The big bay was pretty jumpy about having his feet done...not so much the shoeing, just the being touched. I explained to my farrier what the chiro had found and we talked about the alternative therapy (my farrier is the one who has the P3 machine), so the farrier ran his hands all over the big bay and found it impossible to actually pick out where exactly the pain issues were originating. The big bay, flinched and quivered from a touch anywhere on his body. He stepped back and looked at the big bay's eye. The horse's head was up, his neck rigid and his eye was hard as a rock. He was taking being handled...but he finds nothing soothing, reassuring or likable about it.
I was feeling kind of bad that I had let the horse get to this point and told the farrier as much. He just shrugged and allowed, 'Meh...The only thing you did wrong was trying to be too nice to him for too long.' That is true. In my youth, I was far more pushy and therefore quicker to get to the root of a problem. Well, now here I am stuck with very large, very mature horse...who kind of scares me...but one I desperately want to fix.
My farrier looked at the big bay for another minute or so, turned around, walked over to his work bench and scribbled something on a piece of cardboard. Coming back he handed it to me and told me, 'If you want to fix this horse, you are going to have to get his brain back...or he is going to hurt you or kill you. He may not mean to...but he will. Give this to your vet and tell them you want 2cc. When you give it to him, give him 24 hours for it to get into his system...he may get severe diarrhea for a couple of days...and he may be dopey acting for a few days, but get to work on him immediately and KEEP working with him. This stuff lasts for 28 days. If at the end of those 28 days, he's not exactly where you want him, give him 1cc more. If at the end of those 60 days, he's still the same horse as he is today...GET RID OF HIM!!!.'
I glanced at the piece of cardboard, stuck it in my pocket and walked my horse to the trailer. Once before I had someone tell me something almost exactly the same thing about another horse and I poo-pooed them. Psshhhtt...*I* knew what I was doing. That horse wasn't going to get the best of me. About 4 months later, that horse plowed over me, stomped the shit out of me...and proceeded to lose her mind, running willy-nilly around a packed fairgrounds, jumping vehicles, bouncing off of other horses and was finally stopped when she tried to jump a 12 foot chain-link fence. A quick thinking guy jumped on her head when she bounced off the fence and fell to the ground. She ended up with a severely lacerated tongue, I ended up thoroughly bruised and battered, with a hoofprint on my chest, another one on my lower back/upper buttock and a broken finger
This day, when someone, whose opinion I highly respect and trust, tells me the same thing...I listened. NO horse is worth dying for. Even knowing the root of the problem. Knowing I was going to have to handle and work on this horse A LOT to get the physical problem fixed AND to get this horse's brain to accept that the pain was gone and it was okay to just relax and be nice....
I thought about it the whole night and into the next day. I put a call into my vet and waited to hear back from him. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore, I went to his office and happened to catch him between appointments (must have been fate) and we talked. The recommended drug is called Reserpine and is often used on horses that need long-term sedation for recovery purposes. From what I gather...It is also often used in low doses to take the edge off of particularly hot performance horses (it is a banned substance at any show that has a drug policy!) and is a favorite drug used by unethical sales people, as in...'Oh yes, this is a great beginners horse'...and 30 days later you own a fire-breathing dragon.
I have never 'drugged' a horse in my life and I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around using chemical 'therapy' as a means to an end. The vet explained that while this drug slows the horse's brain down and assists with focus...it by no means is a magic cure. If the horse wants to get nasty and/or blow up...he is perfectly capable of forming that thought process and accomplishing it, but there are few horses that bother. Considering riding the horse was the least of my worries at the moment, just needed something to take the edge off of this horse, while we worked through the initial physical issues, the vet actually thought it was a good idea to mildly sedate the horse.
I took the shot (it was only $30) and went home. I wrestled with my conscious for a couple of days and continued to try to work with the big bay on the ground. He needs some specialized PT between chiro visits...He needs to be kept in a smaller area with controlled exercise, he needs massage and stretching, he needs alternating heat and ice therapy, and he needs some pain/inflammation mitigation. Riding him is not out of the question, but seems rather mute at the moment.
It was going okay for those first couple of days, although its pretty difficult to make progress on a horse that just insists on being tense and 'up' every moment you are handling them. But the day he came unglued at the trailer, because my jacket crinkled when I reached up to brush his shoulder, and almost stuck me, pulled back, lunged forward and then wheeled into me, pinning me to the trailer?...Yea... That was the end of my moral dilemma!! When I could make my shaky legs work again...I walked right up to the house, grabbed that shot and administered it. Knowing why a horse acts the way they do is one thing...Getting hurt because of it?...That I cannot afford to have happen.
I put the horse away and waited a couple of days for the diarrhea and dopey-look that told me the drug had kicked in. The horse got neither!!! In fact...it didn't seem to have much affect on him at all. So then I was kinda pissed...because I was like...'Hey, I'm hoping for a doped up, docile horse here...and I got nothing.' LOL.
In reality, it took about 5 days for me to notice any difference in the horse whatsoever and it was slight...it was just a simple look and a slight dip of the head. Usually when I walk in the horse's pen, he heads for the back of it and looks for a way out. I always stand and wait for him to look at me...acknowledge me...anything that indicates he is doing anything except thinking about how he can get away or avoid being caught. This time while I stood there, he made a couple passes back and forth across his pen and then turned to LOOK AT ME!
I didn't move. I just let him look at me for a minute or two and then I started talking to him. He immediately looked away and started to move, but I took a step and his head whipped back around to look at me again. I just stood still and kept talking to him. Soon enough, I saw him take a deep breath and drop his head. I walked up to him and slipped the leadrope over his neck. He stiffened and raised his head, so I waited to make another move until he again relaxed and tipped his head to see what I was doing. He sighed, dropped his head and started licking his lips. I win!!
It was a HUGE moment. For the first time since last year, I saw and felt this horse not only accept, but relax into contact. Slowly but surely, his brain is settling down and coming back. Two weeks into it, I can still see the wheels turning while he is deciding which action to take. But the wheels in his head are turning slower and I can see him reasoning things out in his head again. He's no longer leaping around without a thought in his head over every little thing.
Most importantly, with some mental relief...he is getting some physical relief. The tension in his neck and shoulders is ever so slowly starting to ease and I am making progress with the massage and stretches. It's going to take a lot of work break down the hard, ropy muscle in his neck...
You can see the bulging muscle in front of his shoulder blade...
All of this area needs to have the muscle broken down (on both sides) and his nuchal ligament is ridiculously rigid...
And get it back to the smooth, supple muscling that should be there...
(This picture was taken last year, early summer, before I noticed his front leg starting to twist.)
So that is where we stand. I don't know (and will probably never know) if there was something going on with this horse before he went to the trainer and starting him under saddle started bringing it to the surface or if it all started at the trainer's. I guess it doesn't really matter, what's going on physically has to be fixed and then we'll see how much of the big bay's attitude was due to pain or if he is just lacking in the disposition department.