The wind pounded us, assaulted us, and wore our minds out yesterday. It was unrelentless as a cold front pushed up against a warm front and they battled it out. I stood with the horses thinking about a warm, summer night walk with Weather Wiz.
When Weather Wiz arrived here, he of course wore shoes. If you know me, you know I am all about transitioning a thoroughbred to being barefoot, and I couldn’t wait to begin with Wiz.
One of the things I immediately noticed when I met Wiz was that he tripped a lot, because his hooves were landing toe first instead of heel first. He walked as if he wanted to go on pointe like a ballerina. Some people think this is the proper way for a horse to walk, but it is anything but. It causes a lot of destruction to the hoof. It tears the hoof wall away from the underlying structures weakening it, which can lead to issues such as laminitis. What causes a horse to do this? Usually it is because they are heel sore from an issue such as thrush, or worse, they can be navicular, etc. Also, wearing shoes constantly can cause this heel soreness to occur, and couple that with a horse that runs at incredibly fast speeds, and that pain only worsens. Imagine how you would walk if both of your heels were bruised? Probably toe first, and now imagine how much pain you foot and legs would be in from walking toe first all the time. This is what happens to horses.
When I looked at his heel bulbs, I saw that they were severely contracted with his heel bulbs butting up against one another and upwards. He definitely was heel sore. My first priority was to pull Wiz’s shoes.
He was such a good horse about letting me pull his shoes. I am not a big fan of pulling shoes with clips on them. It makes it a bit more challenging, but after pulling out a couple of nails, I was able to easily pull them off. He barely knew me, yet he stood perfectly still. After they were removed, I saw that his toes were bruised from the repeated toe landings. His heels were uneven, so I began to gently file on one of them when he pulled back violently on me terrified by the pain that I unknowingly inflicted upon him.
After I calmed him down and reassured him, I saw how the heel horns were blood red just underneath the surface. They were badly bruised. I could only use the fine side of the rasp gently to get his heels to the right height. I whispered to him, “I bet it hurt to run didn’t it buddy?”
The best thing for rehabilitation of sore heels and to encourage a heel-toe landing is to walk the horse. For the first two weeks he wore Cloud boots. After that he was fine to go barefoot. Each day Wiz and I went for walks four to five times a day all around our property. Not only was it great for his hooves and their healing, but it helped Wiz and I get to know one another.
I know Wiz enjoyed our walks, because he waits at the gate for me when it is time to go out. During the summer, we meandered all around as I learned what made him nervous, what sparked his curiosity, and how I never felt like he wanted to break free from me. I’ve never put a chain across his nose, or any of my horses for that matter, and I can walk him with a light feel on the lead rope. He is a joy to walk with.
We often stood together gazing in the distance at other horses, or he would play with me and the lead rope. Wiz loves to play, and he shows me that for training in the future, to always include some aspect of play into it. He also loves to hug. When he needs contact, he will gently rub his head all over you. He never pushes you, he is always gentle about it, and it is loving.
One thing I noticed the first month he was here was that he didn’t want to canter, didn’t want to trot, and galloping wasn’t even a thought in his mind. He always remained at the walk, because those heels were so sore.
When you first pull shoes off a horse, the hoof expands, because nothing is holding it into some predetermined shape anymore. Thus, I trim every two weeks to make sure that nothing becomes a fulcrum that can cause cracks or any further tearing of the hoof wall from the underlying structures. Each time I worked on him, those heels were red until we hit the month mark when two of the heels on his left front were normal. He didn’t even twitch when I rasped them.
Our last walk of the day during those warm, summer nights was always around 8pm. We would walk up to the top of the pasture, and listen to the water flow along the irrigation ditch before we headed back to his barn. I usually would unclip the lead rope and we would walk together at liberty.
One night I removed the lead rope like usual, but he didn’t follow me. Instead he watched me. I kept looking back to see if he moved. He didn’t. When I got within twenty feet of the gate, he gave me a look, arched his neck, and he opened up. He didn’t trot or canter, but he ran as if he busted out of the gate on some track in his memory. He ran straight for me. His hooves seemed to barely hit the ground, yet they made the sound of thunder. As he dropped lower, the wind tried to keep up with him as he flew through the air. My breath escaped me as I watched the racehorse within him return. He blew past me only to corner on a dime that a horse as a big as he is shouldn’t be able to do. He then trotted to me with his head held high, nostrils flaring, and tail raised. He touched his nose to mine.
