I climbed on to Sueño’s back, and we began to move forward together. I was getting on his back for a couple of weeks, and we would move around bareback together. He was fine with it, had a good mind, and I was so excited about the future. Then a shadow approached us. I looked up, and before I could respond, a paraglider was directly above us by maybe thirty feet. Not only was he above us, but he was going up and down as if he was on a rollercoaster.
I felt Sueño’s entire body tighten up. His head flew up, his back tightened and hollowed, and his breath stopped. Somehow, he didn’t blow up like most horses would. I hopped off and stood next to him and did what my grandmother would have done. I shook my fist at the paraglider saying a few choice words. I walked Sueño around until he started to breath normally again. I went and got the brush running it all over his body. I then scratched his ears and jaws; all of his favorite things. It was my feeble attempt to try and end on a good note and not let that paraglider affect his young, green mind.
The next day I went out, got on him, and he let me stay there. He didn’t try to buck me off, bolt, or anything like that. Instead, what he did actually seemed a bit worse. He wouldn’t take one step forward. His head dropped towards the ground as I listened to him grind his teeth. He grabbed hold of the reins and chewed and chewed. All signs that he was thoroughly stressed. I hopped off and loved on him until he calmed down.
The paragliders were becoming a major problem for my horses. They flew over them each day after the infamous crash, and I noticed that all of my horses were chewing their sides incessantly, which meant ulcers. I called and asked my neighbor to ask them to not fly over my horses again, I put my horses on Gut X and sucralfate, and they all got a month off. I then had my appendix removed, so they got a few more weeks off. After their teeth were done, I decided it was time for all of us to get back to work.
Sueño seemed to be back to normal. No more chewing or grinding his teeth. We moved through everything easily as we refreshed all that he learned before the incident. I thought it was time to bring out the mounting block after a few weeks to see how he felt about me getting on him. I never did get on him. I still haven’t.
Each time I was about to get on, his breathing would either stop or become rapid. His body tensed as his head flew up. He looked for the lead rope to chew on. This is not what I wanted to see at all. I put getting on his back on hold as we went back to other groundwork challenges. Meanwhile I kept trying to figure out other ways to work with him; a different approach that would help him relax.
The problem was that now he was afraid of me being higher than him. He associated it with the paraglider flying directly above him. Every different approach I tried did not ease his fear. Each time he held his breath. Yes, I could have gotten on him and rode him through it, but what would the ramifications of that be? Would he get ulcers again? Would I be bucked off? If you skip a step where there is tension, it always comes back to haunt you.
Lying in bed I remembered a documentary I watched years ago called Taming Wild by Elsa Sinclair. The documentary is about giving a wild mustang the choice as to whether or not to allow someone to ride on her back. In it, Elsa gets on the back of the mustang once, and the horse seems to completely accept her. However, the next day and many days and weeks after that, she said, “No way.” Sinclair realized that whenever she stood on a stump to get on her, the horse held her breath. Instead of getting on her, she stood next to her on the stump until she finally let out a sigh, and that would be the end of their work for the day. Each day it took less time before the horse sighed, and then finally one day she let Sinclair get on her again.
“This is it!” I exclaimed in the darkness.
The next day, without a lead rope or any way to stop Sueño from walking away, he followed me to the mounting block, and I slowly climbed up alongside him. I stood facing his head with my hand resting on his back. We stood together like that for a half hour. He never walked away, but he did hold his breath. Then he began breathing fast….held his breath….breathing fast….. began shaking his head….for 3o minutes. I stood still and let him work through it. Finally, I felt him rest his hindleg, and he let out a deep, long sigh. I scratched his entire back, hopped off the mounting block and scratched the area in front of his ears; his favorite. We have been doing this six days a week, and the amount of time is getting shorter and shorter.
Then today happened.
I gathered up Sueño to work with him, and we were successfully going through some of his suppling exercises. I was so happy at how things were going, and I even had the idea of possibly getting on his back today.
Across from my hay field, my neighbors planted rows and rows of corn. Today a helicopter came to spray the fields with fertilizer. In order to spray the neighbor’s field, the helicopter has to fly over a portion of our property when he turns around. He comes close to where the horses are.
