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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Success Stories

(Sunday Success Stories are a new series here at Eventing-A-Gogo. Each week, we feature a reader's own personal journey through overcoming difficulty and adversity, sometimes against all odds, and pulling through no matter what. These stories are about those who never gave up, and who made a difference in the life of an animal who just needed a little love and care in order to turn around and really bloom again. Send your success stories, past or present, to!)

This week's Sunday Success Story comes from our Meghan, fellow blogger over at Sofie Learns Dressage. Sofie is a little paint mare purchased for $750 who, according to Meghan, "looks like she should be sliding to a stop instead of halting at X." Sofie has a history of use and abuse at a rental stable, enduring alternating overuse and complete neglect, coming to Meghan severely overweight and with feet that hadn't been touched in six months. Their story is ongoing, full of ups and down, triumphs and struggles. I'm definitely going to be watching their progress from here on out.

Sofie's Story (Sofie Learns Dressage!)

((Left: Sofie at first.))
My horse was all wrong when I finally found her. She was the glaring opposite of everything I should have been looking for. But she was meant to be mine, and intangible yet indisputable forces conspired to bring me to that obese, hard-edged trail horse with the bulging underneck muscles and the obvious chip on her hefty shoulders, so that I could see her ridden on a field of hard packed snow. See the incredibly ground-covering walk, the forward trot, the uphill canter. The potential. I felt it as I rode her, the raw, unharnessed potential. The people who were selling her saw it, too. They saw her with new eyes as I dismounted and led her back onto the glare ice that covered the yard. She walked across it on her ugly hooves, cracked and overgrown from six months of neglect. She never faltered.

I found her just in time. Another seventy-two hours, and she would have been taken to a home that was not really hers, physical problems undiagnosed. Psychological scars unaddressed. Potential unreached.

I didn’t unearth the cause of the symptoms right away. The anxiety that permeated our every interaction. How she could be so good at the walk but whenever I rode her at a trot, she rushed in a frantic tempo, sometimes breaking into a canter or throwing in a random tight turn. I blamed myself. I wasn’t a good enough rider, I was too afraid. I was making her worse. I was to learn that what seems to be a training or mental problem is often physical.

It took Annie, a slender, wiry barefoot trimmer about two seconds to give me an answer. “This horse has no sole.” I held Sofie’s lead rope and learned what it must be like to be riding along without a care in the world, and suddenly feel your horse go dead lame in all four legs. The cause of the rushing became horrifyingly clear. “She’s trying to stay off her feet,” Annie said. The guilt I felt was heartbreaking. I was the kind of rider who is ever focused on the welfare of the horse, to an almost debilitating degree. I became fixated on every mistake I made, however slight, and it was incredibly difficult to forgive myself and move on. I often ended rides in tears, and I couldn’t let a bad ride go until I’d had a chance to do better. To know that I had ridden my horse for more than three months, pounding her pathetic excuses for feet, crushed me. I had always known her feet didn’t look good, I had always known they were completely flat and they didn’t really look right, but two conventional farriers had worked on her, and they had never said a single word about thin soles. But now I had someone who could help me help Sofie.

For a month, I handwalked Sofie for an hour on soft ground, walking as many straight lines and as few turns as possible. That was to be her only exercise as her soles grew. We had Annie cast her hooves to help cushion her feet and allow her to grow more sole, and during the casting process, Sofie changed from a horse that resisted and charged down the aisle in response to the new sensations to a quiet, willing horse who stood with her lead rope on the ground, completely free, letting Annie help her. When the hoof casts came off, we saw that Sofie had grown sole and achieved concavity, and Annie declared her rideable. That night, though, I just played with her in the arena, and cried from the joy of her movement and expression.

The first rides were all I could have dreamed of. But I was thrilled with my new horse, and Sofie was thrilled with her new feet, and we overdid it. She became sour and resistant, and we realized she had no topline and we needed to build her up before adding my weight. Back to groundwork. When I started riding again, I proceeded slowly. She had a lot of muscle tension and pain from dragging herself around with her front end and trying to stay off her feet, and she wasn’t shy about letting me know how she felt about it. It was a long process, but eventually her “baditude” diminished. By fall, things were really coming together. October and November were beautiful, and I enjoyed many good rides.

When winter hit, it roughed Sofie up a little. The cold stiffened her up and made her residual aches and pains a little more insistent. But with Devil’s Claw and massages, we got through it, and our training progressed. She started learning to stretch down at the trot, proving how far she’d come. When the weather was good, we left the arena and rode out in the snow. We both loved our snow rides, and as spring arrived, she was undoubtedly in the best shape of her life. But then we started to have problems. The rushing started again, but only when I rode her out in the deep snow. I diagnosed it as barn sourness, a training fail on my part.

