That horse you don't want to give up on. That horse who doesn't want to give up.
I thought he was a pretty good mover with some natural suspension in his trot. He was very touchy to ride, a horse with an opinion, a sense of humor, and intensity. He had been pastured a couple times in his life mostly because of his behavior. His past riders were all competent and talented and I am very fortunate that they honestly shared their stories with me.
He came out of retirement at about 13 years old and he was doing ok. He was leased to a student of mine by another trainer, and that is how I met him. I must add, this was a brave student and very good rider, and an even braver mother who let him lease this intense athletic horse. I know it was scary for her at times - what a mother will do out of love for her son. Leasing this horse meant maybe not making Pony Club ratings, for the sake of the experience of riding such a horse. I think this student qualifies as a "damn poet" (in a very complimentary way.) I have tremendous respect for him.
I purchased William just a few months into his 6 month lease and took possession when the lease was finished. This was enough time to reveal his inability to stay sound and maintain muscle mass in the context of conventional training. Locking stifles started a few months after he went back to work. His tirades were frequent. At the end of the lease, I owned a lame, skinny (despite proper feeding) and intense horse. I had a false sense of confidence about rehabbing stifle issues. I had read information published by industry respected sources, and my vet's recommendations matched: hill work, cavaletti, rein back, leg yield. Easy. It Didn't Work. It Made Him Worse. Now I know why. These exercises cause more damage when the horse isn't lucky enough to choose the right coordination of his back. Furthermore, some of these exercises demand movement that can't be done in a healthy way. Well I have no interest any more in playing with luck this way. It was a hard time, but good experience because it motivated me to find answers. I found them at Science of Motion. I still have burned into my brain the visual impression of the coordination that William chose for the prescribed exercises: stance of the fore limbs too far back, flat pelvis, extended thoracic, etc. He, like many horses, found a way to coordinate the movements using completely dysfunctional kinematics. Aside from the initial stifle injection while William was very lame, I have not had any treatments of any sort done to this horse since 2013. I use only therapy in motion that I learned from Jean Luc Cornille and his Science of Motion IHTC course. Fast forward to now, October 2018, and William is consistently SOUND. He is in daily work. He will be 20 in February, and he OFFERED me PIAFFE, one of the most athletically demanding gymnastics that a horse can do. He offered it. He just did it. But I did the work over the last few years to prepare him so that he can do it with ease. Horses will happily do what's easy, and the correct rehabilitation work prepared William to coordinate piaffe with ease. Science of Motion therapy works. William is learning piaffe, at 19, with no prior dressage experience beyond training level, at the very age that many OTTB's in conventional training programs are starting to be retired or euthanized for lameness, djd, cervical remodeling, neurological problems etc. This used up, navicular, stifle djd, OTTB is still developing muscularly.
My teacher's teacher, Colonel Margot, told my teacher Jean Luc Cornille, the way to ask for piaffe is "hup" which he said while assuming "the posture." I laugh every time Jean Luc tells that story. Poor guy, he was asking a sincere question and his teacher says "hup". He later learned that "hup" is exactly all it is. Fortunately Jean Luc has many more words than "hup" to explain the training to his students. But it's still not what one would expect to hear. There is absolutely no touching of the horses legs, no gadgets, no side reins, no long and low, no aids. He said you educate the back and in 5 years the horse will just do it. Yup. That's what happened. I asked William with my back/core/muscle tone to collect his trot a lot and his response was piaffe. To be very clear, there is no recipe of aids, there is no ground person with a stick, I did not teach him to pick up his feet in diagonal pairs, I don't push with the seat or pull on the reins, I don't wear spurs and, I don't even carry a whip. He used the elasticity of his body and the right coordination of muscle tone to turn the thrust of the hind limbs and spring of forelimbs into piaffe without rocking fore/aft or side/side; without bouncing his butt with front legs marching in place, without taking on the appearance of a mountain goat on a mountain peak. It was just a nice square piaffe. Heavenly. I'm so glad I didn't give up on him because clearly he's in no mood to give up. We will continue this as long as he wants to. I can only imagine how William would perform if this work were started before he had scar tissue to dampen is full potential. This is what Horse PT, LLC does. This is what we teach. It does not matter the discipline, all horses deserve this level of athletic preparation whether or not it results in piaffe. Soundness is the primary objective and they all deserve it. With soundness comes higher than imagined athletic abilities.