Read Part 8 of Mystico’s Story here
That first year the biggest challenge with Mystico was asking him to pick up his rear feet. He would avoid any handling of his legs and and feet no matter how gently I approached him, and he would dance around and try to get away or he would kick if he felt restrained. I despaired how were ever going to be able to trim his hooves. The traditional farrier I tried didn’t have the patience to work with him though he was able to trim his front feet. Mystico also was more fearful around men and at the time there weren’t any women farriers in our area. I wasn’t confident enough to help him through that issue and keep myself safe.
Then I learned of a holistic barefoot hoof trimmer who had trained in Parelli Horsemanship. Through his skills in working with Mystico’s mind and body, in one session he was able to teach Mystico to safely allow his rear feet to be picked up and to be trimmed. That was astonishing and it was my first introduction to natural horsemanship. Mystico’s challenging behaviors thus led me to a lifetime of learning more about how to work with horses.
The barefoot trimmer also began to educate me about our other horse’s hooves. We had begun to have difficulties with the mare Minuette having sore feet, and we began to learn about the debilitating condition called laminitis.
When we had moved to the farm, we were new to horses, and I thought horses could just free graze on our four acres and be supplemented with hay. That seemed to suit Darma just fine, in fact she would get tired of just eating grass and really enjoyed her hay. Laddie the miniature gelding also seemed to do quite well with this diet. When we rescued our elder appaloosa gelding Patches in 2001, he was foundered because his previous owner had neglected him and not tended to his hooves for over a year, but his lameness wasn’t food related, it was because of damage caused by human neglect.
That same year we had rescued our miniature mare Minuette. I will tell her story soon, but suffice it to say that for a beautiful little horse, she had suffered as much as Mystico by the time we found her at age 5. When I met her I noticed that she was a little overweight even though she was owned by an horse trainer and lived in a dirt paddock, but more noticeably when I touched her, I noticed her body was unusually taut. I didn’t know if this tension was emotional or physical, but in retrospect there was clearly something going on with her body.
When Minuette came to our farm she had a rich pasture to graze on for probably the first time in her life. Unfortunately I didn’t notice over time how overweight she was becoming, and by the time Mystico came to live with us she was beginning to experience lameness.
The hoof trimmer began teaching me about horse health, diet, and lifestyle. I learned that the rich green golf course we called a pasture was actually not healthy for some horses that had a predisposition to insulin resistance. As our grass was gradually grazed shorter we had thought that we actually needed more pasture. But actually what we needed was to rotate pastures. We learned that overgrazed grass was higher in sugar than grass allowed to mature. In addition we learned that most hays available on the market were rich and designed for high powered athletes, not the sedentary lifestyle that our horses led. Since I didn’t ride we hadn’t set up our farm with an arena or round pen, and I had never been interested in the traditional techniques of lunging and exercising horses. All of these factors began to add up to being less than ideal for Minuette, it was soon to start to affect Mystico as well.
In time Minuette began to have so much hoof pain from laminitis that we had to create a grass-free paddock for her and segregate her from the other horses. This was difficult for all of us because I so wanted Minuette to have a natural life with her herd. It was difficult seeing all the other horses happily grazing while she stood in her dirt paddock. We often kept Laddie in with her to keep her company, though he didn’t appear to have laminitis.
At this time a friend of ours was looking for a home for her four year old miniature gelding Rasta. She was concerned that he needed more care and a different home arrangement than she could provide, and he had a severely abcessed hoof. We went to meet him and we could see the telltale signs of laminitis. It was a good opportunity for us to help him while giving Minuette a companion of her own size, so we offered to take him. We renamed him Raven as we felt he was a playful but wise spirit.
Our barefoot hoof trimmer taught us about why Minuette and Raven’s hooves were predisposed to an issue like this. As he worked to try to help them from the outside, I tried to help from the inside. I tried every holistic technique I could find, from diets and supplements to Chinese herbs. Nothing seemed to relieve the pain and nothing seemed to resolve the issue, and sometimes what I tried made them worse. It takes at least a year for a new hoof to grow, and that is assuming you have no laminitic episodes along the way. It was going to be a long and difficult journey for all of us.
