Tag Archives: Horse Rehabilitation

Horse Story: Miss Dottie

Some people, adults actually, wonder why I call Dottie “Miss Dottie”. I suppose the reason why is because she reminds me of a lady I met when I was very young, Miz Ellie. Now that is “Miz” not Miss or Mrs, but Miz.

The summer of 1970 was a Golden Summer for me. I know that is trite, a trope, but it is true. We all have one Golden Summer of our childhood that we all remember.

Easter Egg Hunt 2018

That Summer of 70 (unlike the song) was filled with sunshine, hot days, warm nights, swimming lessons, trips to my grandparents lake house and a trip to my other grandparents lake house. It was 3 months of bliss. The best thing that happened was I made a friend.

My parents decided that they were going to extend our house. My father hired a man from Louisiana named Mr Beaubarre to oversee this building project. This was quite unusual for where I lived because Mr Beaubarre was black. When I was introduced to Mr Beaubarre I could not say his name properly because I was both not Creole and six. I called him Mr Blueberry. Oddly he liked that and said I was to always call him that.

Mr Blueberry had a son who he called Junior who came to work with him. I never knew what Junior’s real name was but he was simply called Blueberry, which he also laughed and liked. He was also six. We spent that summer exploring the woods together, playing in the building sand, climbing trees, riding bikes and having a great time. Blueberry and I had a lot of fun and caused more mischief than my mother really deserved.

As with all building projects, it came to an end. Mr Blueberry said that the winter was too cold for them. They returned to Louisiana and I never saw them again. It has been 48 years and I still wonder what happened to my friend Blueberry. I do hope he had a happy youth and is still laughing and loving like he did in 1970.

Now Blueberry had a grandmother, Miz Ellie. She wasn’t a particularly large lady, about the size of my mother (which I now realise as an adult means she was actually very small, probably 5’2”, which is kinda big when you are 6). Miz Ellie came everyday with Mr Blueberry and Blueberry’s lunch. She would arrive at 12 noon in a shining dark blue car (don’t ask makes and models – remember I was 6!). Miz Ellie was immaculately dressed including hat and gloves. We had a table on our patio and Miz Ellie would set out lunch and they would eat – knives and forks and everything (my Mom gave me a bologna sandwich on a paper plate!)

I learned very fast that Miz Ellie was not a lady to meddle with. If I was being silly or cheeky, her face was would become hard and she would raise her thin eyebrows. A shiver would go down my spine and I would adjust my behaviour immediately. The one time I was rude, Miz Ellie looked at me and said, “I am surprised that such a fine young lady would have such an ugly mouth.” I was devastated. She also mentioned it to my mother. I was grounded for two days. I never did it again. Blueberry told me I was lucky that I wasn’t her grandchild because she was wicked with a switch.

Miz Ellie taught me many things that summer and I still (when I remember) abide by them today. She taught me that being a lady doesn’t mean that you have to have a pedigree from the finest houses, but to behave in a way that brings honour to people and God. She was a wonderful person and I know that Blueberry loved her deeply.

So why does Dottie remind me of Miz Ellie? Because they are cut from the same cloth as it were. Dottie is the oldest horse at Sunshine. This year she will be celebrating her 28th birthday. She loves children and tries to teach them things that are more than just riding. She likes to be groomed and loves to be made to look good. She is polite, but does know her own mind. She will tell you off if you are doing something wrong.

From the passport records, Dottie came to Sunshine 20 years ago. She was originally called Dusky, but that was changed at some point. Almost everyone who knew Dottie years back, know her a Dottie.

Dottie is a Welsh A pony from Wales. Like Miz Ellie, her linage is not great or famous. It is a pretty good bet that she came from Pit Pony stock. Wales had over 70,000 pit ponies in service before World War I and they finally stopped using ponies in 1979 when the last two came up. Pit ponies did not have a life, to be honest. They were often bred, born and died in the mines.

