When Sueño jumped off the trailer, Brandon, the shipper said, “He’s really sweet except he can be a little bit stubborn.” He then told me all about the troubles of loading him.
For the first few days I kept Sueño in a smaller pen to give him time to decompress from the trip, adjust to the higher elevation, and to give us some time to get to know each other before I let him up on the pasture.
What I didn’t know was how the walk up to the pasture and back down were treacherous paths for us. It became obvious immediately that he knew how to walk on a lead rope, but it wasn’t always a joint venture. He flung himself all around me, into me, and tried to go over me. When I decided that we needed to work on this before I turned him loose, he decided he wouldn’t leave the pasture refusing to budge. Each time I moved his feet, he’d try to drop his shoulder into me to knock me over, or rear up and over my head.
I don’t like this at all.
This is dangerous….
Bill has to push him from behind to unstick his mind, and this is when I planned our first training session for the next day. I hoped to not do anything with him for at least two weeks, but alas, three days and that stubborn streak screamed for my attention.
Two things were going on:
He didn’t know about respecting space
He used physical intimidation to get his way like he would with his fellow yearlings.
There are several different ways to teach about space. One is that you draw a circle around yourself, and each time the horse steps into it without your invitation, you back the horse out.
This is where we started, and within five minutes he picked up on this. After we got this down, we started practicing walking. I got my long stick (the same kind that most trainers use), and I first sensitized him to it. I let him smell it, mouth it, and then I rubbed his entire body with it. I wanted him to know that this stick isn’t anything to be scared of.
We started to walk the outer edges of the big paddock. Anytime he tried to drop his shoulder into me, which he did a lot, I’d poke him with the stick in his shoulder. At first it was a light tap, if he continued, the pressure graduated to a constant pressure with the end of the stick, and if he still continued, he got a stronger tap. He only got the strong tap twice. Usually, he moved off the pressure with a light tap. Of course as soon as he moved off of the light pressure, I stopped applying any pressure to let him know this is what I was looking for.
He picked up on this lesson really quick. We practiced going in both directions several times.
Where we had the most problem was walking back and forth between the paddock and the pasture. Bill was at work, so I had no help with me if I couldn’t get him down from the pasture.
All horses will challenge you. All horses.
We approached the entrance to the paddock and then backed up. We did a lot of approach and retreat. All went well.
We stepped one stride in and backed up. Went well. Repeated successfully two more times.
I then walked him in, turning him immediately to walk back through the paddock…
Feet locked up, head in the air. I tried to move him again, and here came the shoulder to knock me over. I poke him with the stick requesting my space, and then he rears up, and if I wouldn’t have moved, he would have landed right on me.
The challenge is on.
I start moving his feet, and before I know it, he’s longing a tight circle around me trying to drop his shoulder into me. I push him off with the stick. I get him to move in the other direction. He stops to rear up again. I’m waiting this time. I back up, so he can’t land on me, and then I go back to moving him in both directions and backwards without any reaction from me. This caught him by surprise; he expected me to give in.
We then stop moving. I walk up, pet him, hug on him, and we start walking and trotting in circles slowly moving towards the paddock’s gate. Holding my breath, the moment of truth is here.
He walks right through without any issues. I immediately let him stop, he drops his head to my chest, and we love one one another for about five minutes. After a good rest, we start walking back and forth from the paddock to the pasture. No more stubborn streak….just willingness and walking alongside me in a safe way.
I wish I could say I haven’t run into this again, but I have whenever he’s unsure of something or doesn’t want to do something. Usually, it takes a little bit of approach and retreat along with approaching from a different angle. There are times when he gets nervous about something, and he forgets about my personal space.
He’s a baby that wasn’t handled much. Thus, he’s a little bit wild, because he isn’t sure of what I’m asking all the time, which means he’s a little bit stubborn and impulsive. Everything I do with him is basically a new experience, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed for him. I put him through a lot bringing him here, and he’s gone through so much adjustment in a short amount of time. At times I feel really guilty about it. He takes it more in stride than I do sometimes.
I said it before, and I will say it again, he’s the sweetest horse. He is full of love, and he loves to be loved on. Time will smooth all of this out. We’re just beginning.
I hopped out of the truck, walked over to my horse trailer about to drop Dulce’s window when I came to a dead stop. I slowly turned around to look into the eyes of a very big bull.
I hopped out of my truck, walked over to my horse trailer about to drop Dulce’s window when I came to a dead stop. I slowly turned around to look into the eyes of a very big bull. There is a rule around here to never get off your horse around cattle, but my horse was in the trailer. He took a few steps towards me as we stood there looking into each others’ eyes.
The last time I was this close to a bull on the ground was when I was ten years old. My brother and I went to visit my grandparents up in Oregon. My grandpa needed to move the cattle into another pasture. I never saw him ride a horse, and he did everything on the ground with his cattle. He told me that the bulls would be scared of me since they didn’t know me. It was his version of a joke I guess as this bull charged after me. I ran for my life screaming for help while he laughed. I flew over the fence only to hit the hot wire with my right arm. My grandpa kept it turned it up all the way due to the bulls always knocking down fence, so my arm buzzed for the rest of the day into the night. I’m not a fan of bulls.
“I don’t eat red meat buddy, so you need to be nice to me.” He took a few steps closer. I wasn’t sure if I should run to the door of my truck risking him pinning me or stand there. “Why does this stuff happen to me?” I moaned.
I stood there and looked into his eyes. He didn’t seem aggressive at all. Behind him I saw that there were several cows in the old BLM corral with the gate wide open. There was no grass in there at all. In fact there is hardly anything for these guys to eat in this drought in the forest. I wondered if they went in there because they were scared by a bear or mountain lion, or if they hoped a truck would come get them and take them to food.
What I saw in his eyes haunted me. I felt like I carried the same look in my own. He pawed at the dirt that should be grass, and not being able to help him, I climbed back into my truck. I rolled my window down and told him, “Don’t worry, someone will come to check on you soon. Maybe you can be moved to the next section.” I drove off feeling guilty at not being able to do anything for him.
I drove to another place that would be a good spot to ride Dulce, which was much farther up the road. I kept thinking about that bull. I felt like him….as if I’m standing there trying to protect everyone yet helpless to do anything. I’m waiting and waiting for something to change, but this drought is affecting my life on so many levels personally; not just physically.
All sorts of thoughts roamed through my mind; thoughts not good before a ride. When I pulled over, I took a few breaths, reminded myself that Dulce needed me completely present, cleared my mind, and I hopped out of the truck again. No cows or bulls anywhere.
Dulce and I had a great second trail ride through the forest. I am in awe of him and how brave he is. When I literally climb on him, he stands so calm waiting for me to get myself situated. He walks off with his ears perked and confidant. I point him in any direction, and off he goes. He has no problem pushing through brush, trees, climbing over logs, walking by uprooted trees where the roots are taller than we are, weird looking rocks; he takes it all in stride.
I don’t even know how to describe how amazing it is to sit on a horse like him. I can feel his power, his strength, his ability to take off at a full run in a split second, yet he chooses to work with me in this silent partnership. It humbles me all the time, and cracks my heart open filling it with an indescribable euphoric joy. I love working with OTTB’s. I love retraining them if that is even the right word. Maybe it is more repartnering with them? Because, no horse will do what you hope unless they are willing to; and that comes from developing a relationship.
When we get back, he loads up on the first try. Woohoo! I get back in the truck, and I decide to stop and see what brand that bull and cows have. Maybe I’ll recognize who they belongs to, but when I get there, they all are gone. I hope they went to the one water hole in the area.
I head down the long, winding road home, and all sorts of thoughts crowd in again that I’ve been trying to avoid. Mojo again….what would he have been like on the trail? Awesome I know. Will Dulce’s gut recover well from this ride? Dreams…my husband often asks me what I want to be when I grow up. I tell him that I have no dreams anymore. I simply want to get through each day with healthy, happy horses and dogs. I’ve given up on my dreams for the horses, because each time I try to aim for something, it all goes wrong…Shandoka when I started him on barrels, Chaco when I started training him for Dressage….Mojo….and now I worry that Dulce’s gut can’t handle the stress of doing anything. I would rather he be healthy than anything go wrong for my hopes and dreams.
Maybe the bull wasn’t being desperate for help. Maybe he was showing me that even during this horrible drought, he has hope that help will come…..that things can change, and that this dark cloud can transform.
