Tag Archives: Horses Stories

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!

Horse Story: June Storm

 

I’m not sure how many people can actually say that they know exactly when their horse was born. I have and have had lots of horses, and can only say with 100% accuracy that I know of only one of my horse’s birth stories. It’s a bit of doozy.

I adopted (purchased) a horse named Annie from a dealer in Ireland sight unseen. I do not recommend this and it has taught me to never do it again! Annie, who’s story you will be told in due course, arrived one dark and stormy night in December 2018. I was not sure about accepting this horse, but did not think it would be good to have her abandoned on the side of the road. I had paid for a horse that somewhat looked like this one, so I took her even if her passport said her name was Betty.

I looked Betty/Annie over the next day in the daylight and the vet did too. I had my concerns about her distended teats, but Dr Laura was sure that Annie had foaled recently had just been separated from that foal. We did decide that Annie was unfit, had no topline, no rear quarter development and would take some time to make strong. So, Sunshine as a team began to work to develop this horse. Annie did become strong. She had a topline and the most amazing floating trot. But she kept getting fatter.

On Sunday, 9 June 2019, in the middle of my Lower Novice Flatwork Class Annie laid down. This was odd. She then began dribbling milk everywhere. This was beyond odd – this was wrong. I wanted to call Dr Laura immediately. Simon, our yard manager, reminded me how much a vet call-out on a Sunday would be, so it was agreed that we would make her comfortable and have her checked in the morning. After all we had been assured on several occasions that she wasn’t pregnant.

The call came at 6:30 in the morning.

“Kim, we have a problem.” Simon said with a bit of shake to his voice.
“What?” I snarled back (I’m really not good in the morning so he had reason to be worried).
“We have foal.”
Now I am not going to repeat here what I said, but it did start like foal and ended like duck. I jumped into some clothes and tore down to the yard. It was raining and windy, and for June it was cold – 16C. Before I left the house, I yelled to Beowulf that we had an issue. Obviously I sounded upset so I had no back chat, just assurance that he would be down in a “mo”.

I walked up to Annie’s stable. Annie was standing with her head dropped and looking a bit tired. She stepped out of my line of sight. “Oh my god!” I cried. “Oh. My. God. You are beautiful!” I had fallen in love instantly. There stood a shaky, long legged, curly haired piebald foal.

I was relieved that the foal was standing. It is vital that a foal stand up within the first 20 minutes of life. The foal, who hadn’t yet showed me if it was a he or she, tried to get close to Annie. At first Annie wasn’t having any part of it, but on the third attempt, Annie allowed the foal to suckle. Again, I was relieved because my worst fear would have been maternal rejection. I had read many articles and stories about how this can destroy a foal. It was at this point, 6:45am, that I realised I knew nothing at all about raising a foal.

I called Fiona, my Senior Teacher, who had spent a year working with foals and yearlings at a previous stable in the area. She advised me that Annie and the foal would need to be moved to the quarantine stable since that was the largest we had on site and to fill it with a big, deep straw bed. I can, if nothing else, follow instructions. Fiona told me not to move them until she got there and that she was on her way.

It was at this point that Beowulf, Simon and myself found out that this was a little girl with a quick flick of her tail. She was cold and starting to shiver, so she went and laid down. Simon covered her with a rug to help keep her warm. Annie was becoming protective, so he moved both calmly and quickly. There was not going to be any rejection here.

Beowulf, Simon, and now Huw and myself made the new stable ready. I remembered the corral runs my family had built when I was teenager to move animals. So using jump wings, fillers and poles, we were able to make a protected walkway across the yard from the birth stable to the new stable. It was 8:00am and I called the vet.

Dr Laura was a bit surprised by my call and information that there was a new foal. She was also immediately on her way over. Upon Dr Laura’s arrival, it was obvious that we had to move the foal immediately. I was given Annie to lead with help from Huw while Fiona, Laura and Beowulf made a sling from a rug to help support the foal as we went across the yard. Annie, like a good mother, kept spinning around to check on her baby. A normal 5 second walk seemed to take an eternity as Team Foal had to move slowly and Annie wasn’t sure what everyone was doing with her child. Simon had to help convince Annie to walk into the new stable as she was not going into any space that did not include her foal. We finally got mother and child into the new accommodation and immediately the foal began to feed.