Halloween Fancy Dress 2018

They were expected to carry up to 3 tons of ore up to the surface or to the surface elevators each week. They had little to no veterinary care. Most of them did not see their 9th birthday. They were tools and treated as such.

When pit ponies came to the surface they had another problem. Most of them were blinded by the light. They had only known darkness and their eyes could not adjust to the brightness of day. Due to this, many were put down because who wanted a blind pony. The rescue societies started after World War I. They put pressure on the government to stop the use of pit ponies, but they were only mildly successful. What really changed was the development and implementation of machinery. Machinery didn’t need fed. Machinery didn’t need sleep. Machinery didn’t have “do-gooders” causing problems. The rescue societies did save thousands of ponies and did see that proper care regulations were put in place.

It was the 20th Century which created the Riding School. The small ponies which previously used for work became used for leisure. The children’s riding pony became very popular with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Riding became an activity that the middle class could take part in. A very big social change for Britain.

So what has Dottie done since she came to Sunshine? Dottie has taught over a thousand children to ride. Dottie has worked with disabled children. Dottie has competed in both show jumping and dressage. Dottie loves to hack and still takes part in them. Dottie has told us in no uncertain terms that she is not about to retire.

We have tried to retire Dottie because she is an elderly horse. If she was a human she would be 87 years old. Okay, not as old as Queen Elizabeth who still rode at 89 years old, but still a good age to stop! Except she won’t. Dottie also has a disease called Cushings Syndrome. This affects her legs and feet and can cause laminitis (which will kill her), her ability to control her weight, her ability to shed her coat. This last one means that she regularly gets a full clip – we call it her spa day. She is patient and appreciates it.

The laminitis is my biggest concern. A horse is only as good as its feet. Now you know how much care has been expended with Magic’s feet, and we are always on the watch regarding Dottie’s. Dottie had a bout of laminitis in 2018 and it nearly killed her. I had not “officially” had her diagnosed for Cushings because it was just obvious she had it. The previous manager, Becca, had done a fantastic job keeping Dottie sound and I simply followed what she had been doing. Becca had warned me that under no circumstances should Dottie have any sugar. She was very clear that sugar meant a one-way trip to the Rainbow Bridge. I listened and did as I was told. Some how, in some way, some one gave Dottie sugar. The Nightmare Began.

We caught the laminitis very quickly.

With Huw, 2015

I saw she was standing oddly and then could barely walk. We immediately began icing down her feet and legs with cold water. I called the Vet and Dr Laura was out within the hour. We created a deep soft bed for her and began praying. Dr Laura provided the various medications needed and did take a blood sample for the Cushings Test. There was not much more we could do but keep cooling her feet every hour and make her comfortable. This went on for 7 days. Dr. Laura returned and although there had been no improvement, there was no further deterioration. It was decided that we would give it another week, and if there was no improvement, then I would make the dreaded call.

Carnival 2015

I called a meeting of the Staff and Handlers. I told them what had happened and what was going to happen if Dottie did not improve. It was not a pleasant morning as shock and tears filled the yard. The potential loss of Dottie because of a polo mint taught them an important lesson. Never feed a horse anything without permission. I still do not know who fed her the sugar, and I don’t want to know because I believe whoever did it has punished themselves more than I could have ever devised.

June Showing 2019

Dottie turned the corner on day 12. She began to perk up and I cried with relief. Dottie was seen by Dr Laura on Day 14 and she confirmed that Dottie was improving. Dottie spent the next 4 months on box rest. She was loved and cared for and observed constantly.

As The Dragon, St George’s Day Show 2019

We received word from Dr Laura 3 months after the attack of laminitis regarding the Cushings Test. Dottie had scored 908. She should not have had above 60. The question was, “How is she alive?” Dottie is tough. So we started her on new medicine which in 6 months lowered her protein count to 274 and a year later she was at 149. I haven’t had her tested this year because of the lockdown, but when we are free and open, we will give her another test. She is now looking as good as she did in 2017 when she was younger, stronger and healthier.

