To encourage and support a horse with a handicap is a very special challenge. Gwendolin has taken on this difficult task.
Sometimes they seem to come true a little bit, these unrealistic stories from the horse books, which I didn’t read when I was a child: Girl finds wild, impressive stallion, but he won’t let anyone ride him. Contrary to all expectations, the stallion gains confidence in the girl, she is the only one who gets along with him and in the end they win a tournament. Sure, dream on.
He was two and a patient when he came to the farm. He had a torn extensor tendon. He came straight from the clinic. He was out of the woods by then, but he was far from well. The extensor tendon was torn, irreparably damaged.
The hind leg broke away with every step on the fetlock head when he did not war a support bandage. On top, he had finally lost his trust in humans. He could not be caught, even in the box he was hardly to be haltered.
Every bandage replacement was torture. He wouldn’t let me lift his leg. As soon as someone fixed the leg, he probably remembered how he had been lying on the ground for hours with this leg hooked into the fence and had to scream in pain with every electric shock.
At the clinic they had sedated him every time to get to his wound. We thought it would work the same way – with a little patience. In the beginning the bandage was changed daily, then the distances became bigger.
Every bandage change was a huge effort, and without sedation it was dangerous to be near his injured hind leg, let alone touch the open wound.
He still didn’t think much of people. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with us.
Then came the day when he was allowed to leave his box for the first time. The wound had healed superficially, what remained was a huge scar and a thick leg without extensor tendon.
Leading him was a small adventure. He had spent the longest time of his life in a box. He had missed all the things that our young stallions experience together when romping around in the pasture, all year round.
This first day when we were able to put him back in a paddock was special for everyone. He found everything funny, shadows, puddles, trees. And as soon as he stood in the paddock, he jumped in the air, his hooves hardly touching the ground.
Move, after all this time, finally move! Jumping around like a rubber ball. I’ve seldom seen a horse so relieved. Even today, after so many years, he is still like that, he really enjoys moving. He lives by movement.
Jumping around, romping, jumping, bucking, all that seems to be as elementary for him as breathing. Maybe he also knows that nobody knew if he would ever be able to do that again.
With a fitting made especially for him, he coped quite well with his disability. He could then be presented at a young horse material test and was licensed – a huge step for him.
The time of hope began. Would he ever become a riding horse? After he was finally allowed to cover the first mare, he was relatively easy to halter in the box.
It could be possible that we would be able to take him back to a mare. By now we had practiced enough that he allowed us to touch his sick leg. Then, he was ridden, carefully, nothing seemed to get worse.
He accepted people over time, although he was not yet particularly convinced that they could do him some good for a change. He much preferred to have his peace and quiet. But we were on the right track.
Then he got a kick against his broken leg from a breeding mare. He was immediately lame and the leg became twice as thick and hot. In the end this meant a half year break for him.
We didn’t know if that swelling would ever go down. When he finally wasn’t lame anymore, we gently trained him again. When he had finished breaking in, we wanted to have him presented professionally.
However, he could not build up confidence in the new rider in a hurry. So I was allowed to ride him over the winter. And somehow it worked. For some reason he put aside his distrust, somehow it clicked.
Since I’ve been riding him, all I have to do is call him. He often comes galloping. In riding lessons we have euphoric flights of fancy. Pure concentration and attention. I feel his steps below me, feel that he puts every hoof exactly where I want it.
He’s just so happy to run, he has such a positive, happy energy, I have no choice but to be excited. And then when you get a praise, it feels better than flying.
It feels like singing in a huge choir. I get off and for a few days I can do almost nothing but talk, write. The feeling that he’s standing out there waiting for me makes me shine from the inside. I think you can see it, too.
I hope so much that everything will continue to go well. He’s always at the gate when I try to get him out of the pasture. As if he knows that I’m coming. Or maybe he just hears me so much earlier. Either way, it’s great. A feeling like that is very precious.
So what do you do with a stallion with a handicap who, contrary to expectations, gets along surprisingly well without extensor tendon, but does not accept new riders? Our first tournament did not go according to plan.
He showed that he knew how to move very well, but speakers and posters were a bit too much. It is much safer in the middle of the oval track. You can’t get everything, I thought to myself. Maybe he was just a riding horse after all?
I was smarter the second time around. We knew what we wanted from each other. We arrived at the showground Friday night, you could hardly see anything and he was still very excited.
Nevertheless, I tried to show him the oval track for one lap. It was almost impossible. It was dark, he was excited and had everything else in mind but to walk around the track calmly.
The next morning I let him run free before the test and when we entered the oval track in daylight for the first time I could feel that everything could be perfect.
I don’t think I did much more than tell him what gear and pace was required and otherwise tried to let me be carried without disturbing him.
Then, our first real four-gait competition was over and we were in the lead. At the latest at that moment I knew that we could actually make it. In the evening, he won the final.
I am so proud of him when he runs great and nobody notices that this is anything but a matter of course for him. I’m so proud of him when we’re getting better and better and there’s still so much room for improvement. But he makes me happiest when he puts his head in my arms.
Of course, I’ll watch his leg carefully. But I can do almost anything with him now. It never gets boring with him and he can still challenge me a lot. Hopefully, we can learn a lot together.
Sometimes, I stand in front of him, look at him and can hardly believe it. I would never have thought that he would ever become such a brilliant riding horse, nor that he would want me, of all people, to be his rider.
When I go out into the pasture on Friday evening in the dark and two dark shadows peel away from the black, coming towards me, I don’t care that it is already much too late, that I can’t see anything, that I am tired, that I will have a fifteen hour day.
It just feels so right and with every step he comes towards me, out of the darkness from the other end of the pasture, I lose my heart a little more to him.
Thanks, big guy.
Gwendolin Simper –