As many of you know, I live a thousand miles away from my horses. The reason is pretty simple: I needed to make more money to fund the VLC’s show career. When a fantastic offer came in from Los Angeles, I had to take it and move back. Not that I minded moving back one bit, I love Southern California, but I hated the idea of moving so far away from my horse. Moving him wasn’t an option at the time; I have yet to identify a stock-type trainer in So-Cal who doesn’t subscribe to the yank, crank & fix the tails method. There may be one, I simply haven’t met that person yet. Anyway, the plan was to leave him in Washington, and that is what I did, flying up regularly for visits and to attend his horseshows.
It worked out fine until he got hurt. You will remember that the VLC hurt himself at the Buckskin World Show and rendered himself three-legged lame. He came home, got better, was sound enough to go to one more show for halter only, and then got worse again. Vet came out, did x-rays, x-rays looked fine as they always do with him. Why was he lame? What exactly had he done to himself in that stall? My trainer thought that he had stretched his back leg out, as he tends to do, and hit his hoof forcefully into the stall wall, possibly while lying down and trying to get comfy, but why was that still causing lameness two months later? The vet wanted to do some combination of steroids and hyaluronic acid in his hocks. I hate joint injections. Hate them. And I hate steroids. And no horse of mine is getting any of that crap. I veto’ed that idea and got on a plane to check the situation out for myself.
I had decided it was time to get the shoes off. After all, he wasn’t showing or working, and I wanted to get an opinion from Mark Plumlee at Mission Farrier School. For those who missed my earlier blogs mentioning it, I basically think these people are geniuses when it comes to soundness. They have gotten so many horses sound that have hideous x-rays. So I figured it’d be great to give them a shot at evaluating my mysteriously lame horse.Unsurprisingly, they figured it out in, oh ten minutes. Mark watched him walk and trot, tweaked him with the hoof testers, and said he was sore in the deep digital flexor tendon. I have never had to deal with this particular injury before, but it makes perfect sense. The DDFT extends down to the pedal bone so if you decided to be a big dumb yellow horse and whack your hoofie forcefully enough into a wall, you could absolutely hurt the tendon by doing so.The next step will be to ultrasound the tendon and see exactly what we’re dealing with, but at this point he’s just resting ’til he moves to California later this year. The long distance relationship was worth a shot, but ultimately it just didn’t work out when things went wrong. I’m far too frustrated with the inability to see my horse every day, see how he’s moving, and evaluate problems with my own two eyes. No matter how great people are – and I don’t have anything but good things to say about my trainer, who has been awesome about caring for him – it’s never like doing it yourself. I need to micro-manage this and I can’t wait to get him down to L.A. so that I can do that again. I’ve often noted that horses are not a good investment. You cannot predict what will happen with them, and they can lose value in the blink of an eye. Ultimately, putting a lot of money and time into a stallion prospect is just like going to Vegas. Sometimes you come home empty handed but in most cases, you at least had some fun along the way. I wanted to see if you could get a horse to be competitive as a stock-type pleasure horse without any of the abuse and keep him fresh-minded and happy. I found out that you can — the VLC learned to do the AQHA thing, head down, collected and slow, without any abuse whatsoever. Every time I visited him, he was his same old self – ears perky, happy, snuggly, and not a mark on him, the same as he’d been the previous year when he was doing nothing more complicated than cruising around with me in a bitless bridle. It was great to see. The only pleasure horse barns I’d been in previously had used all the cranking, yanking and crap to achieve this result. It was nice to see it can be done without any of that!Of course, what I really wanted was for him to continue his show career and win at a higher level, in order to really make a point about abuse-free training, but he whacked his foot and that is pretty much the end of that. I could go through all of the rehab on this and then try again, but I’ve concluded that is not the best thing for the horse. Further stock-type pleasure work is going to be hard on that tendon. I don’t want to risk crippling him. If I saw him as an investment, I’d be doing anything I could to get him back in the ring so that he could stay a stallion, but I don’t. I see him as a pet, and I’m going to geld him and keep him as a pet. Next summer he’ll probably be ponying polo ponies instead of going to horseshows, and I can’t help but think he’s going to like it better than all of the clipping (which he tolerates) and the mane-pulling (which he despises). He would miss his massages…I will have to keep those up! Maybe he will even play a little bit of polo…he’s kinda big but I bet he will bump like a mack truck 🙂After all of this, I really do get it. I understand, logically, how people justify standing horses at stud that haven’t won enough in the show ring (or haven’t been shown at all). I could have bred this horse to a ton of mares already, collected the money, and laughed all the way to the bank. I won’t do it. I could list off all the possible justifications: He has a wonderful disposition (true); it’s not his fault he got hurt (true); he’s already accomplished a lot more than a lot of horses standing at stud (true); hell, he’s leading the nation in breeding stock pinto halter stallions (true, amusingly enough)…but it’s not enough. I’m not going to have a stallion unless his get are going to be hugely in demand so that I don’t have to worry very much about them. As I’ve observed before, I have actually never found any get of a big name horse like, say, Invitation Only or Luke At Me, in the kill pen (sure, they’ll show up when they are 20 + year old barren broodmares, but you know what I mean). Without that factor, no stallion should stay intact. In this economy, and in these days when slaughter is still a very real threat, we need to be producing foals that are Porsches, not Kias, not even Toyotas, if we are producing foals at all.Of course, the adventures of what is going to be the VLG will continue in 2011! Honestly, I can’t wait to hit a polo ball off of him. I’ve stick and balled him with a broom and a beach ball and he was great. :-) We’ll see how he does but there’s also been some discussion about him getting some more show ring miles, but this time at the hunter shows with my friend’s nine year old. Stay tuned…his story is far from over!