Reschooling the Thoroughbred

Chapter 8: bought the farm but back at last!

For those of you who have followed this series and have been wondering and waiting to learn what happened the first time I rode Xcel, I am very sorry I haven't written for a very, long time! I did ride Xcel once in the Fall of 2002 (when the series stops) and he was just fine. I rode him for about twenty minutes with another person riding one of my other horses. What happened was that I had bought a farm and was trying to have sheds, a barn and paddocks built so I could move my horses there.

In late 2002 I was packing up house and barn so I could move on December 31. What followed then was a very tough year. During 2003, the area where I live received 24 inches of rain above normal-yes-two feet more rain than usual! This, of course, slowed building down. I didn't have enough stalls for all of my horses so Xcel was living outside with his mule friends. It was a cold, snowy winter followed by what seemed to be endless rain in the spring. No wonder Xcel's feet turned to mush! By the summer of 2003, Xcel was on stall rest wearing therapeutic glue-on shoes. 

Because of all the wet weather, the tick population exploded. I had never seen so many ticks before. Not surprisingly, I came down with Lyme Disease. Several weeks of medication slowly set me right again just in time for one of my other horses to contract West Nile Virus. On the morning of September 11, 2003 Rocket showed unmistakable signs of neurological distress. I quickly whisked him to a nearby veterinary hospital were he spent almost two weeks. Like most people I assumed, since my horses had been vaccinated two years in a row against the disease, they were protected from it. But I found out the hard way that no vaccine is 100 percent effective. Rocket's recovery was long but he seems to have bounced back completely.

During 2003, I was unable to ride very much. The ground was always wet and slippery and I had no riding ring. I couldn't do any formal training with Xcel since he was lame much of the time. I did, however, work on his general manners, groomed him often and did lots of TTouch on him. During this time Xcel developed an understandable dislike for walking on gravel. Because of the sea of mud created by the rain and ongoing construction, lots of gravel had been laid down around the barn area and Xcel simply refused to traverse it on his tender feet so I had to allow him to walk in the mud or grass.

Xcel's feet improved at a snail's pace. I had a new farrier in John Pemberton as Derek had returned to his native South Africa. John definitely had his work cut out for him. Xcel's feet had become so uncomfortable that I had to tranquilize him the first several times John shod him. During the summer his soles were so soft and thin that I could easily make a depression in the bottom of his foot with my thumb-Yikes! After some time on stall rest and with diligent care and special shoes, Xcel's feet began to harden and he began to be more sound. His left front continued to be the most problematic. The sole was much softer than the right and had an especially soft area on the lateral side.

When the weather and Xcel's feet allowed, I did some leading work with him to remind him to focus on me and keep his feet firmly on the ground. I continued the work on his body as well, focusing mostly on his neck and shoulders, which were always tight and sore. Sometimes Xcel's behavior would deteriorate. He would become very mouthy, unfocused and explosive. Every time this happened I found an increase in the amount of tension and soreness in his body. Xcel's sore feet were causing so much tension and soreness in his body that it was then reflected in his behavior.

One thing that is very clear with Xcel is that HE is very clear! I mean that I never have to guess about how he feels-he is so very dramatic and emotional. He is quite a character! When he is happy he has his ears up and he has a tendency to want to shake his head and leap in the air. A bit of a problem if you are handling him at the time! If he is upset, he wants to pin his ears and kick out with a hind hoof or two. Sometimes he goes from one extreme to another in a matter of seconds!

Thoroughbreds all seem to wear their emotions on their sleeves, so to speak, and Xcel takes this to an extreme. Through consistent work with him, mostly encouraging him to relax and stay grounded along with firmly letting him know what behavior is not acceptable, I have evened out many of his extremes-at least on the ground.

The months of construction and nursing Xcel's feet wore on. By April 2004, I finally had enough stalls for all of my horses and more. The repair, retrofitting and renovation of the troublesome pre-existing bank barn was complete so I had a total of ten stalls rather than four. Since Xcel was sounder, I began turning him out with Rocket. At first I was worried about how they would get along. Xcel is very dominant. Rocket is not. I wasn't sure Xcel would like Rocket and I certainly did not want either to be hurt. Xcel is very stallion-like in his behavior around other horses-not sexual-just very dominant. He and Rocket became best buddies. Xcel needs Rocket's quiet, calm wisdom and Rocket tolerates Xcel's nonsense and tries to teach him good things. Xcel is learning Rocket's habit of licking people.

In my endless search to find a type of feed that Xcel would eat with any consistency, I brought home a sample from a new line of feed my local feed store began selling. The brand name is "McCauley's." The feed is a pellet called, "Alam" and it is made for horses who have Cushings, are insulin intolerant or who should not have grain. It is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. Apparently it is just what Xcel needs. He loves it, and has not stopped eating it in the nine months that I have been feeding it to him.

Before, he would only eat a particular type of grain or feed mix for a few weeks before going off it, apparently in hopes of something better. I was concerned about feeding pellets though because of the possibility of choke. Xcel obliged me the third night by choking on his new food. A call to the vet and a couple of cc's of Rompun later and the mass of food was able to slide the rest of the way down his gullet. Then I learned that Alam comes in a large cube which slows down the rate at which a horse can chew it. This helps eliminate the choking factor. After consulting equine nutrition expert, Kathleen Crandell, I switched all of my horses over to this large pellet, and they look wonderful! 

Having been in the horse business for decades, I have learned that some horses take a lot of time and the goals and dreams that you have for them sometimes go by the wayside and sometimes they just take longer than planned. While some people might have given up on a horse like Xcel for having had so many problems for so long, I know it is just how things go sometimes. Besides, I enjoy Xcel's personality and antics and he has just enough movement and athleticism to make me think he will be an excellent event horse. And I really have a feeling at this writing that the adventure is just beginning! So stay tuned!

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