A few months ago I wrote about a horse named Rhett and some of the struggles we were having. You can read Part 1 Here
After several sessions of dangerous and aggressive behavior, Rhett’s owners and I met with a second vet for a second opinion and it was determined he may have a disease called Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy. We were very hopeful that in a few weeks with some changes to diet and nutrition, Rhett would return to a state of comfort and be more agreeable to work with. In short – It didn’t happen. Ultimately, his blood work revealed he didn’t have PSSM.
Even after time off, diet changes, and the addition of some vitamins he continued his behavior of aggression, we were still making zero progress.
I got a call one day from one of his people, wondering if they should sell him.
We talked it over and I suggested, given some family circumstances they’re going through including having young children, it could be the option they would ultimately be forced to go with. We agreed I’d come out for my usual appointment the following day and we’d assess the situation in person.
Rhett, when he is allowed to just be, is sweet as a puppy dog. He loves trick training and performs without being asked, in hopes for a cookie or carrot. He enjoys scritches on his neck and head rubs.
Instead of working in the round pen that day, I wanted to try saddling him up, I thought if we tried something new we’d get a different result …
Up went the saddle and as I cinched him up he ground his teeth and bit the air but didn’t go after myself or his horse-mama. I’d been warned he’s “cinchy” before, but in my opinion a “Cinchy” horse is a red-flag that something else is going on.
I slid my hands up under the saddle to check the fit, put the weight of my hand and arm in the stirrup and leaned down, pushing the stirrup down and watched his ears. No big reaction.
I went to his right side and repeated the process, I slid my hand beneath the saddle and saddle pad and watched as my hand made contact with his back and withers, he visibly flinched. Aha.
I put my weight in the stirrup with my hand and watched his ears pin and his teeth grind, I saw him keep himself reined in enough to not bite his person but it was so obvious he was in pain and this time it was visibly noticeable to all of us, not just me and my intuition.
I apologized again to his owner for another bill coming their way, and then instructed her to call a chiropractor for a third opinion.
Because Rhett is lucky and has wonderful owners, she did as I suggested and sent me the results a week later.
Rhett was a rescue horse so we don’t know his background or his history, where he came from, or what happened to him in his life.
What we learned was, he’d been in pain for a long time. He had 7 ribs out, and his hips and his jaw were all also out of alignment. I can’t imagine his level of pain and I applaud him for his self-control as all of us humans tried to put a Band-Aid on the problem without addressing the underlying issue.
It’s my suspicion, when Rhett first started to feel uncomfortable he began to “misbehave”, maybe pinning his ears or biting. His previous owners probably disciplined him for being “disrespectful”. His pain intensified over time and his “misbehavior” started to level up to kicking, maybe charging, eventually leading to bucking under saddle. His owners would have upped the ante on their discipline and what we are left with is a horse yelling as loud as he can, that he is in pain, at people who weren’t willing to listen.
Thankfully, that life is behind him and he is on his way to recovery with a safe and loving home who isn’t willing to give up on him. They are committed to him and to taking the time it will take to teach Rhett that he’s no longer in pain.
If I hadn’t ultimately listened to myself, to the horse, Rhett could be on his way to an uncertain future. If his owners weren’t willing to love him and learn him, he most certainly would be. I believe, with time and patience, Rhett will realize he is no longer in pain and he will be able, with help and love, to let go of that trauma of his former life and sink into his new role as family horse and friend.
Remember, in all life’s twists and turns, listen to yourself.