Then the question that a lot of people asked me recently is do I plan on getting another horse strolls into my brain. Well, I think about that a lot. Mojo was perfect, because he was a year younger than Dulce, and he and Dulce really liked one another. The fact of the matter is I don’t know how long Harley will be here with us; he’s 20. I hope he lives another fifteen or more years, but who knows if that’s possible. Chaco’s stifle injury on the track has probably shortened his life as much as I hate to admit that (I don’t want to admit to it at all.). I often wonder how long his left hind leg will hold out compensating for the right. The Pentosan, Glucosamine, and Hyaluronic Acid have really helped him out. He is standing more square, and he rests his left leg more often. However, winter….uggh….winter. It’s so hard on him that last winter I almost packed up the horses and dogs to go camp in the desert until the Arctic cold moved on. Dulce can’t handle being alone at all. Harley can’t either. Chaco is the only one that remains somewhat calm.
Watching Dulce struggle after Mojo died, his gut issues flaring back up, I know that yes, I need to get another horse one day, because he and Chaco are joined at the hip. He really needs to have another buddy if Chaco goes before he does to literally survive that. The same goes for losing Harley. Yes, I want to get another Off Track Thoroughbred. They have my heart. They always have since I was a baby. I believe thoroughbreds give so much of themselves for our enjoyment that I need to give back to them in whatever way I can one at a time.
I would love to get another Uncle Mo gelding in honor of Mojo. Mojo and I weren’t done, so I would love to get one of his siblings….to keep at least one of them from ending up in a bad situation like he did; it would be my way of giving back to Mojo what he gave to us in his short time with us. If not an Uncle Mo, maybe an Indian Charlie (sire of Uncle Mo) or an Afleet Alex, which was Mojo’s damsire. If a Tiznow appeared, I would definitely consider taking one in since Mojo was abandoned in a field with a Tiznow mare. Of course I will bring home whatever horse speaks to me the most like my others have. Maybe in the Fall or next Spring a horse will find me. If you know of any racehorse (gelding) that is related to Mojo that needs a home, please let me know.
After Mojo died, a friend sent me winnings she bet on a horse the day that Mojo died. The horse’s name is Got Mojo. She told me to do whatever I wanted with it. I’ve held on to the check not feeling right about accepting it. I thought about tearing it up, so she could donate it to another horse or rescue. I went back and forth on it until I came to this realization that one day I need to get another horse.
My husband and I decided to cash it, and we are going to build another horse stall with it. If a horse doesn’t call out to me in the future, then Harley won’t have to share his barn with Dulce. He likes to have a lot of space to himself…lol. Ever since Shandoka died, that area of the barn belongs to him, and he reluctantly shares it with Dulce. Whatever may happen, I believe that by building this extra stall, another horse will come be with us one day.
So, I was asked by someone who follows my blog what I fed my horses, and what I do to take care of them. Another person asked me if I intend to rescue another horse. I will ask the last question in the next blog, but first I want to thank anyone that reads my blog.
Warning: This is boring, but I hope it answers questions.
First of all, I’m not a rescue, not a non-profit, but I do rescue horses to keep here for good. It’s a personal thing. I grew up in racing, and now I choose to be on this side of racing; giving them a home when they’re done racing. I do have an llc, but that is for my trimming, which I don’t charge for, and horse massage, which I rarely charge for. I obviously am a bad business person. I just wanted to make it clear that I don’t ever claim to be a rescue and rehoming organization. My goal is to give a thoroughbred a good, loving home one horse at a time.
So, I keep my horses on a low starch and sugar diet. I don’t feed any grains at all…no oats, corn, or sweetfeed. Molasses is banned from the property. Why? Bad for gut health and hoof health. They are no longer racing, so there is no need for them to be on that anymore. They also have white salt added to their feed. They also are only fed alfalfa as a supplement. In the summer they get a handful on their feed 2x a day. In the winter, they get a pound in the morning and evening. That’s it. Again, it is really high in sugars, and it can cause gut stones. I use it as a supplement to buffer their stomach acid.
Chaco and Dulce are fed beet pulp, timothy hay pellets, and Neutrena Safe Choice for Easy Keepers feed with a scoop of flax seed. I add vitamin E oil, flax oil, California Trace (a mineral supplement that balances out their mineral intake and is great for hooves and coat), Opti-zyme, and that handful of alfalfa. They both get individual supplements added, which I will detail below.
Harley is fed Teff hay pellets and some of the Safe Choice. He is an easy keeper, so he only gets this because of the supplements that I give him. Plus, he may climb the fence panels to get to their feed buckets if I don’t give him anything. Basically, he gets hay with a handful of the Safe Choice for taste.
They all get this in mash form.
Mojo was fed four small meals a day consisting of what I feed Dulce and Chaco. He also was on OptiZyme, an MOS prebiotic, butyrate, Total Gut Health, Nutrient Buffer, Equishure hindgut buffer and gastromend. He also got vitamin E and California Trace. He loved it all and cleaned his bucket each and every single day.
Chaco gets shots once a week of Glucosamine and Petosan to treat his chronic arthritis in his stifle. He was injured while racing, so when I brought him here, we ended up getting arthroscopic surgery to remove three chips. He also gets Hyaluronic acid, a joint supplement made up of natural herbs for his arthritis, and at times he gets turmeric with boswellia. I tried ProStride on him, but he really thrashed when the needle went into the joint. It was missed, and we ended up spending $800 for a week of comfort. This is why I don’t even consider IRAP. Because of this, he is on Pentosan and Glucosamine. He also receives a prebiotic in addition to the Opti-Zyme
Dulce had gut issues as noted in earlier blogs. I’m constantly trying to stay ahead of any issues keeping him nice and stable. He is on gastromend right now, but he will go off in a few months. He does not do well at all on any kind of buffer; stomach or hindgut. The handful of alfalfa is what works for him. He also is on Total Gut Health, which really helps him, hyaluronic acid, and when he goes off the gastromend, he goes on herbs for his gut. I find that fluctuating back and forth seems to really help him. I believe his gut, when I got him, was high in bad bacteria, and that is why he had such severe issues last summer.
Harley receives a glucosamine/omega oil supplement and a pre/probiotic in the morning and Optizyme in the afternoon. The main thing Harley needs is the California Trace and Vitamin E for his hooves.
They also have 250 gallons of water available to them 24/7. I change it out every other day scrubbing the troughs to prevent green algae from taking over. In the winter, their buckets are heated, and we haul out hot water to their buckets to encourage them to drunk and hopefully prevent impaction.
I trim all of their hooves, which I learned from Pete Ramey and my friend Heather Dwire. Chaco has a hard time with trims due to his stifle. I have to ice his stifle while I trim his front hooves on the first day, and I give him Buteless afterwards as well as his shots of Pentosan and Glucosamine. The next day I ice his stifle for 20 minutes before I trim his rear hooves. This is the trim that hurts him the most, because he has to stand on his injured leg the most while I trim his left hind hoof. Afterwards, I ice him again for twenty minutes, do some bodywork, give him Buteless, and I put him on the pasture. I doubt a farrier would want to come out two days in a row to trim him or give Chaco all the breaks he needs. Being able to trim my horses helps them out; especially Chaco. Harley has a negative palmar angle on his left front hoof from how he used to be shod before. Because of his age, I will never be able to fully reverse it, but with corrective trimming, it doesn’t get worse. He grows sooooooo much hoof that I need to trim him every two weeks. Dulce came here with hoof issues but his hooves are normal for now…..knock on wood!
Chaco’s hind hooves are booted whenever he is on hard ground with Easy Cloud boots to absorb the shock and protect his stifle. When we go on trail rides, all of the horses are booted with Easy Gloves.
I’ve studied horse massage and various styles over many years, so I do most of the bodywork on my guys. Dulce suffers from a tight TMJ, so I do a lot of release work on him. Chaco’s groin area is super tight and sore from overcompensation for his stifle. Because of that, his poll gets really tight, so Chaco gets a lot of work every couple of days. Harley tends to be very stiff in the poll, and he gets some discomfort in his back every now and then. He is not too fond of massage stuff, so we do active stretches, which he loves and benefits him quite well.
They are all worked in whatever way is appropriate for them 3x a week, but they also work out each other in their play time. The other day Chaco and Dulce were full on racing each other while Harley egged them on.
They do have stalls that they can go into whenever they want, but I never lock them in the stalls. I want them to be able to move around at will. Much better for their gut I believe. I put hay in piles all over to encourage them to walk all over as if they are on pasture to eat. This puts a lot of miles on their hooves, and again it is really good for their gut. If Chaco has to rest his leg, or any of them gets hurt, I have a small turn out area where they can still move, have shelter, but can never break out into a run or a trot easily.
