A Story of Love
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2009: I had two beautiful well-trained Arabian horses, a bay and a gray that I enjoyed for years. The gray mare came down with Cushing’s disease and after two years of treatment was put down at the age of twenty-eight. The bay was very sad and ran the pasture for days looking for her. I was looking for another horse when a guy who trims for me told me of a gray Arabian his friend had for sale. I quickly made arrangements to check this horse out! He is twelve years old in this picture.
The breath went out of me as he lead this horse out of the paddock. He was being kept with several young horses, all-bigger than he. I winced as he proceeded to put a pad and saddle on his back. "Go ahead and ride him, you really gotta kick him to get him to go sometimes!" Oh, my gosh, how do you let a horse get like this?, is all I could think. I did get on and ride to the end of the driveway and back telling Prince the whole time, don't worry buddy, I'll get you out of here. I just couldn't leave him. I don't believe they were bad owners, just unaware like most of us were in the past.
When Prince was delivered he came out scared, backwards and rearing and finally going over backwards. I later understood that it took them two hours to "get him in" the trailer. A fight had occurred and he never forgot it! A vet had been out and given him a good bill of health and generally he WAS in good health. His teeth, gut and feet were in good shape. His shape, of course was another matter. I knew he needed nutrition, so we started a good feeding program.
Another two years passed before it was time to put my bay down. He was 29 and choking on a regular basis. We were unable to bury Teka right away because of the weather. When I would go to feed Prince I would find him laying next to Teka and sighing a cry I'd never heard before. He wouldn't eat and wouldn't leave Teka. We had to at least remove the carcass from that area. I soon found a nice quarter horse mare to keep Prince company.
During this whole time I was unable to ride much due to running my own business. When we did ride, I could tell that he was not very comfortable no matter how much his shape improved or how much padding I put under him. He loved to go, but was jumpy and throwing his head alot. I tried Teka's english saddle on him, bought three different pads, and a super light saddle made from canvas to try and help him. We also worked on getting him in the trailer calmly, Ughhh!
We then moved to a location with acreage, where I could have my horses right there with me instead of down the road three miles at a farmers place. My plan and goal was to cut back on working so much and to start riding more! Well, the more I rode Prince I could tell he was hurtin'! OR was he just being lazy? So, I started my research on horse behavior, training and on saddles.
Here I was, forty-some years old, been riding since I was ten years old and finding out I knew really very little about this animal that I've loved forever!
Well, after googling a million sources, ordering and picking up every and any book that offered knowledge on the behavior of horses, I soon came to the conclusion that my Prince did not respect me! How could that be! I saved him, I would bleed for him! It's all so funny now when I look back. The bottom line is that until I could take care of his pain, we weren't going anywhere.
Our path to getting better was first to communicate better. To accomplish this I hooked on to Downunder Horsemanship by Clinton Anderson. His techniques were clear and easy enough for me to do. That is when we really bonded, but there were things that I noticed Prince could not do very well. So I again googled until the cows came home all of the behaviors he was exhibiting. This led me to these two books: The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book by Linda Tellington-Jones and The Horse's Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book by Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS. By this time, my friends were ready to lock me up out of frustration, theirs and mine!
Options! What were my options for helping Prince with his pain? My local vet has been a great support for me and my horses even though he declares he's not a horse doctor. He thought that any horse that swayed was probably not good to ride and just went with my wishes. He thought he was probably in alot of pain and that I might want to get a second opinion. So I did, a "real" horse vet. This young guy, even though he was knowledgeable in many things took a look at Prince and said "yeah, he's in alot of pain, I'd put him down." I asked if he could do a "hands on test" to determine where and how much pain. He proceeded to take both hands and slam down with his weight on Prince's back. Not only did he startle him but Prince's hind leg went from under him. I was furious and couldn't wait for him to leave. The hands on test I was talking about was described in one of the books as taking a blunt instrument, like a pen, starting at the poll and going down both sides of the horses vertebrae. You can do it with your fingers too. NEXT!
I started doing belly lifts and other massage techniques on Prince. I had watched an acupuncture demo and was impressed and convinced of it's helpfulness and then one of my "frustrated friends" heard about an equine chiropractor. I called some people that I did not know that had used this therapy. I decided to give it a try and I was amazed! This vet was so full of hope and yes, he was hurting, but after Margaret worked with him for an hour he was relaxed and moving waaaaayyyy better than you can imagine. She came several times that summer and fall and Prince had gotten much better! But...............every time I rode he would bite at his chest, left leg and right side. By now, I was riding with a bareback pad that I had customized to take weight and pressure off of his back, no stirrups. This was better to a point, but for any ride longer than an hour, it was painful for both of us. My bony butt bouncing on his bouncing back!
The next spring I had another vet come out and evaluate Prince to determine if we should keep trying to ride together. This guy checked all of Prince's motion and determined that he did not show any signs of arthritis but that he had sore spots that were spasming on his back, right where my butt would land! " Anti-inflammatories and get that chiropractor back," he said, "you need a saddle that fits HIM."
That spring, like every spring I was geared up to go to the Minnesota Horse Expo! I had a great time like usual and when I got home I went through all of the literature I picked up and the MTRA book was part of that. I went through the book and saw the ad for Hill View Farms saddles but I was feeling pretty exhausted about researching yet one more thing to make this all work. My husband loves to read everything, and brought it to my attention. It was with his encouragement that I decided to give Cathy a call after I had scoured the web site. It sounded too good to be true. I was so vulnerable by this point. After talking to Cathy I thought that even if it doesn't work on Prince, this is the kind of saddle I want. I never want to hurt my horses again with ill-fitting tack! I drove the 3.5 hours out there and brought one back. That's when we started our fitting journey.
Thanks to my husband, John, for so much support and helping me to get it right and to my friends for letting me use this saddle on their horses and supporting my decisions in this whole process. I was finally able to connect with Cathy at a campsite and go for a ride and a proper fitting. We were amazed at the panels. They just bent to fit him no matter what he was doing! We added a crupper and breast-collar to keep it straight on him. He's been a totally different horse. He just loves his new tack. You can tell by the way he carries himself. This saddle is amazing.
Prince is twenty years old (2009). I like to get him adjusted twice a year, spring and fall, I keep his feet trimmed to give him optimum support and I'm looking forward to more years of riding. He has a new buddy that I will be breaking in this spring too, so I think I need another saddle. Cathy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sue Mundy
Web Master - Cathy Sheets Tauer