Clearly, Not CLEAR!

For the most part machines behave predictably. Not so with horses. They organize themselves in herd hierarchies, the tiers of which are established by each individual’s moxie, willpower, and smarts. But herd order is not constant. Most horses, like most humans, are always looking for ways to be improve their lot. Woe to those of us who forget this!

It was a sunny afternoon in July that I first saw Clear. I had gone to Vinmar Farm to look at MMSC candidates. He stood out: Sixteen two, lanky, bay, balanced, a good walk. Shipped from a California track a mere week prior, he impressed me with his inherent poise. 

He came to the MMSC the next day. I noticed he had a few hives, which, within a half hour of munching on the hay in his stall, spread all over his neck and flanks. I made a mental note: fragile immune system--probably travel stress and change of environment. Stay vigilant with this one.

MMSC spa treatments began immediately. His teeth were leveled, his feet balanced, his frame adjusted, his acupuncture points stimulated. When we moved on to the horsenality/learning style part of the Horse Schooling Reschooling Program, Clear proved willing and level headed in the round pen. He excelled on the bomb-proofing course. Long lining, longeing, he breezed through those lessons. Under saddle, he was a superstar in the making. His ground covering gaits were as regular as a metronome. He was light in the bridle and naturally balanced. 

Every season I have one or two special MMSC candidates that I know from the onset will excel in competition. These horses command higher adoption donations which pay not only only for their own care and training but also for the care and training of those MMSC candidates with less scope. Clear was one of those rare special ones.  As soon as we posted his first video, inquiries and requests for appointments to try him poured in.  

Then, about two months into his training, he got into a paddock tussle with Desert Wheat which resulted in an oozing wound on his left shoulder and two mysterious symmetrically placed bumps on the bridge of his nose. Our conjecture: Clear had been nibbling the greener grass on the other side of the fence when DW ambushed him. Yanking back his head abruptly,  Clear must have flailed the bridge of his nose on the fence-board.  Time out!- All training was put on hold until his shoulder healed. We had the lumps x-rayed, there was a bit of fluid, but nothing serious, bone bruises that would recede over time.

Two weeks later when we resumed training, Clear seemed no worse for the wear-- until we cantered him, and that’s when we heard his breathing. Between 5% and 8% of all racehorses suffer from partially paralyzed larynxes. That’s when one of the two cartilage flaps that comprise the voice box becomes somewhat or fully impaired and fails to retract properly. As a result, the horse’s air flow is restricted, which, depending upon the demands placed upon a horse, can diminish athletic performance.

But it was a hot day. Maybe Clear had lost more condition than we thought during his convalescence? We checked his nostrils: No discharge. We took his temperature. Normal. We decided to work him earlier in the day when it was cooler next time. We did that, and heard nothing...until he picked up the canter, and there it was again--not heavy, but not normal either, a moderate, steady huffing. Yet when we brought him down to a trot, the noise immediately stopped and his respiratory rate was normal.

 Both Dr. Marmion and Dr. Baker from the Woodford Equine Hospital examined Clear: No infection apparent in the guttural pouches, No foul smelling odor from  an infected tooth. No elevated white blood cells count.  How about eosinophils which can indicate allergic reactions? After all, he couldn’t eat hay. Maybe his immune system was compromised? None. The only thing that Dr.s Baker and Marmion could find was a partially paralyzed larynx. I checked with Clear’s former owner. Did he have a history of being a “roarer” as this condition is commonly called?  Apparently not. Could it have happened from the blow to his nose? No, according to Dr. Baker. The condition was probably there when he was at the track but was so mild, no one picked up on it.

It took a while to get all these questions answered and test results back. While we waited for answers, I cut Clear’s training sessions back in length and difficulty. But once I had a definitive diagnosis, I called Clear’s admirers back. Most were deterred by the news. Not Maddie H from South Carolina, she wanted to come try him anyway.

She arrived with her parents the next week, trailer in tow. We all ride slightly differently so it was no surprise that Maddy was having a bit of trouble getting through to Clear when she first got on. He did not want to step on the bridges.  He was behind the leg and above the bit.  So I hopped on to show her how we ride at the MMSC. Oh my goodness! What  metamorphisis had occured since I last rode him? Once the perfect gentleman, now a know-it-all teenager!  Despite his breathing issues (Maddy had had a roarer before and Clear, in comparison, was hardly afflicted) and his temporary regressive behavior, Maddy wanted to adopt him. 

“I hope he loads easily!,” said Maddie’s mother. 

“Oh, he will,” I said cheerfully. “Today's behavior was so unusual.  He's an easy going, willing horse. ”  

Famous last words! Horses have a way of making liars out of people, and Clear was no exception. He had no intention of getting on that trailer. No coaxing, lip chains, encouragement from brooms, butt ropes or feed buckets convinced him.  

An hour into our efforts, a large Creech van pulled up to the MMSC to haul another horse, Studio Time, to his new home in Georgia. Seeing our troubles, the driver of the rig, an older black racetracker named Danny with a parched face and taut body reminiscent of the Utah range--spartan, tough, and starkly beautiful-- offered to help.

Danny (center) and his boys  to the rescue to help load Clear!
( Doug-From-Down-the Road to come!)
“Lemme get my boys. And I’ll call in Doug-From-Down-The-Road,” he said.

Danny and his crew tried all the methods that we had, all equally unsuccessfully. Not even tranquilizers eased Clear’s recalcitrance. Doug-From-Down-The-Road,  a manly hulk of massive muscle and multiple tattoos, decreed it was time to lift Clear on.

He locked hands with his buddies and together they formed a human sinew around Clear’s buttocks.

“Push!” Doug-From-Down-The-Road bellowed
Clear pushed back.
“Come on boys!  PUSH!!!”

Clear leaned back on them, readjusted his footing and simply sat down. And he STAYED sitting down, completely contented like Ferdinand the Bull in that wonderful children's book.
 (Check out the story if you don't know it!  It's a classic!

Over the years, I have distilled what I have learned about horses to five principles: Safety, Respect, Attitude, Heed, and Celebration.  At that moment, it occurred to me that I  was in violation of not one, but all five of my own principles.

“Gentlemen, let’s stop!”

“But we could lift him on!  We’ve never not gotten a horse on before!” 

“I’m sure you could. I am sure that is true. But he might throw a fit on the trailer and get hurt. I really appreciate your help.  Thank you. But we need to change plans.” 

I walked over to Maddie whose face was tear-streaked and pale, and gave her a hug.

“Maddie, This is disappointing. But, there are always silver linings. We probably could hoist him on.  But I would worry about his safety on the long trip.  More important still, I can see that during his convalescence, Clear has learned the world operates on his terms. I can’t let him go to you with that idea. Come back in a week.  He will have a new perspective.  And he will load!”

Maddy nodded and got back in the truck with her parents for the long trek home.

That was not the ending to the day that I had envisioned.  When everyone had left, I sat alone in my office, looking out at the inky silhouettes of horses against a darkening horizon. I was weary and disappointed in myself for dropping the ball. Horses are always learning something. I know that! And  they are always trying to improve their standing in the herd! I know that.  And my wonderful, hard working interns are riders, not trainers. I know that! They couldn’t realize the subtle changes occurring with every ride in Clear’s perspective on life and his relationship vis a vis humans. He was such a simple horse to ride when he first came that when my interns reported that all went well after each workout, I focused on other MMSC business. But I know better! Woe is me! As if horses didn’t try to improve their herd standing.  As if horses were machines....Clearly, not CLEAR!

Cheery (there are always silver linings!bye,