Help! My Dilemma...



So, a while back I posted about a new horse we took into our barn, Grady, a 12-14 yr old Irish Sport Horse gelding. With most of my own horses either retired or not up to any kind of regular riding, I though having a nice big, well-schooled horse to play with might be fun. His previous owner was frustrated with him and had basically given up on him – he was bought as a jumper and wouldn’t jump anymore, and his feet were costing a fortune in bar shoes and pads, and time with abscesses and soaking, so she wanted to be rid of him. I knew he came with some issues, namely his horrific feet, but my vet and I thought we could improve them with some proper care. And anyone who knows me knows that horsey-makeovers/rehabs are one of the things I like best about what I do, and I’m a sucker for a horse with a sad story that needs help. So he seemed like a fun project.

He’s been with us now through the winter and his feet are a million times better than when we started. In fact, he’s now out of the bar shoes and pads and going comfortably BAREFOOT! Not to mention, his low heels and overlong toes have been rebalanced to provide a much more natural angle to his more upright forelimb conformation. There is still a slight break at the pastern, and it will probably take another good year of hoof growth to really transform his foot and get his heels completely back under him where they should be. But the improvement is like night and day.

We have also managed to improve the quality of his foot, decrease his shivers symptoms, and help his muscles to be less stiff with some good nutrition.

And, as an ex-show horse, he was probably never really turned out or allowed to be with a herd, and now he’s got the run of the farm and a bunch of buddies to hang out and play with, which he really seems to enjoy....

The trouble is he seems to enjoy it a little too much.

Now that he’s feeling better, he’s playing pretty rough out there. Some of the horses like to play with him, and some of them are annoyed by him and like to kick him. I had to muzzle Sami after I came home one night and almost had a heart-attack: Grady had a huge gaping wound millimeters from his jugular and a swollen windpipe I had to check all night to make sure he could breathe and swallow normally. His neck is covered in bites and his legs are covered in bumps and scrapes from kicks. Most of the kicks happen above the knee and hock, so boots are little help. I was waiting all winter to see if things settled down when the grass finally came back, but it hasn’t.

So, while I’m happy to see him having fun, I’m worried he might be seriously hurt (or that he might hurt someone else.) He’s not aggressive, it’s seems more like he just doesn’t know when to stop or can’t tell when the other horses stop playing and are actually trying to hurt him. He just keeps it up.

Here at the farm, we are not set up for private turnout, and I don’t believe in isolating horses from one another (unless sick or injured.) We try to keep their living conditions and social interactions as healthy and natural as possible. All of our horses go out together – mares, geldings, young and old. I was feeling like my options are limited to: cutting him off from the herd in his own paddock vs. taking the chance he might be seriously injured. So I started to wonder if Grady might not be better off going to a home with a less rowdy herd where he might fit in better.

After a good amount of deliberation, I decided this was the best way to go. The vet was scheduled to do spring vaccinations and health checks, so I thought I’d have him look Grady over and, once he was cleared for work, I’d put the word out that he was looking for a good home.

The vet was very happy with the progress we had made with his feet but, when we went to do a lameness exam, blocks, etc. he turned up positive for something vague in his lower limb. We decided to inject his coffin joint and see if that didn’t make him more comfortable, and I’ll have the vet’s take on that in 2 weeks when he comes out to do a second round of vaccinations. But now I have this doubt in my mind about sending him elsewhere.

The vet wasn’t sure if his issue is something to do with permanent damage or simply inflammation due to years of poor hoof care or the recent change to barefoot and the new stresses that might be placing on his feet. On his last visit, our farrier was also pleased with his progress, but did note that he thought it would be a good year plus before his feet could completely return to normal. He described it in terms of all those sensitive structures in his feet being “pinched” for so long that there would naturally be some residual effects, even though his overall balance and hoof health is improved. What no one knows is if, even when his foot is returned to normal after another year, he will ever be 100% sound.

This is the part that worries me. I decided a long time ago that I could never be in the sales business because I worry too much about what will happen to horses once they leave my care. I get to know their issues and their needs and I worry someone will not take care of them properly. I worry about what happens to most horses when they can no longer do their jobs, as most people board their horses and few people have the ability/desire to keep an unsound horse for life, much less pay to maintain him. So, if Grady isn’t 100%, what kind of future can he look forward to when he has outlived his usefulness? And is it a future better or worse than any potential injury he might sustain remaining a part of our herd?

