The Training and Rehabilitation of Sydney
In the fall of 1999 I started the search for the "perfect " horse for my husband Scot. We had recently lost our beloved mare of 16 years and we were ready to start a new saga in horse ownership. Prior to starting the search for this wonder horse; Scot and I made up lists of what were the most important qualities that our new horse should possess. My list was very long and my husband's list was pretty short. We did agree on the basics such as conformation, temperament, breeding, size, age, sex and price.
Scot dutifully accompanied me nearly every weekend in search of the "perfect" horse. At first I had a real sense of adventure, this was going to be fun and uplifting! My cheerful attitude was quickly extinguished by the cold hard facts of life. There is no "perfect" horse, and the horses in our price range were so far from perfect that it was laughable. I was devastated! But, we still needed a horse, so we kept looking. I searched the Internet by day, classifieds by night and word of mouth all the time. In just five short months we had been all over the Pacific Northwest horse shopping.
I had personally ridden over one hundred horses that had passed our initial pre-purchase qualifications. I was starting to become very cynical about horses and horse people in general. I did not have thousands of dollars to spend on a horse that would primarily be a pleasure horse. The horse with the very best conformation and movement that we found was a $50K jumper that was recovering from colic surgery, and from being cast in his stall. That horse was incredible and we did not even a have remote possibility of ever owning him, but he was a joy to look at and work with.
It seemed like every horse that was in our price range had some minor unidentifiable lameness issue. It was a joke how many horse owners and trainers would bring out a lame horse for us to try out. Some of the horses were so lame that I did not even ride them. Some of the horses also had obvious problems with conformation, dentistry, back pain, hock pain, shoeing or just poor overall health. We ended up educating many owners on just what was available to help their horses live a more holistic and healthy life.
On my way home from attending a Centered Riding Clinic, I decided to stop by and see some horses at one more farm. I had spoken to the breeder about purchasing a particularly nice mare and found out that the mare was not for sale for any price. However, since she was a breeder she had many other horses for sale, and I did not have anything to lose but time, I ended up spending a few hours at the breeder's farm, and I found a couple horses that I liked that had already been sold. After a while the breeder told me of one other horse from her breeding program that was for sale. She called the owner to see if we could drive over and look at this horse. When we arrived at the farm where this horse lived it was getting dark.
The owners pulled this slight looking little filly out of a cowshed and paraded her around. The owner had mentioned that the filly was a little scraped up, but I was not the least bit prepared for what I saw. They had deduced that she had gotten her head caught in the cattle stanchion while no one was around and had panicked. I was shown the cattle stanchion and noticed that it was slightly bowed out towards the inside of the cowshed. No one really knew how she got herself untangled or how long she was actually hung up; I was merely given their best guess as to the circumstances surrounding her injuries.
This filly had feet that had not been trimmed in months; her hooves were at least four inches too long. Her feet were so long that she could barely trot. When I looked at her I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. My friend Freda and her daughter Katie accompanied me on this horse sale prospect trip, and as we all stood watching this filly walk around, we were completely dumbstruck. This filly had identical cuts on either side of her head. These cuts and abrasions extended from the base of her ears around her forehead above her eyes. The cuts nearly touched in the center of her forehead above her whorl. The initial cuts looked fairly deep and the surrounding tissue was scraped up in one of the worst abrasions I have ever seen. Her mane and forelock were matted with mud, blood, and bedding. Her legs were a mess. She had a very large cut on her right front leg, from the knee to the fetlock. She had a large splint that was very tender to the touch. Her left front leg was abraded on the outside from the middle of the cannon bone down to the hoof in a swath about 1.5 inches wide. Her back legs were also involved to a certain extent with a large cut between the coronary band and the fetlock on the back of the right foot.
These were the superficial wounds. As I watched her owners lead her all around and try to show her to us I started to notice how she held her neck and head. She held them rigidly and cocked to one side. She appeared to have no flexibility at the poll, neither side to side nor forward and back. It looked as though she had no movement options in the cervical vertebral area known as C1, C2, and C3. I also noticed she kept her head high and tended to hollow her back, and was slightly unbalanced. She was so unbalanced that she could not even back up one step with out nearly falling. At that point I should have run for the hills . This filly was, in my estimation, in bad shape and these wounds were already about ten days old. I took some pictures of her to show my husband and I took down the owner's information about her. As Freda, Katie and I left to go home, I kept thinking about her and all of the physical problems. I wondered if she would ever receive the veterinary care that I thought she so obviously needed.
I thought it was strange that she did not yet have a name. I usually name my animals within a couple of weeks of owning them. She had been born on the farm and was over eighteen months old and still did not have a stable name. The breeder had given her a name to complete her registration papers, but the owners did not call her by that name or anything else.
