For the sake of brevity...Let's just say that I have exhausted every avenue I could possibly think of in the last couple of years with this horse. I've tried leaving him alone to 'let down', I've tried keeping him up and handling him at every opportunity to show him I'm not a threat. I've hauled him to expose him to life, I've saddled him and ponied him a thousand miles. I've brushed, treated and tried to turn him into a pet. He's been treated for ulcers, both gastric and hind-gut and I've tried several 'calming' supplements on him. There was never a discernible difference in his attitude.
My first indication that there might be a little something going on physically with this horse was late last summer when I noticed that his left front leg was starting to look twisted. It was like his cannon bone was moving to the outside of his leg. I had noticed that when he traveled that he landed on the outside of that foot and once I noticed that the leg was starting to look wrong, I really got to looking at that foot and took some measurements. I was pretty sure I was doing a sufficient enough job of leveling him. There wasn't much to work with on his feet except trim the inside heel and quarter and remove the stubborn flare that insisted on showing up on the corresponding inside of the hoof. When I couldn't seem to get it corrected within a couple of trims, I decided to take him to my farrier and see what I needed to do to fix this. When the farrier checked him over and measured his feet...he ended up having to put a 3 degree wedge pad under the outside heel and graduated it to nothing toward the toe. It took that much to get the horse standing on a level foot again. Of course, he was extremely sore in that shoulder and his opposite hip...but the farrier said to give him a few days to see if leveling his foot got rid of the body pain. It seemed to work, so I went back to work on the horse and actually made a little progress. I started taking the horse over and working with some Mexican race horse people and they were completely unconcerned about how this horse acted. Haha-Those guys just snubbed me up and away we went. The 'race horse' mentality seemed to suit this horse, so I went with it. But then the race horse people left for their winter circuit down south and I was on my own again.
When Megan said she was going to Arizona with me, I jumped on the opportunity to take the big bay and be able to spend a lot of time getting some miles on him out in the open. Snubbed up or not...miles are miles. I got quite a few rides in on him in those 6 weeks, but this time instead of getting better, the big bay seemed to be getting more and more tense about being handled and ridden and I was starting to notice some changes in his musculature. Particularly at the base of his neck. The muscles were getting hard and lumpy and started bulging in front of his shoulders. One thing I can say is, the horse never felt quite right when I was riding him down there...His gaits felt awkward and herky-jerky and he just felt stiff and uncomfortable. So I quit him again. Something physical was bothering him. I suspected his front foot again and this time I decided to throw some chiropractic work into the mix. But all of that was going to have to wait until we got home to Colorado. I have a trusted 'team' in place here in Colorado and I didn't want to waste money and time going through people in Arizona.
I didn't waste any time when I got home. With Moon and Buddy the highest priority for feet, they went to the farrier first, but I got the chiro out to work on Frosty and the big bay immediately. Frosty's adjustment went as expected but the big bay's?...Oh holy hell! He didn't mind the chiro touching him at first...but once that first adjustment was done...he just fell to pieces and didn't want anything to do with letting that guy touch him again. It took about 45 minutes for the chiro to work his way through the horse's body and the mess he found was mind-boggling. I haven't had a horse out this bad in about 15 years...neck, withers, hips and even displaced ribs (on both sides). RIBS. I've never had a horse with displaced ribs. The ONLY horse I ever had that was out this bad was a little horse that had had some pretty knarly stuff done to him and nothing like that had ever happened to this big bay. The only violent thing that I know this horse to ever have experienced was his own bucking fit the ONE time he blew up and hurt the trainer. The chiro got a particularly nasty pop out of the base of the horse's neck, but told me that he believed there was some significant deep tissue damage in there and for the first time ever prescribed alternative therapy...either lasering or some P3 treatments. He did not think acupuncture would be sufficient to get to the root of the problem.
Needless to say...I was kind of pissed. The first thing that came to my mind after seeing where the most significant damage to the horse was (base of neck, wither and ribs just below the wither) was that his horse had had a leg incorrectly tied up and/or had been thrown/fallen down. You have to remember, I grew up starting horses back in the day where it was standard to tie a hind leg up. My dad was an EXPERT at it and taught all of us kids the CORRECT way to do it. Unfortunately, there are people out there who think they know how to do it and end up causing all kinds of physical damage to a horse.
Let me be perfectly clear...I am NOT opposed to tying up a hind leg on a horse!!! But if you are gonna do it...make damn sure you know how to do it right!! Of course, I got on the phone and made some calls to see if that is what happened to the horse and it was vehemently denied that was ever done to the big bay. I accepted the responses...but what was going on in this horse's body doesn't exactly match the story. I'll explain why...
This is the correct way to tie up a hind leg...Scotch Hobbling.
The most important thing to note is how high off the ground the hind leg is when the hobble is tied off. Getting the leg forward and UP under the belly PROTECTS the horse from doing damage to himself. The problem most people run into when they try this, is they do not pull the horse's leg up far enough, they only half-ass pull the leg off the ground and when the horse goes to struggling/kicking...They get a lot of force behind the kicks (which defeats the whole purpose anyway. :-/) and that wrenches the base of their neck, hurts the withers and can displace ribs. Ta-Daaa!! My dad was adamant about pulling the hind leg up as far under the belly as he could and told us kids from day one to NEVER half ass pull the leg up. He said, 'Get it up or don't bother cause all you'll do is get yourself kicked or hurt the horse.'
The only comment I have about the link I provided is...DO NOT tie a horse up if you ever Scotch Hobble. The guy was obviously just using a gentle horse to demonstrate the method, but tying is a NO-NO!!!
So anyway, whether the horse's leg was incorrectly tied up or not I don't and won't ever know...and is irrelevant now. It is water under the bridge, except if I had known, I would have jumped on the chiropractic issue a couple of years ago and we wouldn't be where we are now. One thing for sure, what was/is going on with this horse's body suddenly makes the twisting leg problem clear, as well as why he was getting more and more tense and over-reactive the more he was worked and the resulting changes in his musculature. PAIN!...and a lot of it.
The next day I took the horse to my farrier and had his front feet shod. I wanted to make darned sure he was standing level on that left front foot. While there is still some deformity to the leg, he no longer requires a wedge on the outside...
As you can clearly see in the above picture, the left front and the right hind have significant and corresponding deviations of the limb. The interesting thing is...It was a deviation in the front leg that I noticed first and that is what we addressed last year. It was only this year that I started to notice the deviation of the hind leg. The front leg is straightening and then the hind leg started to twist?...Something was very clearly going on in this horse's body and that is when I knew I had to get the chiro involved. Just from the little bit that the chiro was able to accomplish with him in his initial visit told us we were dealing with a horse that is suffering from some really deep body pain.
Unfortunately, even though I have not pushed this horse hard...either mentally or physically...He is at the point where he became mentally locked down, very evasive and a little dangerous in his unpredictability. He doesn't just hurt when he is being worked...he obviously hurts all of the time and a horse that lives in pain 24/7 acts differently than a horse that only feels pain when asked to do something that causes the pain.
I needed to go one step farther with this horse than I have ever gone with a horse before. For his sanity and my safety...
To be continued...