Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Horses Who Made Me: Orion


Orion was the first horse I owned.

Around my 22nd birthday, a friend of mine notified me to say that she had a friend giving away a horse. He was 7 (I think, my memory is fuzzy now) and had been a 4-H project - the girl doing the project years ago chose a to pursue breeding project and he was the result. He was a bay with chrome; a registerable (but never registered due to his lack of color) breeding stock paint horse. He hadn't been worked with much. He had been to the trainer for 30 days when he was 5, but no one had done anything with him since.

I'm a sucker for bays. I'm a sucker for some chrome on a bay horse. It sounded like he was pretty chill, too. Blank slate mostly. And free? Couldn't go wrong with that. Especially when I knew I could board him at a place (field board only) that was $45/month. I could handle that kind of expense!

And so, I went with my friend to see this horse.

They called him "Munchie". *gag* His ground manners weren't bad. He was a little clueless, but not rude. They tacked him up with minimal issue. He rode around well with minimal error. I plopped up on his back and rode him around and he listened well to me, too. I was sold on him; he didn't seem too bad for an "impulse" decision.

It would be a week or more before I could get my friends to drive up and trailer him home for me. In that week I solidified the boarding situation, gathered my tack from hither and yon to have ready for when he was home.

I schemed about what to name him in that week-long period, too. Originally, I'd settled with Gideon. I liked the ring of that name for this little horse. However, when some of my friends started chanting, "giddy up, Gideon," I realized that my name choice needed to be reviewed some more; and thus, I ended up settling with Orion - a name I'd always wanted to give a horse.

Once Orion was at his new home, I began riding him most weekends when I was home from college (mostly, I came home to ride him). My goal with him was to do endurance like I had done with Stan. I knew with time and persistent workouts that the non-Arabian thing wouldn't be an issue. I had terrain similar to what I'd worked Stan on to ride Orion on. I just needed to get out there several times a week to ride him on it.

I had a lot of fun doting on Orion. Working with him and riding him whenever I wanted. A friend and I even rode to my parents house from where we kept the horses and camped in my parent's yard overnight with them - a childhood dream come true for me!

I began my journey into the world of barefoot hooves with Orion, too. His first trim was a huge learning experience for me; the trimmer did her best to explain everything to me as she went along. The trimmer took off a ton of hoof though, and he was very sore on grass, not just gravel, which in hindsight really wasn't the way to go about things. But we pushed onward all the same.

After a few months of training in one place, I had an opportunity to take Orion to a friend's place to board for a bit so I would have access to the rail trail for training. The goal was to have him there for a few weeks or so then take him back to the original place before the race happened.

I rode him multiple times out on the rail trail on my own and with some of the local 4-H kids who needed a chaperone while out riding. It was a blast.

One day in July, a little less than a month out from the LD I planned to ride Orion in, I set out to do a faster ride than I had been doing. My friend Sonya pointed out that I needed to push him some more. I'd been spending months building him to that point, it would do me well to test the waters and see if my work paid off - could he maintain more of a canter pace over the flat rail trail than just trotting with canter work interspersed?

I tried. I'd have him canter for ¼-mile to ½-mile spurts on the rail trail interspersed with trotting and walking. Just an easy rolling canter, nothing pushed. He didn't seem stressed at all from it. But then, a few miles out I noticed he was feeling off at the canter. Hmm. I walked him for while. Nothing. Okay? Trotted for awhile. Nothing. Hmm. Maybe it was just in my head. Canter. Weirdness a few strides in. Back to trot. Nothing. Canter. Something. Trot. Nothing. Walk nothing. Jump off, look at legs. Nothing. Well hmm. I kept going a bit longer in this manner. Ignorant to what could be the matter. Eventually I turned him for home though and walked the whole way.

We did 12 miles (which he excelled at despite it all) and he was tripping all over the place at the end.  I called Sonya and Angie and we free lunged him when I returned. I valued their opinions a lot and wanted to see what they thought.  He was tired, stiff, tied up in the back end, and really sore seeming. We bathed him to cool him, then bathed him with linament to cool and ease his muscles even more.  Fed him a bunch of grain/electrolytes/mineral supplement and he still was dragging. I left him with Sonya's horse (his favorite girlfriend of the 5 he had) that night.

I realized as we finished that ride that I would probably have to make a decision as to whether or not to do the race.  Ultimately I would have to decide what would be best for Orion.