When I got home I told Scot all about the Centered Riding Clinic I had attended and how much fun it was. Then we got down to the business of the sale horses I had looked at. Our conversation got even more interesting as I took out the pictures of all of the horses I had seen. As we looked over the pictures together we were able to pick out many conformational flaws that I had overlooked while viewing these horses. We were narrowing down the prospects; we came to the little filly's pictures. Her pictures were awful, I had taken them at dusk, and she looked like a bloody little wreck of a horse. But, there was something about her. We both kept going back to her pictures over and over.
The next day I called my friend Freda; she had loved the filly and reminded me how quickly the filly had regained her composure when she had spooked. The filly also had demonstrated her stability and intelligence when faced with a new situation and many strangers poking and prodding her. Freda also pointed out that her age was in her favor as well as her genetics, and the fact that she had no training. I was shocked, I had fully expected that Freda would tell me to come to my senses and forget about this horse.
As Scot and I talked about all that we would have to do medically and holistically to rehabilitate this filly I began to formulate different treatment ideas in my head. Since I am a TTEAM practitioner, holistic horse care teacher, and have had years of experience with flower essences, herbs and their uses, as well as different types of healing, I felt qualified that I could draw on both my experiences with allopathic as well as naturopathic modalities in healing to help this filly to recover. Scot and I decided that if we could get this filly at a price we thought was fair, we could invest the time and money into her rehabilitation and training.
I called the owners and made them what I considered
to be a reasonable offer. They thought about it and called back with a
counter offer; I accepted their counter offer with some contingencies
that were going to cost them as much or more than the difference between
our starting offer and ending agreement.
As we drove to the farm we discussed all that could go wrong, and the possibility that she might never recover enough to be rideable. It was a risk that we were willing to take to try to "save" her from what I considered to be a worse fate. As Scot pulled into the driveway and turned around he told me what time it was and asked for my opinion on how long it would take to load her, and complete this deal. I told him I had no idea, but I hoped it wouldn't take too long. The owners jockeyed her out of the cowshed, and handed her lead rope to me. Scot opened the trailer doors; we let her check out the trailer for a few minutes then asked her to load. Scot and the owner just put their arms around the filly's rump and she jumped right in. We gave her some hay, closed her in, exchanged money, paperwork and were back on the main road headed home in twenty-two minutes.
I took that to be a good sign. She rode easily home, without any problems. We brought all the other horses in for the evening and put our new filly in the front stall for the night. As I stood watching her munch her hay, I realized I had paid money for a horse that only met the bare standards of our list of the perfect horse, and she was injured.
Her mane smelled rotten, because it was matted together in dreadlocks with mud, blood and bedding. I knew her mane would grow back so to start getting her cleaned up I cut off about eight inches of mane. As I tried to clean her wounds, Scot and I realized that she had not been handled very much. We had to soak the buckle on the halter to get it to come loose so we could take it off. When we finally removed the halter, we realized how badly she must hurt. Her whole attitude changed as soon as the halter came off. She became calmer and quieter instantly. To assist her rehabilitation, attitude and training I added flower essences to her water, sprayed her hay with them, and sprayed them on the halter and leadrope. We used Rescue Remedy for fear and trauma, and Healing Blend for the healing of her body and the mental and emotional areas of the mind. I also added extra Star of Bethlehem to help her with the physical trauma she had been through. I constantly monitored her condition in all aspects of life. As I started to see some changes in attitude and behavior, I continually modified her flower essence remedy blends to reflect what I was seeing.
After a couple of days of learning to be haltered using a different halter, we decided to let her have some additional freedom in the outside paddocks. She appeared to be thrilled with this idea, and walked all over exploring her new area. When it came time to catch her we realized she did not know how to be caught in a large area. She would get frightened and back away or whirl quickly away. She did not know what grain, carrots or apples were so we had to really chunk down the process of being caught, haltered, and led in a large space. She did know what alfalfa was and really liked alfalfa, so we used a handful of alfalfa to help us catch her. All she had to do was come over and have a bite of alfalfa and be stroked and TTouched on her body wherever I could reach. She started to associate people and being caught with lots of love, petting, scratching, and a small bite of alfalfa. After a week of slow steady work she began to meet us at the fence to be caught.
Since she was easier to handle and was learning manners
I called a couple of my veterinarian friends to see if we could get her
evaluated and start her rehabilitation process. After talking with three
of them, we decided on the course of action of letting the injuries to
the spine and nuchal ligament heal before starting any form of treatment.
Everyone agreed that she had severe damage and that it was too early to
start any physical therapy. We did agree that she really needed some homeopathic
Arnica 30C tablets or liquid two times or more per day for the severe
bruising, trauma, and swelling to her whole body.
By the end of the second week, Scot had named her Sydney. Each morning and evening I cleaned her wounds with an herbal "tea" I had made. We called this infusion Wound Wash. Scot and I would then take turns having her stand while being groomed. At first she did not understand what was expected of her or that she might actually like to be groomed. To assist her in the learning process I groomed the other horses in front of her stall. As she saw the other horses standing quietly and enjoying the grooming process things started to change. I did TTouches all over her body. Scot would joke that I was TTouching her so much that her hair should be wearing off. She seemed to really enjoy the flat handed Abalone and Lying Leopard TTouches the most. I used the TTouches to help establish an initial contact with her and to aid her in her recovery. I did TTouch on her nearly every time I handled her, even if it was only for a minute or two. In the evenings I sprayed my hands with The Healing Blend or Rescue Remedy flower essence and TTouched it in.
