who had a very simple method to release the ribs. I fully expected him to bite me, but luckily I got through it before he could. With this one maneuver, I could tell he felt better. He could lift his stomach! He never could lift his stomach before. Often horses for many reasons, saddles and us being on their backs, get their ribs stuck on the inhale position. He had a few stuck there. Love also talks a lot about the first ribs being out. I did the test to see if they were, and lo and behold, on both sides his first ribs were out. I enrolled in her class, and before you know it, I was able to reset his poll, first ribs, ribs and hips.

Before I reset his ribs, he could only go back to mid barrel. Now he can reach all the way to his stifle easily. This stretch is not only great for the neck, but also the outside shoulder and all of the ribs.

Did I stop using the Masterson Method on him? Absolutely not. I used it in conjunction with all that I was learning. The Masterson Method brings him to such a deep state of relaxation now that I am able to use that first before moving to a maneuver that brings about a deeper shift.

I then enrolled in a class on myofascial release. I feel that to keep his muscles relaxed, I needed to keep the fascia supple, and his was not especially around the pectorals, sternum and rib cage. If I even approached his pectorals or his sternum, his guard went up, and he let me know to back away. I went back to the ethereal touch of the Masterson Method for a couple of weeks on these areas before he finally allowed me to do some myofascial release on these areas. I still have a ways to go, but we are making a lot of progress.

His TMJ though was a continuing problem. I could get it to release and the next day or hours later it was tight again. No matter what I did, an I found a wonderful maneuver from the late Dr. Kerry Ridgway, that TMJ was always in pain throwing off his entire body.

Finally, I got an appointment with his dentist. Covid and the Holidays made it challenging. He wasn’t due for another six months, but I knew I needed to get him in. Last year I took him to someone else, which was an absolute mistake. I had a good intention, but that intention blew up in my face in so many ways. I learned the hard way to stay with what you know, and I know my equine dentist is fantastic.

I expected him to tell me that Dulce couldn’t be helped. Instead he showed me how his front incisors had a slight diagonal to them from right to left. He told me that horses with this slight diagonal have severe TMJ pain, but horses who have severely diagonal teeth don’t. He was able to fix his. He told me in a month, his TMJ pain would be completely gone. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I found a reason behind all of this.

He also suggested something I already do. I feed all of my horses on the ground. This stretches out the TMJ and the poll muscles as they chew keeping these areas supple. He said feeding on the ground helps the teeth stay as well, because it allows the jaw to move from side to side. When you feed at a higher level like a hanging hay net for instance, their teeth get locked. Instead of moving from side to side they only move from left to right or right to left instead of back and forth. At least I’m doing one thing right!

Dulce was always a lovey horse. He’d follow me everywhere after I brought him here, and he was always the first to greet me in the pasture. However, he also had a very grumpy side that Chaco was often the recipient of. This whole journey to bring his body back into balance opened another door for our relationship. He is sweet, happy, playful, and relaxed. He is back to coming up to me each time I enter into the paddock or the pasture. He wants to cuddle and is more willing to move forward with me..and he wants to play.

I haven’t ridden him yet even though I can. I’m hesitant. Even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all. Mainly, I keep thinking about Shandoka. He and I used to dance with one another, play with one another. We’d play hide and go seek, chase….. When he died, that part of me got buried with him. As I stand and look at my horses, I realize how much they need me to resurrect this.

For us to move forward, and by us I mean Dulce, Chaco, Harley, playful Sueño, and myself I need to deconstruct and rebuild……

If you are interested in learning equine massage techniques, there is a wealth of information on YouTube. First, in no way am I recommending that you do any of this with your own horse. Please consult with your veterinarian before embarking on any of this with your horse, and I am in no way responsible for anything that may occur to you or your horse while working on your horse. Horse massage can be very dangerous to you and the horse. When I discovered a sore spot, I’ve nearly been cow kickek out at; all of which are ways the horse is trying to tell you that he or she is in pain. I never punish a horse for trying to communicate with me. Proceed at your own risk.