So Dottie has had a life of ups and downs – rather like Miz Ellie. I don’t think I would have wanted to a black woman in America in the mid-twentieth century. I am pleased that Miz Ellie got to see the Civil Rights Movement and the improvement of situation for black people in America. Miz Ellie was tough but she was kind and loving as well. Dottie is tough, kind and loving. Both of these ladies has been a honour to have in my life and I am sure they would have been good friends.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography, and all the riders of Sunshine who have over the years loved this beautiful lady.  Thank you very much.

Horse Story: Pure Magie

In so many ways, she is the face of Sunshine Riding. She is both a Schoolmaster and a source of unending frustration. She is protective and liberating. She is both kind and challenging. She is Pure Magic.

For any adult or teenage rider, Magic is their first choice. She is a 16 year old, 15/2hh black Shires x Dales lady. Obviously trained for dressage as a young horse, Magic has also taught so many riders how to jump and jump well. The real challenge is when you leave the saddle of Magic and then jump on the likes of Stan, you quickly find out how much she took care of you.

I first saw Magic in a picture many years ago on a google listing. I felt a bit sorry for her because she was standing in a field un-groomed and covered in dirt. She looked like she hadn’t been worked in a while. It was not a complementary photo. She was a young horse and it looked like there was a big personality. Upon meeting her in person, Magic proved to be more than that.

One thing you might notice about Magic now and Magic 7 years ago is her mane. When I arrived at Sunshine, Magic’s mane was “hogged”. This means it was cut or clipped close to the top of her neck. The original purpose of this is so that the horse’s mane doesn’t interfere with their tack, especially if they are wearing a pulling collar. Magic doesn’t pull. The reason that was given to me for hogging the mane was that it would be easier to groom her because she has a thick a mane. I was not impressed.

24 December 2013

So Magic’s incredible mane became one of the items on the list of “Things I Am Changing” when I fully took over. I can understand the rush of the grooming when a riding school is busy and that hogging a thick mane can make life easier. However, Sunshine was not so busy that her mane could not be attended to properly. Over the last 7 years, Magic has had a trim as needed and her mane has been thinned a few times, but it has been allowed to grow to its full glory – and what a glory it is! She is a walking, trotting, hair-flicking shampoo ad.

Another thing that came to light with consistent deep groomings is that Magic is actually a black-on-black dapple. This is not a common feature. It is technically known as The Leopard Complex where dark or darker spots appear on the horse’s coat. It is a genetic trait and you are probably most familiar with it when I say Appaloosa. Magic is a True Black horse, which is uncommon but not rare, and that means she does not bleach out in the sun to a chocolate brown (like Henry and Dottie). Her spots show most in the summer when her coat is at its thinnest, and they form a blanket across her hind quarters. It is beautiful to see and marks out her paces stunningly.

Magic does have gorgeous feathers as well. I don’t really know why when a horse’s lower leg is covered in long fur it is said to have feathers, but they do call it that. Feathers are common in Northern European equines and is more than likely an environmental mutation to keep the animal’s legs warm in deep snow or mud. It is commonly found on draught type horses. Magic has them as does Annie (Irish Cob) and Pasha (Dartmoor), while Charlie (Ardennes) has them on his back legs but not his front. All of these are “hearty breeds” which can stand being outside in the cold of winter without a rug (I rug anyway because I truly hate the mud they find!).

