Gus, in his less comfortable days.


The Story About Gus

By Scott Dove

This is my story about a Thoroughbred fox hunter named Gus, a 16.1-hand, 19-year-old horse, and the patience and love that resulted in healing.

I boarded my horse, Mack, a Tennessee walker, at Chesterfield South located in Fredericksburg, PA, owned by Lisa and Chet Nicarry. After about a month of being around the farm and getting Mack and myself settled in, I saw Lisa walking a horse slowly around the outside arena for short periods of time - then she would put him back in the stall. As I observed Lisa working with him over about a one-month time period, I noticed that there was a very special bond between them; he trusted her with anything she wanted to do with him.

I asked Lisa about the horse and she told me his name was Gus and that he had a severely bowed tendon. Gus had apparently been injured while fox hunting. He reportedly injured his tendon upon landing after a jump; it was attributed to poor shoeing. She said that a horse dealer had contacted her and asked if she would take a look at him to see if there was anything that could be done about his lameness. Lisa purchased Gus from the dealer after she learned that the only other alternative for him was the slaughterhouse. Lisa would not accept this destiny - the horrid smell of death and blood and loss of life - as an option for Gus, so she bought him.

Lisa had taken Gus under her wing and had been working with him and his lameness. Along with the bowed tendon, Gus had developed abscesses in the hoof on that same leg, which resulted in the loss of a major portion of the hoof. I was amazed he could even stand on it. But Lisa has an extensive knowledge of herbal and homeopathic treatments, and years of experience with horses. So Gus was treated with a lot of love and special attention at Lisa and Chet’s, and he wanted to live.

I want to make mention that throughout the whole healing process, starting from when he arrived at Lisa’s, no drugs, conventional medicines or horseshoes were used. Instead, all natural alternatives were utilized, including time, to avoid causing additional problems.

Our new horse
I phoned my daughter, Alicia, and asked her to come over to Lisa’s farm explaining that I wanted to show her something. I led Gus out to where Alicia was standing, on a hillside overlooking Lisa’s farm, and I handed her the leadline. I asked, “What do you think?” She looked at me and said, “Dad, he is very beautiful!” I said, “Happy graduation,” and with tears in our eyes we dedicated our hearts, efforts and time to this beautiful horse named Gus. We kept him at the Nicarry’s farm for about two more months while Lisa instructed me on how to care for him, and then we moved him to our place.

We built a large stall so he could be confined yet have room to move. Alicia and I spent countless hours caring for him - including soaking his injured leg and hoof in a bucket of ice water when needed, which seemed to feel good to him. This helped to bring down the swelling on the healing tendon. Lisa had provided us with an herbal supplement, herbal external applications and homeopathic remedies to address the situation as it progressed. InflammaSaver, Stiff’N’Sore, Arnica, Ruta grav, Apis, and Calc fluor are among the remedies that were used - some throughout the entire recovery process. We continued the hand-walking exercise, gradually increasing the time and distance. Gus received total body massage, with some exercises such as belly lifts as well - because he seemed to be getting a little swayback.

We also had to deal with his ‘good leg’, which barely left the ground, to minimize swelling and hoof problems. Because of the stress and strain of having to bear twice the weight at all times (he rarely laid down because it was very difficult to get up without help), and with being unable to be turned out, his good leg suffered. That foreleg still has an occasional limp today. Fortunately, the homeopathic remedies given helped both legs.

Getting back into riding work
Gus had gone from being barely able to walk to being ready for light trail riding. We were delighted he had improved this much, and started him in active work.

Alicia with Gus - now comfortable, happy, and trail-riding rigorously and regularly.

As Alicia started to gradually work with Gus for trail riding, it was the perfect time of year - fall was setting in, the leaves were changing, and we made wonderful progress through the winter. When the really cold weather hit, however, we were faced with another challenge - Gus had arthritis. It may have been part of the problem all along, but went unnoticed because of his limited movement, so we stopped the trail riding because it seemed to make it worse. Some mornings, he was hardly able to move, taking 2 ½ hours to walk 1000 feet - it was like starting all over again. And then he started to lose weight. We couldn’t have come this far to have it end now.

