New Zealand! Nicole and I had a five-month adventure I'll never forget. We saw all 14 of the country's national parks, logged an amazing number of kilometers tramping on the trail, and even picked up a little knowledge at the university we attended (a nice side effect... everyone knows you don't do a study abroad tour for the STUDY). Despite the amazing time I was having, I couldn't keep my growing sense of malaise at bay. Why wasn't I getting updates on Gogo? How was she doing? Was she progressing the way I had hoped? I had left a very detailed booklet for the trainer concerning Gogo's health, habits, and training issues, and had asked specifically for mostly dressage work with a once-a-week jumping session, as I didn't want to push her young hocks too hard. Was this actually happening? I didn't know. My mother in Michigan talked to the trainer only once, and reported back to me only one thing: that she was "learning not to be a princess." What exactly did that mean?
My concern and frustration finally reached a breaking point three-quarters of my way through the semester, and I found myself calling the trainer from a New Zealand payphone, desperate for information. Nothing I heard settled my nerves - I was told she was stupid, bull-headed, difficult, and had no work ethic. Not only was that slightly offensive to me, it didn't sound like my mare at all. Stubburn and bull-headed, sure. But stupid? No work ethic? That wasn't her. While I was on the phone with her, she told me that Gogo was standing right then on the crosstie, eyes half closed and ears drooping. That also didn't sound like my mare, who always stands on the crossties with bright eyes and an alert expression, surveying her minions and kingdom with nonstop vigilence. My uneasy feeling only worsened when the trimmer working on her contact my mother. The only thing she had to say was that she sincerely hoped I was coming home soon. What was going on? Was something bad happening? Was I overreacting? I didn't know. But by the time my journey abroad was over, I was desperate to get home to my girl.
Pulling into the farm, I couldn't help but wonder if something had changed for this woman over the winter. All the horses I saw were thin and dull, and as I approached Gogo's stall, my heart stopped. Where was the mare that always came to the door whenever she heard my voice? Peering into the dark stall, my stomach bottomed out as I caught sight of a dirty, skinny mess, head low and in the corner, completely ignoring my existance. She didn't even move when I went in to pet her. It was as if she had retreated somewhere far inside herself, mentally and emotionally shut off from the entire world in self-defense. I watched the trainer work with her, and was horrified with what I saw. Why was she lunging her in a tiny, tight circle in tight sidereins in a rutted piece of field? Why was my horse looking so panicked under saddle? When I sat on her myself, she felt like a trainwreck, and all I wanted to do was get off and take her away as fast as possible. Our plan had been to stay and ride her with the trainer and additional day, but we cut our time short and rocketed out of there as fast as we possibly could. The mental damage she had sustained was immediately apparent - we stopped at my parents' house in Michigan to make sure I had everything for the journey back to Ohio, and we unloaded her to fix a wrap she had pulled down. I tapped her lightly on the butt with the back of my hand when she pulled her leg away from me, and she completely panicked at the prospect of being struck, bolting away from me with terror in her rolling eyes. Underneath the noseband of her halter, she had swelling, white hairs and scarring - she had been endlessly shanked with a chain until it caused actual physical damage. We took a few pictures of her in the driveway, completely horrified with her zombie demeanor, filthy and dull coat, 11-inch long mane, and skinny body:
BUT, we found that somewhere under the mess, she still had her super brain!:
That and her lovely tail. Thank god for small miracles.
Back in Ohio, we began rehabbing her mind, body, soul, and feet. As much high quality hay as we could give her, switching back to Gro N' Win, and proper turnout all helped her body to heal. Lots of trail riding, fun hacking, gallops and jumping helped to settle her when she retreated inside herself, turning into a glossy-eyed zombie whenever she mentally checked out. If anything became too overwhelming, however, she would absolutely explode with little warning, as evidenced by her first week back with me. I learned just how much contact on the reins terrified her when she tossed me twice in the first week I had her back, once into a ditch and the other into a fence.
And her poor feet! Improper care + improper turnout in a muddy pit sometimes possibly + poor nutrition + not the most competent trimmer = bad news. Her poor feet were wonked out beyond all comprehension, but Sherry, my trimmer, was not too worried. "They'll come around," she said. "You'll see." Once I began feeding her properly again, you could see a change in her horn quality as it came down. Big pieces of her unhealthy foot chipped away to reveal a beautiful hoof underneath. Her sole glossed over, her chips and cracks vanished within a few trims, and her frogs - one of which exfoliated its ENTIRE self in ONE go, which terrified but amazed me when I saw the brand new and perfect frog underneath the old tatters - lost all their shreds and turned into dinosaur hide once again. I spent a lot of time soaking her feet with White Lightening, and celebrating in the fact that she still had a good head on her shoulders, as evidenced by her perfect behavior during her soaks:
She was such an angel. You know, when she wasn't trying to rear/kill me/buck me off/break the crossties/break her halter/freak out/shut down. But I felt very strongly as if this was entirely my fault, as though I could have prevented the whole ordeal by just putting her in training with someone else. Obviously, I could have never know this was going to happen, but I owed it to her to make things right.
And she transformed.....
Six months later, Gogo was a gleaming picture of health. Her feet were back to normal, her body was back to health and life, and her brain was... well, it was getting there. She had her kooky moments though, most notably when I tried to give her a five week vacation at my ex's barn. She had NONE of that, and alternated spending her time between removing halters from hooks and placing them on buckets (several times, with perfect aim), pulling every blanket she could reach into her stall with her, breaking her gate latch AND lifting her gate off the hinges after we fixed the gate latch to sneak into the grain area (where only people could fit) to open the LATCHED GARBAGE CANS and gorge herself on grain AND pull the garbage cans back out into the aisle with her (people can barely fit through this hallway, she would have had to drag them all backwards with her!), and let herself out into the pasture, where she would resist capture until she felt like coming back in. On top of all that, she aimed a well-placed kick at her girlfriend Polly through the stall wall, and sliced off an enormous chunk of her hoof - it was seriously huge! Even though she had a fat leg and some big cuts on her hock, she amazingly stayed sound through the whole ordeal. This has so far, knock on wood, been my only real hoof issue I've had with her. Within a couple of months, the damage had completely grown out, and it never caused her to miss a single day of work.
With her feet and body back in the right place, I aimed my sights on the 2008 AECs as the clock rolled over to the new year. She had shown me that she was tough as nails, and I knew her body was up to the task. But how would her feet handle eventing?
((To be continued!!))