This is the debate I am having with myself, and I have no idea what to do. When I take on a horse, I assume responsibility for that horse’s wellbeing for the rest of its life. Grady needs to be out and interacting with other horses, but he could get seriously hurt being out with the group he’s in. He might be better off somewhere else, in a safer environment, but he may not receive the care his issues require and, should he no longer be serviceable sound, well, I hate to think where horses like that end up....

What would you do in my situation? Anyone have any advice, thoughts or suggestions that might help me make a decision? I’d really appreciate any input you can give me! :-)


23 comments:

  1. *wrings hands* I don't know what to tell you. No friends you'd trust your life to? Only place I'd put him. No chance he'll get the idea and stop playing with the big boys in such a rough way?
    Thought about having a talk with him, heart to heart, and telling him what the options are? (I'm serious).

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  2. unfortunately, since i'm not doing horses full time anymore and i've recently moved to my own private farm in the middle of nowhere, i don't really know that many horse people these days, and certainly not any who would want or be able to take him in :-\

    it's funny you mention talking to him, because i have actually been warning him when i see him acting up about the consequences, but maybe a good heart-to-heart is in order. i used to be ok with animal communication, but maybe i could even call someone in... something to think about.

    the other half of the dilemma is that his main partner in crime, and the most aggressive horse toward him, is the little arabian we rescued, sami. if i can't place grady, i may have to think about possibly relocating him. he is young, sound and healthy, but is too small for any of us to ever ride, so he just hangs out. it's kind of sad because he loves people and attention and is extremely willing to learn - he seems to want a job and we've been wondering if he wouldn't be better off finding a loving home where he gets the attention he wants and needs. so, a lot to think about. i am so confused!

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  3. Sending thoughts for a good resolution!

    And my two cents:

    I would try splitting the herd up - is there any one or two horses that get along well with him and don't play so roughly?

    See if you can break up the "big herd dynamic" by creating two smaller groups, in a way that keeps the most horses happy.

    I actually think it's good to do this as a regular thing just to keep all the horses comfortable with being separated from one another and able to stay "flexible."

    If the geldings here get too wild for my comfort level it always works to either put the pony with Salina (she will put him in his place FAST). Cody and Keil Bay both get along well with Salina too, although if she's having a slow day I don't put Keil with her as he is the only one who will "boss" her.

    Try some different combinations and see what happens. I find this often does carry over when they all get back together again.

    Another alternative: get two mini-donkeys to live with Grady! :)

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  4. billie - i tried putting him in a separate paddock with a buddy the other day and, though he started quiet and happy, he got upset when he couldn't see the rest of the herd and started running. i could try some more experimenting with different groups... i guess i always feel bad because to separate any from the main group means they can't enjoy the big fields, but i guess rotating them could work :-)

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  5. Well, your place is bigger than ours, so it will be different - but I think the rotating around, especially if you can do it where they can still see one another, might shift the dynamic. It has never failed here.

    I would also wonder if you actually put Sami and Grady together, but alone, if that might shift things significantly between them play-wise. Sometimes if they have to view one another as "comfort" they will change the way they view one another when back in the bigger herd. Be ready to intervene if you need to, but it might be worth a shot if you're looking at having to re-home one of them.

    (although tonight I stupidly let Keil Bay and Cody through the gate to go through the grass paddock into the front area, now taped off so they can graze it... I'd already let Salina and donkeys go and they had SANELY walked down there, but were clustered right at the one opening. Keil and his entire 16.2 tank self went into full gallop, followed by Cody. I yelled at Salina "heads up!" and managed to close the gate before the pony burst through behind them. No catastrophe, but I have learned my lesson! They are so geared to get to the green right now they have no judgment at all!)

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  6. it would be difficult to make 2 groups and also have them able to see each other as out property is sort of long and narrow with the barn at one end (where the smaller paddock is) and the field extending to the other end, over a hill...

    but it is an interesting idea to put them both together to bond and sort their issues and then return to the herd and see if it makes a difference. we've got rain and slippery grass now, but maybe when it dries up we'll give it a try. thanks!

    your herd sounds like mine - some mornings there is a mad dash for the back where all the grass is - poor sweetie knows to just stand to the side and let them pass!

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  7. Maybe just keep Grady and Sami in the paddock for a few hours each day and then turn them out with the group?

    We also use our arena sometimes since it's surrounded on two sides by the back field.

    It's interesting - the only equines I don't actively separate are the donkeys and Salina - but they do it themselves!

    Sometimes Redford chooses to go with the geldings and Rafer stays with Salina (either in their own area or even in the same field but he and Salina will stay near the top and the rest will go down to the far end) and Rafer will take breaks from Redford and Salina by going through one fenced area into the barnyard.