I am no fan of helicopters after a friend died in one, but I knew that this was a really good training opportunity. So, without a lead rope on, I took him over to the mounting block. I climbed up and stood alongside Sueño with my hand resting on his back. He leaned into me gently; not to push me off but to seek comfort I believe. He began moaning, and at the end of the moan, he blew out his nose. He did this three times. He has never done this before. I could have jumped off the block to comfort him, but I felt it was important to let him do it; let him work through it. Each time he blew out his nose and shook his head. I felt like he was releasing his fear of anything being above him, so I stood in that space with him.
What did I feel, I felt peaceful. I felt humbled by the fact that he leaned into me for support. I was in awe of his courage and willingness to stand with me, to trust me as this helicopter approached us over and over.
Then the helicopter looked like it was about to fall out of the sky on to a house not far from my hay field, but somehow he landed in the field across the street. Sueño took it all in stride. In fact, he rested his hindleg, was breathing normal, and finally let out a big sigh. I immediately hopped off and walked away from the mounting block. He followed me and buried his head into my arms where I held his head telling him how much I loved him.
I think we had a breakthrough, but I won’t know until tomorrow and the coming days. What I can say is when you have an opportunity like this, take it. I could have told myself to wait until the helicopter was gone. I knew it was a gift, so I accepted it. What I learned today is that sometimes it’s not about action and movement, but about standing there, breathing calmly with your horse, and providing your horse the space to work through an issue with you by their side.
I had a dream. My horse Shandoka, who died four years ago, was standing inside a barn with another horse. I wasn’t sure who the horse was. He didn’t look like Mojo or any of my horses. He was thin and tired. I approached him to say hello, but each time I tried, Shandoka herded him away from me. I finally saw the other horse’s face, and he had an interesting white blaze down his face. The phrase, “Not now,” entered into my mind as I woke up. In a few days I would know for sure that this was Mintz.
When I began writing this, Fish Trappe Road was on his way to Connecticut after a long stint racing in Puerto Rico. He is a stakes winning racehorse that somewhere along the line found himself on a ship to Puerto Rico to race at Camarero. This is usually a one way ticket for for horses as most never make it back to the states. Luckily, after a lot of effort by many, especially by Kelley Stobie of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare and Sherrie Courtney of Racing For Home, they were able to secure his retirement. Fisher is now at his forever home in Connecticut with my friend Sherrie Courtney.
A horse on my radar needed help as well and fast. This is the story ab0ut how a bunch of people came together to help a horse by Candy Ride named Mintz who also ended up on a boat to Puerto Rico and nearly raced to his death.
I had my eye on Mintz for a long time, and while CTA worked feverishly to raise money to get FTR and nine other thoroughbreds back to the states, I worried about Mintz. He hadn’t raced in two months after he was scratched on January 28th. Horses in Puerto Rico often run every two weeks, and if they can’t, it’s not good for them.
On October 10, 2021, Royal Flag won the Beldame at Belmont. She is by Candy Ride as is Mintz. Mintz raced a few days later finishing third. Even though it was third, there was something about the way he moved that bothered me. I went out to spend time with Dulce, who is also by the great Candy Ride. I looked deep into his eyes, and he buried his head into my heart. It is something he does, a moment that I love, and I thought about Royal Flag and Mintz on such different stages. It was a moment that caused me to walk back into the house and make a commitment to Mintz. I wrote to my friend Chrissy who works with CTA asking if anyone had vouched for him. Nobody had so I filled out the paperwork. He raced three more times in Puerto Rico and vanished.
When FTR was in quarantine awaiting to leave for Miami, I wrote to Kelley about Mintz. The dream haunted me, and my red flag wasn’t just waving; it was in a gale force wind. Two months and still not a race. When he was scratched back in December, Mintz had a bout of colic. I wondered if he did again and was put down.
She wrote back after speaking with the owner saying he still had Mintz. He didn’t state why he wasn’t racing however. Kelley reminded the owner that he had a home when he was ready to retire him. Although, I was relieved to hear that Mintz was alive, my red flag was still up and flying hard. I kept asking silently for the forces that be to help this horse.
The following Friday Kelley wrote asking me to call. This is when I learned about Mintz’s condition. She would be sending me x-rays. FTR was preparing to fly out the next day. Filled with joy and anxiety at the same time for these two horses, I planned on where to put Mintz. I decided he could go by Chaco, and they could be companions for one another. I would loop his corral around, so he could intermingle with the other horses including his half brother Dulce over the fence. They are the same age, and how great would it be for them to be together?