April Love’s Channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6rjOjHZRuq4dS7gUKM263w

Jim Masterson’s Channel is: https://www.youtube.com/user/mastersonmethod

Margret Henkel only has one video posted about myofascial release: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKcN_6l691fSUD8u68HyXHg/videos

Jim Masterson has two books and three DVD’s that you can purchase. I love the DVD for Dressage horses, because quite frankly, OTTB’s have all of the same issues. However, you need to start with the first book Beyond Horse Massage. https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Horse-Massage-Breakthrough-Interactive/dp/1570764727/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2QXNJFIOF1F2&dchild=1&keywords=jim+masterson&qid=1612751836&s=books&sprefix=Jim+Master%2Caps%2C420&sr=1-1

Here is a link to his second book on the Dressage Horse https://www.amazon.com/Dressage-Horse-Optimized-Masterson-Method/dp/157076722X/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2QXNJFIOF1F2&dchild=1&keywords=jim+masterson&qid=1612751931&s=books&sprefix=Jim+Master%2Caps%2C420&sr=1-2

If you wish to learn more about Myofascial Release, Margret Henkels has a good book called Is Your Horse 100% https://www.amazon.com/Your-Horse-100-Limitations-Conformation/dp/1570767912/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=margret+henkels&qid=1612752094&s=books&sr=1-1

She also has a DVD of the same name.

There is another great book on myofascial release, but the pictures in it leave a lot to be desired. However, the book offers a lot more different methods of maneuvering the fascia, and this book really helped me begin the release of Dulce’s shoulders and Nuchal Ligament. It is called Equine Structural Integration: Myofascial Release Manual.https://www.amazon.com/Equine-Structural-Integration-Myofascial-Release/dp/0979053501/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1AOES6UMCJMFP&dchild=1&keywords=equine+myofascial+release&qid=1612752199&sprefix=equine+myof%2Cstripbooks%2C249&sr=8-2

The Devil Is In The Side Reins

When I was a kid, my dad would take us up to my school’s baseball field, so he could practice throwing his curve ball. I stood in the batter’s box nervously waiting for him to pitch that curve ball from hell. I took every last nerve and ounce of courage for me to stay in that box while praying to every possible deity that the ball would curve and not hit me in the head or ribs. No offense to my dad, but he was no Clayton Kershaw. Sometimes I jumped out of the batter’s box and other times I stayed put facing that ball down until I either landed my bat on it or it whizzed by. (My dad’s curveball always did curve thank goodness!). This is what it’s like having horses at times…hoping that curve straightens out and goes over the plate rather than hits you head on.

At the beginning of summer, things began to go wrong with Dulce. Part of it was the death of Mojo. As I wrote in an earlier blog, he took it hard. Whenever we went on the trail he was fine, but if we went to the arena, which he used to love to do, he suddenly was miserable.

I am 100% sure he was trained in side reins. They are used quite a bit in horse racing and all horse disciplines due to the belief that it helps the horse get off the forehand and move their driving force to their hind end and gets the horse on the vertical. I listen to Simon Callahan on TVG praise their use quite a bit (for the record, I really like Callahan just disagree with him on this), and if you are in my presence, you hear me have a few words with him through the TV.

Imagine you are in a yoga class, and the instructor asks you to bend forward and touch your toes. Now imagine that the instructor puts his or her hand on your back after you get your hands down to your toes and says,”Okay, I’m going to keep you in this position for the next fifteen to thirty minutes, and I’m going to make you walk around like this.”

Horrified, you start to move around unable to get out of this position, and you notice that you are bringing your chin into your chest. The instructor praises you for your collection when in reality you are trying to figure out a way to escape the pain. At first you can walk on your legs, but your hamstrings and glutes begin to burn bad all the way down to your feet from the constant pull on all of the muscles and ligaments/tendons. What do you do to try and escape this? You lean on your hands trying to walk on them to give your legs a break.

This is basically the same thing that happens to a horse when they are in side/draw reins. Instead of trying to figure out why a horse won’t collect, they go to an easy solution; force them with the side reins. So what happens to the horse? First they move into an incorrect frame bending in a horribly painful way at the pole and in the neck to get behind the vertical to try and find some relief. You never want a horse behind the vertical. The nuchal and supraspinal ligament are constantly being pulled on. While this does cause the back to lift, the sacrum is incorrectly and painfully being pulled too far forward. The pelvis will tip and go flat causing a strong pull on the flexor muscles of the hindquarters. Thus, the hindquarters are pulled towards the back. This causes tension to build up in the ischium muscle, longissimus muscle of the back, and the gluteus medius.. The loin and the abdominal muscles are no longer able to raise the pelvis, thus the hindlegs can not step under. What this all means is that a correct and healthy collection for the horse is impossible to attain.

