Sallye's Horses Blog

Horse Ownership, Tips for training, Horse Stories, and more!!  

September 4, 2017

Bali Fyre—the “Miracle” Horse

 

The blog this time is one of those stories that is, as they say, “for the books”.  You might need to bring out the hankie in advance, but I assure you that the ending will lift your heart.

Bali was born a National Show Horse, a hybrid of Arabs crossed with American Saddlebreds developed in the 80s.  Exquisitely beautiful as you can imagine a foal from such a cross would be, Bali was as precocious as she was elegant. So precocious, in fact, that at 30 days old she took a cavorting miss-step and snapped the cannon bone on her front leg:  a compound fracture. Transported to UGA immediately, Bali had her leg set and a cast put on.

 

The 6 week x-ray showed no progress in healing.  Surgery was the only option.  A bone graft from her hip was used to bind the bones together, then a continued stay at the vet school. The mother, suffering from repeated stress colics was removed and a goat was brought in as Bali’s companion. 

 

Again, an x-ray after 6 weeks showed, “Leg not healing, prognosis is poor.” The bone was just not fusing and remodeling as it should.

 

The vets’ recommendation: “Due to the lack of progress we advise euthanasia at this time.”  This was a shock to Sallye.  But her response was typical of her determination to make the tough filly’s life as good as possible for as long as possible.

“No, I will come get her and bring her home to euthanize her.  We won’t do it there.”  Sallye rode in the back of the trailer and held up the suffering filly for the entire trip. As soon as they arrived home, the filly collapsed in the stall.  Her new surrogate, the Nubian goat, stood over her immediately as protector and Sallye bottle fed her.  Euthanasia was scheduled for the following Monday.

 

Sunday morning Sallye looked out her kitchen window and Bali had risen and was peering over the stall door, looking towards the house.  Thought Sallye, “I know in my heart she’s not destined to die.”  But what were the alternatives?  A cast didn’t work.  A graft didn’t work. What’s left to do for this now critically crippled filly?

 

At that point Sallye (a very spiritual person) tells the story:  

 

“I asked my spirit guide: tell me what I can do to save this horse. She doesn’t want to die.  That night I got my answer in a dream.  The message was that there was an infection in the break that needed to be cut out and treated, then the leg should be put back together with a metal plate. The leg will heal and she will walk.”

 

Determined to follow through with the plan she had been given, Sallye called UGA surgery the first thing Monday morning but with disappointing results.

"We can’t save this horse, that’s an amputation and we haven’t done that here.  Just let her go.” they said before hanging up.  After an hour, though, Sallye received a call back.  “If you’re willing to pay the bill, we’ll try it.”  Ten plus surgeons over 12 hours of surgery meticulously removed 2” of infected bone and installed the metal plate with screws.  

 

Against their policy, they allowed Sallye to take her home for recovery and rehab with the cast still on her leg .  At this point Bali’s good leg was 2” shorter than the other one and the support fetlock was collapsing.

But at the 6 weeks progress x-ray the bone was healing!

 

Farrier Jimmy Dudley came to the rescue with a creative prosthetic glue-on shoe that built up the shortened leg 2” and another special shoe to support the other fetlock that was failing.  The shoes were re-glued every several weeks.

 

Now the tricky part.  Bali’s broken leg muscles had atrophied and she had only ever gotten around by hopping on the other leg.  So, every day, Sallye performed therapy:  set foot down and hold it, pull Bali forward and force her to take a step.  Just two months after surgery Bali and her goat friend were running around the paddock!!

After 6 months of rehab the prosthetic shoe was gone and the legs were now the same length, even though the cannon bone where the break had been was still 2 inches shorter.  The long bones in the shoulder had grown to compensate!!!  After $25,000 of medical expenses, Bali was going to be able to have a normal life.

The vet school later paid Sallye to bring Bali back for a time, so they could thoroughly evaluate and record what had happened.  She became a case study for students for many years after. While she was there, though, she was a little tricky to manage because with all she had been through, Bali wanted no part of anyone but Sallye.  So, they found a female student about Sallye’s size and coloring who would go in and catch her.

 

Though the physical trauma healed, allowing Bali to have a full life-- including 6 babies-- she never ever trusted strangers.  Wherever Bali was stabled, Sallye had to post signs and set up barriers because the mare would viciously charge anyone who came close.  