Then the x-rays came, and I received some scary news. He was bad lame. The x-rays looked pretty bad, so I sent them off to several racing vets and my surgeons for their opionion. They were going to put him down that Friday morning, but Kelley stopped them saying that he had a home with me. If I never would have asked Kelley to check on him, he would have been put down.
Mintz was purchased by Centennial Farms for $320,000 at the Keenland September sale as a yearling. He won his second time out, and stayed up in the Northeast for awhile. To be honest with you, I’m not sure Mintz was ever a fan of racing, but that didn’t matter; he had a loyal fan base. There were good races and not so good races. I watched him from afar with a special place in my heart, because I am a huge fan of Candy Ride. Also, I liked Centennial Farms. They seemed like a good organization that truly cared for their horses. He traveled south to Gulfstream where he was put in a claiming race, and that is when he fell into the devil’s hands; the Navarro barn. The Navarro barn claimed Mintz and another horse named Wonder In.
Jorje Navarro was arrested with several others in a big drugging scandal. He bragged about all of the horses that died in his care due to these drugs. All of us horse racing people immediately think about X Y Jet who died from a massive heart attack in his care. The FBI has wire taps where Navarro bragged about drugging X Y Jet, so as I write this, I have no doubt that Mintz was a victim of who knows what kind of drugs that Navarro raced his horses on. They can not be detected by present day tests, and who knows what the long term health effects will be on these horses.
Mintz raced for Navarro three times. The third time he finished second to last. I wonder if this is when a problem emerged. Maybe he came back slightly lame. Maybe some x-rays were taken, and instead of retiring him as he should have been, Navarro shipped him off to Puerto Rico instead like he did with numerous other horses.
The last time he raced in the states was July 11th, 2020, and the first time he raced at Camarero in Puerto Rico was Christmas Day in 2020. Why was there such a long space between races? The journey to Puerto Rico from Florida is a long and tortuous trip for horses. Mintz, like hundreds and hundreds of other horses, traveled by cargo ship in a metal container with windows cut out of it. The container was forty feet long, had small, wooden dividers, and a fan in one corner. They have some hay and water. He probably traveled with eleven or more horses in it, and none of them had any room to turn around or lie down. The horses usually arrive 50 to 75 pounds lighter due to dehydration and/or pneumonia. Due to the cramped space and inability to move, he may have landed in Puerto Rico with injuries.
For whatever reason, it was six months before his racing career started at Camarero. He raced sixteen times often two weeks apart. We all watched from afar hoping somehow he would make it back to the states. Since he often finished in the top four, that didn’t seem likely. Lately, I saw Mintz struggle. I saw him run well in the beginning but fade. This made that red flag of mine wave harder and harder until I finally found out from Kelley that he was about to be put down.
After a lot of consideration and guilt, I realized that if I brought him here, he would be in worse shape. I live in Colorado by Utah. In between Denver and where I live it is all mountains and valleys filled with steep passes and winding roads littered with hairpin turns on steep grades, which would be hard for a horse in his condition. He has osteoarthritis in his left fetlock, an osselet, and his suspensory is compromised. In the video that was sent to me, I saw a horse in a lot of pain. The further he walked, the more ouchy he appeared, and turning was a challenge for him. His hips don’t track well, which I believe is his way to compensate for the pain in both front ankles, which are huge. Coming to Colorado could be his end. I had to admit coming here first was not a good idea, and the guilt that flooded me was suffocating. I called my friend Sherrie hoping we could figure something out.
This is where Sherrie from Racing for Home enters into the story. As I mentioned, she runs a fantastic OTTB Non Profit having rescued and rehomed many. She is taking in Fish Trappe Road, and she and I wanted to give Mintz a chance. She hatched a plan. She found a person that could foster him where it would be much easier for Mintz to travel to. This sealed the deal for me even though I was riddled with guilt still. Sherrie found the best solution. He can rest and heal, and if it is determined in 6 or more months that he can travel here, we will do that. He now has his soft landing.
Acacia Courtney Clement, who is also on the Racing for Home Board, would be attending the Ocala Sales, so she planned on talking with Centennial Farms to see if they would be interested in helping bring Mintz home. When she spoke with the President, Donald Little, there was no pause, no hesitation….only a yes. Centennial said that they would pay for his flight back and help with vet bills as we rehabilitate Mintz.