They then move on to their forehand putting a lot of stress on their chest and shoulder muscles causing the front legs to lose their ability to absorb shock. Why is that important? The muscles of the forelegs then lose their ability to bring the legs forward in a healthy way, and their tendons and ligaments can become injured or strained from the the inability to absorb the shock.

The world renowned equine physical therapist Helle Katrine Kleven writes in her book Physical Therapy for Horses:

“The cervical spine becomes kinked in a way that is physiologically unnatural, which causes tension and blockages in the small, deep muscles. This can cause irritation where the nerves leave the spinal column, as the incorrect positioning of the spine causes the spinal canal to become too narrow. Over time, this can lead to instability of the spine and/or calcifications on the ligaments as these are constantly overstretched. In addition, inflammation that eventually becomes calcification on the nuchal ligament can result.

“When the horse is ridden….nose behind the vertical, the rider is automatically locking the first cervical vertebra opposite the head. Therefore, a sideways longitudinal bend is no longer possible. The horse makes a compensatory movement, in that he turns his whole head between the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae when asked to turn.”

She goes on to say that the more the rider pulls and keeps the horse’s neck in hyperflexion, more of the vertebrae become locked, and the mobility of the horse’s spine is diminished.

Can you imagine how painful this is for a horse? There are some auxiliary reins like Vienna and Lauffer reins that can be helpful. I prefer in training to use none of these. I believe in working with the horse’s natural confirmation whatever that might be. That is just me.

Dulce and I were having great rides together on the trail and in the arena until one day I took him to the outdoor arena at the fairgrounds. That is the day that everything changed, and the curve ball hit me.

When I asked him to canter on a loose rein, he suddenly went into the stance of a horse in side reins. He nearly pulled me off of him and over his head his nose was so far down and behind the vertical along with being heavily on the forehand. I stopped him. Pet him. Talked to him. Walked him and when he was relaxed, asked again. He did it again. I thought I would try to ride him through it, but it got worse. He suddenly started to canter with his head sideways. We came to a stop. I got off, checked his bitless bridle. Everything was in the correct position. I hand walked him, longed him, and everything looked fine. I decided to try one more time.

We walked calmly, I gave his verbal cue, and again he went into a side rein stance, then the head went sideways, and he bucked. I got him to stop, hopped off, and this began a six month journey of healing for Dulce that I will begin to cover in the next two blogs, although he and I are still on it as we move back into training. It involves a lot of bodywork that I studied and took classes in and dentistry work all because of side reins that I am 100% sure he was trained in. Something happened that day that triggered him, and for the life of me I don’t know what.

And Then There Was A Herd

It lightly rained throughout the night before turning to snow. The drought’s tight grip on our area eroded enough for good mud to develop, which we haven’t experienced for a long time. As I walked out in the fading darkness of morning I slid here and there trying to get to the horses. Sueño was the first to greet me at the fence. I shined my flashlight around, and all of the horses were safe and sound. I made my way back to the house to make up their food for the morning.

When I headed back out with their buckets, I saw both Dulce and Sueño waiting for me at the fence covered in mud. Dulce went to the muddiest spot in their dry lot for his morning roll. Sueño who wants to be just like Dulce when he grows up, went to the second muddiest spot for a morning roll. I shake my head and count my blessings they had their blankets on. Otherwise, I would be trying to brush it out all day long.

Harley and Chaco are perfectly clean. “Why can’t you be more like these two?” I ask Sueño as he gives me a nose kiss.

The fact of the matter is that Dulce is like Sueño’s big brother. He wants to be near him as much as possible, and he copies a lot of the things Dulce does. Dulce teaches him how to play, and for the most part is real gentle with him.

Harley is like Sueño’s favorite Uncle. Sueño looks up to him, admires him, feels safe with him, and has a lot of fun with him. Harley is his protector, and if Sueño crosses the line, he gently scolds him. If there is a wild animal roaming around the fields at night, he likes to stand right by Harley until any perceived danger is gone.