As beautiful as feathers are, horses with them are prone to an insect infestation called Feather Mites. Magic gets them. It is very hard to get rid of the mites, which bite and cause itching and possible infections. Imagine having a mosquito bite and your only way of relief is pounding your feet so that your fur will relieve the itch. There are several ways to deal with mites. One way (which I consider rather drastic) is to cut all the feathers off – no feathers, no feather mites (we are considering this with Annie as her feathers are a complete mess anyway). Another way is to wash the feathers in a specially made, store bought mite killing shampoo. If the mites are very bad, then the Vet can prescribe a medical shampoo, but it costs a bomb. The last way, and the way we deal with mites at Sunshine, is to have an injection which affects the horse’s skin and causes the mites to die. This treatment method was originally created for cattle, and I remember when it was first made available to horses about a decade ago. As it is a cattle treatment, you do have to sign a consent form, but I have never had trouble with the Mite Jab on any of my horses. Yes, Magic is due one this year and from the amount of hoof stomping in both her stable and under saddle (not a nice feeling!), it will be done sooner rather than later.

As you can see I am a lover of grooming Magic. She is a beautiful horse who loves her beauty treatments. The sad thing that happened in Magic’s life is the contraction of canker. Canker is a permanent infectious process that causes a chronic hypertrophy (i.e., enlargement or increase) of the horn-producing tissues of the equine hoof. The disease generally originates in the frog, but if left untreated, it can spread to the adjacent sole, bars, and hoof wall. It is seen commonly in draft breeds, but it can occur in any breed of horse. One or multiple feet can be affected at the same time, but it tends to affect the hind limbs more frequently. Canker appears like Thrush, another common bacterial hoof ailment, but its treatment is very different and must be overseen by a Vet in conjunction with a farrier. Thrush is often the result of wet conditions and poor hoof care (something I am a real unpleasant person about if I spot it), but Canker can appear even if the horse has perfect hoof care. There is a study out currently regarding the presence of the bovine papillomavirus and the development of Canker. Let us hope this leads to a cure.

Magic had spent the summer and autumn of 2013 (I was a livery then at Sunshine) being treated by the usual Thrush remedies and her previous owner refused to bring the Vet in when nothing worked. I was told in May of 2014 to consider putting Magic down because this disease was not curable, would be expensive and require a lot of care. I refused to do it because I will not end someone’s life because they require a bit more management than someone else. Therefore we are very quick to act on any sign of Canker flare-up, Magic has been able to work properly and compete for the last 7 years with barely any interruption. So this disease is manageable. It is true that this past autumn Magic had a serious flare-up in both of her hind limbs. It has taken 5 months to sort, but she is now good and healthy. The only real problem is the mental scars from the pain and discomfort. Because her frogs were nearly destroyed (they have since regrown), when one goes to pick out her feet, Magic lashes out fast with the hoof. I will tell you that Magic’s kicks hurt. A LOT.

So how does one deal with equine psychological issues? The same way you would if it was your child. You show patience, care and most importantly time and love. Will Magic get over it? In time and as long as we keep a constant eye on her feet. She is now healthy, so our next real step is to get her back in shape again.

Box rest, like bed rest, is no friend to an athlete. Magic gained weight. A lot of weight to the point she was obese – which didn’t help her feet. Magic topped out at nearly 680 kilograms (she normally weighs in at 560 kg). When we came to put her saddle on, it sat on top like an ornament. She was Therewell Pony (google it for some laughs). So we started walking her because this was the best and safest exercise we could give her. Yes, we did manage her feeds, but she is a hearty horse and does not really loose weight in the winter. When we had our Annual Inspection, we did explain it all to the Vet who was very understanding of what had happened and what we were doing. He agreed she needed to loose a lot of weight but in a sensible manner. Magic learned to walk miles and soon the saddle did fit. Next was a lot of groundwork to rebuild her Top Line – these are all the muscles of her back so that she can support herself and a rider. I won’t say it is 100% there yet, but she is getting a lot closer. She is still a bit round, but she is also now strong enough for lessons and hacks. Jumping will be very limited due to both her fitness and her feet.