“Wow! You are amazing Wiz,” I whispered as I stroked his neck.
I clicked the lead rope back on, and we walked back to the barn together both of us smiling.
Both Weather Wiz and Chaco are direct descendants of Man o’ War through the same line….In Reality.
Chaco is Texas bred. Chaco’s sire, Captain Countdown, is also Texas bred, and the fee to breed to him was $500.
Weather Wiz is Kentucky bred, and his sire is the great Tiznow, who was bred in California. His highest breeding fee was $75,00, and Tiznow stood in Kentucky at Winstar.
Chaco would be considered a low level claimer racing primarily in New Mexico, Arizona, and also in Texas. For the record there was nothing low level about Chaco.
Weather Wiz raced on the New York circuit before going to Gulfstream where he was claimed. He then raced on the mid-Atlantic circuit.
Chaco won five times, and he came in second six times as well as in third six times. He earned just over $48k.
Weather Wiz raced 33 times winning six times. He came in second eight times, and he came in third four times making almost $309k.
They both finished in the top three 17 times.
I told Wiz that their earnings should be equal since Chaco went down in a race, had two horses go over him, and he lived to tell the tale. Wiz agreed.
Similar stories with very different track experiences, both direct descendants of Man o’ War through In Reality, and they found each other here in Colorado.
Each morning they were together, and they became instantly close. Chaco taught him how to play and passed on his knowledge. Chaco was a lot like Wiz is today… racing for many years, coming off the track, and having to learn what being a horse with other horses was like without a human controlling their every movement. Chaco had a lot of knowledge to share, and often I saw Wiz intently listening and learning from Chaco.
Two warriors becoming the best of friends in a short time.
A horse isn’t meant to put all of his weight on three legs. Compensation for an injury wears everything else out in their body, and no matter what you do to try and ease the compensation, it is a battle you can’t win. You tread water at the same place for a long time until you hit a slide down a hill you’ve been trying to avoid. Once you find the plateau, you tread water again until you get sucked down another slide, where you tread water as long as you can while eyeing the next slide hoping you can keep it as far away as possible. You desperately try to find answers staying up late at night Googling everything you can, writing to the most prominent vets in the country, and reading any new studies released only to realize you are on the precipice of another slide downward.
Stifle injuries are complicated. There is no magic surgery to fix a stifle. You can’t fuse it, because it is a high motion joint, and once the cartilage is gone, it is gone. Nothing out there regenerates it.
Chaco, as I mentioned in my last blog, went down in a race. He was brought up on the inside along the rail. All of his other races he went wide away from all of the traffic. He had a big stride. This time on the inside he clipped heels, went down, and two other horses went over him. One kicked his stifle breaking some of the bone off into big chunks. His pelvis was fractured along with a rib. He recovered and raced two months later winning his first race back.
Unfortunately, they never removed the bone chunks. (For the record, they were not chips. They were the size of your adult, front teeth.) Instead they blistered him probably so his muscles and tendons wouldn’t rub against the bone chunks. He raced for a year, and those chunks worked their damage on the femorotibial joint in his stifle. When I adopted him, we had them removed, but the damage was severe. I was told that he would never be truly sound, and each day was on borrowed time.
I created med pens trying to restrict Chaco’s movements while allowing him to be surrounded by his friends and be out in the sunshine he so loved. It might be close to 100, and he would sunbathe. After all of those years in a stall, he was a devout sun worshipper. If I tried to confine him in a stall, he often crow hopped until I let him back out into the sun.
I gave him shots in his neck each week of glucosamine and pentosan once a week, which at first really helped. After a year, their ability to help faded and faded.
We literally spent thousands of dollars on his leg each year trying to keep him sound…trying to ease his need to compensate.
