Orion - Going Back to Basics

You haven't heard about my boy for a while, and that's because he's been literally out to pasture for over a year now. Life has just been so crazy busy that I haven't had time to do anything other than occasionally run out to where I board him to love on him, and I can ashamedly admit that even that has not been as often as it should. All of his basic needs are being met, but I haven't been able to dedicate the time to him that I've been wanting to.

That stops now.

I've actually had this post written for a while, but now that I'm actually getting ready to dive into this, it requires an update. I was thinking of doing some light riding with him again. I've flip flopped back and forth on the idea a million times. As of right now, that's not going to happen. There's too much else we need to work on and too much concern in my mind that riding will make his DSLD worse. (Just an FYI, the vet who diagnosed him did not say not to ride him. She actually told me that light riding on a level surface shouldn't hurt him and just to keep an eye on it if I do. He's not been ridden for 2 years and only had a couple of flare ups that lasted only a day or two. He's been fine. Others say they think riding him should be out of the question, some don't think it would hurt him at all, but for right now, I'm just not willing to risk it.)
The following story is actually kind of hard for me to write, because it brought to the forefront, in a painfully public way, just how much I need to do to fix my relationship with Orion and get his training and overall attitude back on track.

I took him, along with some of his barn mates and some of the other owners where I kboard him to the annual 4-H Hoof and Health Clinic to get his vaccines and Coggins updated and have an annual exam done over the weekend, and it was BAD.  He's been doing fine with me on the sporadic times I've worked with him. We've had one bad groundwork session, and the rest have been pretty good. But holy CRAP. He was a train wreck when it came time for his exam. He was a spazzy mess every time I took away from his barn mates, and when I took him into the vetting area, he wouldn't let the vet look in his mouth (a new vet we hadn't met before - she was super nice and knew what she was doing, but my horse was being a complete jerk). He clamped shut and wouldn't let her in, then tried to kick her when she tried to take his temp. (Just another FYI, he had a mouth abscess about 2 months ago, and he let us take his temp without problem then…)

That was bad enough, but then when she went to do his blood draw, he swung his head at her and tried to bite her. I couldn't hold him steady because he was dragging me with him. They ended up giving him a break. I took him back to his barn buddies outside the vetting area, because that was the only place he was calm and not whinnying up a storm and looking frantically around for them. I did some groundwork near them, just stuff that we could do in a small space, just basically trying to get him to pay attention and not have his mind everywhere else. Usually if he's nervous or tense, that stuff gets him thinking productively and listening in better to what he’s being asked to do, and it seemed to be working. 

However, as soon as I took him back to the vet and they tried to take blood again, he started lunging sideways trying to get away from them. He was being completely out of control, and they ended up having to put a stud chain on him. The way he was acting seemed to make them think he was always like this, and I kept being asked how he does with a stud chain and all this other stuff they might use on a difficult horse. The thing is, I have NEVER had to use anything like that on him before. Never, in the nearly six years I've had him, had he acted like that. 

Finally his original vet showed up, and I think it took her a second to realize which horse she was watching (he was still acting like an idiot). Then she saw me, and her eyes got big, and she asked, “Wait, is this Orion??!” Her disbelief was something I almost latched onto, like Yes, thank God, someone else here who knows he is not normally like this!!!! And I suddenly didn't feel like this crazy fool anymore, just concerned and really freaked out, and honestly ashamed of myself because regardless of what other underlying reasons there may have been, this is in large part my fault.

She immediately walked up to him and took charge, and while he still acted like an ass for a minute or two, he finally calmed down and let her give him the shots and do the blood draw. She made him back up and come forward a couple of times to reinforce who was in charge and then handed him back to me, and we talked a little bit about his legs (after both puzzling over why the heck he was acting like a psycho after having a relatively normal morning).

I took him out to the gravel (we were in a sandy arena) and trotted and walked him for her, and she said that she didn't think his legs looked any worse than they had before, noted that he's standing with his front legs under him to make it more comfortable to stand, but that she thinks he looks good. She said that since he's not having flare ups often at all, to keep on with the trim schedule we've been doing and not change anything in regards to the care for his legs, which at this point is basically just maintaining his feet so that it takes as much pressure off his suspensories as possible. She recommended maybe taking his heels down a little shorter, but other than that, she thinks he looks good. She said she also thinks his natural confirmation is also just wonky and lends to how his legs look and how he stands to make up for it. 

All in all, it was the day from hell from the time I took him in to the arena until I got him back on the trailer. Once he started acting up, I was able to remain calm for him, but inside, I was also a nervous wreck that someone was going to get hurt or he was going to hurt himself. That was the worst feeling in the world.

The only thing I can chalk it up to, in a very oversimplified explanation, is that I need to work with him more. I'd already planned to start that before all of this happened. With bigger house projects out of the way and the days being longer, I can actually start getting out there more, but this really opened my eyes to just how much more he needs it than even I thought. We've been pretty good when I've worked him. He wasn't like that with his other vet when she was out in mid-February for his mouth abscess, and at that point, I would’ve expected him to be a pain more than now because he felt like crap at the time.

But I can't make excuses. I had already decided to take our relationship back to square one and start to rebuild and figure out something for him to do that doesn't require riding, so that we can work toward something and he feels like he has a purpose again. Clearly, being out to pasture has been good for his physical health, but his overall attitude and training need to be reworked. And that's my fault. 

There are obviously some very serious ground manner issues that we need to fix, pronto, but I decided that I'm going to go back even further than that for the first couple sessions, starting with this evening. 

I went out to just spend time with him. I used to do massage and essential oils and just spend a lot of time hanging out with him the first year or so that I had him.  At first I couldn't ride him because he was injured, so I had to find other things to do to bond with him and not put strain on him. Then that just sort of became our thing when we weren't doing other things. The past few years or so we have completely gotten away from just “hanging out”, and for the past year, I have had to drastically cut my time with him because so many other things were going on. It's not been fair to him, and I think going back to where we started might put us both on the right foot to start addressing everything else.

I'll let you know how that went.  We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I hope this puts a new beginning on things so that we can get back to how it should be.

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