They do go on pasture bright and early in the morning, and are usually brought down around noon when the heat really begins to spike. Why? Sugars begin to rise in grass the moment the sun hits it, and as it gets hotter and hotter, the sugars go higher and higher. This is not good for the gut or the hoof. Some horses can adjust fine, but I figure why tempt fate? After six to seven hours of pasture time, they come off the pasture on their own. I rarely have to bring them down; it’s as if they know it isn’t good for them to eat that much sugar, and they head down usually when I go out to move them down.
During winter nights, I put blankets on them. I do remove them during the day unless an arctic cold front decides to come for a visit that is intolerable. During the summer, unless it is too hot, I put flysheets on them. I prefer to not put all of that pesticide on them if at all possible.
Finally, I grow my own hay. I hand pick all of the weeds all summer long, because again I don’t want to put herbicide through their gut. I know they say it doesn’t bother them, but as a former beekeeper, if you saw what I saw when herbicide is sprayed, you wouldn’t want to do it. My hives would start dying off within two weeks. My hay field was neglected by the former owner for many years, so I unfortunately have to pick A LOT of weeds.
I hope this explains what I do, answers any questions or doubts. I encourage you to ask any rescue what they do if they already aren’t posting it. I think it is a good thing to ask.
I haven’t posted an update about Chaco for awhile, because I mainly have nothing good to say. I try to keep a positive outlook for everyone, but inside my heart breaks for him every single day. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t shed tears over his right hindleg. I see the pain it causes him each day, and I feel like I’m failing him each day. Why? I can’t make it stop. We have tried and are trying everything we can to keep him as sound as possible. The fact of the matter is that his suspensory will probably give out in his left hindleg one day, and that day will be his last. Feverishly, I’m trying to do everything I can to prevent this. I look at Chaco as the walking wounded after useless band-aids were used to keep him racing.
If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you know that Chaco went down in a race after clipping heels with another horse. Two other horse went over Chaco; you can see two hoof prints in white hairs on his pelvis. It is believed that he fractured a rib and his pelvis. The pelvis fracture is usually an instant death sentence, but somehow he healed thanks to the care that he received. However, three major chips broke off from his stifle in the wreck, and instead of having them removed, I believe he was blistered. His trainer states that he didn’t know that Chaco had them, and maybe he didn’t, but I doubt the vet missed that. The trainer also stated that I should blister Chaco instead of having the chips removed, because that is what he does for all of his horses that have chips.
Blistering is a band-aid. Not one surgeon or vet that I spoke to thought blistering was the answer for chips; they all said arthroscopic surgery was the best and only choice. It doesn’t heal anything, doesn’t ameliorate a thing, and to be honest all it does is create more damage. The longer the chips are in there, the more damage there is to the cartilage. Blistering or pin firing just makes it so the horse can’t feel the damage that the chips are creating.
Why do I bring this up again? Because three more horses died at Santa Anita in three days. They aren’t only dying at Santa Anita, but at other tracks as well and in other sports besides horse racing. Why are they dying is the question often put to me by so many as if I would know. I never know what to say.
Maybe I have known all along as I watch Chaco rest his right hindleg… again….leaning his weight to his left hindleg… again.
My guess is that there isn’t any one reason except for the use of band-aids regarding all of these deaths. There is so much pressure to make money, to pay the bills, to have winners that become sires, and to keep horses running that the use of band-aids for injuries is widespread. Injections, shockwave therapy, overuse of anti-inflammatories, pin firing, blistering and on and on and on are all band aids to cover up pre-existing conditions.
My guess is that every single horse that died at Santa Anita had a pre-existing condition like Mongolian Groom did that required rest to heal. My guess is that there were minor lesions or stress fractures beginning to form, but due to the pressure put upon trainers by people that want to see horses run, instead of sending them to the farm to rest and heal up, band-aids of all sorts are thrown at these horses to make them sound enough to race. Not only does this put a horse’s life at risk but the jockey’s as well. I don’t know how a jockey hasn’t been seriously hurt or worse since all of this began. Whenever a trainer puts a horse out there with a pre-existing condition, not only is that horse in danger, but all the horses in the race are at risk of getting hurt….and all of the jockey’s lives are in jeopardy. But band-aids are cheaper I guess…..
No amount of shockwave therapy or drugs will heal stress fractures. Time and rest is what heals them. We need to change our way of thinking regarding horse racing; look to other countries and adopt what is working such as cross training and more time out of the stalls. Jockeys and trainers have suggested over the years that horse racing shut down for a month or two during the winter months. This would be a perfect for horses to have time off to rest and heal up….to get out of the stall and be a horse and run around in the pasture, which would actually strengthen their bones.
In Australia, they give their horses breaks from the track. Winx got two breaks a year. While racing, she developed a chip, and instead of blistering her, they had it removed and did the proper rehab. She came back to racing after she was cleared, and look at what she accomplished. Winx is a shining example of how right everything was done in my opinion, and this is what we need to bring to horse racing here in the United States.
If you want to be part of the solution, please call your Representatives and Senators asking them to vote “yes” on this bill. It will not solve all of the problems, but it is a great start to creating positive change in the horse racing industry. This will create a centralized agency that will oversee all of horse racing and create unified rules across the country. Right now each state regulates itself, so there are all of these different jurisdictions from track to track. You can read the bill here https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1754/text. Here is a list of the current Senators and Representatives https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/current. This is where change can start, but Congress needs to hear your voices loud and clear.
I would love it if all racehorses diagnosed with chips were banned from racing until they were removed arthroscopically. Also, how did the chips develop? Were they from a trauma like Chaco, or were they from stress to the bone. If it is the latter, those horses should be red flagged and watched closely throughout their career. I feel bad for the vets that examined Mongolian Groom and other horses that have died. If their owners/trainers are using banned methods to mask lameness such as shockwave therapy or osphos, it makes it very hard for them to diagnose problems. All of these masking agents and bute and osphos….they need to go. Everyone complains about lasix, and I don’t like lasix, but the true problem lies in bute and all of the other drugs that mask lameness. Lasix does not do that. These other drugs and methods will destroy American Horse Racing in my opinion.
If we can get this law passed, it’s time to rip away these band-aids that lead to so much tragedy and suffering. Santa Anita has implemented many great changes, but as with the recent deaths and the death of Mongolian Groom, the changes aren’t catching all of the horses at risk. Dr. Bramlage in his report on the death of MG during the Breeder’s Cup Classic stated that the vets on scene needed to get an xray at just the right angle to see the lesions that led to his death. Basically, anyone could have missed it. We need a think tank to come together of people from all parts of the industry, especially the grooms, and people from the outside of the industry to come up with better ideas. The safety of the horse and jockey always need to come first.
If Chaco’s chips had been removed, a $2,500 surgery, he may not have been able to race again, or he may have, but he could have had a second career. He would have been sound. I wouldn’t be crying on his shoulder literally every single day. All I know is I’m so grateful that I got him, that we were able to get the chips out, and how blessed I am to be able to take care of him. He is the most amazing horse. He lets me do whatever needs to be done for him without a complaint ever. He misses going out for rides, I can tell by how he looks at me when I go to catch Dulce or Harley to go work, yet his attitude still remains positive and loving and playful. It’s time for me to go out and give him a shot of Adequan that isn’t working as well as I hoped it would, and he will stand there patiently, calmly, and nuzzle me after I pull the needle out of his neck to let me know it’s okay.
Today I woke up and decided today was the day. It was time to step up Dulce’s training. We were going to go on our first field trip away from home that had nothing to do with a vet visit thank goodness. Butterflies swarmed my stomach wondering if he was up to it. It seemed not too long ago I wondered if he would make it through the night, and now I was hooking up the trailer for our first adventure.
How far were we going? Only a quarter of a mile down to the neighbor’s arena. Dulce and trailers aren’t friends, and to be honest a lot of thoroughbreds never get the chance to learn how to be calm in a trailer. Often they are tranquilized first before loading. The trip from Kentucky and making him leave his best buddy didn’t help him out at all. Now Dulce needs to learn that even though we go somewhere in the trailer he gets to come back home and be with his buddies. It took awhile for Chaco to learn this, and I imagine Dulce will need a bit of time as well.
