Challenges in a retraining project

By Patty Wilber

I have a six year old gelding, named Five, that came in as a retrain about seven weeks ago.  He was said to have come off a feedlot and while he was demonstrated at a walk, trot, and lope, he had dumped one person and been given a failing grade as a barrel horse.

He is a nice moving guy!

I don’t normally rehab bad actors as I really do not like drama, but he’d only acted out the once, and I know his owner, so what the heck.

Five can be a bit hard to catch in a big pen.  Even in a small pen, I have to keep my energy low so as to draw him to me and not push him away. It depends somewhat on the day, but over all he is getting easier.  And he does like getting an alfalfa pellet once he is haltered. Maybe he is also learning attention can be fun from the Dastardly Duo, who always want me to pick them.

pick us! Rip, left and Gette, right.

NO! REALLY! u forgot us! Gette left, Rip, right.

Five was a bit skittish being saddled and had a swath of white hair on his belly from where he was girth galled, which I thought was good news(?) because it could explain the bucking episode.  Horse hair follicles can be damaged by excess heat and pressure, leaving white marks.  If the damage is significant enough, the white hairs can be permanent.  If the damage is less, the white hairs will shed out and normal colored hair will grow back.  In this case, the white hair shed out.

Five does have a soft eye, good ground manners and ties well.  On the other hand, he is not great for the farrier, yet, and he is mentally quite sensitive and gets tense and twitchy if he thinks he is in trouble.

To start out, we went as if he were a true colt start.  When I first stepped up to mount, he put his head way up and stiffened his whole body.  I was not getting on that.  What often happens with that behavior, if you get on, is when one little thing changes, the horse loses it.  So, we spent a couple days until he was relaxed with me stepping up, and then I got on.

Interestingly, even though he been  shown for the current owner at a walk, trot, and lope, when I first asked him to walk off, he acted like many colt starts.  He felt very unsure of what we were doing.  He would take a step or two and then tuck his tail and butt in apparent fear and stop.  I did not love that crouching feeling, but he did not escalate, responded to praise for trying and eventually began to walk steadily.

He also had a mouth like a rock and a neck like a board.  And he did not neck rein.

Based on his mouth, and neck, I concluded that he had never actually worked on a feedlot, even if he came off of one, and no wonder he failed barrel racing since he did not really steer!  On the plus side, he has never offered to buck or rear under saddle or playing.

While I normally start colts in a snaffle bit, this guy’s mouth was so unresponsive and I felt like I was pulling on him so much, that I decided to switch to a bit with a shank.  I finally settled on a “shanked snaffle” which not a correct term, technically, but the Internet understands it.  It is a bit with a “broken” (hinged? linked?) mouth piece with shanks. He is so much lighter in my hands. It also helps that he is starting to understand what a bit if for.

My ever so helpful assistant, Gette, with the “shanked snaffle”, the bit that seems to agree best with Five.

Snaffle bits put pressure on the corner of the horse’s mouth, primarily, while a shanked bit has leverage because of the shanks, and has a chin strap.  The chin, the bars (the gap between the incisors and the molars), the tongue, and the poll all receive pressure from a pull on the reins. With all those extra points, Five was more responsive and started to understand more of what I was asking for. We also had his teeth floated to remove some points that were cutting his cheeks and got him chiropractically adjusted.

He started to unclench his board–I mean neck– so that he actually flexed side to side, became more and more comfortable moving his hip, moving his shoulder, side passing and tucking his nose.  He already knew to stop.  We also rode out, and I learned that he had no idea how to follow a trail, but he did pay attention to where to put his feet (I have A LOT of rocky trail).

After he was able to walk and trot at two speeds, and I trusted him more, we moved to getting into a lope.  Except, his idea of loping is to put his head up, stiffen his neck and go.  My arena is small and unfenced, so when I asked him to turn to maybe keep loping inside the arena, he couldn’t because he was so stiff.  Then he would break to a trot.

I definitely didn’t want to pound on him to keep him going because I wanted to keep building his confidence and help him chill out .  So, we went back to the round pen where I could ask him to go but not have to steer.  I had to throw away the reins so he had no pressure on his face and just let him lope, which he did, readily.  I also found that he was willing to lope on long straight stretches (again no need to steer) out on the trail. He naturally picks up both leads!

As he is getting more comfortable, his neck is relaxing, and he is allowing me help him set up to lope and softly come back to a trot.  We are just in the beginning stages, so the lope has a ways to go.

He is an interesting puzzle, and I am enjoying the process of helping him find some softness and confidence.

Cancer Treatment Update.  Last Thursday I got my first Kadcyla (herceptin + a chemo agent) treatment and I kept on doing radiation.  The chemo made me slightly nauseous for a day and extra tired (on top of the radiation?) for a few days.  Overall, not bad and these treatments are every three to four weeks, so the next one is not until July 6th.

Radiation is going well.  As of the Friday I post this blog, I will have only three treatments left!  By the end, I will have had 15 days of photon therapy on the breast, 15 days of photon therapy on the lymph area around my collarbone, and five days of targeted therapy with electrons on the scar bed.  Upon researching the electron part, this seems good for areas near the surface and for the skin and since I did have skin involvement with my tumor, this seems to make sense.

I do have a small area that is “burned” from the photon therapy. It is extra red and itchy.  The doctor gave me Silvadene, an antibiotic cream, and Aquaphor with 4% lidocaine.  The Silvadene seems to have reduced the redness, and the lidocaine, which is a painkiller, takes away the itch. Almost there on this part!!

Happy Friday!

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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