Words from Shoko’s owner Sheena.
‘Ears flat back at the back of his stable. I didn’t like the look of him but when I called him he came, ears pricked forward. I rode him and he was perfect even though I was shaking from head to toe (not a brave rider) and he after all was just backed. He was stunning and looked after me beyond his years, it was love. Wondering if I could bring him on.... with a deep breath I said yes.
He was brilliant and didn’t put a foot wrong, that was in July but by the back end of August he had developed a strange stance, he would stand back on his haunches and looked like he had laminitis but it wasn’t. Then he started napping when I rode him. It was like he was going to rear when we changed rein and hopped with one leg. From the ground you could not see it because it was that subtle but you could feel it. (Gareth thought I was mad). Then he went slightly lame so we called the blacksmith out, no problems there. It was only slight, he would be lame in the morning and sound at night, it was very strange. I asked Gareth to consider having his shoes taken off but ‘he did not want to see him go totally lame.’ I felt they were not helping. Then about two weeks before the horses were due to come in at the end of the summer he started getting stroppy, when I got on him he would jump up and down and would not go forward. I would have to constantly kick him on and used more and more ‘gadgets’. It was very unnerving. (We put it down to a bad day but it was not like him). He did it every time I rode him from then on and it got worse, then he went lame ever so slightly on his corners, so we gave him some time off. But when I did get back on he was worse. If I touched the rein when he was bouncing around he would run off with me, head in the air in a fast trot and I could not stop him. We were getting dangerous to be around in the school because I never knew what he was going to do next. Then he stopped cantering all together. I was gutted. I felt like a failure and that I had ruined a perfectly good youngster with oodles of talent. After they came in for the winter the lameness subsided but the tantrums became worse. I ended up riding in draw reins and spurs and used big whips, something I was never proud of and at that point in time I could have cried.
Turn out time came round again, what a relief and a break for both of us. But he started going slightly lame again on his corners but he would work it off and yes.... there were still the big tantrums. I was stuck in an indoor school while everyone else was out riding in the fields or hacking. I kept wanting to take his shoes off but we couldn’t agree. I still rode him even though I knew something was wrong. I still feel the guilt (it has never left me). I knew something bad was wrong with his feet but just buried my head in the sand and said he was a bad boy. Then he went lame for good. I was gutted. We got the vet who suspected rough cartlidge in the knee, 3 months off and see how he goes so that was summer over. When he came back into work there was no change. X-rays from fetlock up showed nothing. Another 3 months off or consider selling him was our given options.
Me and Gareth had a long chat and decided to get him referred to Liverpool hospital. They nerved blocked him, he came sound and X-rays confirmed he had navicular - the bottom fell out of our world. So now I had a naughty horse with navicular -nice one! We were offered two options; heart bars with wedges or barefoot. Gareth wanted to try the heart bars. I looked at his feet and felt sad. He was still naughty and never 100% sound, I was miserable and hated riding. We even got to the point where he was going to the sales but at the last minute I backed out. I don’t know why,( well I do but I sound quite mad, we connect without a word, he loves me and I love him . I have never felt like this about a horse before).
Anyway... one day Gareth came home from the yard after speaking with a girl about barefoot. I don’t know what she said but he agreed to have his shoes off, he was already lame so what could be worse? I was elated. I got Ross and Mel’s number and with a deep breath I phoned. What a relief to speak to someone who didn’t think I was mad.
The big day came, people on the yard thought we were doing the wrong thing but I knew it was right. They took the shoes off and I held my breath as he was walked away. He was sound, but, (there is always one) Ross noticed he did not walk quite right behind and asked us to get someone to have a look at him suspecting the body issues were contributing to hoof problems and the more upright left fore. Mel suggested some changes to his diet and after looking at his saddle said that it was too narrow, you could see the faint outline of his saddle on his back we had never noticed (more guilt). She asked us to widen it and showed us how to make it comfy for him. Shoko had to have a week or two off to let his tendons, ligaments and body adjust to no longer having wedges and then I could start light work. After several phone calls to Mel about his saddle, (I was worried it would sink onto his back - me of little faith!) the big day came. I did not put a single gadget on him, no spurs just a small schooling whip and he was a star, no tantrums not one. I was blown away.... but the next day he was lame. I was gutted but tried him again the day after and he was a lot better. From then he just got better and better. The back woman came and took a look - another shock - deep back pain, moderate shoulder pain and tight back legs and hamstrings. I felt numb, what had my poor horse been going through, no wonder he was naughty. He had four weeks off work and a hot water bottle every night on his back. We had his regular teeth float too.
I could not wait to see Ross and Mel to tell them about my new horse and how he was getting on. He changed more or less over night, he filled out in the saddle area, but best of all he was happy. We have re-schooled him and now he looks the big strapping dressage horse he is and has never had another gadget on from the day his shoes were pulled off. We had a few bad days in the summer when he went footy over stony ground but now we know to watch the grass, especially at dangerous times. We have had a few lame ridden days but only a few. It all takes time
Gareth has started riding Shoko now, something he could not do before because he was too naughty. They do a bit of jumping and hacking, but the best thing is now he doesn’t want to stop cantering and its brilliant. I thank Shoko for showing me the way and also how we can take horses for granted. All the people who laughed at us and talked behind our back saying I had ruined my horse, well they now stop us and say how well he looks and how calm he is.
Me and Gareth are regular people on a DIY yard, we do all the normal things that other horsey people do, we just happened to buy a horse who showed us the flip side of the coin’.
Story from Sheena Mills