I headed up to the pasture to get Dulce, and we had a nice chat on the way to the trailer. It must have helped, because he loaded up beautifully and remained calm. Off we went to the neighbor’s, and when I opened the window all bets were off; chaos erupted. He pawed at the floor of the trailer that the whole thing shook as if the earth quaked. I dropped the ramp, and he lost sight of me. He panicked and he tried to turn around in the slant. Once he saw me, he calmed down a bit. I realized quickly where I went wrong. I didn’t drop down the rear window, so he could see me. Note to self: Never make that mistake again!
My sweet, calm horse didn’t exit the trailer; instead I had a racehorse on my hands. On the muscle he pranced alongside me with nostrils flared. The cat took one look at him and ran as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Me? I had the biggest grin on my face. For some reason I love seeing and working with a horse like this. Maybe it is because this is known to me; it reminds me of the old days with my grandpa and all of our racehorses. Saddle work was out of the question today; groundwork was it.
Once we got into the arena, all he wanted to do was run, so I lunged him. He made his, “Weeeeeee” sound, tossed his head all around, bucked and settled down into a fast canter. We worked all over the arena, and instead of showing signs of tiring out, he seemed to gain more energy. Better hooves, better gut and better teeth created a fiery Dulce.
I watched him run around me in awe. He has such raw power, such agility, and beautiful, graceful, strength. We fell into a rhythm together as we danced our way to the north end of the arena where the steers are. My neighbor is a roper, so he has several steers. Being a bit nervous he stood behind me at first. I stepped forward towards them and then Dulce took a step behind me. He trusts me. Good.
At first I wondered if I should even bring him down here alone, but Chaco is on sabbatical for a couple of weeks as he heals from a bruised hoof. I didn’t want to bring Harley and leave Chaco alone, so I decided to do this solo with Dulce. I thought it might be a good way for the two of us to learn how to trust one another, to lean on one another, and to feel secure in new and different situations.
He spent about ten minutes checking them out before I asked him to walk off. We began lunging again, and again he was hotter than heck. He kept trying to tilt his nose to the outside of the circle dropping his shoulder in, so I kept asking for him to tilt it in towards the circle. After about ten minutes, he had it down. We then worked the other direction doing the same thing. Intermittently, he would call out for the other two before bringing his attention back to me. I’m not sure who got the bigger workout; him or me, but by the end of it we were both tuckered out and relaxed.
We walked back down to the steers, and I felt pretty good about our first adventure together. Maybe it was our second if you consider the trip from Kentucky to Colorado, but whatever way it is we did okay. We had our bumps, which I fully expected. I realized he may be five, but he’s more like a two year old. I kept stroking his neck, and finally his full attention was on me. We’ll get there.
Before I loaded him I made sure that back window was open. After the fourth try, he was in, and a lot calmer this time around. I drove us home, and the other two were at the fence waiting for him. This time no turning around in the slant. He did paw a couple of times, but as soon as I put my hand on him, he calmed down.
Not an hour later did the neighbor to the south of us receive his yearly cattle. Each year over a hundred head come down to this property for a few months. I got Dulce desensitized to them just in time.
Next time I take Dulce to this arena, I’m getting on. Today was schooling. As we cooled out together, I thought about Dulce’s sire. I loved watching him race. He ran with such smarts and easy power. His turn of foot always intrigued me as to what it felt like to ride. I asked the two jockeys that rode him, two of my most favorite jockeys, what their experiences were. Julie Krone said he was sensitive, smart, agile, and really easy to ride. Gary Stevens said the following:
I saw how Dulce turned it up the moment he was out of his home environment, and I can’t wait to hang on and enjoy the ride.
I let my hips sway with his back, and each step he loosens up more and more. I exhale and place my reins on his neck and completely let go of any apprehension. I raise my arms out to my sides and lift my face to the sky in gratitude. We both ride away from our worries.
These tales come on the backs of some beautiful Thoroughbreds.
* * * * * * *
It’s been awhile since I rode Chaco. I love riding him, and I trust him with every ounce of my being. I’m not riding him much, because of his leg. After a couple of miracles, he is perfectly sound, so I decide to take the chance on a short trail ride. I fear messing his leg up, but he is bored out of his mind. He needs to get out, so I promise myself we’re going to go for a short, easy, and relaxed ride. I miss being with him in this way. He is so easy to ride, so intuitive and responsive, and he moves across the ground like Baryshnikov. You hardly feel the ground while on him. I’m resigned to the fact that all we will do are short rides, and that’s wonderful. He loves it, and I love it. As soon as I get on him, which can be difficult, because he is so tall, a smile spreads across my face. I lean forward and whisper, “I so miss us.”
I let my hips sway with his back, and each step he loosens up more and more. I exhale and place my reins on his neck and completely let go of any apprehension. I raise my arms out to my sides and lift my face to the sky in gratitude. We both ride away from our worries.
Chaco’s leg before today has been up and down. Last month it hit me hard between the eyes and in the heart that I will one day say goodbye to him not because of old age but because of his leg. I pray for a miracle every day and eventually I was led to a couple of them. One night I found out about a way to feed a horse turmeric, and how the combination of Turmeric with Boswellia could be the anti-inflammatory punch I needed. After I found out about Total Gut Health for Dulce, I found out about Total Equine Relief made by the same company. The Turmeric was already working wonders, although he still had bouts of pain whenever he took a sharp turn at the canter. When I finally got TER, that changed things. It doesn’t have any of the side effects of bute, and it works in two hours. Ever since I put him on this, life improved for him. Each time I see it, I stop to take a picture, because I feel like I got my miracle even if it is for a short time.
We’ve decided after Christmas to try IRAP. ProStride hasn’t worked, and I don’t know if IRAP will do any better. Chaco deserves the best we can try for him. He is the sweetest horse with the biggest heart. He takes care of Dulce, he dotes on Harley, and he loves anyone that needs extra attention. A distant neighbor stopped by a couple of weeks ago to say hello to the horses, not me, and Chaco dropped his head to him and let the man rest his head upon his. Later this neighbor told me he had cancer, and how Chaco lifted his spirits on a bad day. Chaco is a healer. I want to give back to him that which he gives so freely to everyone.
We’re riding along on the easiest of trails with our dog Winx out in front, and Chewy and Bella behind. No one is around for miles, not a human sound to be heard except for my breath. I listen to the sounds of his hoof beats, and I smile. Reluctantly, we turn around with me using my body to guide him to turn back without using the reins.
That’s when we hear a yipping sound. All three of my dogs
stop dead in their tracks facing west. I know this sound, the dogs know this
sound, and Chaco knows it. I look west, and there he or she is. Her silvery
coat sparkles in the Fall sunlight when the coyote yipped at us again. Chaco stood
quietly as I called the dogs to stay with me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed paths with a coyote
on the trail. In fact, I have a pretty fond memory of going on a trail ride
with one. It was the second time I ever rode Shandoka on the trail. It was a
stupid move on my part, because I went alone. Not the smartest thing to do on a
very green horse, but I believed in him. He did great on his first trail ride
with my friend Laura Lee, and I couldn’t handle waiting for another day with
someone else. I loaded him up and we drove down to the Basin.
We started out, and Shandoka was great despite being as green as a green horse can be. I finally got him pointed to the area I wanted us to ride into when a Coyote suddenly showed up. I expected Shandoka to react. He didn’t. We rode along while I kept my eye on the coyote and my other eye on Shandoka. The coyote quietly followed along with us, and I noticed Shandoka relaxed dropping his head down. Whenever Shandoka got nervous about something, the coyote went first to show him it was safe. I think my jaw was on Shandoka’s withers the entire ride as I watched Shandoka and this coyote dance with one another on the trail. A few times the coyote walked alongside Shandoka, and he looked up at me and smiled as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you through this ride safe and sound.” When we got back to the road where the truck was parked, the coyote disappeared. I looked all around, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.
My Unci said that Coyote was a trickster, but when he appears in an unusual way such as this, it is a Blessing. It felt like it, so when I saw this coyote while riding Chaco, I simply wanted to keep my dogs safe. Coyotes can lure dogs away, and then the pack kills them. I kept my eye on this one. He was on the other side of the canyon, which is wide and deep. He couldn’t get over to us that fast. Just then I saw him head down into its depths.