Chaco is a whole other story. He is my gentle giant, and he loves everyone he meets. Children fascinate him, and he would love to stand with a baby all day long. He never wants to hurt a soul, but as I’ve mentioned before he has a huge mischievous streak. He also ranks at the bottom in the herd. He is more like the middle child regarding Sueño, and he wants to pick on Sueño constantly.

When Chaco came here, he learned how to socialize with other horses. I’ve mentioned how he was scared to play at first, and Shandoka gently taught him how. Once Shandoka opened that door, holy horse he plays every chance he gets. When I introduced him to Harley, Harley was anything but accepting, Harley was on the attack. His ears were back, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him run so fast after anyone or anything. It took a long, long time for Harley and Chaco to become close. It wasn’t until Harley spent a night alone when Chaco had his surgery that they finally became a two horse herd that Harley was the boss of.

Dulce was a lot easier to assimilate, but when he got to feeling stronger, Chaco quickly learned that he was not going to be the ruler of Dulce. Instead, he was at the bottom of the herd once again. Chaco simply would rather have a friend than be the boss. He accepted it easily, because he now had a companion that understood him; two veterans from the track.

When Sueño arrived, Chaco knew things were going to change. No longer would he be at the bottom. He now had a fellow horse that he could push around for a change, and he was on a mission to make sure Sueño understand that. I think he learned a bit too much from Harley.

Usually, when I bring horses together, I take it slow, and I lead them around together letting them munch on the pasture while I stay in between them. Once this goes well, I usually get on the horse that has been there for awhile, and pony the new horse around. I’ve found that when two horses work together, they come together pretty easily. I didn’t have this option with Sueño. For one thing, Sueño wasn’t the best at leading around, and the thought of being between the two of them wasn’t a good thought to me. I tried several other options all of which were a total fail with Sueño scared to death of Chaco. If I even tried to have them in the same area together, Chaco would immediately go after and corner him. Sueño would come running for me and hide behind me if he could get away. If he couldn’t, I had to go break it up. There were a few very scary moments. Chaco who is three hands taller than Sueño simply overwhelmed and terrified poor I began to wonder if I needed to keep them separated from one another.

Finally, I came up with an idea after Doc left. I suddenly had another pen available to me. For two nights in a row I put Chaco in Doc’s/Mojo’s pen away from Harley and Dulce, so there was no other horse for Chaco to get jealous about or drag into his shenanigans. I put Sueño in the pen right next to him. This way if he got a bit too stressed about Chaco, he could walk over to the other fence and visit with Harley or Dulce. However, I put all of his hay and alfalfa along the fence he shared with Chaco, and I did the same to Chaco. When it was feed time, I put their feed buckets right next to one another’s on each side of the fence. This way they HAD to eat together, they would socialize more with one another, and it would only be the two of them; no interference from any other horse.

Chaco and Sueño learning to play with one another

After the second night I turned them all out together one morning. As I put hay in one of the feeders they both walked up to the feeder on either side of me. Chaco began eating, and then Sueño watching him with a little bit of hesitation dropped his head down and snatched some hay for himself. They then touched noses. I stood there wondering if I was going to be body slammed by two horses, or would this remain as calm as can be? It was perfect! They got along! I couldn’t believe it.

A half hour before I brought the horses down from the pasture, I decided to see how they handled being together. Prepared to break anything up, I opened up the gate, and Chaco immediately sauntered down to be with Sueño, they nipped a little bit at each other playfully before settling down to eat some more grass. It worked!

Does this mean that Chaco stopped giving him a hard time? Not really. When Chaco gets playful, he enjoys chasing Sueño around, and when I think, “Okay, I need to go out and break this up,” Dulce will step out of the barn to block Chaco. Dulce and Chaco start playing, and Sueño heads to Harley who then plays with him or they eat together. Sueño is getting braver though. I noticed this morning when Chaco went after him, instead of running away, Sueño turned to face him, and they played together. I beamed all morning.

Chaco is no longer at the bottom of the herd. Sueño will always respect Chaco. When I walk Chaco, Sueño loves to follow him.

We were a herd of three plus one.

Then one day something changed, shifted, and they became a herd of four.

Freaking Cajones

Sueño as you know is now a gelding. My vet warned me that if the wound closed too soon, I would have to squeeze the ball-less scrotum to open up the wound and get the fluid to flow out of the wound again.