One last thing about Magic is that she is one of our 3 Disabled Rider horses – Crystal and Pasha are the other 2. Magic knows instantly when she has a rider who needs extra support mentally, physically or emotionally. Magic will protect them but yet let them develop as riders in their own right. One of Magic’s greatest days happened in the Summer of 2018 when she gave a rider of 30 years her first canter – something this rider was told she would never be able to do. The Rider cried, the Instructor cried, I cried – all for joy, while Magic looked like a proud Mama. She had taught her rider well. This is a gift very few can every give another.

Pure Magic is just that – amazing, cheeky, funny, frustrating, joyful, talented, a bit of an exhibitionist, a competitor, a woman of love.

Mirror Image with Annie

She is the Alpha Mare and acts as Auntie and Godmother of June (it’s so funny to see June get confused as to who her mother is sometimes!).

Winner Christmas Show 19 as 12 Days of Christmas

She runs her herd with a calm but definite demeanour. She loves her competitions and is a regular winner at whatever she decides she doing. In Magic’s mind, “If it is worth doing, then do it right”. I love riding her and she has brought even me back from the despair of never riding again.

Knowing the love of Magic makes you a very special person. Magic, like Charlie and June, will spend all her days with me at Sunshine. This is her forever home and she is one of my Forever Ponies.

Thank You to “Auntie” Chris Cole who loves Magic almost as much as she does photography. Yes she is our baby.

Horse Story: Molly

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can trot round trees
Come jumping, riding friend, let us do it again,
Hit the course, fool around, let’s go party
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”

Come on, Barbie, let’s go party!

I’m a Barbie horse in the Barbie world
Leap over cross stick, it’s fantastic!
You can brush my hair, and groom me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

(From Barbie Girl, 1997, Original composers Soren Rasted,
Claus Norreen, Rene Dif, Lene Nystrom)

Yes, Molly is our Barbie Pony – a beautiful 14 hand American Golden Palomino with a flowing blonde mane and tail. She is what every little girl dreams a pony should be. That being said, our Molly is a handful.

This is Sunshine’s third Molly. The first Molly was here in the late 1980s (along with Dolly and Polly – “The Ollies”). The second one was a Burghley Horse I adopted in 2016. That Mollie was chestnut New Forest with a big jump. This Molly is also a Burghley Horse I adopted in September 2019. She also has a big jump.

It must be something about the name as we have had some issues with this Molly, similar but different to the previous one. This Molly is lovely to handle on the ground and to groom. Molly likes being in a lead rein class but looses her mind in an upper level group lesson. It came to a head in December of 2019 when she took one of our best riders all over the field in an insane panic that included bucking, rearing and bolting. This had gone beyond bad behaviour and was fast becoming a dangerous situation.

I am not one to just pass my problems on to someone else. For a horse to behave that way there must be a reason. She was not like that when she first came to Sunshine so what was causing the change.

On our Hunt For Santa, 2019

Yes, I like a good mystery. I started by looking at her body. Was there a physical issue such as bad feet or previously undetected muscle injury?1 I found none so I moved on to her teeth. A previous mare, Tuscany, had behaved very similarly when I first started working with her and her problem turned out to be a Wolf’s Tooth. So I asked Simon to stick a thumb in her mouth and rub along the gap. He pulled his finger out quick and declared, “There’s something bloody sharp in there!”.

So having my answer, my next step was to call the Vet, Dr Laura, and have the tooth extracted. We all believed this was going to be a simple process that would take less than an hour and could be done on the same day that Annie was sedated for the farrier (yes, Annie has to be sleepy or dopey [any of the dwarves will do except Grumpy!] so that her feet can be attended to). I arranged for our Apprentices to be here to watch, learn and assist. I remember that Tuscany’s extraction took 45 minutes followed by 6 weeks of healing. It was good plan. The only problem was I didn’t discuss it with Molly first.

