My mare is lame.
Has been for a year and three months.
We don’t know how she did it, but she came in from the paddock in August 2012 with two injured ligaments in her left front.
So, she did a year of stall rest, and I have been bringing her back slowly. But some days don’t feel like progress.
In the interim, a woman at my barn with a huge heart rescued an appendix gelding from auction in New Jersey. Enter “Sam.”
This guy was scared. Scared of the “pop” as the vet pulled on gloves to examine him. Scared of anyone entering his stall. Scared to take a treat. So scared, you could see knots along the muscles of his back.
My barn manager, “Barn Queen,” is an observant woman. She knew I was down about my mare and the only thing that could help was a project.
I’m at the barn almost every single day: grooming, hand-walking, or (ideally) riding.
Barn Queen spoke to Sam’s Savior, and then to me. Sam needed handling. The more hands, the better. His Savior obliged.
At first, I couldn’t even get Sam to come to me for treats in the paddock. Over the last 10 weeks, we’ve built a bond: Sam, his Savior, Barn Queen, the trainer, staff, myriad boarders, and I.
We have done lots of desensitization and trick training, and Sam’s confidence has skyrocketed. We’ve exercised Sam’s mind, and it’s time to exercise his body.
This week, we began a new challenge: loosen Sam’s shoulder and withers. This is where Sam visibly holds tension from his unknown and frightening past. And this is the exact part of his body that will eventually carry a rider. If you can get the horse to step its front feet onto a high box, the withers and scapula stretch to release the muscles used under saddle.
I got to the barn Thursday and saddled my mare. My heart fell into my stomach when she trotted off lame, and fell even lower when she didn’t work out of it. I untacked, gave her a nice treat, wrapped my arms around her giant fluffy neck, inhaled her sweet horse smell, and resigned myself to the fact that I would not be riding this weekend.
I filled my pocket with a giant carrot and headed down his aisle. His head hung over the stall door. Six weeks ago, as any human approached, Sam would have backed into the corner and hid. I pulled off his halter and slipped on the blue rope training halter in the dark stall. Off we went to the indoor arena.
The staff built a 16 inch rubber topped wooden pedestal for training. But just having the right equipment doesn’t ensure success.
I put Sam through a few minutes of our now-usual longe routine first. For an insecure horse, familiar patterns provide comfort. We headed for the pedestal.
I stood on top, gave him a few pieces of the carrot, and scratched his star. Then I sat on the edge of the box, carrot in hand.
And then, I waited. Working with a rescue horse teaches you two things: patience and pride. I bit a chunk off the carrot making sure it made a loud “crack.” This reminder of how delicious the prize would be prompted a hind leg to step up under Sam’s belly closer to the pedestal, for which he earned the little bite.
I hadn’t yet convinced him that stepping on this box was a good idea. And I can’t blame him. Sam would not let a human on his right side 10 weeks ago. Now I wanted him to follow me up onto a moveable foreign object.
I stood on the far side of the box, carrot in hand. I cheered him on, “Sammy, come come.” The other hind leg stepped up. He looked at me as if to acknowledge how silly he looked with all four feet tucked in a tiny radius beneath him. And then…
With courage and conviction, he placed one foot and then the other atop the box. He stood there for about a minute at first. So we did it again. And a third time.
It was obvious this was a comfortable position. Sam squared up his front feet and lowered his head into the stretch.
The next evening, after longing over a single cavaletti, I brought him back to the box. I stood with him and rubbed the long muscles that run along his spine from withers to hip. We did some leg yield on the ground and then I unclipped the lead rope. He followed me onto the box at liberty.
My mare’s lameness is heartbreaking. Not riding is frustrating. But maybe her injury is my “box.” A big scary hurdle meant to stretch me further than I thought I could go.
We all need to stretch and step up to our respective boxes…that is what life is about. Sometimes we take our own steps, fearfully…but the helping hand often makes the difference…You go lady. Great strides, SAM!!
Thanks! He is a lot of fun, and I’m glad he finds comfort and confidence in me.
i’m so sorry to hear about your mare and her ongoing lameness. i am wondering if you have heard of essential oils? they really do work wonders on all kinds of issues, especially lameness. i would be more than happy to share some information if you are interested 🙂
and what a lucky guy sam is!! your loss is ultimately his gain. he sounds like he is going to absolutely flourish under your kind hand!
I have not heard of using essential oils for lameness, and definitely appreciate the tip. Would love to hear more.
Thanks! Sam is a special horse, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for him.
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Sam is so lucky and sounds like one of the horses we had in are care, sometimes wondered with Kelly who rescues who, she brought are family together working on ways to catch her and work with her, my then 12 year old son had some of the best results http://neilirving73.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/kelly-likes-joe-bonamassa/
What a gorgeous horse. It’s so sweet how she responds to him!
She is a stunning horse and after are care and attention is doing very well at dressage and little local shows with her new owner, for 3 months it was only Cameron who could catch her after 6 months she was waiting at the gate for us, she new we where coming before we did
That’s great progress! I hope Sam’s learning follows a similar path.
With love care and leadership, and the most important part think like a horse I’m sure Sam will be fine
You are so right Neil. The give and the take is usually both ways and at times we humans don’t always realize the subtle dynamics of the relationship: did the horse come to us or did we go to the horse? The beautiful thing is that little sound in between the notes that carries the melody…unmet and unintended needs and gifts. Sam is very lucky but it works the other way too. So are you, Capital Cowlady!!
Thanks to Ric and Neil. I’m looking forward to seeing how he continues to progress, and will (of course) keep the blog updated!
When we rescued Kelly we had to learn so much and fast it was amazing how much we didn’t know about horses, but once we learned her body language and understood how she was feeling and that she was just being a horse, lots of people said we where crazy and should give up but then we would not be able to have days like this http://neilirving73.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/brought-kelly-home-for-a-visit-and-to-mow-the/ and wonderful memories, cant wait for next summer so we can bring Jack and Skye home for a visit
Wow, those photos are priceless. Treasure those memories.
If we ever have a bad horsey day all we have to do is look at those pictures and we know its going to be all right
Wow, that is amazing! There is nothing more rewarding than having a horse trust you.
Sometimes God knows what we need more than we know what we need. Maybe you had to go through this lameness to gain the trust of Sam. I will pray for your mare and believe that you will be riding shortly.
Merry Christmas! You have certainly made Sam’s!
You are right! There is a reason for what we’re going through, even if it isn’t immediately apparent. I’m enjoying the everyday challenges with Sam. He and my mare bring such joy to my life. Merry Christmas to you also, and a wonderful new year!
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Thanks for putting together the carnival with such a great collection of writings!
a heartwarming post that made me happy for both of you. embracing the present moment with whatever it brings is “the box” for each of us– thanks for the reminder!
Thanks for stopping by SassySistersInk! Agreed 🙂
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