When I first purchased baby Sully, I fell hook line and sinker for this horse for one big reason: his brain. For a three year old, he was so sensible. For an OTTB, he was an ultra lazy kick ride. I thought for sure they had drugged him, he was so calm as we tacked him up for his test ride, but then he unleashed a few bucks and bolts during his free lunge. But when he was all done, he just stopped, walked up to you, and went “ok! Time to work now.” I thought, this is one cool horse.
Getting him home a few weeks later, he did not disappoint. Except for one silly baby moment where I was also being stupid, cantering on a loose rein out in the pasture, and got my butt bucked off, he was overall very level headed and eager to learn. When the barn we were boarding at decided it didn’t want boarders anymore, I thought it was good timing to send him off for some professional training. I was back at work part time, and my trainer who I had been working with for the past couple of years had moved out of the area, so it was a good window of opportunity to really challenge Sully with something more structured.
For the first few weeks, things were going spectacular with the new trainer. She focused on a ground-up approach, so groundwork (she used a method called “heeding”) progressed into lunging which progressed into riding. She worked on leading, backing, and turning from both the left and the right sides, which took a few weeks for him to master (especially being led from the right side. what the heck was a human doing over there!? was pretty much his attitude). He was always very proficient on the lunge line at the walk and trot, so once he learned this particular trainer’s cues for everything, this was no problem.
Then came cantering! He always saw his groundwork/lunging time as his moment to let loose, so I was not surprised when his first desire was to put on a rodeo show when asked to canter. I was also not surprised when he couldn’t hold a canter for more than a few strides on a small circle, he is a baby with no past conditioning. However, his acting up progressed into a strange kicking-out buck rather than just a “wee!” buck (yes, there is definitely a difference) which signaled pain to the trainer.
By this time, I was looking into cutting back at work again as we were supposed to close on a farm property (we would actually not close on anything until 4 months later, but hey, I got to stop working four months sooner 😉 ) so at this time when concerns began to arise I decided to take Sully out of full training and bring him into a self care board situation. When I got him home, it was clear that he was a very different horse. My once calm kick ride turned into a jittery tense mess. The friendly shadow of a horse who used to follow me around the pasture suddenly refused to be caught. A few weeks went by and I continued to trudge on, but when one day simply asking him to walk forward after mounting produced a bucking fit, I knew things were definitely not okay. Either we needed to find something wrong with this horse, or I was about to cut my losses and move on.
After lameness evaluations and the works, I finally took out my Dr. Google skills and brought ulcers to the table. I used to work for a vet, so nothing annoys me more than a client coming to me with “well, Google said…” but hey, I was desperate and the symptoms were verbatim. Sully had every ulcer symptom in the book except going off his food. Luckily, I also had him insured, so we went ahead with a stomach scoping.
Low and behold, ulcers. The vet said she had never had someone have quite such an ecstatic reaction to an ulcer diagnosis before, but c’mon, the relief that there WAS a problem? Not only a little one, but the worst case of stomach lining erosion my vet had ever seen? Gosh I couldn’t be happier. Plus my insurance covered that $900 Gastroguard treatment. Heck yea.
Little did I know, the initial diagnosis and treatment would only be the beginning of this road.
To be continued.