Well, despite working him for 20 minutes the next day as instructed by my vet, and letting him be turned out with everyone for the entire day, the wound closed. You can do everything right, but there is often an outside force working against you; weather has been my downfall too many times this year.

My kingdom for some humidity please! Colorado is not known for being a humid climate, and we keep flip flopping between fall and winter.

His swelling was the size of a big cantaloupe from the fluid build up. I tried to exercise him to see if the swelling would go down, but that dang cantaloupe was banging all around like a piñata being hit by a pro baseball player. He couldn’t move forward well at all; it hurt getting smacked by that cantaloupe. Time to call the vet.

A plan was forged, and off to the vet I went to get a sedative. I didn’t mind what I needed to do; I’ve done much more challenging as a medic, but I was a bit concerned about getting kicked, I’ve been hit and bit, and kicked many times as a medic by people not happy that their highs were ruined or because they were angry at their situation. Getting kicked by a horse is a different story. It hurts a lot more, and a kick can easily break a bone.

******************Disclaimer******************

Do not do what I do without talking to your vet first. Your vet may want to do a different procedure or feel that something entirely different is going on. Always talk to your vet first. If you follow what I do, you are doing it at your own risk. Even with a sedative on board, you can get hurt. Let your vet help you.

When I got home, I quickly gave him the sedative, which he took easily. I kept him separated from everyone and waited for it to take effect. It seemed to take forever, and I swear that cantaloupe got a bit bigger since the morning. After thirty minutes, it was time.

I took a warm rag and wiped off all the dried blood. His legs flinched but remained down. I then pried the wound open with my finger, and this is when a flailing leg came at me. Luckily, it was weak from the sedative, and there was no kick in it. As I worked, I held the flailing leg with my other hand. I then grabbed the warm rag after making sure everything was cleaned out of that wound, and I began squeezing gently trying to get the fluids to flow. Once it began dripping, I left him alone to sober up. The next part was trotting him for 20 minutes.

However, the wind, the wind! The wind keeps tormenting me, and it was no different this day. A cold north wind began to blow, and it had a mission; close up the wound.

“Oh no you don’t Wind! I’m going to beat you this time!” Every 15 minutes, I’d squeeze again and wipe along the wound as he sobered up to keep it open.

When I realized we had about fifteen more minutes before he was sober enough to trot, I went in to get a quick bite to eat. When I returned, gosh dang it that wound closed up solid.

“Freaking Cajones!” I yell at the Wind.

Beyond frustrated and feeling like a big failure at something that should be simple, I convinced myself that his blood must be filled with a plethora of platelets.

I took him to the work area, and we began to longe. After 15 minutes, I knew longing wasn’t the answer. The wound and cantaloupe remained.

I decided to try something different. I got Dulce and Harley, and I round penned him for twenty minutes with the other two horses. This means that since it is such a big area, I chased them around the whole time keeping them moving at a good clip.

The great thing about this idea, even though I worried they would wreck or someone would clip someone else’s heel, was that they went at different speeds, they cut, and came to sudden stops; all creating the possibility of opening that wound. I drove and drove determined to get that wound open. Dulce wouldn’t let Sueño stop. Harley was baffled as to why he was included in all of this.

Finally, and this would normally be a gasping moment, his right hind leg slipped out sideways on a bit of mud, and that’s when it happened. His tail clamped down, swished hard, and clamped. I heard a big “Kasploosh” sound. The wound busted open. The cantaloupe busted out, and a huge amount of bloody, serous fluid burst all over both of his legs. If he weren’t a guy, I would have thought his water broke.

He was not happy about me jumping up and down in total glee. I yelled at the wind, “Ha! I beat you! Finally!”

I cleaned up his legs, and the cantaloupe was now one of those oversized tennis balls. The draining continued. I grabbed his light blanket, covered him up to create a wind block for his private area. We walked around, and I apologized to him for everything he was going through.

Harley stood in a corner continuing to be baffled as to why I would pull him into all of this. His nostrils were flared, breathing a little hard, he stared at me hard waiting for me to send him off in another direction. We did have an agreement that he was semi-retired and only needed to go on trail rides for now on.

“I apologized to you too. I needed your help the most. You move and it become a run. Thanks Harley.” I stroked his head letting him know it letting him know it was all over.

