Rescue Horse, Rescue Me: Pedestal Training 101.

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.

SamIn 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.

"I so want that carrot, but your head and this box are in the way!"

“I so want that carrot, but your head and this box are in the way!”

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.

Sam's facial expression says it all. He is not thrilled with my latest challenge.

Sam’s facial expression says it all. He is not thrilled with my latest challenge.

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…

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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.

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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.

Leap of faith!

Leap of faith!

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23 thoughts on “Rescue Horse, Rescue Me: Pedestal Training 101.

  1. 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!!

  2. 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.

  3. Pingback: Rescue Horse Exercise: Poles and Grids In-Hand | Capital Cowgirl

  4. 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!

  5. Pingback: Welcome to the January 2014 Blog Carnival of Horses | EQUINE Ink

  6. 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!

  7. Pingback: Listen to Your Horse | Capital Cowgirl

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