There are consequences when a horse is mishandled, which lead to complications in training...
Compa's owner and I are working our way through a series of physical ailments that are directly connected to Compa's lack of physical conditioning.
Riding was obviously out of the question, so I determined that the best way to start the process was the high line. When I progressed his training and could lead him safely, I brought him to the round pen for turnout. When he handled himself well in the round pen, I turned him out with my herd for short periods. That didn't work well with the mare, so I stalled her for these sessions. Compa graduated from a few minutes of turn out to a full day. He has not spent the night out yet.
During week two, Compa developed an ailment in his hind legs where his patellas locked up and he could not move. For an aggressive horse with limited equine social skills, this curtailed his turnout time. I had to get him mobile enough that he could remove himself from the fights he started. Through a series of exercises, I was able to strengthen the muscles surrounding his patellas so he could be out with the boys.
I noticed that Compa was a lot less aggressive when he couldn't maneuver easily. He was forced to stand back and evaluate every situation. He had to think his way out of the circumstances he created. Interestingly, he began to notice the finer aspects of communication by standing back and observing what the other geldings were doing. AhHA! He was learning correct social equine behavior. It was fascinating to watch. His inability to maneuver created a more thoughtful horse. Compa started to change and when he did, the geldings treated him differently.
Instead of approaching the boys with unwarranted demands they were unable to fulfill, Compa approached with submission. He lowered his head and perked his ears and softened his eyes. He held his tail low and kept his knees below the point of his shoulders. He stopped his walk-striking (looks like an exaggerated Spanish Walk) and he kept his teeth in his mouth, where they belonged. The geldings took notice and Cruiser decided to befriend him. Cru is so good about this. He tends to take the new horses under his wing and tutor them. He knows exactly what they need and is willing to teach, as long as they show him respect. Compa complied and it was beautiful. Things were cooking right along. Even with his ailment, he was making vast improvements.
I was so pleased with Compa's progress that I put Carli into the herd for short periods of time. She changed things. Compa became aggressive again. The boys became defensive again. This scenario raged back and forth, with Compa trying to get the mare and the geldings protecting her. Compa realized that he didn't have a chance and once again he separated himself in order to learn. He stood apart, watching. Then he paced and locked up his patellas. He learned to travel in long curved lines to keep them from locking. So he practiced this maneuver for hours, while the geldings kept Carli away from him. It worked perfectly. Compa's owner and I spent a pleasant afternoon watching his progress and after several hours, we observed some nice changes.
The following day I put Compa out with the herd. I stayed with them for an hour, observing the quiet nature of all involved and decided for the first time since Compa's arrival to head indoors and leave them alone. I worked inside, but viewed the herd's progress through the windows. What I observed warmed my heart. The horses were taking care of one another. Cru and Compa spent quality time together, the mare seemed settled and the remaining geldings were content.
At feeding time, I went out to gather Compa to his stall and noticed that he was separated once again. I walked up to him, haltered him and when we moved off together, he was dragging his left front foot along the ground. Oh boy...
I stopped and inspected the leg from the withers, along the shoulder and down the leg. No heat, no signs of damage, no swelling, no energy, nothing. Palpating the shoulder to the coronary band produced no reaction from Compa. What could this be? He was reluctant to move forward and the herd was on their way down to eat. Compa was agitated about their arrival. I didn't want him injured further, so I gathered up the herd and tied them away from the gates. Then I slowly coerced Compa into his stall. It was slow going. Once there, he was hungry and thirsty, acting normally. To move, he would drag the left foot forward to the point of the shoulder and set it flat. Then he would walk up the hind legs, balance on them and bring the right front way forward of the left front and start the process all over again. The hint was the point of the shoulder on that left side. Something there was stopping the leg from coming forward.
I called Compa's owner and we discussed how to handle this new situation. I gave Compa a dose of 200C arnica and checked him throughout the night. In the morning there was no improvement. Another dose of arnica seemed to improve the situation. That gave us another hint, it was soft tissue. I fed Compa his breakfast and then we went out for a hand walk.
I haltered him and opened the stall door. He made no attempt to leave, very unusual for him. I invited him out, still no response. I dropped the lead rope and left him alone. He peered around the stall door and looked longingly at my herd. He dragged his foot over the threshold and brought his remaining feet out of the stall. Seeing that he wanted to try, I gathered the lead and waited for Compa to tell me which direction he wanted to pursue. Not surprisingly, he chose the herd. He limped along slowly and I followed. He nibbled at different plants, testing their taste. With each step his balance improved and then he swung the left front beyond the point of his shoulder and stepped down. His next step was normal, as were the following three. Then he went back to dragging that hoof.
We progressed our exploration for 45 minutes. Compa was determined to take a chew from each new green thing. He would stop, take a bite, spit out what he didn't like or gather more of the things he did. When he wasn't thinking about his pain he walked normally, when he remembered that he was injured, he would drag the foot. I was delighted.
As his trainer, my days are filled with what works best for him. I adjust to meet each new situation. I want to progress to the place we were last week, saddled and ready for our first ride. But I can't do that now. I have to wait, be patient, that time will come again soon.
In the mean time, we are hand walking together. He's afraid of the pond, the water moves in the breeze and confuses him. Someday that will not bother him and he will forget he was ever afraid. On the other hand, he is the best food critic ever. He taste tests everything and seems to really enjoy new things. It is a joy to observe him in his new discoveries.
So I will be patient. That saddle will be there when he's ready...