I kept Sueño out with the boys that night, and a steady drip could be seen the following morning thanks to Chaco chasing him around every now and then. The swelling was gone. Unfortunately, by the end of the day, it closed again. I called my vet to ask him for suggestions on how to keep it open. All that I could do is rub the inside of the wound with Vaseline, but then you run the chance of dirt getting in there and later causing an infection.

The next day he had an oversized tennis ball of fluid in there, but from here on out it has been easy to manage with exercise. Two hours after each exercise, the swelling is gone. He now only has a tiny bit of fluid/swelling each morning that disappears after his 20 minutes of exercise.

All of this exercise with Dulce and Sueño has confirmed some of my suspicions about Dulce that I will talk about in my next blog. Hopefully, the loss of Sueño’s cajones will lead to healing Dulce’s pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Sueno’s Tomorrow

So, Sueño can jump. He can really jump. The other day I was standing in the field, and he ran by, took a jump, and he was way above my head. This is the second time he did this, and afterwards all I do is run my hands down his legs all day to make sure he is okay. He doesn’t do it often, but when he does, I stop breathing.

He is also really fast. He has another gear that I only see from time to time, but when he kicks into it, I again stop breathing.

We had a horrible windstorm the other night, and I needed to move him into a smaller pen. The winds were howling, visibility was dwindling, and a moment of chaos was erupting everywhere around us. Instead, he stayed calm, followed my lead, and stayed beside or behind me the entire time until I got him safely moved.

I can put my arm across his back and put weight down on his back without him flinching or raising his head. I can jump up and down next to him, and he doesn’t move a step. I can also put a rope around his girth, and he is fine with me slowly tightening it.

He has a graceful trot that would make any Dressage rider drool.

He is curious about the things that scare him. I hang objects along the fence before I bring him down from the pasture. He notices each change, gets a little bit nervous, yet walks up to each and every one of them to explore.

He loves to help, or hinder me depending on how you look at it, with everything I do. He loves the mini, Doc, and Harley adores him. Harley only took to Shandoka immediately. When he met Chaco, I thought he would kill him. With Dulce and Mojo, he was indifferent ultimately coming to accept them both realizing this is my way. Sueño is like Shandoka for him; he is totally smitten. He loves to play with him, and these two run around together quite a bit. If Sueño gets nervous when Chaco tries to play with him, he immediately runs to Harley, and Harley protects him.

Today, my sweet boy, was gelded. I miss my grandpa every single day of my life, and today I missed him even more. He always took care of this stuff. However, if he were alive, he’d tell me if I took in the horse, time to buck up and take care of him; no passing it off. The horse always comes first he would say. If you are hungry, it can wait until you get everything done with the horses and dogs.

I was the adult, and I took care of him. A mare rode by a week ago, and I thought he was going to try and jump the five foot fence we have. I know that some people wanted to breed to him, but I couldn’t handle the idea of any of his foals ever ending up in a kill pen. On Saturday, Breeder’s Cup Day, nine yearlings ended up at a kill buyer auction. They were bought at the Fasig-Tipton sale first before ending up there. Luckily, they were all purchased and will hopefully end up in a good place, but I can’t be responsible for any foal of mine ending up in that position. The Safe Act needs to be passed. Period.

My vet came out today, which is cold and wet from a snow the night before. A cold wind blew, but the sun kept peaking out from the clouds trying to warm up the ground. We knocked him out, and I sat at his head while the job was done. I told him I loved him over and over, and when he finally got back up, I was relieved it was all over. He kept giving me the side eye though, and really wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t blame him at all. It took some time before he finally warmed up to me again.

Tomorrow I trot him for 20 minutes before turning him out on the pasture to encourage the healing process and preventing anything from closing up too soon. Tomorrow we begin the rest of his journey as a gelding, and let me tell you, geldings are awesome. People put them down a lot, and I have no idea why. They are wonderful, energetic, and the best partners in adventures.

Not Taking Any Bull

It’s a crisp, chilly Fall morning. Chaco, Harley, and I are gearing up for a trail ride. The scent of pine and moist soil wafts through the air, and all of my tension evaporates. It is election day, and we headed to the woods to get away from all of it for a bit.

I notice there is still some snow all around, and I’ve never ridden Chaco through snow. I constantly want to protect his leg, but he is doing really well of late. I pat him on the neck and whisper, “I know you’ve got this.” I hop on, and the three of us saunter into the depths of the forest.

