Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Making Progress

Thoroughbred Makeover hopeful Mr. Magoo conquering his first water obstacle. (Courtesy Daniel Schmidt)

As you read through this month’s update, there are two ways to look at things. One way is that, several months into my Makeover journey, I have spent a lot of time with several top vets and may still not have any horses to take to the Makeover. The other way is that I may end up choosing between THREE wonderful horses. I’m choosing the latter because, in spite of the many ups and downs so far, we’ve ended up better than expected time and again.

First up for updates is the ever-sweet Mr. Magoo (Denman’s Call). He has officially been cleared to resume “normal activity” but has not yet had his second post-track ride — his first post-track ride is when we discovered he needed surgery. Out of an abundance of caution — and faith in his trainability — we are taking things very slowly, despite the target of the Makeover. Magoo is enjoying turnout time with his buddy Oliver, aka the world’s best babysitter (more on him later), and taking long training walks around the farm.

Our project this coming week will be to begin construction on trail training obstacles. So far we have just been working with what we encounter. Though he has spent the better part of the last three months on stall rest, he has approached everything sensibly. I originally chose to target Competitive Trail with him because of his questionable long term soundness, my background, and my hope that he could be a steady trail/pony horse in the future.

Magoo and Oliver's reunion (Courtesy Erin O'Keefe)

As we have worked through our first obstacles, I have had the opportunity to really see his brain work and sort out problems. In Competitive Trail, and trail riding in general, it’s not just about trying to make sure your horse has seen similar obstacles. It’s about equipping your horse with experiences so they can calmly work through new problems. Of course a big hurdle is just the inherent temperament of the horse. How a horse reacts when confused or scared varies horse to horse. If your horse’s reaction when faced with a difficult question is to spin and run away, or buck and bolt, that can be difficult in a trail situation.

Magoo approached new obstacles calmly, and when confused with how to handle them, stopped and assessed. I was thrilled to watch his brain work as he sorted out how to navigate uneven obstacles to step over. When his first attempt resulted in hitting his hoof, he simply took a half step back and looked at the obstacles, and tried again. If he can carry that calm assessment into all obstacles and new environments, he will do very well in Competitive Trail, and his hopeful future as a trail horse and yearling prep assistant. The looming cloud over his training is that we still don’t know if he will stay sound to be ridden, but for now we are taking it one day at a time and doing everything we can to keep him healthy and happy.

In last month’s update, Phantom had just started his 30 days of stall rest, for an injury of unknown severity, with an unknown prognosis. We were told that in all likelihood, the best case scenario would be at least four to six months off, and worst case he would never be sound again. Due to the swelling from the injury, there were too many variables on ultrasound to have a clear diagnosis and prognosis.

After 30 days of stall rest, we were all pleasantly surprised with how sound he was at his recheck. He was so improved, it was decided to not rescan yet, and instead give 30 days of small paddock turnout (if he behaves) and scan in 30 more days. At that scan, it’s possible he will be cleared to resume riding! During his stall rest, he was permitted by the veterinarian to be hand walked and grazed, if he tolerated it. Though he is generally fairly calm (and lazy), he is also mentally a toddler. And when he doesn’t get what he wants (like if the grass isn’t his preferred length) he throws a tantrum. But when a 17.1 hand horse throws a tantrum, it’s a little more aggressive than a small child. So his 30 days of stall rest was pretty strictly in the stall.

To make the transition to small paddock turnout, we knew we would have to be strategic. Enter Oliver. Owned by a friend, Oliver is a sweet, mellow “mutt” of a horse, who has been there and done that. He’s a calm old man now, enjoying quiet rides and life outside. He cannot be baited into play or shenanigans, making him the perfect influence for Phantom. Armed with sedation and a babysitter, we were ready to turn Phantom out.

Phantom enjoying his freedom (Courtesy Erin O'Keefe)

Daniel, my boyfriend, and Phantom’s owner were both nervous, since the last time Phantom was turned out he was injured (likely by his own playfulness). Day one of turnout went very well. Though he had a few fits as the sedation wore off and Oliver wouldn’t play with him, he would quickly realize that it was better to join Oliver grazing in the sunshine.

As I write this, I am sitting next to the paddock keeping an eye on Phantom’s first sedation-free turnout. He’s a little more playful, but still staying within the limits of what is acceptable at this point. Throughout this month, he will continue to enjoy turnout time with Oliver, and we will start to work on some ground manners to get his brain back to learning mode. Hopefully in 30 days, he will receive the all clear, and we will resume riding and training toward the Makeover!

Last but not least, we have Methuselah, my foster from NTWO. I originally started working with him when Magoo’s prognosis changed, and with all the ups and downs have decided to continue to work with him as well, in the event that either Phantom or Magoo are not going to be sound. This past month has been a little hectic, and Methuselah and I haven’t done much. Part of that craziness was moving barns, putting all my prospects at the same facility!

As we get more trail obstacles set up, Magoo and Methuselah will both work on conquering new obstacles. If you recall, I started this update saying that all three of my prospects might not make the Makeover. Methuselah’s reason is the best of all though: He has had someone express interest in adopting him! Though I would love to take him to the Makeover, we have not taken him off the market for adoption, until (or unless) I officially declare him as my Makeover horse. July 31 is the deadline to declare your horse(s) and if he ends up being one of mine, he will not be available until after the Makeover — but if he gets adopted in the next month, I would be thrilled!

As the vice president of aftercare placement for NTWO, my plan was to just choose another NTWO horse, but that may be difficult for the very best reason. Due to a high volume of adoptions, NTWO is at the lowest capacity they have been at in over a year, so there are fewer horses to choose from (and less and less every week). I couldn’t be happier to see all these horses in their new homes, and if that leaves me without a Makeover horse, I can’t think of a better reason to have that problem.

In summary, I have no idea which, if any, of the three horses I am working with will be my Makeover mount(s). And, like many of us, this year has looked nothing like I planned. But my horses are all happy and safe, and the recent trend has been toward better than expected outcomes. So I’m going to cross my fingers, hope for the best, and enjoy the journey.

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