I want to underline how amazing this is, and how much I appreciate Centennial from the bottom of my heart. Mintz never made them that much money. They could have easily said no, but instead they are eager to bring him back and give him what he needs. I’ve helped rescue several horses, and there have been times that the owners and/or breeders either never responded or said no to helping out. Centennial Farms didn’t even blink an eye at the cost to fly him home. We will forever be grateful to Centennial for their help. Their participation in this village along with Acacia’s of support for Mintz was crucial, and this needs to be lauded from the highest of mountain tops. Instead of fundraising and trying to get him home, he already has his plane ticket.
Next step was where could he have time to rest before traveling to Connecticut? Clement Stables, who never had anything to do with Mintz, offered to send him a private farm in Ocala, Florida for two weeks. There he will be treated like royalty. He will be able to graze and relax. He will be seen by some of the best vets, and this is when many decisions will be made.
Rescue can be messy, and there is often no black and white. Instead there are all shades of colors that paint a picture that is rarely perfect. So many nights are spent in the barn with the horses to make sure they see the light of the next day. I slept outside with Dulce for three weeks until we got him through the worst of his gut issues. There are so many highs and lows on the journey to wellness, and Mintz will have many of those.
At first we thought we were flying him home to put him to sleep, but after seeing him and his personality, we have hope that we can rehabilitate him. Sherrie is in the perfect location to give him what he needs. Tufts University is an hour and a half a way. She has an excellent vet, and he will be given every opportunity to be the horse that he can be.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from horses is that I can have a goal in my mind as to what I want to achieve with my horse as I walk into the arena. However, there really is no “I”, and often my goals are reimagined as my horse communicates his needs. We may all have a goal to get Mintz pasture sound and live a good life, but along the way he may tell us that he needs something else. If the vets believe that we can’t help him, we will do right by him. All of us came together for him….not because we want anything from him at all….but for him. We want to give him a chance, dignity, and love in whatever shape or form he needs.
As I’m writing this, he is going into quarantine, and on April 1st he will fly to Miami. I have hopes that one day he will find his way here, but I’ve surrendered that idea. Whatever is best for him is all that matters to me. If he does make it here, he will have a run next to Chaco. They will be called the Blister Buddies, since they were both blistered while racing. It will loop around, so he can visit with his brother out of another mother, Dulce. Sueño can teach him how to play, while Harley will help him adjust to and get to know all of the wildlife that moves through with the changing seasons. No matter where he will be he will have a home thanks to Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, Sherrie Courtney and Acacia Courtney Clement of Racing For Home, Centennial Farms, his Foster, Kinsman Farm, and Clement Stables.
Mintz has a fantabulous village. I have a good feeling. Growing up in racing you always look for a good sign. He went into quarantine on the anniversary of my grandparents’ wedding. He flies home on the 21st anniversary of my first date with my husband.
Mintz is coming home everyone, and he will be in great hands every step of the way.
UPDATE: Mintz will not be able to come here. His leg cannot support the long trip through the mountains. He has arrived at Racing for Home in Connecticut where he will receive the best of care. He already has received an injection into his left fetlock and had an acupuncture treatment, both of which have done him wonders. He gets to go for a hand graze on beautiful grass each day for fifteen minutes. He is loving his new life.
Please consider going to these sites to thank everyone for their efforts in helping Mintz on his healing journey. They need to know how appreciated they are. During a time when all is focused on the negative, they all are doing what we want to see in racing…..caring for the horse….putting the horse first.
I also want to thank his foster for providing him a safe spot to land and heal. He will have a lot of vet bills, and we need to raise funds for his boarding. If you would like to donate to his ongoing care, please go to: https://racingforhomeinc.com/donate/
Please give a lot of thanks to Kelley, Chrissy, and Shelley at Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare. The work they do is beyond any words. To say that they are in the trenches of rescue is an understatement, and they need all the support they can get to keep up the rescue work they do. You can thank them on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/CaribbeanOTTB and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/horserescue, and if you would like to make a much needed donation to bring more thoroughbreds home, please go to https://www.ctahorse.com/
Finally, I would like to thank Kathryn Papp https://twitter.com/kathrynpapp, Elizabeth Yarberry, and my surgeons at Roaring Fork Equine Medical Center for all of their help. I will always be grateful to you.
I am so excited that I decided to write a quick blog about Sueño’s hooves. Before I start, I want to say this…
Whenever I hear someone refer to the hooves of a thoroughbred as “typical,’ which means weak hoof walls, thin soles, underrun heels, and long toes it is like someone is running their fingernails down a chalkboard or worse….
