Finding Nemo, Part IV: Getting Answers & Moving Forward

“If nothing else, I at least feel like, in the end, I’ve done right by him. I don’t know if he’ll ever be what I imagined when I bought him, but I know that what he has taught me already is invaluable, and I am excited to see where the future takes us.”

All photos courtesy of Victoria Shields

In Part 1 and Part 2 of my story I describe how I purchased my new horse, Nemo, despite a few red flags, and quickly learned I was in over my head. In Part 3 I began to wonder if there was a medical cause for his behavior. The story continues below.

The two-week wait for Nemo’s blood test felt like forever. He wasn’t safe for the barn workers to handle, so I was at the barn every day. I was bruised, knocked around, had rope burns, and a seriously damaged ego, but I knew I had to keep trying.

When the blood tests did come back, they confirmed my suspicions: Nemo had the testosterone level of a cryptorchid horse. After the vet assured me that cryptorchid horses could not reproduce and I got over my initial fear that he had bred one of the mares through the pasture fence, I felt a massive sense of relief. There was, at least partially, a medical reason for his behavior. He was a “stud” with very little handling/training who had been kept alone for 2 years by his previous owner, and then suddenly found himself in a barn full of mares. No wonder his behavior had changed so much from when I went to look at him, without another horse in sight, to when I got him home and started trying to work with him around 30 other horses.

The vet went over the options with me. The first option was medical management. I could try Depo shots, but I would have to experiment to find out how much he needed and most likely keep him on it his entire life. I could try Regumate, but I board and didn’t want to ask the barn owner/workers to give my horse something that is unsafe to handle without gloves every day. I didn’t like either of these options, and they both felt like a temporary solution at best.

I could sell him or take him back to auction, but that felt like passing the problem on to someone else, and potentially putting someone else at risk.

I could euthanize him if I thought he was dangerous, but that wasn’t an option for me. Not if we could give him a chance at a happy life as a gelding.

That left me with one option — surgery. We decided to take him to the Ohio State Equine Veterinary Hospital. We hauled in and I brought him off of the trailer, his head sky-high, prancing sideways, and calling for the other horses. We weren’t able to get him to stand still on the scale to be weighed, and he promptly showed the vet techs how high he could rear.

“He does that a lot,” I told them. “Especially when there are mares around. Oh, and be careful because he has a really fast kick.”

A few minutes later, when it came up in conversation that I had bought him partially as a horse for my beginner husband to ride, they gave me some funny looks.

Nemo at Ohio State

He came home a few days later a true gelding. We completed a month of stall rest with hand walking (which was a struggle), and then slowly increased his activity. I started noticing major differences in his behavior after the first week, and they have continued since.

We finally made it into those crossties to groom, two months after the day we first tried and everything fell apart. The first few times I left his lead rope with his stud chain on, just in case, but now he is able to stand calmly in them like a normal horse. He leads without a stud chain. He is rearing less and less every day. He is also no longer ostracized by the rest of the herd. When I go out to see him he’s hanging out with his friends instead of standing alone in the corner.

He can be reactive, he still gets distracted when a pretty mare walks by, and he’s a little stubborn and bull-headed at times, but he has the room in his brain to listen to and learn now. I am finding out that he is brave, curious, and smart. We learned how to lunge politely, lead respectfully, and ground-drive. I even drew up the courage to put a few rides on him before getting him into 30 days of training, and he was wonderful. He truly seems to enjoy having a job, and he remembers everything he learns from one ride to the next. He’s about to finish up his first month of professional training and he’s walking, trotting, and cantering under saddle.

These first few months with Nemo have been nothing like what I expected when I decided to buy him. He’s tested me, brought me to tears, given some bruises, and knocked me down more than a few pegs. But he has also taught me more than any other horse I’ve known. I have become a better horse person because of him, and I am excited to see his personality starting to shine through. He isn’t constantly stressed anymore, and he seems to be relaxing into himself. If nothing else, I at least feel like, in the end, I’ve done right by him. I don’t know if he’ll ever be what I imagined when I bought him, but I know that what he has taught me already is invaluable, and I am excited to see where the future takes us.

Victoria is a Horse Nation reader and a horseback rider from Ohio. She currently has a nine year old Quarter Horse gelding, Houdini, and a five year old Haflinger gelding, Nemo. 

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