One day, as I trotted her in a circle in part of the yard that had melted out, Sofie’s hind feet both landed on a small patch of slick snow. She slipped. I fell clear, and a millisecond later she went down, flat on her side. She got up, seeming to favor her right leg at first, but she seemed to work out of it. I rode her lightly a couple of times after that, and she resisted going into the trot at first, but worked through it. Then I went ahead with a lesson I had scheduled. It was to be the first lesson I took on her, and it was a huge mistake.

Sofie was not at her best, and neither was I, after getting up at 5:30 AM to clean a barn. The lesson was at 5:30 PM. I told the trainer many things about Sofie. That she had fallen three days before. That I didn’t want to push her too hard. How she gets bored easily and needs variety. The trainer didn’t listen to me at all. She kept asking me, “How do you know?” Because Sofie is a great communicator! I felt like screaming. She’s communicating right now, can’t you see? This trainer decided my horse was just being a bitchy mare, that she just had a bad attitude. That she just didn’t want to do it. I tried to tell her my horse isn’t like that all the time, only when she hurts. But she wouldn’t listen. She pushed me. She made me push my horse. I was weak; I didn’t stop it. I regret that.

After that lesson, I couldn’t ride Sofie at a trot. She was angry, and I could feel her working up to an explosion. I had her examined by a vet. She failed both hind flexion tests. Hocks. We had her injected on the advice of a vet I never liked or trusted. The bill was staggering, the initial aftermath for Sofie wasn’t pretty, and the injections didn’t work. She got even stiffer behind, and her demeanor darkened. There were days when she couldn’t even walk around the yard comfortably. I thought I was going to lose her. If her quality of life didn’t improve, I knew I would have to.

We had x-rays done by our local vet. When we went in to see them, he just shook his head and said “Read ‘em and weep.” The x-rays showed she had advanced arthritis in her right hock (we didn’t have the left one x-rayed). His answer to the question “What can we do with her?” was simply, “Not much.” He said walking, maybe, under saddle. He said try any supplement you want, and hope for fusion.

We put Sofie on a broad-spectrum, senior joint supplement, and she began to improve. After five weeks, I started riding her again, and we’ve had two great months. At first, she would act up at the trot, even if trotting was her own decision. But I learned to ride through her antics. I gave up the lingering fear that once forced me to take a year off from riding after I was bucked off a school horse. I learned how to coax her into doing what she didn’t want to do, rather than giving up or getting mad. I learned how to think in the saddle and ride alone, without an instructor or parent holding my hand and talking me through everything. For years, people kept telling me I was a good rider, that I just needed more confidence. I am more confident now than ever before, thanks to Sofie.

It hasn’t been easy. There have been times when I was sure I made a big mistake. But getting Sofie was the right decision, the only decision. We needed each other. She needed someone to see her special qualities, her potential. Someone to uncover the real cause of the unflattering symptoms. Someone to love her.

((Right: Sophie now!))
And I needed her, too. Not just because I needed a horse to love and train that was truly mine. Sofie helped me let go of the overwhelming need for perfection that had robbed me of so much joy over the years. She helped me let go of it during all those hours I spent leading her around the yard as she grew sole. She helped me let go of it when I started riding her again after learning about her hocks, when a few steps of trot without head-twisting, ear-pinning resistance were cause for celebration. She helped me let go of it when she became my friend, and I realized that is the most important thing of all. As long as I can consider her my friend, nothing else matters.

(Send your submissions and stories to! This series is new and can't get underway without YOU! Gogo wants you to!)

Update on Gogo's feet... tomorrow!!


Sarah said...

I have a thing for paints with arthritic right hocks :-). Mines gotten better as well with a ton of turnout, good supplements and a wonderful vet. Thanks for posting such a nice story.

Dressager said...

I love this story and I love her blog.

Val said...

To the author:
Awesome turn around. You and Sophie are clearly better for all that you have learned together. Bravo!

My teacher is a die-hard for treating the feet, teeth, saddlefit, and diet/turnout before even attempting to train the horse and rider. Thank goodness for knowledgeable people who are able to pass on their talents and understanding!

Fyyahchild said...

She looks gorgeous. Its great you were able to see her potential. Congrats and good job hanging in there.

Meghan said...

Thanks, guys. :) And thanks, Andrea, for sharing our story. It means a lot.

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

What a great story and I can soooo relate!! Sofie looks amazing now and kudos for you for not giving up!!!