I tried different injections such as IRAP, ProStride, which never worked. After one horrible winter, I found out that Noltrex was finally available in the US. He got that, and it was like a miracle. He went from being severely lame to being able to walk with ease. I have a ridiculous amount of pictures of Chacoi resting his left leg after that injection. He finally was able to give his left hindleg a break.
I made him a promise that I would never let him get like that again. If he did, I would do right by him.
After his last Noltrex injection a month ago, I noticed it wasn’t helping him. He was a yo-yo in how he would do from day to day. I tried everything and then he slipped. After that, the story is between Chaco and I, but I did right by him. He was done. He was tired. He wouldn’t even try to play with the horses anymore.
That last morning, Wiz wouldn’t go up to the pasture with the other horses. He stayed with Chaco….standing by his side.
I hoped he would die from anything else but from his racing injury. No matter how hard I fought, I couldn’t give him that. I had to put down a completely healthy horse, because of his leg. If your horse has chips in those legs, get them out immediately. Don’t wait for them to cause your horse to be lame, because if you do, it is too late. If they would have removed them immediately while he was racing, a simple $3k surgery, Chaco would still be alive today. Get those chips out!
Compensation for an injury is a huge price for a horse when prolonged. He compensated for six years, one of which he raced. I’m not going to share what it was like for us the last two weeks. That is between us. All I will say is he changed. He knew. I knew.
I stayed with him long past his last agonal breath. I’ve been fighting to keep him alive for five years. How do you stop fighting? How do you let that fight go when it is part of your daily routine.
I asked my horse Shandoka who always looked after him to give me a sign that Chaco was with him. Shandoka’s name meant Storm Bringer. Even though rain wasn’t supposed to start until 8 hours later, a storm gathered around us. It started to rain lightly, and then the clouds opened up forming a circle above us with the brightest sunlight pouring through as it continued to rain. Probably to anyone looking our way, they saw a rainbow.
* * * *
A few days before all of this I had to scrub out Chaco’s water tank. He loved to help me. He stood next to me, and whenever I stirred up the water for the water pump, he would stir it and splash me. He then would take a long slurp. When horses hold water in their mouths, their tongue will stick out a bit. While I was scrubbing, he would put his tongue on the back of my neck and let the water dribble out all over me. Each and every time I scrubbed the tank he did this, and he got a kick out of it each time. This is the horse I will remember….not his leg problems…but how my Gentle Giant loved to play…how he loved life.
Chaco’s Jockey Club name was Lesis More. There was nothing “Less” about him. He was everything.
I want to thank everyone that supported him in some way. You know who you are. We great appreciate you. I will be offline for awhile as I try to help my other boys get through this.
I came in from feeding the horses one morning in early July when I received a text from my friend Linda asking me if I heard about Weather Wiz. A pit sank into my stomach. I wrote back that I hadn’t and to please tell me. She told me to contact Lisa. I asked her to tell me, that I wanted the band-aid ripped off. I feared he broke down during a breeze, and I didn’t want to contact someone else to hear about it.
She wrote back saying, “You got Wiz.”
I sat stunned for I’m not sure how long.
For quite awhile I’ve offered a home to Weather Wiz through his former owner Centennial Farms, but his present owner/trainer was not interested in retiring him each time they reached out to him. After getting that text from Linda, I called Lisa. I honestly wondered if I was being punked I was in such shock. Centennial reached out two weeks ago, and he once again declined the offer. Lisa answered my call, told me the story, and I guess Jamie Ness (owner/trainer) told a friend of hers, “Tell Centennial I will give him to that woman who wants him.” That woman was me, and I was incredulous.
Next I called Danielle from Turning For Home who was the one that spoke to Ness. After a lot of back and forth, we agreed to meet outside of Denver on July 15th where I would meet Wiz for the first time. She was traveling with her niece up to Wyoming for a competition.
My husband stayed behind to take care of the horses and dogs, and I packed up and headed east. It was a hot day and I was making good time until I got east of Glenwood Springs. There I hit the weekend traffic heading to the mountains or Denver, and we all found ourselves in a monsoon downpour. Traffic crawled. Seeing Wiz was delayed by an hour at the least. I grew irritable.
