Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Max's turn around

In 2006 I had only one horse named Tuxedo - a black Percheron/Thoroughbred Cross - and I was seriously thinking of getting a partner for him. I never did like to see one horse standing alone in a pasture. While in a tack store one day I noticed an ad that basically said "Well bred thoroughbred gelding - 17h3 - 6 years old - can not be ridden - free to good home". I took off my hat, scratched my head for a moment and in an hour that thoroughbred was in my trailer. According to his lip tattoo and his Jockey Club papers his name was Maximum Cruzer - he was 6 years old, classic bay and according to the stack of Vet papers I was handed with the horse - he could not be ridden. Something told me otherwise.

My inquiries revealed that Max had never raced professionally but he did train at Emerald Downs and at Santa Anita. Because he never raced professionally the amount of information I could get my hands-on about Max was limited. The stack of Vet paperwork that I received with the horse stated that his attitude was not right and that, according to the tests done, he was and would continue to be chronically lame. There were even hints that Max would never recover and as I stated before he could never be ridden. I had him at home that evening and he and Tux were now a herd of two.

I quickly noticed that Max seemed somewhat unfriendly or maybe aloof is a better word; it seemed as though he would just rather not be around people and his big brown eyes were confused, sometimes fearful and at times he was challenging. In my heart, as I now look back, I somehow knew it was just a matter of time until I could convince him - through patience, gentleness and TLC - to take interest and to trust once again.

I was dead set to help this beautiful horse. As for his lameness I immediately pulled his shoes and he's been barefoot ever since. I began applying magnets, healing herbs and clay to his feet and legs six days a week - one day magnets the next day clay the next day herbs - week after week and month after month. For the next few years I didn't really ask much of Max - I just let him be a horse. I'd pony him off of Tux when I would go for trail rides and slowly he seemed to begin to enjoy it although at first he was rebellious about being ponied. Maybe it brought back memories of the racetrack? My attitude was that even if it took forever he was going to remain in my family and we would go one step at a time to bring him back. In other words I just wanted to give him huge amounts of space without asking much of him at all. I was going to let him figure it out kind of on his own and as much time as he needed was the amount of time I was going to give him - that's all there was to it.

After about a year, or maybe a little less, Max was no longer lame. He was as sound on his feet as anyone could have wanted but his attitude continued to remain questionable. At 17h2 he was a lot of horse to have a questionable attitude. But once in a while - out of the corner of my eye - I began to notice very subtle changes beginning to take place - he was slowly but surely softening - a little here and a little there. I continued to spend a lot of time just grooming him, rubbing my hands all over him while, at the same time, I kept ponying him off of Tux. Once in a while I'd saddle him and either work him a little on a long line or I'd just walk or slow trot him around the pasture; but he continued to remain high strung and anxious especially when under saddle. Because of his race horse days it took a long time to get Max to just walk under saddle in a relaxed manner.

Then while living and running a horse ranch in Montana I reluctantly took Max out by himself one day - I left Tux back in his pasture, saddled Max and headed-out across a thousand acre mountain slope. Not far from the ranch he suddenly became fearful, reared-up, flipped over backwards and broke four of my ribs.

For the next few months I didn't ride Max at all but I changed and increased the calming herbs he was getting in his morning mash. I still ponied him when I rode Tux but in all honesty I was now afraid of that horse and he was a lot of horse to be fearful of. Yet I just couldn't give-up on him.

Then one day - after having thought about Max and the situation I knew I just had to ride that horse again and I mean to really ride him. Not just walk him around in a few circles or trot him out in the pasture for a few minutes; I had to ride him. There was just no other way around the issue. If I was going to keep that horse - and I was - then I just had to muster the courage to mount him and to ride.

Well, that day finally came when it couldn't be put-off any longer. I was afraid yet I had to conquer that fear for me and also for Max. I knew that if I let Max go, that if I were to give-up on him, if I were to pass him on; he would not be understood and he would not get another chance. It was most likely a much bigger step for me and my horsemanship and my fear than it was for Max but I know that on that day when we rode many things changed. Max and I came together. I think he felt my apprehension all those past months and I believe he understood that if he and I were going to be a team then I just had to face my fear and that he had to face his reluctance. It was not easy but it happened and Max was my teacher.

Max and I really rode that first time about a year ago and we have been riding ever since. I believe he understands and respects me for taking the challenge. His eye to this day is soft and gentle and now he even lies down in the grass in the pasture with Tux right along side of him. He would never have done that before.

Now one day I ride Tux and pony Max and the next day I ride Max and pony Tux. We ride along highways, through streams, over hills, along railroad tracks and down country roads.

I'm so thankful I took the challenge even though it was a long and difficult road and Max's turnaround took close to four years. A huge obstacle stood in my way and Max and I rode through it together. That is something I will never forget as long as I live.

I have learned much from Max during the past years and I am a better person and a better horse-trainer as a result. Patience, gentleness, caring, some technical knowledge and a whole lot of never give-up is what it took. I'm glad I took the challenge and I thank Max for being my teacher. Max and I will ride a lot in the coming years.  Thanks Max!

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