The following morning Sonya updated me that he was lame on his front left and really sore all over.  Not looking good.  By the time I arrived out there that evening after work his front legs were really swollen from the knees down. Between 3 of my horse-savvy adult friends, I received a lot of really good opinions and amazing guidance on the whole issue. Additionally, they each apologized in some way for not informing me at an earlier date that he had so many conformational flaws that contributed to this happening - coupled with his not 100% health. They were all so excited that I finally had my *own* horse that they were all hesitant to squash my goals and dreams. It was a very, very sad reality that I had to begin to face - was this really the right horse for me/my goals?

I hosed him off to ease the swelling, rubbed on more linament and then hopped on him bareback, legging capris, and bare feet to ride about 2 miles at a walk on the flat to help him move and get the swelling down some more (with past mystery swellings in legs when I worked at The Pony Garage, Sonya would have me walk the horses for awhile in the round pen and the swelling would always go down).  Orion's swelling came down, but he still had a slight gimp in the front.

That cemented it for  me. I threw in the towel and quit pursuing endurance and focused on getting Orion happy and sound and healthy and fat. Things he wasn't because I'd been pushing him too much.

It really sucked at the time. And it really sucks in hindsight, too, but it is what it is.

I ended up spending a week or more cold hosing and clay poulticing his legs and wrapping them before I finally called the vet. In the time before calling the vet, I also had moved him to a third location to board - Pegasus' home. They had a small pasture (about the size of an arena) that had plenty of grass for Orion to get fat on (both previous places didn't have much at all) and it was closer to my house so I could be sure to get out every day.

The vets visit confirmed that tendons in both forelegs were definitely involved. The extent of what was involved was a bit blurry without ultrasound - which I couldn't afford at the time. We buted him and I did DMSO wraps for a week or so on his legs. I went out daily to do these things and to hand walk him so he could eat all the good grass.

The time I spent rehabbing him really gave me a lot of time to think about a lot of the things Sonya had been discussing with me. Was Orion really the horse for me? What did I really want to achieve with my riding? Where did I want to go? Was this the right horse for my goals?

Ultimately, after many teary episodes, I realized he wasn't the horse for me. I decided I would rehab him to the best of my abilities at the time and advertise him as a kids horse in the spring. He would be a great children's horse. Perhaps for 4-H or something.

But then I had a friend of a friend contact me ...interested in buying him(?!). She visited him. I ran through his rehab issues. His injury. All of his past - I basically hit all the negative points I could possibly hit. I didn't want her to be surprised at all by any of his issues. He was hurt. He was getting better. It would be a bit of a long road before he was better to ride. Despite all of that, she was still interested.

And so, I sold him at a cost to cover the most recent vet bills.

He went back to his first boarding situation in town. Back with horses he knew. It worked out really well. And his new owner loves him dearly.

Selling him wasn't a decision I made lightly. It sucked. A LOT. He was my first horse. And that was a hard obstacle to work around in my mind because I've never been the kind of person who would sell an animal they devoted time to like that.

However, the reality of it was this: I never bonded with Orion. I tried and tried. I just never *felt* things with him like I did with Stan....like I do with Griffin and Q now.

Additionally, Orion's conformation was piss poor for all the things I wanted to do - endurance and jumping. Going fast and bouncing over obstacles. He couldn't withstand that kind of wear and tear.

I got a crash course in so many things with Orion. I learned about saddle fit. I learned about types of  bits and how they work. I learned more intimately about the care associated with horses. Nutrition. Hoof care. And I learned so much about conformation so quickly; I learned there is a lot more to a horse than the color and behavior. I refined my training ideas. I refined so much of my earlier thinking. With a horse of my own and not someone else's I finally had that freedom. Oh boy, did I learn.

The things I learned from Orion became the floor on top of the foundational layers I'd built from all the other horses in my life prior. I had a strong base of riding and general understanding and great common sense, but the next level of things, the more intimate details involved with responsibility and care of an animal that was your own, THAT was what I gained from my experience with Orion. Invaluable. Priceless. I'm so thankful for it - even though parts of it were painful for me at the time.

And ultimately - I'm so very happy he ended up in such a wonderful home with someone who loves him unconditionally and who is the perfect match for him, and he for her. Every horse deserves to find their heart human, and every human deserves to find their heart horse. Thank you, Jordan for loving him and seeking him out. =)

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