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Charlie's Story

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you out of the blue like this. Karina from Interdressage guided me to your site and I have found it very illuminating and humbling.

I have included a potted history of Charlie - what I've been able to gather, and would be grateful if you'd spare some time to read it. I apologise in advance if it goes on a bit - but you'll see that he's had quite a lot to deal with in his short life so far. There is still such a long way to go, but I feel that it’s now just a time and confidence issue which I hope we’ll manage to work through. Any advice or comments also gratefully received.

I bought Charlie in September 2010 – he came to me with a reputation of being a ‘nutter’, unrideable, dangerous and there was only one thing left for him – he was only 5 year old and had changed owners/loan homes 5 times in the 6 months prior to me looking at him. (I only found this out after I had bought him). His owner at the time was clearly uncertain of him – he was very unsettled with her as she was lunging him, she refused to ride him as the twice she’d sat on him, she’d come off. I almost turned away then, alarm bells ringing, but my gut feeling that there was a really nice horse inside took over so I asked to lunge him myself and he worked a dream. Under saddle he was very uncertain, a typical baby – very wobbly and no idea where to put his feet, but tried hard to do what I asked – there was no sign of any vice – let alone the bucking history that I discovered later. He passed a 5 star vetting (from the lunge as he was not ready at all to canter under saddle) with flying colours. When I saw him originally I felt that he was taking no direction from his then owner, but when i asked if I could lunge him he became a different horse and really tried hard to oblige with transitions to halt walk trot and canter on the lunge, and when I decided to try him under saddle he tried so hard to understand what I wanted, that by the end of the hour or so I was on him, I was just slopping around casually one handed on a long rein, he felt that comfortable and secure. He even let my daughter walk and trot on him ( neither of us cantered as he was so unbalanced it would not have been fair on him), but after we dismounted he refused to move for his then owner, and would only walk back to his stable if I led him and he could nuzzle into me. My daughter said that it was just as if he'd chosen me.

I took him completely back to basics to gain his trust and build up some confidence – lots of ground work, and walking out in hand, did some parelli and join up and he came on so well that after 4 months groundwork I tried Charlie under saddle again - he was very reluctant to take a contact – and sometimes all he could do was stand in the school, frozen to the spot, shaking for up to half an hour – it then seemed that he needed to gain full control of himself before he had the confidence to walk on and try to understand what I was asking – nothing advanced – just walk and trot on big circles and going large. Always in a school situation – out on a hack with my daughters horse as aunty – he was more forward going – but again very reluctant to take a contact. He always seemed worried and prone to these ‘panic attacks’ so I contacted his previous owner who had him from 7 months to 4 and half. She’d done some parelli with him while he was still a colt – he sired a foal when he was 3 and half then was sent away to be cut and broken. When she got him back he’d changed from a sweet loving boy to a nervous unsettled wreck , who was very headshy and would buck and buck as soon as a saddle was put on his back. He then went from home to home ( 5 in 5 months) – all with the same result – he’d be fine one minute then explode into a rodeo horse the next. I worked with Charlie all last summer – not once did he try to buck – his panic attacks took the form of freezing and shaking. Early in June I made the mistake of rushing him into trying a canter – gut feeling told me he wasn’t ready – but unfortunately I succumbed to peer pressure (‘ she’s got the horse and keeps making excuses’….). He took off at full speed, couldn’t make the turn at the end of the school and went from 60 to 0 in a split second. I didn’t and ended up being catapulted into the banking and which led to me being airlifted to casualty – fortunately with no breakages but severe bruising. Charlie was distraught – I went to see him when I got out of hospital – he saw me coming and went into the furthest part of the stable – shaking in anticipation I think of a beating. It took quite a few weeks for him to realise that he wasn’t going to be punished – or sent away and our bond became that much stronger because of it. We went on a few more hacks in the summer when I could ride again and in August moved yards to a livery stable with much better facilities. The panic attacks still continued in the school though and in November he lost control of himself and I experienced his rodeo act first hand – result – 2 broken ribs and a very distraught horse again.

I have been working with a reikki practitioner, who is also a communicator, of which I was very sceptical at first, but she told me things that only Charlie could have known which tied into the info I’d gleaned about his past. He’d been forced to hold his head in tight and when he tried to say that it hurt, he was beaten with whips and kicked with spurs – so the only way he had to tell them was to bronc to get them off his back. It was always in a school arena. He liked being with me as I rode him differently but he couldn’t let himself relax in case the pain took over and he wouldn’t be able to stop himself – he said that the time he’d bronced he couldn’t help it as the pain was so bad that he’d blacked out and didn’t realise what he’d done. He worries that if he does something wrong again that I won’t want him any more . I’m determined not to give up on him as he’s a lovely boy in all other aspects and doesn’t have a nasty bone in his body. Late summer we started work with a kinesiologist with whom a friend had tremendous success – her first words were that Charlie was such a stoical character, he could not show any emotion and he always needed to be in full control of his feelings. On her advice we contacted a cranial osteopath and found out that Charlie’s atlas was misaligned – he thinks that he had been forced into an outline far too early (without knowing any of his history) – and poor boy was suffering with what only could be described as a permanent severe migraine and backache . The twist in caused by the misalignment caused pressure transversely from his left ear into his right hip which explains why he was so tense under saddle and didn’t feel free to work from behind. He found flexion to the left very difficult, always had to look out on the circle. We have had several osteopathy sessions over the winter, and also remedial dentistry – due to the problem at his poll, his tmj was also misaligned causing lacerations to his cheek and tongue, which was why he was so uncomfortable in his mouth – I’d even tried him bitless but he was still vey unsettled.(so add mouth discomfort to the list!) He now seems much more comfortable and eating much better. We have continued our work in hand and gradually Charlie has relaxed in his work – and now occasionally greets me with a whinny, and has just this last month started to feel confident enough to offer to groom me when I scratch his neck and withers.