I’ve watched Weather Wiz since his first race at Belmont back in 2017. He is by Tiznow, who is a California bred horse and won two memorable Breeder’s Cups back to back. He is the first and only horse to do that. Tiznow is a special horse that found a huge place in my heart during his racing days. He had this grit, such heart, and he seemed to pass that on to his offspring. Also, when Mojo was supposedly abandoned in some field in Oklahoma, he was found with a Tiznow mare. When Mojo died, I swore I would take in another Uncle Mo or a Tiznow in honor of him. Before I left for the Front Range to pick up Wiz, I realized the day I would meet Wiz was also the anniversary of when Shandoka died. It seemed that I was coming full circle on both tragic losses.
When I finally hit the plains, I couldn’t wait to get to him. My nerves were frayed, and the temperature boiled at 98 degrees. When I exited the freeway, I realized I was in the middle of nowhere. As I looked around it seemed that everyone but a few farms sold off their water. Brown, burnt grass sizzled under the hot sun all around. What used to be thriving farms was now dried up, barren land.
Following the directions, I was surprised to see that I did drive by a weather station that looked like a gigantic golf ball. A short ways down the road, I turned left into the motel where I found other people staking out their spots for the night in a dirt field covered with sparse, brown grass. Butterflies fluttered. All I wanted to do was get to Wiz, but first I had to park where the owners of the horse hotel wanted me to. I got out and headed straight for Wiz where I found him in the back barn. He was tired, worn, and dehydrated from the long trip from Maryland. Laying on the floor of his stall he gave me a look that said, “Get me out of here.”
I pushed a full tube of electrolytes into him to treat the dehydration, which got him up on his feet within ten minutes. He looked straight into my eyes and buried his head in my chest; I held his head while kissing him on his neck.
“Let’s get out of this stall,” I whispered to him.
It was 98 outside but much warmer inside the barn that was filled with stale and heavy air. Nothing circulated. The owners were kind and hung a fan for him when they realized he needed some help. We walked through a small arena to an open area where a gentle, hot wind blew. I hoped the monsoons would come.
His tired yet gentle eyes filled with interest as we watched an elderly man strolling around his yard with his elderly dog. He was fascinated with them as they plodded along on his green grass.
I took him back to his stall where he drank down quite a bit of water over the next few hours. Relief eased my wrinkled brow. I went back to the truck to haul more water for him when I saw the monsoons. They’re coming.
I headed back, pulled him out of his stall, and we went back to the opening in the arena. The breeze cooled and the sky poured a blissful rain upon the parched plains. Wiz and I stood in the mist and he let out a long sigh. We stood there or walked around gently for almost an hour. When it was dark and time for sleep, he hadn’t pooped due to the dehydration, I worried about him becoming impacted, although he drank a lot of water since I arrived.
I went to the truck, got my mat, bedding, and some banamine just in case. The closest vet was an hour away. I unrolled my mat and bedding on the floor next to Wiz’s stall. I plopped down from exhaustion. The sky ripped open and it rained hard for almost four hours. I was sure the ground would be mud, and I wondered how difficult it would be to drive out in the morning. The temperature dropped by twenty degrees, and I was lulled into a comfortable sleep listening to Wiz and all of the other horses munch on their hay.
Startled, I shot straight up after an hour of deep sleep; a horse violently kicked the side of one of the stalls. I jumped up to turn on the lights. This is when I finally noticed Pearl. How did I know her name? Her owner hung a sign with her name written in glitter on her stall.
Pearl is a Palomino mare, tall and wide, and she definitely was the queen of the barn. None of the geldings felt like taking her on. Her ears were pinned to the backside of her head, her eyes narrowed, and she bared her teeth at the thoroughbred next door to Wiz. She quickly turned her ass at this terrified horse, and kicked the stall wall that they shared extremely hard. I ran over to her to make sure her leg was still in tact. She upset all of the other horses who began to express themselves in different ways. The horse next to her began walking the stall. The horse directly across from her incessantly pawed the ground. Two other horses were trying to break out of their stalls. Wiz stayed pinned to the stall door next to me not moving.