So Dr Laura arrived and sedated the mares. She began working and it wasn’t going to plan. The tooth wouldn’t budge. Molly woke up. Annie’s feet get done while Molly was re-sedated. Tooth refusing any movement. Molly wakes up again. Molly re-sedated again. After 3 hours, Dr Laura, now exhausted and frustrated, finally was able to get that tooth out. The Apprentices had already gone home and those who remained, including Molly, looked like they had been through the battle of their life. And to top it all off, the tooth, although sharp, wasn’t very big.

I don’t think I’m putting mildly when I say that Molly was a bit peeved with us. Her jaw hurt and now she wasn’t eating very well. If you came near her, the ears went back and she would plant herself at the back of the stable. It was probably a good thing that the Handlers weren’t there the day of the extraction because Molly refused to have anything to do with anyone who had been present. It was the Handlers who loved her into accepting the yard staff again.

Because the whole Wolf’s Tooth incident was so traumatic, I was reticent to put a metal bit back into her mouth. When it was tried, Molly became very agitated and I do believe it was because she was frightened by phantom pain. The level of memory is as varied as the horse, but one thing all horses remember is pain and who or what caused it. To make riding pleasurable again for Molly, I decided to start her on a Doctor Carter Bitless Bridle. This bridle works by having crossed leather thongs under the horses chin which will draw the head to the left or right as they are attached to the reins. We purchased this bridle originally for Rosie, but since Rosie isn’t ridden the bridle was only gathering dust. At first Molly didn’t know what to make of it, but soon she was happy with it. Her saddle became the next issue.

Horses like humans change shape every season. It is all based on diet and exercise, and for horses, their stress levels. Horses loose weight when they are stressed (I wish this was true for humans – I’d be a size 0!). I think we can all agree that the tooth caused a lot of stress for Molly. Her saddle wasn’t fitting and was slipping every-which-way-come-Sunday. A saddle which seemed to fit her through the back and shoulders had been found, but it required a special 5-point harness. It was also a touch long. Molly was now very fussy and knew that if she said something I would sort it.

So what did Molly say? Molly said, “I hate my saddle, so change it!” by bolting off with Amy, who has been riding fizzy, crazy horses since I first met her 5 years ago. Amy thought Flo was amazing good fun and only giggled when Starsky tried to buck her off. Amy controlled Molly and brought her back to me and we had a good look at the saddle (I didn’t fit this one). I could see was sitting on the croup and poking her lower back. This meant it was too long – she needed at 16 inch saddle not a 17 inch saddle. If the saddle was pulled forward to not interfere with her back, it was too close on her shoulder which meant she could not move her front legs freely. It was also rather heavy.

We took Molly back to the yard and began the Hunt For A New Saddle. Now I remembered I had fit her with a brown saddle in the autumn and the current, non-fitting one was black. I told Simon I wanted a 16 inch brown saddle and he gave me a look that was a mix of sarcasm and despair. It was 6 or 7 saddles later that we found it. The next day, Amy rode Molly in our menage with the new saddle. It was clear that Molly was much happier and was transitioning up and down with what could be called horsey glee. Yeah! Problem solved. Or was it?

So this week (yes this coronavirus lockdown week) Lauren was trotting our Barbie Pony and she told us that she did not like her 5-point harness. It was the done in the usual method, but Lauren is an amazing rider (I’m very fortunate to have so many in my life) and she was able to sort her out. Looking at how the harness was fitting, it was rubbing on her shoulder and Molly is particular. So we found a gel-pad to add some grip and took the harness off. We also discovered that Molly was very built up and strong on her left side but not so much on her right. This had been hidden from view by the harness. So we are now working her on her right rein to get some muscular balance.

Today Huw rode Molly in the grass school. She looked the happiest I had seen her since Burghley. Her saddle and bridle fit and don’t hurt or rub. She is working on exercises that challenge her but not wear her out. She now has the confidence to know that we care a lot about her and will give her what she needs to be both comfortable and to develop into the jumper she wants to be. Now that Molly has the tack and the health to jump, she is content to take on the challenge and have fun doing it. It takes time for a new horse to both settle into a new home and routine, and to settle into the tack it will need to do what it wants to do.