Coyotes don’t scare me as much as mountain lions do. They
say that you cross paths with a mountain lion ever three hours you’re in the
forest. I’ve come face to face with one,
heard them, seen their tracks, and once I was followed by one while riding
We were heading back to the trailer after a fantastic ride through a new area. He and I worked so well together that day, and I was on cloud nine. On the way back we were both relaxed and comfortable. He was on a loose rein, and I looked around enjoying the trees when suddenly the hair on the back of my neck got prickly. Shandoka went from relaxed to alert and tense. I gathered up the rains, and slowly we walked through this area we had to get through to get back to our truck when Shandoka went from tense to life threat mode. This area is filled with oak brush, so you can’t see if something is crouching on the other side of the bush to jump out at you. When a horse hits flight mode, all bets are off, and it’s a struggle to communicate. Shandoka wanted to run. I wanted to let him, but if I did, the animal that I thought was following us would break out into a run making us his prey.
We spiraled in circles, zig zagged and anything I could do
to keep him from breaking out. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep
him with me instead of with his fear of what was following us. Shandoka was a
huge horse, the most powerful I’ve ever ridden, and I don’t know how I kept him
at a walk. As soon as we got to the trailer, I hopped off, and Shandoka
literally loaded himself with saddle and headstall still on. I closed the
trailer as quick as I could, got into my truck when I saw him. A mountain lion
emerged from the Aspens pausing for a moment staring into my eyes, and before
my next breath, he was gone.
The dogs and I are moving along the trail when the coyote appears on our side of the canyon within minutes. Dang they are fast and agile. Time to pick up the speed and get the dogs in the truck. We have a half mile to go, and I’m worried about doing this to Chaco’s leg. I wanted him to enjoy an easy, relaxing ride; one that didn’t tax his leg. However, if we kept going at this pace, the coyote would be on the dogs quick. My dogs are too curious about the coyote to go slow. We long trot over rock and dirt. Chaco is unphased. Chaco feels my urgency, so he immediately moves into an extended trot.
On one of Chaco’s first major trail rides we came across a bear. I think on our way down the trail he caught a whiff of this female bear, at least we assumed she was a sow. We came to this spot on the trail where he was hesitant about stepping forward. The entire way down he led the way without a problem until this one spot. My friend then went to the lead, and he followed easily. We came across elk, which horses normally don’t like the smell of, but he didn’t care about them. On the way back when we came upon that spot, we saw her. There she was off in the trees maybe 150 feet from us, a black bear. Chaco didn’t back up, didn’t get nervous, and in fact he stepped forward towards the bear when we tried to get a picture of her. We think she had cubs nearby, so we decided to move on quickly. Chaco and I were in the rear with the dogs tucked up close to his hindlegs. He never minded any of it, so I wasn’t worried about him with this coyote.
As we long trotted, Winx stayed in front of us, and Chewy
and Bella were tucked in close to Chaco’s hindlegs. Chewy had no interest in
hanging around with the coyote, Bella wanted to chase him off, and Winx was
looking for some shade to lie down in. I knew if I needed to chase off the
coyote, Chaco would help me do it, but luckily the coyote hung back far enough
for me to not consider it.
We got back to the truck, I hopped off, and there was the
coyote about 200 feet away sitting in some sage brush gazing at me as I gazed
at him. I knew we all were safe at this point. I stepped forward a step to get
a better look at him. He seemed to have a big smile on his face. Like my dogs
he sat their panting in that relaxed sort of joy they have after a good run. Another
A coyote, a horse, and three dogs enjoying the trail together.
What do you do if your horse is having diarrhea, but you don’t think it is caused by ulcers? This is blog is about what I did to save Dulce who had diarrhea and daily gas colic.
I’m lying in bed exhausted. The camera volume is turned all the way up. Despite the loud buzzing sound from the camera, my eyelids begin to close. I remember thinking, “Maybe I can sleep tonight.” I hadn’t slept through the night since all of this hit a high note in July. It’s a warm September night, and I begin to drift off when I hear, “Bang, bang, bang!” I wake up immediately, and I look at the cameras. It’s happening again. Dulce is kicking the barn walls and rubbing up against them. Pain….severe pain.
I throw boots on without any socks and run outside to help him. I think I had most of my clothes on. Before I get to the gate, I see Chaco chasing Dulce out of the barn, and they run past me. Chaco is my healer. He rarely leaves Dulce when he feels bad, and when things go wrong, he tries to help me make it right. Running is the best thing Dulce can do. Harley is the cutter. Whenever Dulce tries to break away from Chaco, Harley cuts him back into Chaco’s driving force. I’m always amazed at how horses help each other. Hopefully, their efforts will free up the gas trapped in his tight colon. I block Dulce when he heads for the barn. After fifteen minutes, it’s all over. Dulce is calm and eating. Chaco is right by him and Harley is on his other side. Shaking I hug all of them. I walk inside crying fearing that one night soon it won’t end well.
Horses have the most mysterious gut. There is so much that goes on that scientists are still trying to understand and figure out solutions for. I always say that when I die the first thing I want to talk to God about is why in the world can’t horses burp?!
Dulce began to struggle gut wise the moment he switched to my hay back in April. I wish I could have brought more hay home with me, but none was available. I think if I could have transitioned him more slowly, I could have avoided a lot of this. However, maybe not. I think this all began to develop long before I even knew of him or the rescue organization took him in.
When I brought him home, I got the first hundred pounds on him easily. However, when we hit 930 pounds, we embarked on a crazy rollercoaster ride. It was as if his body rejected the weight gain like a body rejects an organ transplant. As soon as he hit 930 his body suddenly produced profuse diarrhea in an hour or two causing him to lose those 30 pounds in a day. He’d go back to 900 where his manure improved. He’d gain 30 pounds again, diarrhea again, back down to 900 pounds, and then his manure improved again and again and again and again. After he got his vaccinations, he plummeted. Diarrhea became the norm, and he went down to 880 pounds. Winter is around the corner. It may be hotter than heck this pastAugust, but I could see it coming. I needed to get his body to accept the weight gain quick.
You all probably think he has ulcers. Maybe, but he never acted like it. From the beginning he continuously had a healthy appetite, which horses with ulcers rarely have. I could scratch his belly without even a flicker of the ear, which horses with ulcers hate. I put him on gastromend when I brought him home. I put him on two rounds of Egulsin, and nothing ever changed. Talking about another horse with a friend about the use of Bute got me thinking about Dulce. Racehorses usually get two shots in the morning, and one of those shots is usually Bute. Bute can cause ulcers and a leaky gut.
The big piece of the puzzle that caused him to go downhill rapidly happened long before I even knew he existed. His teeth were never floated until he landed at the rescue. He developed two ulcers on his tongue after being retired due to hooks on his teeth. He couldn’t eat, lost weight, and developed a hindgut ulcer. The ulcers in his mouth were healed, he went through a month’s round of gastroguard, after which he was scoped and no ulcers were found. All of this was done by the rescue, and I am so grateful to them for all they did for Dulce before I picked him up. This is when I believe things began their downhill descent. Were all of his problems now because of ulcers? Did they return? Even though ulcers is the easy choice for gut issues, my gut kept saying something different.
In addition to all of this, his feed changed three times. The first time was when he left Louisiana for Kentucky where he was fed something different at the rescue organization. He then moved to his breeder and went onto a different feed, and then he move to Colorado with me where his feed changed again. He also did a lot of long distance traveling in a year. He went from Louisiana to Kentucky, and from Kentucky to Colorado.
I began researching the causes of a leaky gut, and I found that a change in hay, travel, Bute, medications (I have no idea what other drugs he received at the track besides Lasix), and vaccinations are all causes. I feared this was the problem knowing it can be fatal. I quickly researched treatment, and the best treatment found so far is administering Butyrate and zinc.
What is Butyrate? Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid, which is vital in horses to maintain a healthy gut. Butyrate is naturally produced by the body during the fermentation of fiber. However, during times of stress or heavy workloads, both of which Dulce experienced, there may not be enough concentrations of Butyrate in the horse’s hindgut. If given along with Zinc, the butyrate tightens the junctures where the horse can be leaking through, and it can reduce inflammation of the intestinal lining.
Sodium Butyrate can help prevent inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and diarrhea. One of the other very important things Butyrate does is it affects and prevents the colonization of Salmonella and Campylobacter. It also positively influences the composition of the gut microbiota. If Dulce didn’t develop a leaky gut, he developed a toxic gut.
Another thought that kept going through mind was something that my friend Heather said while we were in Kentucky. She said that Dr. Kellon talked about how horses may not have ulcers at all, but rather they may be suffering from a disruption in their gut flora. Butyrate was my option to address both possible situations.