The thoroughbred moved over by Wiz’s wall and the mare instantly perked up here ears and relaxed. Kindness returned to her eyes as her whole demeaner changed with the flick of a light switch. I went to the stall walker and nuzzled with him, went to the pawer and soothed his mind with some kind words, and went to the two that were sure they could break out. I stood with them until they returned to their feed. I walked back to Wiz reassuring him that all was well. He took a sip of water and returned to eating his hay.
I turned off the light and fell back to sleep. An hour later:
“Pearl, he is only trying to stretch his legs!”
I got up and repeated the above until everyone calmed down again. This happened every hour on the dot.
At 2am when Pearl started, I had it. I turned on the light, checked on Wiz, and stomped over to Pearl.
“Listen you, you’re not the only one in here with mare energy. I have more than enough to match yours. What are you going to do about it? Her ears instantly went up, and she walked over to me for some cuddles. I then went around calming everyone down before collapsing on my mat.
Wiz pooped. Finally. “We’re going to be okay buddy,” I whispered as I dozed off.
At 4am Pearl started up again. I looked at Wiz and said, “Let’s get out of here and go home.”
I normally would never do this with a horse I didn’t know, but Wiz and I had already been through a lot in the twelve hours we knew one another. I also wanted to get him home before the heat of the day boiled. A heat wave was moving in.
I calmed everyone down, rolled up my bedding, and I headed out to the truck in the darkness. Several generators were running, so I didn’t have to worry about waking anyone up. I slid open the main door to Wiz’s barn. I went into his stall, and I told him if this was too much for him, we would head back. We both looked at Pearl, and he seemed more than willing to go. I trusted our relationship.
We headed out of his barn into an open breezeway, through another barn, between two very long horse trailers with generators running, into a moonless night. We walked through a crunchy field to my truck when it dawned on me that despite all of the rain the ground was as hard as a rock, this drought is horrible. Without any hesitation he loaded in the trailer.
I kissed him on the nose and off we went. We drove easily through Denver, but instead of driving along I-70, we went on 285 through the mountains. We climbed passes, drove through beautiful forests with interesting rock formations, followed creeks and rivers, saw a herd of buffalo wandering through an old homestead on a wind swept, high mountain plain before we made the turn for home. The temperature stayed in the low 50’s the entire trip. Each time I stopped to check on him, he was bright eyed and chomping on hay.
After six hours, we pulled into our driveway. The other horses were snoozing in their stall avoiding the heat. When I put Wiz in his turnout area, Sueño came over to greet him. Ever since that moment Sueño has been his companion. They love one another.
Pearl exhausted me, exhausted all of those horses that night, but I honestly think Pearl is the reason why Wiz trusted me as we walked out to my truck in the dark. He knew I was his safety net, and I think we all wanted to escape Pearl. If he ever gets ornery, which happened one time, I tell him, “Don’t tell me you learned that from Pearl!”
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I walk outside and can’t believe he is here. I honestly never thought he would come here even though I never gave up. Seeing him each day brings a huge smile to my heart and soul. If you are offering a home to a thoroughbred that is currently racing, remember it takes time.
After resting and eating, I went out and stood with Wiz who was looking at the mountains., “You’re home Wiz. Those mountains are yours now.”
I want to thank Centennial Farms for believing in me and putting up with me when I began getting a bit nervous about Weather Wiz. I thank them for reaching out to Jamie Ness for me several times. I especially want to thank Julie who has always been kind to me. I want to thank my friend since the 3rd grade, Lisa, for listening to me as I planned this out. I also want to thank Susan, Lisa F, J, and Linda for being so supportive and being a bridge for bringing Wiz here. I want to thank my dear friend Heather and new friend Robbie for trying to help solve the bumps in the road. You’re the best. Thank you Athena for always having my back. I also want to thank Danielle reaching out to Ness and for bringing Wiz to the Wild West, and I want to thank Jamie Ness for retiring Wiz to me. Thanks Mom for being his cheerleader. Last and the best, I want to thank my husband for all of his support and understanding. Weather Wiz is so loved by Bill, the horses, our dogs and me.
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.