Saturday, February 6, 2010

Supporting roles...

I work with some really cool horses and people in my job, so I'm going to run through some of the lesser known ones... probably slowly, but not in any particular order, so NO, that doesn't mean I love any one of my students less than others. Well, maybe some I love more than others... but thats okay. 

The one I constantly marvel at is Skippy. Skippy belongs to an adult trail rider, Anne, and she bought him off of craigslist about a year and a half ago.

Skippy and his mom, Anne

He was living on the side of a hill in a pasture of all rocks, no grazing AT ALL, bad hay- just the typical backyard redneck situation. She went out and rode him- loved him- and asked me to come see him. So I went out there with a badly twisted ankle and hopped on. He was great. I suspect he's probably part gaited horse, but couldn't make him gait, so he has a solid w/t/c. He neck reins, moved off leg, the only place they had to ride was the road- so up and down we went, being passed by a logging truck, school bus- no reaction. She bought him, brought him home, we slowly rehabbed him and can you guess what happened?

Mr. Oh-so-quiet wasn't oh-so-quiet anymore. He RAN. EVERYWHERE. He would not walk. He would not relax. His head was straight up and he was running in place. Riding him required an ace bandage and seven rolls of duct tape to be comfortable and not knock a couple of teeth out.

It was apparent that he was used to riding out with gaited horses- he just did whatever he had to do to keep up. He didn't have a true walk, trot or canter. I tried to teach him to gait since I thought he was leaning toward that, but that wasn't the case. I switched bits, tried longing and all kinds of tricks I'd learned through the years, side reins, gadgets, training fork. We had him adjusted, saddle fitted, massaged.

I. Tried. Everything. He just had no "relax button." I fought, and fought and fought. I began teaching him dressage. We did LOTS of one rein stops to unlock his neck. I could get small responses out of him, it got to where he was manageable. I could walk and trot him. Things were getting better.

And then they stopped getting better and just stayed the same... for a long enough time that I just gave up and trail rode him and delt with it.

On top of this, Skippy started having huge management issues. He was at a good weight coming into winter. At the first cold snap, he lost an extreme amount of weight in a short time. We did all the right things to rehab him again- including blanketing him so he wouldn't waste precious calories trying to stay warm. Well, apparently Skippy had never had a sheet on before. The first time he was turned out with it on, he bolted to the nearest fences and went through it. YIKES. Luckily, he wasn't badly hurt, but it did some damage to his psyche. He then became unreliable and skittish. He was just plain SCARED of life. He became so dependent on his herd that he became dangerous. We had the vet out many times and finally we decided to have a behaviorist come out. As a last ditch effort, we moved him back to the north side of the farm where he could be turned out alone in a 30 acres pasture. He stayed there for four weeks and realized he was OKAY by himself and people were really the coolest thing ever. We moved him back to the south side of the farm and he was a changed man.

I resumed riding him with minimal progress and just worked on keeping him fit for summer trail rides. Then winter rolled around, and  I pulled out what would turn out to be magic. A mechanical hackamore.

Don't ask me why, but it switched a light bulb on somewhere in Skippy's head that I had never been able to find. We went back to dressage work and he would actually supple himself. He started using his back end and lifting his back. He stopped fighting every step of the way!! For the first time, he walked AND trotted with his neck relaxed and his shoulders swinging. He was covering some ground and the most amazing thing was that the wrinkles in his skin in front of his saddle pad that he has ALWAYS had due to tension... were gone. GONE. 

He will now walk, trot and canter in a relaxed, low level dressage frame, and even more amazing- he will go BACK to the walk after cantering and RELAX. He finally has two leads! His walk is adjustable- it can be faster or slower, longer or shorter. I have switched him from the hack to a normal snaffle and the result is the same. 

It just amazes me when I get on him and I'm so excited by his progress. His owner appreciates everything I've done for him, but will never utilize what he now knows to its full extent, but it will make her trail riding time with him more pleasant. 

On top of that, sadly, she called me last week to tell me Skippy was going to need to find a new home. She is dealing with some issues with her young son that require her full attention right now and horses just cannot be in the picture. I'm so sad to know that, but I'm glad the Skippy is in a place now that I feel comfortable rehoming him- that he has a future beyond just "trail horse" for the right person, though he is a great trail horse, if that is what his new person wants. 


Its bittersweet, my job.


  1. Aw, I want a pony!!! Too bad I live so far away...

  2. Good story. great plug for the pony!