Dr Laura was very happy to see our little girl, who we decided to name June Storm, drinking in such a lusty manner. I was feeling guilty because I had worked Annie up to the point of birth, but Dr Laura was of the opinion that because we had made Annie so strong and healthy, she was able to deliver without complications on her own. That being said, I still feel bad about it. I would have liked to supplied them with more neo-natal care. Simon had collected the placenta as soon as he had seen June, so it was able to be checked and deemed all was present. Dr. Laura gave June her first full check-up and pronounced her to be fit. She was sure that June’s desire to nurse was going to give her all the vital nutrients and proteins a new foal would need. We were to keep an eye on her, but there really wasn’t anything to worry about.

I spent time with June and Annie for the rest of the morning. I put out the birth announcement. Our teachers Kat and Izzy went to the feed store and purchased the correct feed for Annie as well as the tinest head collar I had ever seen. Annie spent the morning lying down and relaxing – she now looked very proud of herself. June slept on and off. When she wasn’t sleeping she was drinking or being petted. June learned early on that petting was good and still demands lots to this day. That afternoon I went off to study what I could about raising foals. I am still learning to this day. I also watched our CCTV. I saw that Annie was standing at 6am and laid down at 6:08. I saw Simon on that yard at 6:25am and the look on his face at 6:27am. Although I didn’t see June’s physical birth, I know that it was fast and, quite frankly, textbook.

June had her first foray out into the wide world on the 12th. We made sure that all our boys were secure – especially Charlie who had been a father 3 times in the past. We created a Figure 8 harness from a lunge line and with Wulf and Simon supporting June and me leading Annie, we put them out in the arena. June looked around, unsure of where she was in this big space, and with a nod from Annie, June had her first run around. Annie watched for a bit and then went in search of grass for herself. June bounded with amazing energy. She tried a bit of a trot, but she found that she loved to canter. It was beautiful, balanced, rhythmical, coordinated. Beowulf declared right then that June was his eventing horse.

 

Over the next 6 months we have had so many firsts. It is just like being a human parent. June’s first time in the field when she learned that Auntie Magic was going to protect her no matter what. The first time June saw Magic next to Annie wasn’t sure which one was her mother (we did have a serious giggle about that). The first time June tried to eat grass. The first time June ate feed. The first time June had a groom. The first time June took a jump – and loved it. The first time June wore a rug. The first time we presented June to our larger Sunshine Family. And pictures have followed nearly every moment of her growth.

Annie had decided in late September that she had had enough of her daughter trying to suckle. June was now a strapping 128kg and her head was above the door. Following Annie’s lead (as I had read I was supposed to do), we started the process of separating them. I didn’t want the separation to be a traumatic event. I had decided that they were going to live in adjoining stables anyway, so I wanted this to be as easy as possible on them with as little calling out as possible. I knew that this was not going to happen instantly. We decided to use grooming as our method of separation. We began grooming them further and further apart. Yes, there were some set backs, but this did seem to work as June learned that being apart from her mother, although scary at first, meant that she would be the centre of all attention. June likes that.

By early November June wasn’t nursing at all, or if it did happen it was more of a rarity, so we began feeding her hard feeds in her own bucket. June does like to eat. We began to feed June in a separate stable from Annie (who did like to steal her daughter’s lunch!). Again, the purpose was to make June feel secure about being away from Annie. The big test came in December when we had to move them to their permanent stables. June was now 12/2 hands high and 232kg. She is a big girl. In the beginning it was hard. We had to put bars on her window because she did want to be with her mother and we were not going to have her jumping out of her stable.

I think it was good that we have June and Annie close together. We are now working Annie in-hand to bring her back into shape (again) so she can restart on the school this Easter. We are walking June behind her mother in these exercises so that June can lean what she needs to be able to do and still have that motherly support. June and Annie spend time together in the field, but June is confident enough now that she will also go to other mares, especially her Auntie Magic. June is fond of her friends, Callie and Rosie. They are all the same size, but June is growing rapidly and will soon tower over her besties.

We have now applied for June’s passport. We don’t know who her father is beyond he is a big Irishman. We think June will grow to be about 17 – 18 HH as she is currently 129cm at the withers. She is intelligent and curious. She is brave and occasionally bolshy. She strong in both body and will. She is loving and lovely. We are enjoying watching her grow up. June will never leave Sunshine as she is “Sunshine’s Own”. What she will eventually end up doing is still a mystery, but I would not be surprised if she does become Beowulf’s eventer, Huw’s dressage diva, Simon’s challenge and my first full grown, home raised mare.