May 2017: Rehab for New Horses

Laura Faber-Morris and Taryn Bushey working with Flynn Photo by Pam Voth

For the first time ever, last year Dunrovin Ranch purchased three horses from a horse trader. Previously we relied on horse breeders or sellers with whom we have a solid connection, or through individual horse owners who, for whatever reason, needed to sell a fine Tennessee Walking Horse. We had avoided horse traders primarily because we did not entirely trust them. Rumors abound of horse traders drugging their stock to mask their physical or behavior problems when prospective buyers come looking.  Nonetheless, our circumstances necessitated getting some new horses and we met a trader who seemed to defy the rumors, so we took a chance. Please read our September 2016 article on New Horses Join the Dunrovin Herd to learn more about the details of this purchase.

Turning to the Gaelic language for inspiration, we named the three horses Flynn (“the red haired one”) for the sorrel, Dugan (“the dark one”) for the black, and Erskine (“projecting height”) for the tall blue roan.

During the pre-purchase vet check, Flynn was diagnosed with equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), which is a disease caused by the apicomplexan parasite Sarcocystis neurona that affects the central nervous system of horses. It is treatable with medications, which we immediately began to administer to Flynn. The medications cleared up the disease within months, but the disease left Flynn with weakened muscles in his hind quarters and a “wobbly” gait. He was unsuitable for riding. However, we were confident that over time we could rehab Flynn.  He showed all signs of being a gentle, kind, and intelligent horse that would make an excellent guest horse once physically sound. Our rehabilitation program began with free-ranging turnout over the winter. In with the herd for over four months of unsupervised movements, Flynn became to rebuild his muscles and, by this spring, he showed significant improvement.

Now we will begin a more formal program for Flynn, following the principles and concepts set out during last October’s  Holistic Animal Wellness Week by horsemanship trainer and coach,  Laura Faber-Morris. One of the best way to describe Laura’s work with horses and riders is that of a physical therapist who understands that physical, emotional, and mental problems with horses and riders most often stem from physical manifestations of injury, stress, or improper body carriage. She understands that the “body keeps score” of  all previous traumas and stresses, which can be relieved through proper movement. Flynn’s program will consist of our working him on the ground to regain his senses with respect to his hind quarters and to rebuild his muscles through repetitive, therapeutic exercises. As he gains muscle tone, we will begin to use Flynn for light riding in our arena to further strengthen him. Our hope is that he will be a full member of our guest ranch team by 2018.

Erskine’s troubles seem to stem from having developed defensive behaviors to deal with mistreatment in the past. Erskine is clearly an intelligent and kind horse, but he is easily confused and overreacts when he becomes fearful or frustrated.  Here, too, Laura Faber Morris has been very instructive. We will go slowly with Erskine, partnering him with one of our expert riders, Serena, to help him build confidence and establish a trusting relationship. Serena is already riding him bareback in our arena and will give him regularly scheduled short riding sessions several times each week, gradually building his responsiveness to her and enabling her to ask more and more of him in a calm, quiet manner. Erskine has shown tremendous progress since his arrival, which we attribute to his being in a safe place where he is handled with care and consideration.

Erskine (top) and Flynn (bottom) work with horsemanship trainer Laura Faber-Morris and Trayn Bushey (left) and zoopharmacognosist Michelle Cobrun and Maggie Machette (right) Photos by Pam Voth

Dugan came to us in fear of people. He was especially “head shy,” indicating he had received mistreatment with respect to his head. He would not let people touch or bridle him. To get him accustomed to people interacting kindly with him, we basically put him up front in our stall area and left him alone for much of last season. He was able to watch people come and go, interact with the staff who fed him and cleaned his stall, and gradually learned that he was in a safe environment where people would treat him well. We began to get him out late last summer to groom him, get him saddled, and take him on very short rides with staff only. As his confidence in people grew, he willingness also grew. He, too, had the winter months off with the entire herd, and during that time our staff made an effort to approach him and give him some TLC. It has worked its magic and Dugan is now ready to enter into the string as a fully-fledged guest horse. He has a beautiful, smooth gait and behaves nicely on the trail.

Serena working with Erskine in our arena and discussing his progress with Kelli Photos by Dunrovin Web Cam

Our D@D members will be watching as we continue to work with all three of these horses to bring out their full potential. We don’t regret purchasing them through the horse trader. They all show real promise and are very much worth our efforts to rehabilitate them for a life at Dunrovin.

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