Willadore (Dorrie), a lovely Oldenburg filly, came into my life as a weanling, only a few months old. I bought her for a modest sum combined with a breeding contract I could no longer use, because my beloved mare had aborted twins and was not going to be bred again. I took the little filly home, and hoping to keep her safe from the other three strange horse, put her in a paddock by herself, but surrounded by the others on two long sides. When I arrived home from work, the paddock was empty. I leapt from the car, only to discover that Dorrie had pushed her way through a newly installed fence, boards fixed with screw nails and epoxy, but in her fierce insistence to be with the others, had pushed out a board to join them. She developed a swelling on her chest, but never acted lame or otherwise hurt from the adventure. Fast forward three years. When Dorrie was being prepared to be started under saddle, the strange behavior began. When lunged to the left, she would violently flip to the right. She had an easy-going nature, but when anything startled her, she would freak out, especially if going to the left. Many hours of study over what was going on revealed that she was uncomfortable stretching her right side neck and shoulder, and that it always remained “behind” the left. Going to the right, she could not bend in that direction. The woman working to start Dorrie, thank God, was a classically trained rider, and deduced the problem. She engaged in work in-hand to stretch the right and bring it around, to encourage her to reach out with her neck and not compress it, and other exercises that got her going more comfortably. She got to the point where she was going on a loose rein walk, trot, canter. All was well. When I took her home, I worked to duplicate these exercises and to ride her with this in mind. All went well for a while, several months in fact, but the day came when her comfort level had seeped away with out my notice, and something startled her and left me thrown into the gate with severe bruises…and a lot of fear. Dorrie went back to the trainer, and she worked with her in hand almost all winter to re-model the neck so she reached it out and she was comfortable. The difference between the two horses–the nervous, reactive Dorrie with her neck jammed in and plowing through your hand, and the soft-eyed and gentle Dorrie who is easy-going and placid–is so striking and points directly to her problem being a physical one. It is clear the training is not “holding” so it is time to seek medical solutions. I had the vet exam her when she started to act uncomfortable and little reactive again, and he noted damage (swelling/pockets on ultrasound) around the C4 bone in her neck/spinal column. It may be soft tissue, but then again there may be some underlying bone damage, so next week we are going to Virginia Equine Imagining for a bone scan. I don’t know what to hope for: what if they find a bone problem and can not fix it? What if they don’t find anything, does that mean it is all soft tissue? And can that be treated? The thing is, she would be the perfect horse if not for this affliction. She is pretty, she is a nice size, she is kind, she has comfortable gaits…and I feel so bad if my bad judgement in taking care of her as a weanling lead to all of this. Hopefully, I’ll know more in a few days.
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