Today Bali is 30.  Every 8 weeks for her entire life she has had specialized shoes.  She has had 2 strokes recently and is mostly blind.  But she has her “seeing eye horse”, Woody, to follow around.  And despite expectations to the contrary, she still gets up and looks for Sallye over the door of the stall.  She’s still fierce with strangers, though, so if you come to visit, look out!!!

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August 2, 2017

What level of horse is it?  What level of rider are you?

Good horses come not only in all shapes, sizes and colors, but they also come in all levels of rider skill needed.  Here are some of our classifications of horses and riders and our thinking behind them.

Nonrider—this person may have ridden as a youth (20 years ago) but only a little.  Or she may have only ridden horses that follow a trail or another horse.  The non-rider is unable to effectively steer a horse independently and likely has no idea how to signal with the feet (or in some cases NOT signal).

Since trained horses respond to direction from the reins and feet, the non-rider will upset and confuse the horse if they are constantly sending random signals, like pulling the reins to steady themselves when off balance or grabbing with their feet to hold on.  Some horses are more tolerant than others.  We like a horse that will just stop when confused for the non-rider.  That way no one gets hurt.  Unfortunately, if you confuse a horse enough times, he will learn defenses to protect himself from the random yanking and side-pounding.  This is why horses that have been on rental lines or in summer camps are often ill-tempered and unresponsive.

Growth plan for the non-rider—ride in supervised or follow-horse situations while practicing steering and controlling legs.  For direct reining horses (ones that don’t one hand neckrein) you will practice pulling the signal rein (right to go right, left to go left) while at the same time, loosening the opposite rein.  Right pulls back, left goes forward to release pressure so the horse can turn his head. 

Avoid rein layover to turn—this pulls both sides of horse’s mouth and confuses him.

Loosen opposite rein when pulling to turn—this allows horse to turn his head.

Feet should stay off the horse’s side (roll your knee cap in towards the saddle and this will keep your legs positioned forward instead of into the horse).  Practice this because our natural tendency when nervous is to pull into a ball, drawing the reins in—pulling on the horse’s mouth—and pulling the heels up into the horse’s sides—telling him to speed up.

For the non-rider we recommend a horse that will only trot when urged and will not canter unless really compelled.  This is for safety as controlling a horse’s speed is a level of sophistication the non-rider doesn’t yet have.  For non-riders, lessons before buying a horse are recommended.

Beginners—this level of rider has ridden enough (or recently enough) to be able to steer a horse at the trot, slow the horse without yanking and shutting the horse down, keep your balance when the horse trots, use your legs independently to tell the horse to move forward or in some cases to help the horse turn better.  

 

For gaited riders a beginner can hang with a gaited horse that may move off a little quick (not breakneck speed) and not panic, can keep leg off unless giving direction to the horse (many gaited horses have “feather accelerators” from having been ridden with spurs) and can maintain slight but even contact with the horse’s mouth.

Growth plan for the beginner—practice in a controlled area—round pen, riding ring or following another horse-- riding at the next speed with steady reins (not bouncing hands and hurting the horse) and keeping the legs still.  Develop the self-discipline of lessening signals—don’t yank first, try asking the horse to respond to a light, fingertip steering pressure; don’t pound the horse’s side, when he will go forward with just a brush of the heel. 

A good way to practice is to have someone else control the horse’s speed so you can get your body used to the next gait without balancing on the horse’s mouth.  Lunge line can be okay for this but the circling seems to throw the beginner rider’s weight to the outside.  Following another horse can be useful.

For the beginner we recommend a horse that is willing but not so finely tuned that he jumps off at the trot or canter on the slightest touch or has a mouth that is so responsive that the occasional error will cause him to react badly.  Older horses that were once show horses or working horses (like ranch horses) are generally well-trained and set in their behaviors.  Highly trained horses cost in the multiple thousands of dollars; one that is 15 or 16 years old still has all that expensive training and probably 10-12 years more of good riding left and will be cheaper. Choose one that maybe has been trail ridden also.

 

Note: we do see a number of lesson and rental burnout horses come through.  They are often sullen and sour from the constant abuse from un-knowing riders.  However, with good fitting equipment, disciplined and steady handling, and restraint by the rider in not over-working, many of these horses become grateful, willing mounts for their one, forever owner.  

 

Caution:  The “gentle horse.” A word of warning here about the “gentle horse” you often see advertised.  “Oh yeah, we raised him here.  My 9 year old daughter rides him all around.” Many quiet natured horses are never fully broke to ride.  They can carry a rider amiably enough along with a group of other horses because following other horses is a natural instinct.  These horses (“follow horses” we call them) may have been ridden this way for years and appear “gentle.”  That is, until you try to ride them on their own, even in a ring.  

