Ten Years Turned Out, Now Back Under Saddle


I purchased Vander as a rising three year old who had been too slow at pre-track and was not destined to become a racehorse. We began our time together nice and quietly. I was schooling him two to three times a week and having a lesson once a fortnight, just letting him get his balance and only riding at the buckle end. He was coming along very nicely and starting to fill out and grow. I took him along to some local shows in led classes to get him used to being out and about and he was coping fine with his new life.


Vander as a Young HorseWe had begun canter work and it seemed a constant battle to get left canter lead from him. For a while I just put it down to him not being balanced and continued on with his schooling. At around the age of five, Vander had started to do this annoying head flicking and it was much worse on the arena when it was dusty. There were times when he became so agitated that he would strike out at his nose with a foreleg or stop all of a sudden to itch his nose on his leg and he became unpleasant to ride.


I agisted him on a property that regularly used superphosphate on their paddocks. Around the same time another agistor's horse, an eight year old Standardbred, began showing the same symptoms as Vander. We thought it was some sort of allergy. I was still having problems achieving left canter lead and watching Vander in the paddock I noticed he did not pick up left canter in the paddock either.


I had a lady come out and do some bowen therapy on him as he had become very touchy around the ears and poll. He did not cope with the bowen therapy at all, trying to bite the lady and becoming very agitated about the whole thing. I moved him to my instructor's property where we thought we could try and move him away from the possible trigger to his apparent allergy and then re introduce things to see if we could work it out.


Vander was stabled for around four weeks and was let out into the indoor for a run. He was being hard fed and given plenty of hay. His head flicking did reduce by about sixty percent but it did not completely disappear. During his time there, I also continued to try and get the left canter lead which was still almost impossible for him. I was even jumping him over a small cavalletti and asking for a canter departure on left rein. We probably achieved a left canter stride every one out of three attempts but he could not strike off correctly when on the straight. I also had him hair tested and found that to be of interest with a number of things mentioned, although the head flicking and inability for left canter continued.


I moved him to a new agistment property and continued on. The head flicking remained. This property did not use superphosphate but there was some Rye Grass in his paddock. I had joined the local Adult Rider Club and he was bearable but still not progressing with the left canter lead and the head flicking was still there although not too bad. I had heard of some other cases where a stocking over the end of the muzzle had worked. I tried this and sure enough it seemed to desensitise his muzzle and I was able to work him without the head flicking.


I finally managed to achieve a left canter lead by asking for left canter while trotting with quarters in down the long side of the indoor. He had no choice but to give me left canter. It felt very strange. He was like two men in a sack, like he was not connected to his hind end at all. We continued on with his schooling and around six years of age he began to show restricted movement in his near hind. I had a vet come out and watch him on the lunge with the prognosis, "Restricted lateral lumbar flexion." I put Cytek shoes on him to see if the earlier break over would help and he also had Pentosan injections into his hind quarters. Once the Pentosan injections started the restricted movement became worse very quickly so I decided to retire him to the paddock as a very attractive paddock ornament.


Vander turned out to PastureVander did still come out of the paddock for a brush and cuddles and occasionally I'd pop him on the lunge to see how he was looking. I noticed after a couple of years that the restricted movement in his hind leg had gone so I decided to try and bring him back into work. He was very good considering he had not been ridden for a couple of years and it appeared the restricted movement in his hind leg was actually gone but the head flicking was still there so I didn't perservere so he went back to being a paddock ornament.


Vander was fourteen when I moved him and my other two horses to South East Gippsland, Victoria as we had moved down for a sea change. I was able to find a four acre paddock with a dam and tree line for shelter. The paddock had been sewn with Clover and Rye Grass and as you can imagine the horses loved it. I didn't have to hard feed them once, not even over the winter. I used a hot tape and battery unit to strip graze them during the spring and it wasn't long before Vander's behaviour became the worst I had ever seen it. It wasn't just the head flicking, it was the ADD type behaviour. He was terrorising both of my other horses, one of which is thirty years old. These three boys had been paddocked together for years.