I am glad that Molly is here. She is a lovely lady with a positive attitude. There is much to worry about with our lockdown, but it has given us the time to work with our horses, check and change what needs to be, and make sure they are still happy with the work we ask them to do. Molly will be a real asset for us this year and for years to come because we have taken the time to listen to her. She may be a Barbie-girl, but she is an honest one.

This post would not be possible without the many wonderful riders who are taking the time to train Molly and skill of Chris Cole Photography who manages to catch just about everything.  Thanks y’all!

Horse Story: Tango

On Friday the 13th of April 2007 Chestnut Colt 13 was born. I wasn’t there. I don’t know much about the early years of this Irish Thoroughbred except he had a tough beginning. I know that he was born on a racing yard – this alone is a situation that makes early life for any horse hard. A bit like his owner (Beowulf), Chestnut Colt 13 has an American mother and an Irish father. His bloodlines are excellent (the horse that is) and Chestnut Colt 13 should have been an amazing racer. But he wasn’t.

When Chestnut Colt 13 was nearly 3 years old someone decided that a racing career was not his future and sold him on to an eventing yard. CC13 stayed there for 2 years before he was sold on due to his eyes (more on this later). He was deemed talented enough and fast enough but the eyes were considered to be a possible deterrent for a professional, high level show horse. But they were wrong.

When he was 6 he came to Sunshine. Because he is bright (and I do mean bright!) orange, he is called Tango.  When I met him, Tango was a very unhappy horse. He was being used in the school for adult Lead Rein and Beginner classes which he very clearly hated. He was known for biting and kicking. One took their chances when it came to hanging up his hay net. My first summer of working with him was the most challenging times I had ever had with a horse.

The summer of 2014 I taught Tango how to jump properly. Jumping properly is not just getting from Point A to Point B over Obstacle C. It is about rhythm and balance and confidence. Everything that Tango had lost, if he ever had it at all. All the while of doing this, Tango fought like a demon anything I tried. By August I had decided that I was going to sell him. He needed a home where people would put him first and he would not be shared around. Unfortunately Tango’s reputation preceded him and there was not a single serious offer for him.

As I sat in slight despair as to what to do with Tango in January 2015, it came to me that maybe there was a reason he was still at Sunshine. Perhaps I was the one who was to save him and give him the chance he had been denied all his life. I walked down to his stable and looked at him hard. Tango glared at me with his ears pinned back to his head, teeth at the ready. I stood a sensible distance away and asked him, “Do you really want to be a great horse?” He snorted and twitched his ears forward and back in a flash. “Are you going to continue to fight me tooth and nail?” He swished his tail and “air chomped” at me. “Well, that behaviour is just going to have to stop. We can do this or you will die.” I walked away.

I went into the office and Simon walked in – that man may have some eye issues but his hearing is unbelievable. “Are you actually going to call Courtney’s?” “No,” I replied. It was at that moment the “Love Offensive” was born. I was going love that stubborn, stupid Irishman into being a great horse. “I’m taking him out of the school and giving him to Beowulf.” Simon nodded and muttered something about how this was going to be interesting.

So it started: The Love Offensive. The key to this is to not respond to any provocation from the horse with anger or violence. Starting with an air of bored indifference when working with animal rather than trying to push love on them was important. Someone who doesn’t trust you isn’t going to accept that emotion from you. They have built high walls around themselves for protection and you are not going to get through them until they let you. This is the same for horses and it is for humans. This doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them and treat them civilly, but that you don’t try to buy or force an emotion.

Now I will say that this was hard going. In March Tango bit Wulf so hard on his ribs that Tango’s teeth went through both the jacket and shirt. This resulted in a trip to the hospital, gauze, some sort of fake skin plaster and a jolly good tetanus jab. Wulf wasn’t so sure that he wanted this horse, but he, like his mother, isn’t one to give up quickly. So we carried on. Tango repeated this behaviour to Wulf’s girlfriend at the time 2 months later. It was like he was trying to push us away so that he wouldn’t fall in love. Tango did not want to get hurt and was going to make sure he wasn’t. He had never met the McGuinness Resolve.

