Horse keeping and the pursuit of endurance riding is to me a delightful torture, a painful thrill, an adrenaline rush colored with every emotion–and inevitably flavored with elation, whether in the revelation of (another!) survival, or in the undeniable recognition of achievement (well hey, surviving qualifies there too).
The last few weeks have exemplified the above fantastically. It’s a hot mess of happenings, so let’s break it down horse by horse.
At our last check in, Kenny had rocked the Whiskeytown Chaser LD but a few weeks later had come up inconsistently off a few miles into riding (did I feel that? am I crazy? What was that???)–and then again, but this time undeniably, a week after that. From there I booked him into Loomis Basin Equine’s lameness vet and we conducted systematic diagnostics: lameness exam, flexion test, blocking, and xrays. As we’d figured, that toed out, offset right front leg with the uneven heel and therefore uneven loading was the issue. He was also reactive to hoof testers on both front hooves. Kenny will always be built crookedly and came with a vastly higher lateral heel (and crooked hoof capsule) on that right front. I wasn’t able to bring down and even that landing and support him comfortably barefoot for performance (i.e more than light use). I’m not saying that it’s impossible to do barefoot or looking to argue theory, I’m simply saying that I am not that skilled and was happy (but always sharp eyed and ¿quizzical?) to surrender to experts in a case that is beyond me.
Toed out on both front but offset on that RF too
on the Right, an extreme example of the medial loading that led to soreness
To simplify, with Kenny sound on soft footing but ouchy on that overloaded medial heel on the hard ground, the vet prescribed a balancing trim and shoeing with very generous medial support-as in, the darn shoe is sticking out quite a bit to the inside and Kenny now needs to wear front bell boots 24/7 to protect the shoes. In true Kenny fashion, he’s only 14 hands high but needs size Large bell boots– and how do I know? Not intuitively, I’ll tell ya. Actually I bought the wrong size a few times, which as a country mouse involves rather an epic amount of driving to be so very wrong. Fortunately, Kenny obliged me by promptly trying to remove his generously supported special shoe before I got the right boots on so we had to pop back down to the clinic for a reset; a nearby tack store in that area yielded an employee and bell boots–into my actual trailer to make sure the darn things fit before purchase this time around.
Fortunately, Kenny is a pretty glamorous loafer. As a riding buddy recently said, “he wasn’t born fancy but momma bought him some.” I’m literally still snickerrrsnorting…
Kenny is now 85% balanced medial-laterally in that RF so will be enjoying his large hilly pasture until the next shoeing cycle where he should come 100% balanced and work can hopefully resume. He was already non reactive to hoof testers by the shoeing and looks great in the field, but as it took miles to come on before, well, I’ll believe this is the right path when I see and feel it I guess!
Apache makes Kenny look like the simplest case in the world. We’ve been on a long path of trust building since bringing him home from Oregon over a year ago, with seemingly equal progress and set backs. While he’s undoubtedly unfurled a whole lot towards humans and warmed to me particularly, he has an intensity and for lack of a better term PTSD regarding his barrel and flanks, girth tightening, and the mounting and moving off process. ***He’s had all the appropriate health care, regular chiropractic, and is on ulcer support*** His short, widely sprung, and downhill from the croup conformation may in fact have originally caused the saddle/cinching issues that he now still copes mentally with, I won’t ever truly know. I do know that the previous home sent him to a trainer with good intentions and got him back described as cold backed which I can’t entirely argue at this point, though it has different meanings to different people.
We’ve started entirely over, from bareback and halter in the round pen, done by me and by a braver horse savvy counterpart last fall, done extensive hiking and ponying from bare to fully tacked with crupper, and built up from bareback trail rides to tacked, and had some great rides with buddy horses where Apache truly seemed to enjoy the trail. There are, however, gaping holes in his actual training and serious trust issues between the two of us about the mounting and moving off from mounting process. He’s also impossible to saddle fit, as everything wants to slide forward, but he’s not at all kosher about a crupper and rider, though he works fine in all terrain with a crupper and no rider. For all the good rides with buddies, I’ve come off him 3 times now in those moments after mounting, too. I was life flighted to a body part rebuild some years ago and already have enough fear issues about mounting that I sent my home born filly Sheza to a trusted trainer for her first 60 days under saddle so that she’d learn about mounting and riding without my anxiety involved. It was the best decision I ever made for Sheza and I. When it came time for me to mount her for the first time I was nervous jelly–and she was confident and bored. Instantly my confidence was buoyed and we’ve only soared from there.
So, Apache and I. We’re both not okay with the mounting and moving off process. We can rush through it and survive with a buddy horse there, as his competitive spirit immediately takes over and he’s off and moving his feet in pursuit of sanity. That strikes me more as stolen rides than true safe riding and training, especially when I compare it to the supple give of Sheza even at her young age. She’s big and snorty and hotter than Apache, but I know she and I are on the same page so I confidently take her shenanigans in stride as you need to with green horses. I’m a button polisher and horse improver but I am not a trainer, and I’m feeling the lack of my skills almost but not quite as much as I’m feeling the fear when trying to proceed with Apache.
I’ve shared this with knowledgeable horse friends and my husband, and 90% of the horse friends say the same as the husband–too risky, too stressful, too many odds against. Find him a new home, someone else needs a lawn mower, etc. A few people suggested finding a good trainer, which was my first thought as a stubborn redhead who doesn’t want to not be the right thing for a horse she really likes. I haven’t decided either way but I do feel secure in my decision to not try to continue riding Apache unless there’s some outside intervention.
With epic gelding fails left and right, Sheza has been embracing her role as the shiny star of life. The temperatures have been so high that we’re already saying, “Oh look it’s only 98 today!” so we’ve been hitting the trails in the warm evenings until dark and it’s just a sublime time to ride.
Maybe I’m overreacting but I feel like I can literally see the confidence grow in these 3 photo grids of our evening adventures, from the first night out past her bedtime to last night when we easily climbed the local big hill and rolled back to the trailer in the dark.
So, as usual, it’s a mixed bag of thrilling highs and kick to the gut lows with the herd around here. I know I’m not alone in the horse trenches, so against the odds and the occasional annoying or downright ridiculous advice, I keep sharing and hoping and learning. Wishing you all well on your journeys.