I immediately put him on Butyrate, and I couldn’t believe the change. Within five days, his diarrhea disappeared. He hasn’t experienced anymore bouts of horrible diarrhea. This doesn’t mean his poop was perfect. I think it went from 0% to 10% of normal to 50% to 60% normal in those five days. Now he ranges from 75% to 90% normal. It’s been a slow process. I needed to remind myself over and over that it took awhile for this to develop, and it will take time to heal. The great thing about butyrate is he started gaining weight, and this time he’s keeping it on. We went from 880 to 900 to 930 to 950 to 970 where we are today. We are 80 pounds away from our goal of a 1,050.
I wish I could say all of our problems were solved. They weren’t. Ever since the worming and the colic, he developed bad bouts of gas throughout the day, and they all happened at regular intervals. The first was at 8am, second 11am, third 3pm, and the fourth was between 8pm and 9pm. The only way to resolve this without administering banamine all the time was to walk him, let Chaco chase him, or he would roll before I could get to him. He then would poop, and go back to normal. This was my day every day since July.
The vet stated he had a tight colon, which filled with gas, and his blood work was all within normal levels. I believe the gas was caused by a toxic gut due to a massive disruption in his gut flora when his mouth ulcerated all those months ago. The bad flora took over, and the good flora were outnumbered and couldn’t gain ground. I believe the bad flora were producing huge amounts of gas that his body couldn’t tolerate. My vet suggested that I put Dulce on an MOS prebiotic.
MOS stands for Mannan Oligosaccharide, which is an indigestible carbohydrate compound that is harvested from the cell wall of a certain type of yeast. This compound immobilizes any pathogens located in the gut, and it boosts the immune system. It binds onto harmful bacteria such as Clostridium, E. Coli, and Salmonella clearing them from the gut while bolstering the colonization of needed probiotics naturally. Thus, the horse will be able to digest and absorb nutrients much better.
After I started Dulce on this, his poop improved more; a lot less mush with more pellets starting to form. Also, the 8am and 11am bouts of gas disappeared. The other two lingered. I then read in Tomas Teskey’s book about feeding alfalfa as a supplement. I couldn’t feed Dulce any alfalfa when I brought him here, because massive amounts of diarrhea ensued. His body simply couldn’t handle it. When a horse is as underweight as he was and worse, their organs shrink; so you have to go slow with what you feed them and feed them several small meals a day. Alfalfa can be way to rich for a malnourished horse.
Since Dulce wasn’t absorbing the nutrients quite like I wanted him to with too much water still in his poop, I need to be careful with alfalfa since his hindgut is still trying to find balance. I also need to worry about him getting gut stones, which are like kidney stones but in the intestinal tract. Unlike kidney stones, gut stones kill horses.
If you feed too much alfalfa, it can cause major problems with a horse’s hooves. It can cause the hoof walls to chip away, and/or cause them to be tender footed. I decided to start him out on one pound of alfalfa a day slowly working up to three closely monitoring him. Feeding him this way improved his digestion a bit more, and it got rid of the 8pm bout of gas. So far so good with his hooves.
Another thing I added to his feed is Triple Crown Naturals. I LOVE this feed. No GMO’s or soy, all of the ingredients are locked in, and it has MOS prebiotics, probiotics and butyrate in it. There is no corn, and it has flaxseed oil in it. I am only feeding 1/4 pound a day at this time. When it is time to wean him off of the Butyrate pills, I will keep him on this for another month or two before weaning him off of this.
You’d think that was the end of all my struggles, that I was on the right path, and I can relax. Well, that episode of him kicking the stall wall happened a week and a half ago. His 3pm bout of gas still happened daily, and if it didn’t happen at 3pm, it happened later in the evening like that night.
When I came back in, I couldn’t sleep. I got out my phone, and searched the net in utter fear of finding absolutely nothing. I kept praying to find something, because if I couldn’t get this solved, I feared he wouldn’t make it. The image of him pounding his body on the side of the barn from the gas pain kept me searching until 3:30am when I stumbled upon a discussion group. A woman described similar symptoms and stated that her vet told her to try Total Gut Health by Ramard. She said in five days all gas pain, biting at his sides, rubbing…all of it was gone. This product never came up in my searches before.
I went to every single horse site reading the reviews, and there was not one negative review. Everyone swore by it, everyone said within five days they had their horse back, and everyone said all signs of gas colic were gone. I bought a bottle at 4:30am, and went out to check on Dulce.
I kept thinking about Campylobacter. The MOS prebiotic didn’t say it worked against this, and I was wondering if this was one of the problem bacteria in his gut causing all of this horrible gas. TGH seems to works specifically for horses with gas, gas and sand colic issues, and horses with gut flora issues. It says that it can help with ulcers, but I feel the colic issues are where this product works the best.
When I got the bottle of TGH, I didn’t expect any improvement. This was my desperate Hail Mary. Twenty four hours after the first dose, he had a bad bout of gas, but this time it resolved all on its own. I thought maybe we lucked out this time. Forty eight hours and two doses later, the only sign was a twitch of his tail and lifting of his head before he let out a big, long fart. After that, he hasn’t had any signs of gas pain or trouble. He hardly bites at his sides, and all of that stress he was in is gone. He no longer chews on the buckets, rubs his side on the barn, and he is a happy, mellow horse. When he plays, he is no longer short strided from gas pain, and floats over the ground.
I believe all of these problems go back to the fact that his teeth (https://chacoottb.com/2019/04/09/teeth-and-ulcers/) were never floated until he ulcerated after being brought in by the rescue. I feel I’ve been running around putting out fires those hooks on his teeth caused. Please, if you take anything away from this, please float your horse’s teeth once a year. The health and well being of a horse’s teeth are as important as a horse’s gut and his hooves, and their lack of care affects every aspect of your horse. They need to be balanced, and if they are, then you have a much better chance of having a healthy horse with a healthy gut and hooves. Please, float their teeth.
I have no idea if I will ever take him off of TGH, because it brings us both peace. I’m sure I will one day, but his gut is still healing, still finding balance, so he will stay on TGH and Butyrate for awhile longer. I’m praying writing about this won’t jinx anything, because yes, I still have the old horse racing superstitions running through my veins.
I sleep with the volume all the way up on my camera screen, and I spend a lot of my night watching him. Last night and all night for the first time since he arrived here, all of his manure was normal; all signs of the past troubles are gone. It is 3:30pm right now, and instead of him being in pain, he’s playing with Chaco.
Update: Dulce is now up to 983 pounds. Since I started him on the Butyrate on August 10th, he has gained 100 pounds.
Some of What I Mentioned
Triple Crown Naturals feed is a wonderful feed. No GMO’s, no soy, no corn, and it has butyrate, and an MOS prebiotic in it. It is also made with flaxseed oil amoung many other wonderful things.
Triple Crown Natural Ground Flaxseed. They’ve found a way to stabilize it for 24 hours without using soy. Soy can be extremely aggravating to a horse’s gut, so this is why I haven’t used rice bran, which is stabilized with soy. Also, the Naturals Ground Flax made by Triple Crown feeds is GMO free.
Did I mention how important floating your horse’s teeth is? I think so, but it needs to be said again.
I bought the butyrate in pill form from Amazon. I put the powder into one of the Horse Pill Carrier cookies made by Standlee Hay. I top it off with a dot of honey, and Dulce gobbles it all up. There is a probiotic made with it for horses, but it is pretty pricey.
Ramard Total Gut Health
All horse supplement stores sell Gastromend and Ramard Total Gut Health. I highly recommend both products. Even though I don’t think Dulce has ulcers, I think Gastromend prevented them from developing again. I also believe it helped heal any damage the worms may have caused. Total Gut Health I believe saved him. It was the missing piece of the puzzle. If any of my present or future horses are sensitive to sand colic, colic, are gassy, chews at his sides a lot, I will go with Total Gut Health. If I think he has ulcers, I would go with Gastromend personally.
I buy my MOS prebiotic from Oak Creek Services at http://www.oakcreeks.com. The price is reasonable, and you only have to feed a tablespoon once a day. She also ships it out immediately. It is a big help in Dulce’s recovery, and Forco, as much as that helped Chaco and Harley, had no effect on Dulce. I saw noticeable improvement once I put him on this. I now have all three horses on this.
If you decide to try any of this, SPEAK WITH YOUR VET FIRST! I’m not suggesting in any way that any of this could be a solution for your horse. I’m not prescribing anything. This is what I tried, and luckily it seems to be working. I did all of this with my vet’s support.