My friend Laura Lee talks about how I always look up. I love looking up at the clear, blue sky through the boughs of the trees and today is no different. It always helps me relax, and that is where my eyes go.

Chaco is really swinging his back, and Harley is staying right by his side gazing all around. We come to our first patch of snow, ande he walks through it without hesitation. We then hit mud, and he is as sure footed as one could be. I relax even more. My brain empties, and I’m completely within the moment.

We then come across a big pile of steaming bear scat. Yep, the storm and the cold didn’t drive them into hibernation. Chaco stopped, looked at it, and looked around. I whisper not to worry. The bear moved on. He steps forward and off we go again. The rest of the ride was uneventful, fun, enjoyable, and I relished every moment with Chaco and Harley. They are such blessings in my life.

As we work our way back to the truck, I think I see a black blur moving up ahead of us. So does Chaco. He stands perfectly still. Harley takes a look and moves a few steps backwards. Not seeing where the black blur went, I ask Chaco to go forward, which he does. We move about a hundred steps when I see a bull up ahead of us. He is huge, white, with brown spots, and he has huge horns. He looks like he belongs in the NFR tossing some cowboy in all sorts of directions willy nilly before throwing him to the ground. Gulp.

Chaco has seen cows across our irrigation ditch and across the street, but we’ve never had the chance to work them together. I wanted to, but because of his leg, I never wanted to put him through it. It can be a lot of hard physical work for the horse. I decide to try and avoid this behemoth and do huge loop around him.

We plunder through thick trees. Since Chaco is so tall, by head is hitting branch after branch. Luckily, I have my helmet on. Crunch, crack, squish are the sounds we make. We finally head back towards our final destination, the truck, when I see that the bull is right in our path again. He is determined to keep us from going where we need to go. I see a black blur, and I know why; he is protecting a calf.

There is a rule to never get off your horse when cattle are around. They are erratic, dangerous, and the human usually comes out on the losing end of any tussle. My grandfather in Oregon had his knee dislocated two times, and once I was chased by one of his bulls out of the pasture right into a hot wire. My arm buzzed for an entire day after that. I don’t like bulls at all. Gulp.

“Chaco, I need you to get some attitude. This is no time for you to be sweet, and Harley, no hiding behind him like you used to with Shandoka. Chaco, if you decide to toss me, toss me away from his horns and the trees please. Let’s see if we can do this.” I then cluck, and lightly swing the rope back and forth over Chaco’s withers. He immediately tucks his chin into his chest, tossed his head from side to side and walks straight for the bull surprising the heck out of me. I didn’t want him to trot, because I didn’t want the energy level of the bull to go sky high. I wanted to push him off gently. Chaco got that, so he walked towards him with energy,attitude and assertiveness, but not enough to get the bull angry.

The bull stared at him hard as if to say, “You aren’t moving my feet dude.” However, Chaco is 17.1 hands. He really puffed up when he moved forward, so I’m sure he was even taller for that short amount of time. Harley may not be tall, but he is a wide Quarter Horse. We became a wall made of horses that even the bull decided he didn’t want to mess with, and off he went! He trotted away from us. I quickly patted Chaco’s neck and Harley’s. I’m over the moon proud! Thoroughbreds can do anything, and Harley, who is expected to chase off cows but doesn’t like to, was so brave.

We then make the turn for the truck, and I see that the bull wasn’t protecting one calf. He was protecting ten or twelve and three cows. One of the cows was almost as big as the bull. Chaco and Harley come to a dead stop. There is no way for me to get them to the truck, because my truck is surrounded by all of them. They are probably wondering why in the world they are still on the forest during hunting season and want to get a ride the heck out of there. Usually, they are off by now.

And then the bull emerges to join them.

“Okay, Chaco, I have a plan. You and Harley, please work with me.” I then loop them around to the left where the cows aren’t. I hear a truck heading up the road towards us as I ride my boys along the road’s edge and then I loop back to my truck, and we gently push all of the cows and bull back into the forest keeping them safe from the big truck that barrels down the road.

However, one youngin’ remains staring us down as I hop off. Chaco is feeling good. Harley is wondering where his hay is. I quickly unsaddle Chaco and load them both up before everyone returns. The kid stands there as if to say, “I will be in the NFR one day. You watch.” He has no fear of me at all.

