Rosie Pony’s Story

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Rosie is a 12.2hh 17-year-old Welsh B mare. She was bred for showing and in her life has been through many homes as a children’s show pony, sold on each time she was outgrown. Whilst showing itself is not an intensive sport, as with all equine sports there is the potential for the focus to come off the horse and onto the rosettes.

Rosie was brought to us on schooling livery for us to assess. Eat Sleep Ride was very much her owner’s last resort. Bought as a first ridden, for her young son who was after a pony to grow with and learn from. As time went on, it became obvious that Rosie was unsuitable for her family role – running from the mounting block, spooky to ride, fast and sometimes bucking, whilst even worse on the ground. She tried to bite and kick over being brushed, tacked up and feet picked, over time lunging and attacking when approached in the stable. Her owner explored avenues with different trainers but was assured that she was fine and was just a grumpy old pony mare. Whilst mares, welsh ponies and older ponies are renowned for having less patience with children, the behaviour displayed here was so extreme, that her owner was sure there was a deeper problem. These issues were starting to frighten all involved due to the intensity of the aggression.

Our first steps in this process are an assessment on the ground and ridden, followed by visits from the physio, farrier, dentist, and vet if needed. At Eat Sleep Ride we pride ourselves on taking a holistic approach; where the horse's wellbeing comes first.

Our assessment from the ground proved there were definitely issues to be explored. She did not track up in walk and trot and always held her tail to the side. There was a strong reaction to pressure being applied over her back and hips. She pulled faces, swished her tail, and tried to kick as we handled her. Riding Rosie proved to us that her problems were not simply learned behaviour but came from a current point of pain. Everything she tried to tell us was that she did not want to be ridden – resistant to the saddle, bridle, girth and terrified as you entered the school and attempted to mount. If it were not for the fact that we were making a full assessment, we would not have ridden her at all. She was actually very willing under saddle, even with a small adult rider, however, you could feel how stiff she was as if her front and back end were disconnected and she rushed, proving unbalanced in her transitions. Her ears often came back, and her tail swished.

When assessed by the physio we found her to be exceptionally sore through her back, especially between her point of hip and dock. The vet visited next and assessed her as lame in walk and trot, advising us to x-ray to try and source the problem.

The next day we trailered Rosie up to Equitait for back x-rays. Sadly, the outcome was poor. Rosie’s coccygeal was broken, with pieces of floating bone surrounding. This was an older injury with no idea how long she had been suffering. Although not wanting her to be in pain, her owners were relieved to know that they were not imagining these issues.

We of course stopped all work both ridden and in-hand. Further investigative work was not able to be carried out for a further 6 weeks.

We spent time massaging her, using aromatherapy and scent training to reduce her anxiety levels and turned her out with our field of larger mares. Rosie slowly realised that life had taken a turn for the better, her aggression at being brushed and handled reduced to almost nothing. Out in the field, she began to play and stretch, enjoying running with all her girlfriends and sleeping in the sun.

We did discover that some of her pain was a learned reaction – she was more aggressive when handled by children or nervous handlers, and upon seeing her owners she was initially incredibly aggressive, letting us pick up her feet but lunging at her owner for attempting the same. We started to work on breaking this negative association, encouraging her owner to shower her with praise and treats for standing quietly, and show her that she would not always be asked to work.

Over the following month, Rosie had shown significant improvement without any pain relief or veterinary attention. When watching her play in the field, we could see that she was now tracking up. When trotting her up, she now held her tail straight and was freer in her movement. Her muscle condition had improved, and she was keen to play in the field and receive attention in the stable.

After further work and body scans; we discovered that she has hot spots over her withers, back and stifles that were contributing to her pain levels. These were treated with steroid injections – the same as those commonly found in show jumpers’ hocks. We returned to strengthening and physio work as well as walks in hand up our hills. Adding a pair of hoof boots to her routine has kept her more off the forehand and slowed her down.

A treeless saddle fitter came to visit, bringing the Italian-designed Ghost saddle in the smallest size to accommodate her short back. Even over the course of the saddle fitting we saw a large improvement in Rosie’s attitude to tack and riding and found her very amicable about being ridden again in the arena. A treeless saddle with panels provides the flexibility for her body to move correctly but spreads the rider's body weight and protects the spine.

From here Rosie started to hack, feeling incredibly relaxed and happy about her adventures out. We found her now non-reactive to tacking up and mounting, and non-spooky when ridden. She managed to be used as an escort for client rides and by some of our smaller visitors who come hacking.

Rosie then found her forever home! Living with a fell pony up in the Cairngorms as a hacking horse with an owner wanting something quieter and safe and would hack alone, she travelled to her new home within 2 days of being viewed.