Since Dulce was a racehorse, he barely had what could be called a saddle on his back. The exercise riders use a bigger saddle, but they are still smaller than the traditional saddle. If he was going to wear a Western saddle, there were some steps to take before I put one on his back.
I’m going to write three blogs to update you on different aspects of Dulce’s healing and progress. I say let’s start with the fun part. Before I start, I am not teaching anyone how to proceed with training their horse. I am simply sharing what I did with Dulce. What you do with your horse is totally up to you, and I bear no responsibility or liability with that. Let’s get started.
Dulce and I have been doing a lot of groundwork and desensitizing work. Movement plays a huge part in his healing and recovery, so I decided to put him into light training. We’ve been working for 15 to 30 minutes four to five days a week followed by stretching and massage.
Since Dulce was a racehorse, he barely had what could be called a saddle on his back. The exercise riders use a bigger saddle, but they are still smaller than the traditional saddle. If he was going to wear a Western saddle, there were some steps to take before I put one on his back.
Before going any further, I want to state don’t do as I do if you are nervous about it. If you don’t feel confident about training your horse to do this transition, get a trainer to help you. You want to get your horse off to the right hoof with a bigger and heavier saddle.
Before you start, you want to make sure there is no back or shoulder pain. I’ve been working on Dulce since I brought him home. He had severe back, shoulder, poll, TMJ, and neck pain. I worked with the Masterson Method, Acupressure, Myofascial Release, stretching, and Tellington Touch before I even considered putting a saddle on him. Also, I waited until he gained enough weight. Most racehorses have severely tight polls, back pain and sacrum area pain to say the least. Again, to get off to a good start, make sure you have all of this worked out.
Since Dulce has been turned out for about a year with no work, I started out with simple desensitizing work such as tossing a rope over his back, rubbing my stick all over him, petting him all over with a plastic bag, and rolling a ball underneath him and at his legs for instance. I also desensitized him to what it might feel like if a rope or wire got wrapped around around his leg. We walked over poles in all sorts of different positions to start strengthening his hind end and topline, which were weak.
I then put a rope around his barrel where the cinch would go. I slowly tightened it, and as soon as he relaxed by cocking his leg, letting out a sigh, or licking his lips, I immediately released. I gradually worked with this increasing the tightness until we got to where he probably would be cinched to. He never had a reaction to it, and actually would start to fall asleep.
I also rolled a big, inflatable ball along his back to remind him of what it felt like to have something on his back. Sometimes I lightly bounced it and other times I put pressure on it. He accepted this easily.
All of this teaches him he can trust me. I always start with the lowest of lowest intensities and slowly work it up. Whenever he shows signs of relaxing at each level, I stop, and I love on him big. The first day I may only do the lowest of intensities, next day take it a slight step higher, and we keep progressing until we get to where we need to get to. However, if he ever shows signs of nervousness, we may stay at a certain level of intensity for a few days until we find the right amount of relaxation, or I may need to take it down a noch before we progress. I go based upon what my horse tells me he needs; not what I think he needs.
We then began to do some light longing work. I do this to help develop communication with my horse on the ground preparing for when I get into the saddle. We both learn each other’s cues. I can find holes in his training and work on those areas. I learn how he responds to different stimuli, and I decide what to toss out and what to keep. I want us to have a great working relationship, so groundwork is a time for us to learn each other in a good and steady way.
People want to skip over groundwork a lot when they get a new horse that has been ridden before, and this can be a huge mistake. The horse had a trust relationship with his previous owner; not you. There is a story about how the famous jockey Angel Cordero asked to sit on Nashua or Bold Ruler, I can’t remember, and the horse bucked him off. Why? He wasn’t his jockey. You aren’t your horse’s jockey. You need to develop a good relationship with your horse before you get on his or her back. You want your horse to know that he can follow you even if he is nervous, to trust you in scary situations, and to listen to you when there are a lot of voices all around.
To prepare him for the western saddle, I put on a surcingle. I will longe him around and hand graze him with it on. This way he gets used to the feel of the cinch in moving through the different gaits and walking on uneven ground. Once he is good and solid with the surcingle, I put the saddle pad on his back, put the surcingle over it, and then I hand walk him over poles and hand graze him. The saddle pad is much bigger and heavier than anything he is used to, so this is a good prep for the saddle. Once this is good and solid, I put a bag of feed on his back to remind him about carrying weight on his back. If he responds well to this, I bring out the saddle and I put it on the fence. The first couple of times I just let him explore it and sniff it. We then move on to me holding it while brushing his side with it to see if he spooks. He never did. If he did, I would have stayed at this spot until he was over his fear of the saddle.
Since he was perfectly calm with the saddle, I gently put it on his back. I didn’t cinch it or anything. I simply loved him all over letting him know that he could relax and how proud I was of him.
The next day I slowly saddled him up, letting him sniff the saddle pad, letting him sniff the saddle, while loving on him after putting the saddle pad on…loving him after I put the saddle on. I slowly pulled the cinch off the saddle, slowly brought it up to his belly letting him feel it and then releasing it, bringing it to his belly and releasing before I finally started to cinch him up. I did it slow as I have done everything else to make sure he was comfortable. Each time I went up a step, I would stop and pet him making sure he was comfortable while also being ready to release it. I watched his ears, head and back to see if he had any signs of discomfort, anxiousness, or irritability. None were seen. Finally, I got him to where I knew if he bucked, it wouldn’t slide, and I began walking him. This is so important! Don’t do any kind of movement work if the saddle is loose. You don’t want it to slide down under his belly causing him to become terrified of the saddle. If you don’t feel comfortable fully cinching the first time around, that is fine. .This is what I did with my horse Shandoka. I put the saddle on his back, brought the cinch under him, got him used to feeling it, and then I tightened it without pulling the latigo through. Instead I grabbed the metal loop where the latigo is tied on to, and I pulled down on that gently while lifting up with the cinch. I worked with it this way until I got him to where he could stand a full amount of tightness with the saddle being pulled down on his back without having to tie it off. This way if he moved, I could let go, and the saddle would slide to the ground instead of the underside of his belly. It didn’t happen of course, because I did a lot of surcingle work with him, so the cinch turned out to be pretty easy. Remember, you want to get off on the right hoof.
He was so calm with the saddle on that I wasn’t worried. If he wasn’t calm, I would have stepped way back to be prepared. Is bucking bad? No. It is something that can be worked with, so if you aren’t experienced working with horses that buck, get yourself a trainer.DO NOT HANDLE THAT ON YOUR OWN. YOU AND YOUR HORSE COULD GET HURT.
As you can see, he was very calm with it.
I let him have a day off to think about everything that we did. On Monday he and Chaco had their morning race, so all of their fresh energy was worked out. It was the perfect time to put the saddle back on going through each step slowly. I walked him around with the saddle, and then I round penned him with the saddle on. He was worn out from his morning romp with Chaco, so I had a bit of a hard time keeping the momentum up. In short, he did fantastic. I had him walk, trot, and canter in each direction, had him turn directions a few times, and there was never a buck, hesitation, or any sign of being uncomfortable at moving under a western saddle.
I then decided to get on him, but before I did, I put downward pressure on both stirrups with my hands to make sure he felt okay with that. He did, I then patted the saddle and put some downward pressure on the saddle. He was fine with that. I brought him alongside the fence, climbed up it, and I put my leg across the saddle while pushing down on the saddle with my leg. He was fine with that. I then slid onto the saddle, talking soothingly, and rubbing my hands all over him. He loved that! I then moved his feet to the right a few steps, stopped, and rubbed him all over. I moved him a few steps to the left, stopped and rubbed him all over. I then walked him along the fence talking to him the whole time letting him know what a good boy he was. We went a hundred feet. I stopped him, and prepared to dismount. This is an important step before hopping off. I put alternating downward pressure with with both of my feet in each stirrup to get him ready for me putting full weight on the stirrups for a dismount. I first push down with my left foot, then right foot, left foot and so on. When I feel he is calm, I bring his nose over towards my left leg, which disengaged his hindquarters preventing him from being able to buck, and I get off. He was a perfect gentleman. I couldn’t be more proud of him. Not only hasn’t he had anyone on his back in a year, he also did all of this bitless! He picks up on everything so fast!
How did it feel to finally ride him? Sweet!!!!!! He walked easily, full stride, calm, held his head in a good way, and listened to me as I spoke to him.