Vander had always been the boss but only ever put his ears back. Now he was chasing them around and around, ripping rugs off and taking pieces out of them as well as chasing sheep that shared his paddock. He was having tantrums (herd bound) when I took one of the horses away for lessons, running up and down the fence line, bucking and then chasing my thirty year old around. I'd bring him out of the hot tape section away from the other two and he could still see them but he'd pull back and break away while I was trying to brush him - he was a nightmare!


It was whilst reading the Horse Riding Clubs Association of Victoria (HRCAV) Chaff Chat article about Casper being unable to canter that caught my eye as I'd had similar problems. After reading the article and reading the Gotcha Equine website, I put together a brief overview of Vander and emailed it off to Lucy Prior. Lucy called me back within about thirty minutes and we got to talking about Vander's behaviour over the years. Lucy suggested I get him off the grass and into a yard, onto grass hay not containing Rye, Clover or Lucerne that had not come from a place that had used superphosphate, chook manure or urea to fertilise. I didn't have a yard to put him in and although I've tried to find agistment elsewhere away from Clover and Rye Grass, trying to find agistment amongst dairy country is near impossible. Therefore I had to make do with what I had. I only had the dam as the water source so keeping this in mind as well as the tree line needed for shelter I set up my hot tape to restrict the horses grazing. Although not ideal as they should really be off the Clover and Rye Grass I thought I'd give it a go anyway. I had to have the three horses together as Vander would not cope if he couldn't get near the other two horses.


So around mid March of 2010, I set up the hot tape and armed myself with grass hay sourced from a property known to have not used the above mentioned fertilisers and which did not contain any Rye Grass, Clover or Lucerne and started feeding the Gotcha Feed Plan. After about four weeks I noticed Vander's behaviour started to change. Only slightly at first but he no longer pulled back when tied up, he wasn't having tantrums anymore when I took one of the horses away for a ride or lesson and he wasn't chasing his paddock mates around anymore or grabbing at their rugs. Even the non-horsey property owners mentioned to me that he seems to have chilled out. My farrier even commented on how relaxed he seemed.


I had been lunging Vander as well and in the last two weeks I've noticed the head flicking reduce and his movement appear much more free and forward. In the past he had appeared at times to be "lights on, nobody home" mode between head flicking to now where I'm seeing a horse who is actually "there" with me not just an emptiness. On Anzac Day I lunged him and only had one head flick where he walked, trotted and cantered on both reins. I decided I'd have a ride so I saddled him up, walked some twenty metre circles, then moved onto trot. I was riding him in the paddock where he was able to see his buddies but he did what I asked (although lazy but hey, we can work on that as he will need time to fully recover). I rode him for about twenty minutes, going from walk to trot and back to walk. I had one head flick in that whole time.


I will continue on with the same method and I realise when the spring grass comes through next season I will ensure their grazing section is reduced and that any changes in behaviour are quickly acted upon with additional highly absorbable organic magnesium with boron and increased plain salt.


Lisa riding VanderI had a ride on Vander today (pictured left) and there were no head flicks. I'm very happy with today's ride and will continue working him and may be taking him to ARC and hopefully some upcoming winter woolly shows. It's a work in progress but for the first time in a very long time I feel I might actually get to ride my beautiful boy again.


Jim, my other horse is also on the Gotcha Feed Plan. I took him to a rally in early May and I have to say he went better than ever!!! He usually falls out of canter but on Saturday he worked beautifully and was so nice and forward (he is usually on the forehand quite a bit). On this day he wasn't on the forehand and was working from behind and was light in my hands. I was enjoying him so much. I had a few comments about how nicely he was going and the instructor loved him.


Lisa Catherwood - Victoria.

Bennison Adult Riding Club (ARC) member.


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