 

You will find that they don’t steer, won’t move forward when you ask them to, and under duress can even turn into buckers because they never had the occasion to be taught not to buck.  A horse that can’t at least trot in circles both directions, start and stop when asked and ride alone in an enclosed area (preferably larger than a round pen) should be avoided. Or, if purchased, sent to a professional trainer for 30 days of real training.  You can’t love them into being good riding horses.

 

For example, Janet’s young mule, Hector, had ridden uneventfully for a year beside Janet’s mare on many trails.  Eventually, though, the mare died and was no longer around for support and guidance. When Janet one day casually brought her heel in and asked Hector to turn in a circle, he went full bronc and his owner had to bail to get free of the violent reaction. For nothing more than just being asked to turn!

 

Coming Next:  Sallye will tell her story of Bali, the 30 year old mare that was given up for lost when she broke a leg as a baby.  Sallye’s unwillingness to trash the tough little filly and the long road to restoring Bali’s mobility is indeed a model of dedication and persistence.

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What is it about owning a horse?

Customers share stories about horses they have loved, and sometimes lost.  Sallye and I both have our own.  What becomes clear, though, is that owning a horse means different things for different people.  Sallye has an old broodmare that is in her thirties, produced 10 colts and is probably the meanest mare on the planet to anyone else besides Sallye.  Bali went through a cannon bone re-section when she was a baby and anyone but Sallye would have given up on her.  If you look closely now, you can see that one cannon bone on the mare is shorter than the other.  

Sallye fully commits to the horses that are her personal animals.  Woody, permanently lame, lives at her house and enjoys the best care he could ever wish for.  Though she has not ridden China, that mare whinnies for (and gets!) her treats and petting every day.  Having come “off the slaughter truck”, China went from rack of bones with fungus so bad pus oozed down her face, to the beautiful show horse she is today—because someone made a commitment.  Sallye keeps a horse for years and years and years when it’s personal.

 

I, on the other hand, see horse ownership differently.  Horses who aren’t good citizens for reason of lack of training, abusive handling or ignorance of management don’t get homes.  People don’t keep horses who behave badly, and when those horses are sold, they generally eventually end up at an auction.  Individuals looking for a cheap horse go to auctions, so the horse may have a chance at a home.  But often that’s not how the night plays out.

Auctions are scary places, so even good horses can behave badly.  Buyers will pass on the bug-eyed, spooky horse.  And generally, the buying public calls it a night by 10 p.m.,  so late-night horses are there for the dealers and killer buyers to divide up among themselves.  Some dealers are re-sellers who put training work on horses and sell them at a profit to forever homes.  But many are under contract to deliver x number of horses per week for slaughter in Mexico for meat distribution around the world.  For this reason, a fat riding horse that was sold only because its owner lost a job, or the farm, or health goes for 60 cents a pound.  Period.

 

So, I have become an “any means necessary” trainer and owner.  Each horse for me is a training challenge to deliver an obedient and safe contribution to a horse lover’s dream.  I rarely keep a horse more than 6-8 months and am often teased at the barn because of it.  The name plate on my stall doesn’t say a horse’s name, it just says, “Sandie’s horse.”  But Wise, who couldn’t be bridled, Checkers who bucked and leaped every time someone tried to get on him, Smoke who was a burned out speed racker and many others all have loving, forever homes now.  

 

What is a horse in your life?  Is it a mount for your child to take lessons on?  Is it one to show?  To trail ride with friends?  Is it your just rewards for raising your kids who are now adults and out the door?  Do you primarily pet and groom?  Do you haul to overnight camping and day-long rides?  Do you and your friends mostly walk around on your horses and chat?

 

If you are a committed horse owner, you are entitled to a useful and safe horse for your purposes, whatever those purposes are.  Your horse is entitled to responsible stewardship in the form of adequate care and reasonable handling. Whether you own that horse already or are realizing that the one you have truly doesn’t fit your life or situation, questions and concerns will come up.

 

This blog by Sallye Forrester and Me (Sandie McKee) will offer hints, help and techniques for maintaining your horse’s health, usefulness and willingness to be that joy you wish for.  Check back with us each week.  We have over 80 years of experience with thousands of horses between us.  We hope that what we have to share will be useful information or entertaining stories for you.