A HUGE Thank You goes out to Genie for putting me in contact with an equine chiropractor out of Gunnison. After watching the video about him, I had a really good feeling about this guy and immediately contacted him and set up an appointment for him to work on The Big Bay.
I've had my local chiro work on this horse a couple of times and while I like my local guy...I am fully aware he has limitations. He's just never done much with the poll or the necks on my horses, even when I have specifically pointed out issues that I KNOW are poll and neck alignment problems. And that is fine. If he's not comfortable doing much with the poll and the neck...I'd rather he not try. He's good with the adjustments he does do and I will continue to use him when I know that is what is going on. There was a guy I used for Moon's neck last year that did a good job...But that poor guy was so clueless about how to be around horses...I was pretty sure I didn't want him trying to handle The Big Bay. So needless to say, I was pretty darn happy and excited to find someone, who I thought could get to the root of The Big Bay's problems.
This guy was everything I expected him to be...and more! He's a big believer in kinetic energy and he picked up immediately while just watching The Big Bay horse that there was a real problem with this horse's ability to connect what was going on around him. 'Checked Out' is the term he used...and a term I have used myself.
I explained a few things about the horse, but it was pretty obvious the chiro didn't care. That is when I knew 'this was the guy'. He didn't need a detailed explanation...he knew it right off the bat.
I got the first little bit of the work-over The Big Bay got on video, but couldn't get it all due to having to hold the horse while the chiro worked on other parts....
I'll tell ya, I've seen quite a few practitioners do adjustments, but I have never seen anyone do what this guy did with this horse's legs. I'm pretty touchy about having practitioners start yanking and jerking on the legs. When he grabbed that front leg and pulled it out to the side, I gasped a little bit. ..and when he gave it a big old yank...I cringed. You just don't do that to a horse....
Errr wait...I guess you do. IF you know what you are doing. It was just unbelievable how many different parts this guy manipulated. The one that freaked me out the most was the right hind. The chiro picked that leg up, moved it this way and that, feeling the movement...then he did some sort of twirl and yanked. The stifle gave a huge pop...that did not sound good at all...and I wanted to faint. The horse didn't even yank his leg away though. The chiro just moved down the leg, rotating it this way and that and when he got to the pastern, he rolled it around a few times and gave another big yank and the pastern popped. When he set the leg down, The Big Bay stood up, dropped his head and started licking his lips. I was like, 'Holy cow, was that supposed to do that?'. The chiro said, 'Not unless they are bound up and he was really stuck up in that stifle.'
Well, that probably explains part of why the horse felt like he moved so oddly in the hindquarter. The other stifle did not pop like that, nor did the pastern.
Once the chiro had gone over the horse thoroughly....The entire session lasted about 45 minutes...he started to talk. Up until that point, he didn't really want conversation. He was focused on connecting with The Big Bay and feeling for those adjustments. Everything the chiro talked about is exactly what I have felt is wrong with this horse...but just wasn't quite sure how to fix. Well, not that he could have been entirely fixed without the proper adjustments to his poll.
SOME of the horse's problems were physical...However, the chiro told me that the majority of his problem was neurological. He said, "Someone flipped this horse's switch to 'on'...and never shut him off. A living being can only live like that for so long before they lose their mind...or start to fall apart physically."
Now, it would be easy to blame the trainer I sent the horse to for causing this problem...and the horse definitely started falling apart physically AFTER coming back from the trainer...But...
I'm not going to blame someone for something they didn't do. I already knew this horse was 'different' when I sent him to the trainer. While the horse never really did anything wrong with me, *I* was never able to get him to let down like I thought he should and since he was so big and now a mature horse, I figured it was best to let someone who was used to starting horses work with him. I was sorely out of practice at starting horses and not really in a position to get hurt because of it. So no...The trainer didn't cause the problem. I recognized an impending blow-up just a few days before the horse did blow up and hurt the trainer. I told the trainer the day I watched him ride The Big Bay that we needed to do something different a.s.a.p. The only thing the trainer did wrong was fail to heed my warning. It cost him dearly...and I do feel bad about that.
No...This horse's switch was flipped long ago...and I couldn't even begin to tell you how or why. He's always been 'odd'. Awkward is the word that was most often used to describe him. It's like his brain has never been connected to his body. As he has gotten older that awkwardness has just intensified and manifested into a state of hyper-vigilance.
Like the chiro said though...The problem with living in a hyper-vigilant state of mind, is that...either you lose your mind...which The Big Bay hasn't...or you start breaking down physically...Which he has. Regardless of the blow-up with the trainer and the few blow-ups I have had with him, he has never been pushed beyond the limit on a regular basis...So there is still a good brain in there and a good horse that is just waiting to come out.