Arthritis treatment
I contacted a dear old friend of the family, Bruce, a “vet of the old school” who was retired, and asked him to assist me with Gus. This amazing man actually harvested the plants for the remedies that were utilized for Gus’s arthritis. Although what he described would be probably a harsh herbal treatment, I knew Bruce knew what he was doing, and felt comfortable doing what he suggested. He explained the ‘mountain herbs’ would cause some digestive distress and increased circulation, but that Gus would be fine if I stayed with him. I decided to ask Gus if he wanted to go through this. I looked up at Gus and said, “Blink your eyes once for yes and twice for no.” There was no hesitation in his answer - he blinked once, and there was no blinking after that… so I took that as his answer, and gave Bruce the OK. Gus looked right at both of us and let out a big neigh, seemingly in response.

Bruce told me what we had to get for him as far as the herbs, barks, and roots, so I headed for the mountains to get what we needed to help Gus. Bruce couldn’t go with me because he was 88 years old, and in and out of a wheelchair. (Sadly, he has since died - and Gus was the last horse he helped take care of. Thank you, Bruce.)

Bruce measured out the herbs and roots, ground them, mixed them up, and prepared them all into little portions for Gus. Bruce told me how to give each one to Gus - some by liquid, some in powder form, and some of the bark in pieces. He told me how Gus would take it - some of the bark Gus would chew and chew, then spit it out (which Gus did).

So I started the treatment for Gus. Gus was a sweetheart - he took his meds well, 4 times a day for the first week, then none the second week. I was also instructed to monitor his temperature throughout this treatment; 101.5 was what it should be all the time - and at times I had to blanket him to do this. Gus started to walk better, so he was started on half the herbs the third week. During the 3rd week he went down with a colicky episode like Bruce told me he would, so I stayed with him and watched over him and said a little prayer.

And then something happened to the back half of his body - from his withers to his tail - his back end went sharply up in temperature. I got worried and called Bruce, and he said not to worry - it is part if the healing process. Bruce said that he will recover just fine. Gus did.

By the fourth week he was doing really well, and he was then given the herbs one week on (once each morning), and one week off. He had herbs the 6th week, and none after that. His legs and hind-end were massaged regularly and the treatment from then on was basically just rubbing him down and continuing some of the herbs until Gus indicated he wanted out of the barn - which happened when it was snowing. We took him out when he wanted, but kept him stabled the majority of the time as instructed.

Out of the woods at last
In March he was ready to go out full-time to a small paddock. For about a week he was fed, watered, and hayed out there. Then he was turned out in the back woods - I call it my therapy woods - no flat areas at all, lots of hills, two other horses in with him for company. Gus was doing well. We kept him there until the end of March, at which point he was put into the pasture, which has fewer hills and good grazing.

Gus went to top of the hill in the pasture, looking straight at us from the distance - and never did this again, except for when we put him out again the spring of this year - there were no other horses in the pasture at the time, and he reared straight up, and let out the loudest neigh, as loud as he could, then ran down straight toward us - and he stopped and reared up in front of us, and let out another neigh as if to say “thank you”. He came over to Bruce first, put his head on his shoulder, and gave him a hug - and then he did the same thing to me. I really think he thanked us for helping him out at this point of his life - he sure let out one heck of a neigh.

There were no more signs of arthritis (and there are still none today), even after the coldest and snowiest winter in years, which Gus breezed right through.

Alicia still rides Gus today, always bareback and always barefoot - we utilize a natural barefoot trim. Gus may never be 100 percent sound, but he is comfortable, happy, loved, and thoroughly enjoys life.
Gus has taught me that if a horse has a problem, there is probably a way to fix it, and even though the horse may still not be perfect, it could still live a full, useful and enjoyable life, with love, time and proper care.

The greatest reward for our efforts and persistence in caring for Gus was to see him run with the other horses in the pasture (and he wasn’t the slowest one!). I have never seen a horse that enjoys life as much as Gus - it could be that he knows how close he was to an untimely end and savors each and every moment with unbelievable appreciation.