Then Mystico too began to show signs of laminitis. He had become overweight on our grass pasture and his hooves began to suffer. I was frustrated and fearful that this condition was becoming an epidemic in our horses. We didn’t have an easy or inexpensive way to segregate Mystico off the grass in a big enough area that he could live with the minis for the long term. How were we going to provide him and the other horses with the happy life we had envisioned for them?
The solution presented itself once again from our hoof trimmer. He had a facility an hour away called Freedom Farm where I could board Mystico in a dry lot with other horses that had hoof issues, where he could get the care he needed but living in a herd in a more horse friendly environment than I had seen before. Jess, a trainer in residence there was skilled in Parelli training, and she suggested she start to work with Mystico while his feet recovered. This would give him exercise and even better, a way to learn and grow and work through his fears in a positive way. Also it would allow him daily contact with new people and horses.
Mystico lived at Freedom Farm for a year, and it was a fantastic experience for both of us. I took weekly lessons in Parelli techniques and riding lessons. The riding lessons were fun and challenging and not at all the restricted form of riding I had experienced growing up. It was such a relief to experience a holistic view of horses and to be around people who’s main goal was to work with their unique needs rather than forcing them to conform into a use based upon showing or breeding potential. Mystico began to enjoy new challenges and learn that humans could help him work through his fears rather than being the cause of them. He also met many new herd mates and encountered dozens of other horses in his training sessions so he began to have a much better understanding of horse social life. I was heartened by the natural lifestyle of the horses at the farm. They all lived in large paddocks together, either dry lot or grass depending upon their health. There weren’t any stalls and hay was fed in a long line of free choice forage so there was no bickering over food supply. I missed him at the farm, but this was clearly the best thing for him for now.
Mystico progressed in wonderful ways. His feet started to heal and he lost weight and he was happy and healthy. Once Mystico’s feet had healed, Jess suggested that she train him to be ridden. I was excited about this for his sake, and though I was not a naturally avid rider I had been enjoying the lessons and it was a fun prospect to think that I could ride him someday. Or course everyone that knew he was a Paso Fino thought I was crazy not to train him as a riding horse. But I only pursued this for his well being since it was not my personal goal.
Mystico still had his quirks; he would spook unexpectedly or over think what he was asked to do. But he really seemed to enjoy being ridden, particularly once she started taking him out on trails. Even though he was eager to go and explore the world, sometimes what he encountered would scare him, and it was often the most unexpected things. One day Jess rode him into a tall field of grass, and he froze in panic. She tried to ascertain what was frightening him and she realized it must be that the tall grass was brushing his belly, and while he might not react to that while just walking through a field at liberty, while he had a rider on his back he went into sensory overload. It took an excellent trainer like her to figure out how to help him through his reactive nature.
She also worked with him daily loading him in a trailer. He became proficient at it but again if anything unpredictable happened, he would revert to his fearful behavior and she would have to start over from the beginning. She said it was as if once he got scared he couldn’t retain any of the previous good lessons like other horses did. She constantly had to retrain him to do what he’d worked through before.
A Parelli trainer who specialized in Paso Fino’s was doing a clinic at the farm. He evaluated Mystico under saddle and he told Jess that for a novice rider like me Mystico would need another couple of years of training to be potentially safe. I knew that this wasn’t the path I wanted to take with him. He was now healthy and sound, and it was time for him to come home.
All of the horses were so excited to see him. It was a true homecoming. Mystico had become even more confident and he showed it. His interactions with his mentor Patches now took on a new role. No longer was he the young inexperienced male. He was more comfortable in his own skin and he and Patches could relate in a more equal standing. They began to groom each other and it was a wonder to behold. My sweet little horse was growing up. His black hairs were beginning to lighten along with his heart, and he was turning into a beautiful dapple grey.
Mystico was so much more relaxed and confident around us. He had resolved his fear of men so he also began to enjoy the company of my husband Rod. He especially loved accompanying Rod on any building projects in the paddock. Like any boy, he loved to play with the tools, and he would stick out his tongue in his characteristic way of showing pleasure.
It was truly a joy to see him starting to become the horse he might have been all along if he head been treated with the respect and love he deserved. My dream of giving him a home was manifesting as a journey towards his true self.
More stories about Mystico and his herd coming soon