The chiro worked and worked on the horse until he managed to break through all of the physically stuck areas...and now it's my turn to work with the horse. The chiro showed me some exercises that will help open up the horse's back and allow the blood to flow and then a relaxation technique that will help teach him to calm his mind and relax. The Big Bay ate up the relaxation technique. He's been waiting so long for someone to shut that switch off so he can just relax and breath. It's really nothing more than standing in front of him and stroking his face, circular motions over and around his eyes, stroking his jaw and then when he relaxes a little, you place your hands on either side of the bridge of his nose and ever so slightly 'wave' it back and forth. As he relaxed, you could see the 'wave' continuing through his entire body. First he relaxed in the neck, then the shoulder, then the ribcage, then the hip. He'd pop out of the relaxed state...Not quite sure he trusted that he should let go, so we'd go back to the stroking him over and around the eye and stroking the jaw until his head dropped again and then start the 'wave' again. It only works if the handler completely relaxes and breaths as well. It's almost like Yoga meditation. Now, I'm not good at Yoga meditation...but when it comes to handling a horse in a calm and quiet manner, I can do that. It took several minutes, but eventually The Big Bay just relaxed his head right into my chest and gave a big old sigh. It was the sweetest sound I have ever heard!!!
Afterward, the chiro and I visited a little bit and both of us kept sneaking looks at The Big Bay tied to the trailer. He just slowly kept letting down and letting down. You could see the tension leaving his body and maybe for the first time ever, I watched his shoulders and the base of his neck drop into a more normal position. It was like someone was just letting the air out of him.
I had planned on over-nighting in Gunnison at the arena. It's never good to haul a horse very far after a major adjustment and I sure didn't want to undo everything that had just been done. The chiro told me there was no need to stay though and the stinking deer flies were so bad (as you can see in the video), that I was pretty happy to load my horses up and get the heck out of there. I drove home uber cautiously though. Pissed a lot of people off that got stuck behind me, but I didn't care one bit.
When I unloaded at home, I was really happy to see that The Big Bay still seemed to be in a really relaxed state. I cleaned his pen, brushed him all down, sprayed him with fly spray, did the relaxation technique again and did my chores. The next morning when I went out to do chores, The Big Bay nickered at me. I doesn't sound like much, but I can't say that I have ever heard this horse nicker for his food before. Usually he just paces the fence. Shooter and Moon nicker, Rip whinnies like a jackass...heck, even Buddy the TB nickers.
The horse's whole demeanor has changed...Just like that. I fed everyone and went back to The Big Bay's pen. I crawled through the fence and instead of throwing his head up in the air...He merely lifted if up to watch me. I stood there talking to him for a minute and then walked up to his shoulder. He didn't move off. Just turned his head to see what I was doing. I stroked his face and neck and shoulder and he never once lifted his head above a normal position. Pretty quick he just sighed and went back to eating.
I mean...That stuff sounds so minute and ordinary...But for this horse...It's huge.
Later in the day I wanted to test something. Many times I have tried to hand-graze this horse. He WILL NOT eat while on a lead line. It don't matter how long you stand there with him. Pull handfuls of grass or try to coax him to. He simply stands there and stares at you. This time, he started to just stand there, so I started doing the relaxation technique and the wave. When he relaxed, I asked him to drop his head. It took a couple of tries, but he finally pulled a mouthful of grass. And then up came the head. Back to the relaxation technique and the wave. Ask him to drop his head. He pulled a couple of mouthfuls of grass and up came the head. Again. It took about 20 minutes, but by the end of it...He was steadily eating grass while I brushed him and cleaned his feet.
There is a true softness in this horse's eye now and a real sense of relaxation...and relief.
THIS is why I go the lengths I go to fix these horses. The problems they have aren't 'quirks'...They are very real physical issues...that in the case of The Big Bay manifested into a very real neurological problem. We can talk about how individual horses personalities can be...but at the end of the day, when a horse doesn't act like a horse should...There is something wrong. I've only ever encountered a couple of truly broncy horses in my life...The Big Bay is NOT one of them!! (Thank God!)
It's going to be baby steps at first. Every time the horse gets stiff and strikes his 'giraffe pose', I have to stop doing what I am doing and bring him back to me. I literally have to teach this horse that it is okay to completely relax...He won't die if he does.
It sounds like an incredible task...but the chiro laid the ground-work and like all horses...once they grasp what you are looking for...they are pretty quick to come around.