    I'm glad they do this, because otherwise I'd probably have to do it, just to normalize it so if it ever *has* to happen it won't be so difficult to manage.

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  8. i can certainly try that on weekends! during the week i literally feed, turnout and leave for work, so i wouldn't have time to let them hang and then move them.

    our herd is definitely close and, though they all have their favorites, they all stress when they are separated, and mellon can't handle it at all, so it is something we really need to work on, if for no other reason than some of these horses have to go back to work and it would help to not have them all distracted!

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  9. Someone told me when we moved here that I needed to make sure not to let the horses get too buddy-bound, so I have always tried to rotate things around regularly. It was harder when there were just Keil Bay and Apache because there was just one option - together or not! But even then I would sometimes keep one or the other in a stall after breakfast, with some hay, while I mucked, and let the other go on out to the field.

    It's harder if you have to get them set and then leave the farm, but I would bet even doing some rotating on weekends would help. Start with just an hour and build up.

    Mainly, I want them all to feel like being separated doesn't mean anything bad is happening. It was necessary with daughter going to pony club stuff and shows with one or two of our horses. (when we got Cody she was taking the pony, so Keil never got left alone, and by the time she took both Cody AND the pony, we had Salina, so ... it helps to have enough that no one will ever be left back without company)

    They all seem fairly laid back at this point - sometimes when I open up the entire farm there will be one in the barnyard, one in the front field, one in back, and Salina and the donkeys someplace else. When spread out like that, they can't see one another.

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  10. that's a great point and something we should definitely incorporate into the routine around here. poor mellon has never dealt well with it, but he also watched his 2 best friends in the world be taken off to the clinic an never return... now every time he sees the trailer coming or going he flips out :-( most of the other horses are fine to leave in or be separated, but there are a few who have a very difficult time with it, and i should try to help them out with some gradual acclimation.

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  11. Poor Mellon! Nothing we do can make that scenario anything but upsetting! (for them or us)

    Salina doesn't mind the trailer UNLESS the donkeys get near it (or in it) with the doors open, at which point she comes running and tells them to get away. I'm sure she remembers the mare and foal inspections and her babies being taken away.

    I also wonder about Grady and Sami - if they are simply making up for lost time with all the rough play. Not that you can just wait and let someone get seriously injured while they get it out of their systems, but maybe if you can impact it by rotating they will also begin to chill out some as they realize they aren't going back to life in a stall.

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  12. poor salina! broodmares may have a harder life even than most show horses :-\

    funny, i have always thought of them both as making up for a lifetime of lonely stall life too. i was hoping they would get it out of their systems, but they both seem to be having too much fun! i'm happy to see them happy, but i wish i could make them understand! i was actually considering having them live outside, separately, at night so they realize they are going get out and be free all the time...

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  13. Funny - I was just about to add that maybe you should put them on 24/7 turn-out so they never have any stall time in which to build up that play energy! :)

    It might be good for Grady in other ways too, and it's a good time of year to try it.

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  14. i'm hoping they finish our new shed this week! i'm def. going to try it :-)

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  15. Nothing like 2 or 3 been there ,done that and we are damn tired of your behavior broodmares to teach Grady how to behave in a herd and who is in charge.Usually discipline and punishment is quickly handed out and once he learns his position and accepts that he is NOT boss no matter how big and clueless he might be one of the ladies will become his special gal and continue to show him the ropes and tell him how it is. Herd order and dynamics is one of my favorite ways of teaching horses how to be horses. It's not just the pampered show horses that are never left out with others. Most all the OTTB's have no clue about a herd or turn out as they rarely have experienced it except when they were foals.

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  16. LMTB's - funny you should say that - at the farm he came from he lived out with a bunch of old mares and they probably did keep him in line! he is out with 2 mares now, but sweetie is too old and lame - she keeps her distance from all those bratty boys - and dusty's not tough enough alone to discipline anyone :-\ but that's just what he needs! wish we had more mares!

    it's sad so many horses never get to live a natural life interacting with a herd. and it obviously effects them and how they relate to other horses throughout their lives.

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  17. Do you have a definate herd leader and/or alpha mare (hopefully both)? If so try him out with just those 2 for a few days. They will not tolerate his antics for very long and start running him off/away from them. He will get more respectful by simply being allowed back closer to them and they will continue to drive him away when he misbehaves. It is natural herd behavior for Grady to want to be with them and he will learn to respect them.You can also do the same thing in a small paddock and keep him safer by putting up panels to separate him from them. He will want to be with them and you have to ignore him pacing or running the fence till he quits and just shows interest in wanting to be with them. Then turn him out with them,observe and if they sort it out great, if he's a jerk or you get concerned remove him and then start the process over again.