We continued with our efforts. We found a muzzle for him so we could be safe when grooming him. So he took to kicking. We took to 2 man grooming where one would hold a foot up and the other would do the brushing. It took a couple of weeks, but Tango learned that we were not intimidated and he was going to lose. We knew we had won when he picked his leg up for us when we came to groom him. It took several more months before he realised that he wouldn’t have to wear the muzzle if he would let us groom him without incident. Five years on and Tango now gets the hump if we don’t groom him!

Once we could groom him well, we then started on serious education. When I say we, I mean Beowulf, Tango and myself. Wulf and I would spend half an hour with Tango 3 times a week working on a rotation of general schooling with poles, dressage, and jumping. Tango began to love these sessions because they were mentally challenging to him and he received the praise and acceptance he so desperately wanted but never seemed to get. In 2015 Tango went from jumping 50cm to jumping 80cm, from never doing a dressage test to working at upper Preliminary/lower Novice test, from fighting the hand and leg to working in an outline. He also was happy to accept praise from me in the arena. Today, Tango jumps confidently at 110cm, rides a wicked cross-country country course, and will be tackling Elementary level dressage. I do see a 130cm jump in his future (oh God! The height! Gulp!).

The year 2016 was a bit of a blot on the page due to my accident and everything in the yard went on a holding pattern. When I came back in 2017, the first lesson I taught was with Tango and Wulf. I was surprised by the level of calm Tango showed. He knew I was not right and he did not act up.

Two of Tango’s Riders at Bury Farm International: Kat and Beowulf.

For the last 3 years, we have been able to work with him, educate him, take him on long show journeys, and win, win, win. For a horse who was not supposed to be able to do anything, it must have been a surprise to be affiliated for his 12th birthday. He was again Chestnut Colt 13 with a big future.

Now in the beginning I talked about Tango’s eyes. Tango has a condition called Hanging Grapes in his left eye. This is where the Corpora Nigra collapses downwards occluding part of the lens. I was told by the vet that Tango had in 2014 a 25% occlusion and that it was going to get worse. I was told that Tango would probably lose all useful vision in that eye by the time he was 13. Well, Tango is a wonder horse and somehow he reversed part of that. Today he has about a 15% – 17% vision blockage. I will tell you now that he can certainly see the jumps – the higher the better!

I am not going to lie to you and say that Tango is reformed and utterly trustworthy. He still has his moments. He will still try it on with Wulf and he will lose. Most of his misbehaviour now is from him feeling ignored. He knows that he is the centre of Beowulf’s riding world and he wants to have every moment of it. He now accepts love and can cautiously give it. Tango has a very limited number of riders: 3 to be exact. I am not one of them. I am his trainer and as such he respects me. He knows I never gave up on him and I never will.

Charlie, What IS he doing?

Tango’s best mate is Charlie and Tango serves as Charlie’s Lieutenant in the herd. The two have shared a cross moment, and Tango has lost every time, so he has given up and accepts that he is Number 2 (if this was Star Trek he’d be Number 1). Tango serves as one of the lead horses when the Handlers do a Formation Ride because if his leadership. He has even learned from Charlie to politely eat a doughnut from me (I’ve just been told he also likes cupcakes – thanks Wulf!).

I am not sure which one of us found our pot of gold – Chestnut Colt 13 or me. He is now living the life he deserved. I now have a son who has a horse to take him places. Together they are dynamite and I could not be more proud. This 17 hand 2 Irishman proved that the Love Offensive works and creates miracles where none could possible have been seen.

This post would not be possible without the help and beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography, the many Sunshine Handlers and an overly proud Dad.  Thanks Y’all!