I get in my truck and drive off with the kid watching us as we leave.

A Little Bit Stubborn

When Sueño jumped off the trailer, Brandon, the shipper said, “He’s really sweet except he can be a little bit stubborn.” He then told me all about the troubles of loading him.

For the first few days I kept Sueño in a smaller pen to give him time to decompress from the trip, adjust to the higher elevation, and to give us some time to get to know each other before I let him up on the pasture.

What I didn’t know was how the walk up to the pasture and back down were treacherous paths for us. It became obvious immediately that he knew how to walk on a lead rope, but it wasn’t always a joint venture. He flung himself all around me, into me, and tried to go over me. When I decided that we needed to work on this before I turned him loose, he decided he wouldn’t leave the pasture refusing to budge. Each time I moved his feet, he’d try to drop his shoulder into me to knock me over, or rear up and over my head.

I don’t like this at all.

This is dangerous….

Bill has to push him from behind to unstick his mind, and this is when I planned our first training session for the next day. I hoped to not do anything with him for at least two weeks, but alas, three days and that stubborn streak screamed for my attention.

Two things were going on:

  1. He didn’t know about respecting space
  2. He used physical intimidation to get his way like he would with his fellow yearlings.

There are several different ways to teach about space. One is that you draw a circle around yourself, and each time the horse steps into it without your invitation, you back the horse out.

This is where we started, and within five minutes he picked up on this. After we got this down, we started practicing walking. I got my long stick (the same kind that most trainers use), and I first sensitized him to it. I let him smell it, mouth it, and then I rubbed his entire body with it. I wanted him to know that this stick isn’t anything to be scared of.

We started to walk the outer edges of the big paddock. Anytime he tried to drop his shoulder into me, which he did a lot, I’d poke him with the stick in his shoulder. At first it was a light tap, if he continued, the pressure graduated to a constant pressure with the end of the stick, and if he still continued, he got a stronger tap. He only got the strong tap twice. Usually, he moved off the pressure with a light tap. Of course as soon as he moved off of the light pressure, I stopped applying any pressure to let him know this is what I was looking for.

He picked up on this lesson really quick. We practiced going in both directions several times.

Where we had the most problem was walking back and forth between the paddock and the pasture. Bill was at work, so I had no help with me if I couldn’t get him down from the pasture.

All horses will challenge you. All horses.

We approached the entrance to the paddock and then backed up. We did a lot of approach and retreat. All went well.

We stepped one stride in and backed up. Went well. Repeated successfully two more times.

I then walked him in, turning him immediately to walk back through the paddock…

Total fail.

Feet locked up, head in the air. I tried to move him again, and here came the shoulder to knock me over. I poke him with the stick requesting my space, and then he rears up, and if I wouldn’t have moved, he would have landed right on me.

The challenge is on.

I start moving his feet, and before I know it, he’s longing a tight circle around me trying to drop his shoulder into me. I push him off with the stick. I get him to move in the other direction. He stops to rear up again. I’m waiting this time. I back up, so he can’t land on me, and then I go back to moving him in both directions and backwards without any reaction from me. This caught him by surprise; he expected me to give in.

We then stop moving. I walk up, pet him, hug on him, and we start walking and trotting in circles slowly moving towards the paddock’s gate. Holding my breath, the moment of truth is here.

He walks right through without any issues. I immediately let him stop, he drops his head to my chest, and we love one one another for about five minutes. After a good rest, we start walking back and forth from the paddock to the pasture. No more stubborn streak….just willingness and walking alongside me in a safe way.

I wish I could say I haven’t run into this again, but I have whenever he’s unsure of something or doesn’t want to do something. Usually, it takes a little bit of approach and retreat along with approaching from a different angle. There are times when he gets nervous about something, and he forgets about my personal space.

He’s a baby that wasn’t handled much. Thus, he’s a little bit wild, because he isn’t sure of what I’m asking all the time, which means he’s a little bit stubborn and impulsive. Everything I do with him is basically a new experience, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed for him. I put him through a lot bringing him here, and he’s gone through so much adjustment in a short amount of time. At times I feel really guilty about it. He takes it more in stride than I do sometimes.

I said it before, and I will say it again, he’s the sweetest horse. He is full of love, and he loves to be loved on. Time will smooth all of this out. We’re just beginning.