I would do her entire body using connected TTouches from mid-neck to hock in long parallel lines. I also did Raccoon TTouches on her Bladder Meridian and on her Ting Points. As I was doing the TTouches I visualized healing happening on a cellular level moving from one cell to the next in all directions. I also visualized her completely healed and sound. One evening as I was rinsing her remaining wounds with Wound Wash I looked up and watched her drink the whole bucket of the Wound Wash Herbal Tea. I asked Scot to get some carrots and apples out to see if she would like to try them. Sydney just looked at us like we were really weird and ignored the treats. I decided to grate the carrots and apples and put them on top of her hay to see if that was more appealing. It was; Sydney really started to like carrots, apples, oranges, bananas and other produce treats. With the addition of carrots to her diet we were able to hide her homeopathic in the hollowed out middle of carrots. This made medicating her much easier, quicker and more pleasant. Sydney also started to visit our horse herb garden everyday. All our horses have access to the herb garden at some point during the day so that they have a free choice of what herbs they want every day. Sydney seemed to prefer borage, chamomile, calendula, feverfew and comfrey on a regular basis.
In April, Scot and I arranged for Dr. Abby Moos to
perform the first of several acupuncture treatments to help Sydney with
her injuries. Abby is a good friend, and we discussed everything that
we were doing to help Sydney recover. After the first acupuncture treatment
Sydney had a larger range of motion that was smooth-looking; she lost
some of the ratchety motion she had exhibited. We also noticed that she
started to trot and canter more easily while loose in the pasture. Abby
continued to treat Sydney regularly and we noticed definite changes in
Sydney's head and neck mobility after each successive treatment.
Per Abby's advise we started doing very slow carrot stretches with Sydney each day. I had her doing the carrot stretches for just a few minutes a couple of times per day. Following the stretches I did a few more minutes of connected TTouch all over Sydney's body. I spent about 20 minutes total each day with Sydney doing stretches, TTouch, and general grooming.
After consulting with Abby and having a telephone consultation with Dr. Mark Depalo's wife Gina, we arranged for Sydney to have her first chiropractic evaluation and treatment. I had spoken to Gina several times about what I was doing to help Sydney recover. She was very supportive and able to give me information based on a horse that they had recovered with very similar injuries. Gina's advise and support before Dr. Mark Depalo actually worked with Sydney were extremely valuable as a gauge to how Sydney was doing in comparison to another horse with similar injuries.
From a chiropractic point of view Sydney had a host of problems. To help the chiropractic treatment last longer we followed up with acupuncture one or two days later, and Sporttouch and TTouch immediately following the treatment. Both vets were very impressed with how she "held" treatments. I believe she was able to hold a treatment better than other horses with less serious injuries due to the fact that she gets regular TTouch nearly every day. So her body is more relaxed and open to receive the treatment she is being given.
Sydney's chiropractic, acupuncture, TTouch continues to help her maintain better health and well-being. I started her saddle training this fall. The training consists of TTEAM work in one or two "training" periods each week. I often enlist the help of friends as well as my husband on these training days. It makes training a much more social event than normal, and everyone gets to see how we are progressing. Sydney also gets to learn the same lessons from a couple of different people, which helps her be able to adjust to new situations more quickly and easily. By having other people do the exercises with her they also learn the subtleties of TTEAM work.
Training Sydney for horse wear items has proven to be both fast and easy. Teaching her about longing, going with other horses in the horse trailer, and standing quietly while tied have been somewhat challenging. Teaching her to load willingly began with teaching her to go forward in the "Dingo" leading position. From the Dingo position we taught her to step up on a sheet of plywood, walk on, over, and under clear plastic, and to be able to stand quietly while in a plastic "trailer".
As for longing, I set up cones in an oblong shape and walked next to her, gradually moving away from her as we walked. Again I used the Dingo leading position for this exercise. I then switched directions and repeated the process going the opposite direction. I also started to ask for a few steps of trot while on the long side of the oblong shape. Sydney is still longed this way to prevent overstress to her legs while being longed. I believe the centrifugal force to the joints on a young horse can cause premature aging and degeneration to joints, so I do not longe on a round circle. I much prefer the TTEAM method of longing using an oval or oblong shape.
I begin each training session with about ten minutes of TTouch while I groom. This saves both time and energy for Sydney to warm up and be receptive to the training session. I also end each session using the TTouch; this helps to ensure that she remains supple and strong, and that I can notice any abnormalities that I might not catch otherwise. If I notice heat, cold, swelling, tenderness or anything a little odd I make a note of it and keep and eye on the situation. By taking a few extra minutes I have less injuries and a better relationship with my horse.
Until next time, enjoy your horse and stay in TTouch.
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