Shoving peanut butter into my mouth.
When Sueño arrived, he had one very upright hoof, and one that was pancaked out. At first Ibthought he had a club foot, because it looked like one. When I lifted his hoof, I saw he had a 2.5 inch heel, which meant there was a lot of room for improvement. You want a horse’s heels to be around 3/4 of an inch to an inch tall. The right front had very short heels and flared quarters along with a toe that needed to be brought back.
That’s okay because I love rehabbing hooves especially on thoroughbreds. I love to show people that a thoroughbred can have really strong, healthy, barefoot hooves, and Sueño would be another opportunity to show this. When I saw Sueño’s hooves, I realized immediately I had a big challenge ahead of me, and he would be great teacher for myself and others.
I recommend this diet to people that want to shift to barefoot or keep their horses in shoes. If your horse is always throwing a shoe, you need to look at their diet. If your horse isn’t racing or doing endurance, they don’t need oats. All of my horses are on a low NSC diet. They do not get candy or anything high in sugar. That doesn’t mean they don’t get treats, but they are all very low in sugar. Farrier’s Formula is okay, but it really isn’t enough for horses. I wouldn’t be able to rehab my horses the way I have with Farrier’s Formula. California Trace works great to balance out my hay, so they get a balanced mineral diet.
Sueño does not get sugar treats, molasses, peppermint candies, or sweet feed. His hooves were so disconnected with huge rings that if I would have fed him any sugary feed, it would have continued, and we could have gone downhill with severe hoof issues. Several studies haven proven that sugar creates disconnected hoof wall. When a hoof wall disconnects from the structures underneath, the coffin bone sinks too far down into the hoof capsule. I knew without having to get an x-ray, that the coffin bone had sunk a bit too far into the hoof capsule.
Sugar, carbs, and high amounts of iron undermine the hoof creating a weak hoof. My friend Heather one day said something like, “Everyone says a good hoof is being bred out of the Thoroughbred when in reality it is being fed out of them.” She is so right. All of my Thoroughbreds have rock hard hoof walls. They never crack or chip. They also have nice, thick souls. I walk them over rock all the time, and they never get ouchy. I’ve gone on a couple of rides with Dulce barefoot, and not one little chips of the hoof wall occurred. Also, no stone bruises. When my horse Shandoka was in shoes, he always had stone bruises. When I took the shoes off and changed his diet, he never did again.
If you are on well water and your horse has weak walls, soft souls, and throws his or her shoes all the time, look into how much iron your horse is getting. Iron isn’t a bad thing, but if they are getting too much, it blocks the absorption of copper and zinc, which are vital for creating and growing strong hooves. If you are on a well, and your horse has weak walls, you can buy an RV water filter and put it on your hose. It will filter it out. They are inexpensive, and they can be found at Walmart.
If you don’t want to do that, you can add more copper and zinc to your horse’s feed to offset the iron intake, and if you do this, consult an equine nutritionist after getting your water tested. Also, those brown and red salt licks are filled with iron. Only put out a white salt lick. Check your feed to see how high the iron levels are. Tribute recently lowered the amount of iron in their feed and added more Vitamin E.
Try to cut out all extraneous sugars and carbs that you can. I do not feed my horses any oats. They don’t need them. If I were racing or doing endurance rides, I would feed them oats (then it would be naked oats if I could find them), but since they aren’t, they don’t need them. Oats can be very aggravating to the gut as well causing ulcers. I feed them ground flaxseed instead. The flaxseed has to be ground up before feeding. Manna Pro and Triple Crown sell ground flax. My horses have PLENTY of energy, and it is a very focused energy instead of a skittish, hot energy created by oats or corn.
When I began working on his right hoof, I brought his toe back, and I removed the quarter flares. He had hardly any heels, so I simply kept them balanced and rockered them to encourage him to walk and run heel toe. What is a rocker? I basically am creating a rocking chair effect. I don’t take any heel height off, but I file at a 35 degree angle with the inner structures of his hoof to create the rocking chair effect.
His left front as I mention was very upright. Trying to keep that one in a good place was not easy. Here is what I did trimming wise. Again, we have a bit of a ways to go, but in a month, this hoof is in a much better place.