    My old retired broodies are 27 and 23 and they still rule!They have educated not only their own foals but many others who have come to the farm and lived with them.My stallion is the oldest ones son and he is still submissive and very respectful towards her.She is a very sweet natured but tough as nails mare who will absolutely threaten to kick the crap out of him if he even thought about challenging her.He has believed her all these years so far!

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  18. i have thought about that - in the past at other barns people used to ask to 'borrow' mellon (our her leader) to hand out attitude adjustments in the paddock. they called him 'the terminator' ;-) but he has been acting strangely since he recently lost his best friend of 15 years. he's been depressed and not interacting/disciplining the rest of the herd like usual. he is usually very aggressive, but also a little neurotic and obsessed with the rest of the herd - he can't be usually be separated from them these days without having a total meltdown and i worry he might really hurt grady. maybe i can try it under supervision...

    i know what you mean about tough old broodmares! sweetie was rescued with her colt and, though she is at the bottom of the pack with all the other horses, she can still kick his ass any day. he totally respects her. maybe the problem with these boys is they haven't had enough female influence in their lives ;-)

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  19. Just because the horse isn't going to be sound enough to return to his former usefullness doesn't mean he won't be useable at all. Many a lame horse is sound enough to be someone's light trail buddy or baby sitter for a kid. There could be other uses too that aren't in your realm of thinking that still could be suitable for this horse. If you come to the point you think you must part with him, remember to be open to the possibilities. You just never know how it might turn out.

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  20. that's a great point! i'm so worried about protecting him from overuse, but there may be someone out there who could enjoy him and give him a fun life doing less! if he has to find a home, i hope it is one like that!

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  21. I recall you saying he is big. If he's big and solid and reliable he would make a great Husband Horse. Most all of the HH's I know are very much loved and cared for by their doting husband owners who are fortunate enough to get them. It allows the husband to share the whole "horse thing" with his spouse and actually learn and enjoy riding.We call them "Packers" as they will safely carry the husband thru the fields and trails or be patient and steady enough to teach the husband while he learns to ride. In foxhunting these horses are worth their weight in gold as many of them don't ever jump but will follow the field at the hunt pace and stand quietly at the checks.

    There are all kinds of recreational equine activities husbands do that don't require jumping. There is Competitive and Distance Trail Events, Equine Orienteering, and Hunter Paces and Chases all over the place that don't require jumping.He looks pretty big in the photos but my husband did ranch work and moved steers on his 17.0 hand TB HH! She lived till age 36 and was ridden up to age 33.

    By the way,I know of someone who he might be perfect for so in the event you decide to find him a home let me know.I am close by in Pa.My farm is called Grays and Bays,I have a deep love for big gray horses and I also have the broodies to kick his ass.I would be happy to try and find him his forever home. I know how hard those decisons can be to make. It's much easier if you know where they are and get photos and updates and even better when you know you will never have to worry about the horse again cuz he becomes loved and valued by a family and becomes a family member.

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  22. LMTB's - i think he would be perfect for that job too! we still haven't decided what to do yet (we may even be able to solve the problem by finding sami a home instead, as he's a young healthy pony just begging for a regular job and some attention!) but if we need to find him a home i'll definitely let you know. it would be a relief to know he went somewhere good where he'd be appreciated and well cared for :-) thanks!

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  23. Sounds like an interesting dilemma, but it's something I know a little about. When I was a teen, I was able to free lease a very high quality warmblood off her farm. When I took her, the owners fully disclosed that she had potential for lameness due to being pigeon toed and club footed and thus the reason she was retired from serious competition and up for free lease to begin with. We agreed that we'd take her and care for her and should she prove lame in the future, we'd return her to her owners with no issue. I was competing BN eventing with her and when I moved up to N, she started going lame. We had the vet out so many times to see what could be done, but in the end it was clear that her riding days were over. We had stayed in touch with her owners all along, letting them know of the situation, vet visits, etc. They even came to the barn a few times to see that she was being well cared for. In the end, we returned her to her owners who had a place for her as a "herd mom" for several ponies. It was a tough situation because no one wants their horse to go lame or to have any health issues, but the openness with the owners was great and free leasing such a quality horse brought me to a new level of riding. In many ways it wasa a win-wine becase the horse had a "job" to go home to and a great long retirement ahead of her.

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