I have so enjoyed sharing these stories about
and I hope you have appreciated them as well. But I can hear people wondering ‘Who are you and what makes *you* think *you* could reach that horse, anyway?’ It’s a fair question and I will answer it now. Bryan
I confessed that I am attracted to pathology. Even as a kid I never wanted the ready made horse. How boring was that! I got my first backyard horse when I was 9. I started riding at a local hunter barn when I was 12. I was in awe of the grooms, college age women who also showed. When I heard a vet describe one of them as being able to ‘put a busted leg back together’ I knew I wanted to be her. Perfectly wrapped legs in clean cottons with flannels and pins were objects of reverence and beauty. I hung out at barns and watched vets work and do PPEs and learned poultices and blisters and etc etc. At 15 I groomed at my first A show for a BN jumper trainer. My hero was Jimmy Williams, my Gods were Bill Steinkraus and The George. I was a hard core horse girl.
When I was 17 parents let me buy a lame aged school horse, an OTTB, pinfired, with a big low bow and no flexion in his ankle. Did I mention the nasty infected wound on his left front cannon bone? The vet I knew and helped occasionally said ‘no way!’. 150$ later he was mine. By then I could wrap and soak and ice and poultice with the best of them; I got him sound, kept him sound, showed him successfully, and sold him for 1500$ to my trainer’s sister a year later (who did not keep him sound, and retired him).
In 1974 I went to Cal Poly SLO as a freshman in Animal Science and planned on a veterinary career. Whee! Equine Cadavers! Cutting horses! Rodeo horses! TB breeding stock! Lots of pathology!
Fast forward to 1992. I was married with two toddlers and living in
. I had changed my mind about vet school and after four years of Animal Science I switched majors and in 1981 got my BA in English. I had groomed on the circuit with Hap Hansen, been a braider, owned hunters and jumpers, had worked for equine vets, had worked at a dude ranch, had driven teams of Belgians, and had spent those years immersed in horses. Throughout I saw, over and over, horses that were clinically sound but whose x-rays were like Swiss cheese. I saw horses with grade five lameness with x-rays that weren’t bad at all. I saw the soft tissue injuries, foot issues, good x-rays, bad x-rays, navicular cysts, sore backs, behavior problems, training problems, mystery lamenesses with no apparent rhyme or reason. ‘That’s just horses!’ people would say with a shrug. Massachusetts
I also believed that horses had attitudes, work ethics, and free will, and that we always needed to ‘win’ in any discussion that might arise. I followed all the usual training practices. I lunged in side reins, played with bits of varying severity, loved my bitting rig and my various martingales and nosebands. I also blamed the horse when ‘they didn’t/wouldn’t’ do something that I asked them to do. Not in an angry way, or a punishing way, but matter of factly. It’s what everybody did. When training and riding problems arose, it was just the horse’s issue; ‘He doesn’t like the left lead/he leans/ he escapes/ he evades/ he’s spoiled/he’s lazy…’ And if he went lame, well, you bemoaned your bad luck, paid your vet bill, and if you were lucky you got a new one. It never occurred to me that there was a different way.
But in 1992, things changed.