Charlie is (kwpn x tb)x(tb x welsh cob), he is rising 7, 15.2hh and still growing ( he was 15.1 when I bought him – it wouldn’t surprise me if he hasn’t got another inch to gain yet when he is strong enough to carry himself properly). He still worries very much and concentrates really hard in his lungework/long reining. He took part in his first show –a few inhand classes at the livery yard at Christmas, and came away with a first, three seconds and a third. He was a bit anxious at first, but as the day went on started to relax and I think he enjoyed taking part at last – from his stable he can see all the comings and goings of the different events held at the yard. I think he also enjoyed the fuss and palaver of being prepared and plaited. Since then we've taken part in three or four others, and he really has the confidence in himself that he can do this, it doesnt hurt and there's no pressure. Last show he was even reserve champion in the in-hand classes. I get the feeling that he thinks everybody has come just to see him! He's slowly overcoming his fear of the trailer - he wouldn't go anywhere near it last year - i think he was afraid he was moving yet again! - but now he chooses to walk in on a long loose rein behind me as though he's done it all his life. I keep telling him that he's stuck with me, I won't be getting rid of him and will keep him as long as I can, and I'm starting to think that almost 2 years down the line - he's accepting that he's found his 'forever' home.

We're going away to a show at the end of the month - first time from home - but its' only 1.5 miles from home - so we can walk there inhand if need be - just for a few in-hand classes like he's been doing at home. I don't care if we don't get placed - this is purely for experience and confidence building. We are almost back to stage where I'm going to sit on again - the osteopath says that only riddden work with strengthen Charlie's muscles now, so again we're going slowly slowy - but just this morning he stood quietly at the mounting block with his saddle on and stirrups down - something he wouldn't have done even a month ago.

I've always taken the approach 'ignore the bad, praise the good' and complete consistency, regardless of how I feel that day, if I've had a bad day at work or an argument at home - none of this has anything to do with Charlie and it's totally unfair for him (or any horse) to have to bear the brunt of it. Days like that have maybe been our best bonding times when I've spent hours grooming and stroking and massaging him and pouring out my heart to his willing ear! There have been many time that I've gone home in tears, but then along comes the tiniest beakthrough - like the first time he nuzzled me when I was grooming him, which makes it all worthwhile. i feel so privileged that he allowed me to ride him last summer considering how hard he must have been working to keep control of himself considering his pain.

Since his osteopathy, and having his jaw realigned, Charlie has been much calmer in his eye, and just in the last 6 weeks or so, I've noticed a huge change in his demeanour - he seems so much more relaxed and accepting of me - it's nearly 2 years since he came to me, and I think that perhaps he now is more confident that I'm here to stay, although he tends to use me as his comfort blanket, he likes to turn into me for reassurance when we lunge, and prefers to follow behind me, rather than with me at his shoulder. I'm sure that with more time and he'll develop the confidence to work away and alongside more. He now happily lets me work behind him when long reining, and will now stand for a short time while I walk away, rather than follow me around like a sheep! He's much happier too for me to work from above - the first time I plaited him took 3 hours as he was so worried, now, 6 months later, I can stand on the stool and do him in 1/2 hr. He's been very worried about having a saddle on his back again - no bucking or anything like that, but worried eyes and ears, so over the last 6 months I've introduced it to him very slowly, just putting it on and off, progressing to lungework in all 3 gaits eventually with the stirrups down and against his sides. Today we had a breakthrough in that he stood calmly by the mounting block with saddle on, girthed up and stirrups down with me lying over his back on one instance and agitating the saddle from above on another. The osteopath and also my reikki practitioner have both told me that he's not in pain any more, but I have to deal with his residual memories and am trying to make his experiences happy so that eventually his bad memories may fade. I've ordered a flexi-tree saddle from Heather Moffet which I hope will help him feel more comfortable in his back.

I feel inside that the time is right to get back on, but to be honest I'm slightly apprehensive, as last time I sat on (November) , he bronced and I couldn't sit him. This is when we started the osteopathy which continued throughout winter and early spring. I know there were underlying factors which aren't there now, but Charlie looks to me for guidance and I don't want to get on and have him feel that I am worried or nervous as I know that he'll pick up on this and cause him to worry too. I'm telling myself that he will be happy for me to get back on, so we can go for quiet hacks like we did last year until he's confident enough to start quietly walking in the school. I have such good help with the yard owner here, she is BD approved instructor, and has a lovely relaxed way with all her horses, so I'm hoping with her help just to get on and off with no pressure on Charlie other than to just stand still and accept it, in the next week or so now he is standing quietly at the mounting block and allowing me above his back.

I shall be most grateful for any ideas you may have to help us through this next stage - or to help consolidate/further his groundwork.

Many thanks once again for your time.

Kindest regards, Brenda & Charlie.

Hi There,

Simply lean over his back and have someone walk the horse around. Do this for a week or more. Then, get the other leg over and sit up and only have someone lead the horse around for at least two weeks. Then have someone very good lunge the horse very quietly with you on its back. Stay in a small area (round pen would be good I think if you have access to one). Have the horse lunged with you riding for a long time. Eventually have someone in the middle w/o a line on the horse and you riding. Once you can walk, trot and canter calmly and smoothly in the paddock, go for a bit bigger area. Do not go into big open spaces for a long time. Perhaps as much as 6 months to a year. rehabilitating a horse should be consider a year long or more process.

Good Luck Be careful...


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