Candace Wade is following in person the rehabilitation of Theo, a former “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse. In today’s installment, Theo progresses to his first sessions of ground work.
Theo, actually Theodore, is this rescued “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse’s new name for his new life. It originates from the Greek Theodoros, which means “gift of God.” His rehab continues.
The rescuer (let’s call him Edwin – Ed – “valuable friend”) invited me out to watch Theo’s first groundwork and to see what Theo knew about being on a longe line in the enclosed arena. He would be free of the stall where he hangs out a super-majority of his day. He would be allowed to show who he is.
Theo’s hoof treatment routine
Theo was stoic in the cross ties as Gibson’s stock dressing was “syringed” up into the walls of his hooves to fight infection. Then, out came the Uncle Jimmy’s Squeezy Buns. Theo’s eyes brightened: “Oh, yeah!” He lipped a Squeezy Bun before the Wunderhoof was rubbed into the coronet band to encourage new hoof growth.
Theo gets his favorite treat because when Ed first got the horse in September of 2015, he tried to use a toothbrush to apply the Wunderhoof. Theo had a “shaking-meltdown” when the toothbrush came near his pastern. He didn’t fight; he stood trembling. Theo can’t tell us why he trembled. I’ve been told that soring agents are sometimes applied with a toothbrush. Now, no more toothbrush — application is by hand. No more shaking. Theo has learned that the treatment does not hurt. He’s learned it means a treat. Another Squeezy Bun sealed the connection.
It’s interesting that Theo didn’t resist what he feared. I learned that this willing and suffer-in-silence personality trait makes the TWH the perfect victim for the padded shoes, chains and soring training techniques. Is what I’ve heard true that if you tried to do that stuff to an Arabian it would kick the snot out of you?
Theo’s first groundwork
I watched Theo power around on the longe line all gathered up and glittery. He gave what had been demanded of him as a performance horse — but it seemed that’s all he knew. He didn’t know how to mosey. He didn’t know how to relax his neck and drop his head. It seems that Theo hadn’t been taught how to do basic things — like unwind. By the end of the session, Theo finally settled to mosey for several steps, sniffed the saw dust, stood and looked around. Maybe he understood easy was okay now.
Big steps forward — Theo started to understand he was safe to “join up” when Ed asked. He learned not to fear a short crop near him. He still balks when he sees the longe whip, but that’s for another day.
What did Ed learn from Theo’s responses on the longe line? Theo didn’t know “basic horse stuff,” but he began to learn to simply stand when not restrained. He learned to mind without fear of pain – to respond to a firm voice as it were. He didn’t know how to drop his head for the bridle and his Squeezy Bun, but he began to learn that he could relax and take the bridle in his own time and gently. He responded quickly to kindness. Yet it seemed that echoes from his past life rippled through this exercise.
Hoof repair progress
Ed explained the progress on the most compromised foot. The good news: the coffin bone is only slightly turned and the sole has started to harden enough to reduce concern that the coffin bone could drop through the sole of Theo’s foot.
The bad news: the toe of the hoof is growing out, but the sides have not grown. I could see the sole from the sides of his foot — no way to attach a protective shoe, no place to nail or put a clip. The other concern is the new growth has the corrugated look of an oyster shell, suggesting weak spots. These weak areas could blow out. If that happens, Theo is at risk of the hoof breaking off at the hoof separation.
So the new growth is simply “wait-and-see.” Theo needs to grow out a poor quality hoof — then we wait and hope that he will grow a new, better-quality hoof. Whew!
What Theo is teaching me
Besides all the equine physiology and medical treatments, Theo has taught me that rescued show horses need to be sound in body and mind in order to be rehabbed into civilian life. Ed explained that years of the regimen and training methods for the “Big Lick” show ring can be hardwired into the horse’s brain and surface unexpectedly years later. It “doesn’t mean these horses can’t have useful ‘post-show’ lives, but they may require basic education. They will need patience, knowledgeable handling and riders who can deal with an explosive memory if it surfaces.”
How much easier it would be to give these performance horses a “next phase of life” if they didn’t have to endure what seems to be the “quick fix” training methods, if we as the audience thrilled at the beauty of the natural gait – if the owners, trainers and riders would consider what their hunger for yet another cup, ribbon or news clipping meant for the future of the animal who earns the accolades for them. Ribbons are meaningless if the horses like Theo who earn them aren’t handled like the gifts that they are.
Candace will continue to follow Theo’s recovery. All of Theo’s stories will be tagged #SAVING THEO and can be accessed by clicking the hashtag at the top of this page.