“My goal for this three-part series is to spare horses the sad (and sometimes catastrophic) results of over-eager, in-a-rush, trainers/riders. Part I: Waterstone emerged as a treasure for a ‘quid.'”
I met trainer, Victoria Teuton, during a visit to Ballygraffan horse farm, County Down, Northern Ireland. Vicky was helping my friend, June Burgess, with Max, a future Eventing horse. My sneakers sunk ankle-deep in mud, the misty afternoon wind penetrating my parka as I slogged after Vicky, watching her long-rein Max around and over the cross-country obstacles. She was patience personified. I could see Max begin to evolve from Jumpy Jim to Curious George. My goal for this three-part series is to spare horses the sad (and sometimes catastrophic) results of over-eager, in-a-rush, trainers/riders. Part I: Waterstone emerged as a treasure for a “quid.”
The basic stats on Waterstone are that he is a “Mighty dapple grey, 17.1 Irish Draught x Warmblood. Waterstone was seven years old when he came to me,” answered Vicky. “He competed in Working Hunter competitions and loved cross country. I spotted him at a competition in 2014 and remarked how beautiful he was. Several months later I received a call from a client to say her friend owned the horse and had been having trouble with behavior and soundness. She asked if I would take the horse to give him a chance, as he was going to be sent to the factory otherwise (in U.S. lingo, slaughter). I collected him the following day. I paid £1.”
Vicky shared, “I was told he was lame on a front leg and that he had severe behavioral issues. We field rested him for several months. I never saw the front leg lameness. I did notice him ‘toe dragging’ behind in trot. His behavior may have been connected to pain. He was a very detached horse in the herd, often challenging other males. Hormone imbalance? He settled best with one mare pony and guarded her ferociously.
I asked Vicky to assess how she thought Waterstone developed his issues. “A combination of factors. Pain being the primary factor, then hormones (I introduced an herb I use a lot, Agnus Castus), then handling of his responses. He wasn’t a horse that would accept force in response to his adverse behavior. He would turn the volume up each time in anticipation of this.”
Vicky explained her process to address the issues. “It was an educational, often frustrating couple of years before I felt we understood and respected each other fully. It didn’t take too long to gain his affection on the ground. His behavior towards me and my two children mirrored that of his pony mare. He became possessive initially, though seemed to relax as time went on.
“I also brought my vet onboard who did a full soundness work up and talked through likely Sacroiliac pain and hock changes and possible treatment and rehabilitation using saltwater therapy.” Strangford Lough is an inlet through County Down and is linked to the Irish Sea. Vicky lived beside the sea. “For months I only rode Waterstone in the tide. We found no evidence of front leg issues, so if it had been present, I presume this had resolved with field rest.”
His behavior under saddle took longer. Vicky noticed that Waterstone never misbehaved while in the jumping ring. “Not once! He jumped clear round after clear round for me, no matter the height or the difficulty of the track. I believe that’s because he loved jumping, and his huge heart took over when he entered the ring. Riding on the flat, he often felt like a time bomb! It took a great deal of time and patience to convince him to change his stress responses. Even when the pain had been removed, the responses remained as a learned behavior, until he trusted me enough to learn new responses. When things were tough, I always took him back to the water. The sea was our safe space.”
The result? “We contested in a Royal Show atmosphere, jumped clear, rode beautifully, won his class, and went Champion at Balmoral Show in 2016. I cried that day. Not because of the sash, or the accolade, but because I felt that on a very public stage, Waterstone had given his all. There had been no stress or bad behavior. He just felt confident, and happy. He had learned how to make better choices.”
Two years of patience, understanding, and willingness to “be present” by Vicky saved Waterstone from the factory. “I realized Waterstone didn’t need to prove anything, and neither did I. What a game changer! He won a lot of Championships, and I learned to believe in myself, without the need for validation. He was a wonderful teacher and friend. I am very grateful that he came into my life. I learned so much from him. Oh, including how wonderful arnica is for bruising!”
While defrosting with a cup of tea, I listened to Vicky explore her heart story about Waterstone. I had stood in rapt silence on a chilly, damp field watching her guide June’s horse, Max. Frustration and potential tragedy can be avoided by absorbing what I heard and saw, and the guidance Vicky practices.
Stay tuned for Part II: Max.