Some horses come into our lives and quickly go while others stay a while and leave hoofprints on our hearts that never fade. That one horse for me was Elmo, a retired racehorse who never lost his need to run, which is bred into all Thoroughbreds, some more visible than others. Sadly, my best friend lost his life to colic almost two years ago, leaving behind two broken hearts, mine and that of my other horse Spicer, also another former racehorse. For about two months, she mourned his passing, standing at the gate, calling for him occasionally, hoping for his return. This was hard on me as well as I was filled with grief, seeing his empty stall everyday, no more to hear his excited nicker or to feel him nuzzling my arm or back. In the years that followed, we helped each other through our mutual grief.
Mares can be a bit more difficult to work with than geldings, and Spicer was in a class of her own. Having been scarred by previous experiences at the racetrack with the starting gate, she had become very claustrophobic and horse trailers in particular sent her in a panic. Anyone trying to encourage her from behind as I attempted to lead her into my trailer resulted in rearing, kicking, and extreme resentment of the metal box. For months to come, I hooked up my trailer to my truck daily to work with her. In the beginning it was frustrating as she wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. My goal obviously was to get her in the trailer, but as real progress wasn’t made, I spent many waking hours and sleepless nights thinking and looking for a better way. Then I came across Monty Roberts’ video Load-Up, which had a great concept to put the horse to work when they did something negative.
As a result of watching the video I focused on getting her to want to be in the trailer. It took a few times, but I watched as she quickly understood and became more agreeable. It wasn’t long until she followed me freely into the trailer, and as she built up her confidence I was able to walk around to the back as she continued to stand inside. When once she would panic and back out as fast as she could, she now stood quietly watching me. She still feared having the ramp closed behind her so I experimented with a friend’s large stock trailer. Once she got the idea that she could turn around inside the trailer and watch the door close, she realized it was actually fun.
A year and two months after the first attempt to load her into my trailer, she had her first successful trip off the farm. She was a bit nervous, but settled down as I was in there with her. The following week, she was awesome at her first horse show. The next spring she stayed overnight at the other farm before her second show. She took everything in stride, considering she hadn’t left her home for almost ten years after retiring from the racetrack. Not only did she win her first ribbons, she also completed her first diagonal line of two little crossrails with flower boxes. Upon leaving the show she literally jumped into the trailer without any hesitation! This moment was by far better than a hundred blue ribbons.
A month later in June, I had a trailer ride lined up and a stall for her to stay in overnight for another show. But it wasn’t meant to be for us as I found her dead lame in her field that morning. Figuring it was an abcess, I soaked her foot in hot salt water, and of course, canceled our trip. In the afternoon, her left hock was badly swollen, and she was in a lot of pain and distress so I called the vet. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the actual diagnosis until a couple weeks and two more vet visits later. She had torn her extensor tendon which would take three months to heal. During those three months she was able to go out with her friends as walking around would help the tendon heal stronger. It was painful to watch her hobble around for the first two months, but she was very careful to not stress the leg. Slowly but surely it healed, and by September she was sound to ride again.
By now Spicer is the sweetest girl ever, nickering to me when I go to get her from the field and when I arrive to feed in the morning. I can ride her around the farm in a halter and lead rope as she is very quiet and brave. She also has awesome ground manners, both leading and standing without being tied. We have established a really strong foundation about loading in the trailer that even after five months went by from the last time she left the farm due to her injury, she followed me willingly into the trailer.
Recently I adopted a young Thoroughbred gelding off the track. A couple weeks after his arrival, he is now going out in the big field with Spicer, her older mother and another older gelding. I am really happy to see that Spicer seems to have found a new best friend in Posse, as she never really bonded with another horse since Elmo’s passing.
Horses are so much more than just for riding. With some there may be some obstacles to overcome, but working together through them builds a really strong bond. Sometimes we need to look at things through their eyes and see how we can make it more appealing to them. If you give them what they need, they will give you their heart in return.
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