Did I find any holes that need to be worked out? Yes. The moment the saddle went on Saturday, I realized he got nervous any time my training stick went towards his hindquarters. I think he was worried I may hit him with it like one would with a riding crop. I’ve watched his races, and his jockey used the crop on him a lot. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time desensitiizing him to all sorts of things touching his hind end with the saddle on. Yesterday, he really relaxed. We will keep doing this until he shows no signs of caring about it.
Do I follow this plan for each horse? Loosely. The horse will tell me what he or she needs, and I adjust accordingly. I may have to go back to the very beginning steps of our groundwork if the horse shows me he or she needs more work on something. Remain willing to adjust and be flexible while working with any horse. If you are rigid in your training, then your success will be highly limited.
Remember that OTTB’s received a lot of training at the track. They were asked to do all sorts of things from a very young age, and learned to deal with all sorts of things around them. Thoroughbreds are smart and versatile. They can do anything out there. The only limits they have are those that you put upon them, or physical injuries they incurred from the track.
When I go out to train my horses, my attitude means everything to the success of our work. I’ve learned from my past mistakes on this. If I go out there doubting me and my horse, the lesson will fall apart. The horse doesn’t fail at all, rather I failed my horse. If I have an attitude that my horse is going to spook or overreact to something, guess what my horse does? Spooks and overreacts. Horses are perfect mirrors for our doubts, fears, and insecurities.
If I go out there calm, my horse will be much calmer, easier to work with, and more open to me and my suggestions. Does that mean that our lessons always go as planned? Of course not…lol. If I go out there with a calm and positive attitude, then I am more open to solutions in the moment to help my horse. Usually, it is an error in my idea for how to proceed that creates an issue, and for us to have success depends upon how well I learn from what my horse is trying to teach me and implement it.
Of course issues arise due to past training and failures to solves past issues by the previous owners/trainers. These issues can be more difficult to resolve, but usually it is possible if you allow yourself to step outside of the box and find new ways.
When a problem arises, it is important for my mind and ego to not take it personally, to take a step back and breath, watch, and then figure things out. You are the deciding factor in so much of the work you do with your horse. Yes, you will have problems, but look at it as a chance for you and your horse to learn from one another, to get to know each other better, and to learn how to communicate better. Each problem is an opportunity. That is what riding is all about….communication and partnership with your beloved horse.
I held his saddle pad by his nose, so he could smell his own scent on it. I let him play with it for a little bit to allow him time to remember what it was and to get comfortable with it. I then rubbed the saddle pad all over his body to remind him that it was nothing to be afraid of before I gently put it on his back. Four long months passed without a saddle on his back, four months of healing his leg from a long ago injury on the track, and four months of him being filled with mischievous energy at not working for so long.
Usually, when a horse is off for a long period of time, you do groundwork with the saddle on to get them used to the feel of the saddle and the cinch again before you even think of getting back on. I usually work with a horse for three to four days on the ground with the saddle on before I put my weight on the horse’s back again. I want to make sure they get any and all bucking out, and I want to remind them that I’m the alpha, that they can trust me in the saddle, and that I’m the one that can move their feet; not the other way around. This time I can’t do my usual routine, because his surgeon wants me to ride him at the walk for three weeks before I am allowed to trot or lope him; we’re doing everything backwards.
Luckily, he and I have a strong relationship. I go out of my way to spend a lot of time with my boys without asking them for anything; which I believe is a huge part in training a horse. I think a lot of people overlook this step; they just want to ride. I understand the desire to ride, because these past four months have been excruciating. However, if you don’t work on the relationship part of it, your horse won’t take care of you, won’t go that extra mile or into that extra gear for you, because they don’t feel they are working in partnership with you.
I often go out to the pasture and sit in the middle of it, and let them come up to me when they want to. If something is spooking them like the fox, I hang out with them until they calm down, and I make sure we play a lot. My grandpa always encouraged play time with horses, and I still do it today. Shandoka and I used to run all over the paddock together, Chaco and I now do this, and Harley likes to grab hold of my jacket or scooper to play a little tug of war.
Also, when Chaco was on stall rest for two weeks, I often found myself right behind him or under him. I often walked under his neck while he was eating, and he slept with his head on my lap. Then, there were the times I tripped and fell into him. What did he do? Turned and looked at me wondering what the heck I did while not moving an inch. He allowed me to pull his stitches without any numbing agent while kneeling directly under his belly. Not once did he hurt me, so even though I was a little nervous about getting back on him, I completely trusted him.
For three days we did our walking rehabilitation time with the saddle on, and he accepted it like no time passed without it. On the fourth day, it was time to climb on. I first pushed down on each stirrup with all of my weight. I then stood on the fence while putting my leg across the seat of the saddle pushing down with my leg, and then I slowly slid into the saddle. His ears moved back towards me, waiting for a cue. I told him I loved him, pet him all over, and then I clucked. He moved off easily and smoothly and with full confidence. His ears went forward and he seemed happy! I was wondering if he would be happy or grumpy, because he has worked hard since he was one-year-old. With all of this time off, which he enjoyed, I wondered if wanted to retire. His ears spoke volumes; he was anything but done.
How did it feel for me? It was the best fifteen minutes I’ve had in months. Three weeks of riding for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and then 25 minutes before we can trot and lope, but I tell you I’m thrilled with walking right now. I kept hearing my grandpa tell me how the best jockeys danced with their horses. We danced Grandpa!
Snow moved into Colorado after a very long absence over the holidays bringing a sigh of relief to everyone fearing another year of drought. Do we still have to worry about drought? Yes, but we are gaining.
I discovered this morning that two fox made a den by the year-long creek that borders my neighbor’s property. I couldn’t figure out what was spooking Chaco and Harley so much until I heard the fox chatting with my dogs while we were walking this morning. In the past Chaco and Harley would stand behind Shandoka, and when he stopped worrying, they would. Now they don’t have him to let them know if they are safe or unsafe, so Chaco is on a major learning curve. Harley got over it faster than Chaco has, but even he got nervous. I believe the fox worked their way to our property one night, because they both refused to cross this imaginary line in their paddock. Harley swiped his nose through the snow a few times while standing his ground. I had to catch them and walk them over that line to show them that all was well.
A week before the storm came and a few days after Chaco was put out on full turnout, I could tell that Chaco was sore. He was fine when I said goodnight to him, but the following morning he favored his leg. He walked fine on it, but when at rest, his right rear was the one that got all the rest. I saw a bunch of deer scat next to the fence, and I instantly knew what happened. Chaco and the deer were playing with one another when he strained something. Luckily, a few days of rest healed it all up, but it slowed down our rehabilitation program.
The storm brought seven inches of snow, which could have been a problem with continuing Chaco’s walks. However, I decided it was perfect to work out those muscles and to get him to lift his leg, all of his legs, higher while walking. It became the perfect exercise tool. He and Harley had to work to walk, and to walk they needed to use those muscles of their hind end a lot! The snow I believe caught us up on the days that we lost to the deer incident.
However, I am supposed to start riding him for fifteen minutes a day, and I’m not sure where or how. The snow, due to warmer temperatures, is a sheet of ice in most spots. The footing is not good, so I will continue walking him until I can get on him. The last thing I need is for him to take a bad step with weight on his back.
I have him on a supplement for his leg, and it seems to be helping. However, I do believe he needs more protection due to the cartilage damage. The surgeon wanted him to get Irap injections. I’m not going to describe that whole process, but basically they draw blood and create the Irap to inject back into the joint that is injured. It is completely natural, and it has no known side effects like steroid injections do. We can’t afford that though, because it would cost about $2,000 due to all of the damage. We are going to do a Pro-Stride injection, which is similar, and he would only need one injection per year. The Irap would require five injections over five weeks per year. Also, the cost is only $450.
Pro-Stride output produces a concentrated solution of cells, platelets, growth factors, and anti-inflammatory proteins, and is created from the horse’s own blood. When this highly concentrated solution is injected into a joint, it binds to and stops the inflammatory proteins that are causing pain and cartilage destruction. This is what Chaco needs to be pain free, and prevent anymore cartilage damage. I’ve read how it is very effective with stifle joints. There are three small joints in the stifle, and Chaco only has damage in one of the joints, which is called the femoropatellar joint.
Right now I’m trying to figure out how to get there, because the only vet that does this on the Western Slope of Colorado is three hours away over several mountain passes in Durango, CO. I need to figure out the safest time to go, because the vet can’t come here. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us.
In the meantime, we walk, he grazes all day, and we goof off. He is bored to death though, and he wants to get back to work. He likes to go to the arena and work hard, and I know he misses trail riding. I keep promising him soon enough even though it seems so far off.