During the winter, he barely grew any hoof except for heel on his left front. You have to be very careful when you lower tall heels, because it will lame your horse if you drop them down too fast. This happened with my horse Shandoka when he got his first trim from a farrier. He was lame for two months. Lowering the heels really affects the tendons and ligaments. When I began working on him in the winter, I would lower his heels a quarter inch, allow his legs to adjust. If he moved fine, I would lower them another quarter inch a week later, and so on and so on until I got his heels down to 3/4 of an inch. He moved great at this height, so I knew we were at the right spot for him. Even thought I did this, he still looked horribly upright.
In addition to the trimming, an important aspect is also stretching. I stretch out his front legs every day. He was not fond of it at first, but he is finally relaxing into it. His left shoulder fascia is really tight, and as of yesterday, I finally got that to release a bit more. Again, we are moving in the right direction.
While I did this on his left front, I worked on keeping his right front toe back and the quarters tight. As I did this, his heels began to grow. We were moving in the right direction on both hooves.
When summer hit, he began growing hoof wall out the yin yang. Before I knew it, another old, disconnected ring was hitting creating flares, which can cause the hoof wall further up to disconnect. I began filing on him every single week. Why?
His heels were out of control. I would bring them down to where they needed to be, and in two weeks they were as high as could be again. This is not good for the tendons and ligaments. They were being flung around like a yo yo. He also wore on the medial side and not on the lateral creating crooked hooves.
I utilized some of Jec Ballou’s exercises for straightness using polls and a bar ditch. Within two weeks, he was wearing his heels down equally. I was shocked how quick that changed, so no more crooked hooves. I also began filing on his heels each week to keep them in place and touching up his rocker each week. I also stayed on his quarters, which constantly flare out to a perfect circle. I keep bringing them back in. I also make sure when the rings at the toe hit the ground, they have a strong bevel on them, so they don’t become a lever creating more disconnection further up the hoof wall. As you can see in the picture below, his left front has much better angles in a month of weekly work. Since it is working so well, we will keep doing it throughout the summer, and we will see if he improves anymore. I believe his tendons and ligaments kept wanting to go back to their original position, so his heels grew like crazy to accommodate them. By doing this work, they are becoming more and more relaxed, and I believe his heels will grow normally one day. I am ridiculously excited.
On the right front, I make sure his toe doesn’t take off dragging his heels forward. His heels are staying in place and growing straight down. Horses with underrun heels look like they have no heels. Truth is they have a lot of heel, but it has grown towards the toe. When that happens, lots of times the toe is too long. The hoof is trying to find a way to balance itself out, so the toe drags the heels forward. Staying on that right toe allowed his heels to grow and keeps them in place. I still think his toe needs to come back a bit more, but his hoof isn’t quite ready for that. It has moved back a lot so far. My guess is we will see a change in the next few months. The great thing is that he has heels on his right hoof. Such a nice sight to see.
We have a ways to go, and I hope to post the changes in six months and a year. The last of his Florida hooves are now hitting the ground. Now we have to grow out this new hoof from when he moved here, which displays all of the changes he went through. The third hoof is going to be nice if nothing unforeseen happens. It all takes time, but it is worth it. Am I changing his confirmation? Yes, I am. It was a scary choice, but it was one that was needed. If I wouldn’t have tried to adjust his left heel, get those tendons and ligaments to relax, he would have had major issues as he got older. Like I said, he has a very tight left shoulder that is beginning to balance out more and more as I stretch him and help this hoof change.
This is why I love keeping my horse’s barefoot. If Sueño had shoes on, I’d never be able to create this kind of change. If you keep your horses in shoes, follow the diet on Pete’s page. It will help you out a lot. Feeding the hoof can make all the difference! https://www.hoofrehab.com/Diet.html
I highly recommend you get your hay tested, and that you balance out your minerals for your horses. If you are on a well, get your water tested for iron. Try to cut out as much sugar as possible, and find yourself a good barefoot trimmer. If you have a horse similar to Sueño that needs to be filed on in between trims, ask your barefoot trimmer to teach you. I also recommend that you read all of Pete’s articles at https://www.hoofrehab.com/Articles.html. His videos are great as well, and they are a constant help to me.
For those of you that have OTTB’s, don’t buy into the idea that they will always have bad hooves; that there is even a typical TB hoof. You can change them for the better. I have done it over and over, and if I can do it, there is no reason why you can’t.
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:
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.
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.
Get four references. Make sure they can afford your horse. Find out who supplies them with hay. Ask to talk with their vet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.