Last week I Had a call from a long-standing client of mine. Stella (not her real name) had recently bought a three year old filly from a dealer. Angel (not her real name either!) was bought as ‘green untouched’ but after a few weeks things just weren’t adding up. So Stella called me in to ask my opinion.
Stella could not be there in person for my initial visit, but she knows I am usually better off if left by myself to concentrate solely on the horse (rather than trying to conduct a conversation and carry out an examination at the same time). The first thing I noticed is that as I approached Angel she immediately went to the back of her box.I had to slip the lead line of the head collar around her neck in order to put it on. Worse was to come though!

As soon as I took off her rug I knew that Angel could not have been a green, unbroken horse when Stella purchased her. I was astonished to see considerable multiple significant issues, including: atrophy behind the shoulders; a neck built upside down; and hypertrophy (overdevelopment) of the hamstring muscles. This sort of condition can only occur when a young horse has been ridden. And apparently ridden incorrectly, using draw reins and a very tight saddle tree. They don’t turn up like this as unbroken thats for sure!

Another behavioural oddity was that as I worked on her, Angel did not really respond to me. Horses nearly always enjoy my sports massages and let me know by ‘gurning’ (moving their lips and muzzles and/or clicking their teeth) and the eye tends to soften. I was getting none of this. This horse was very ‘shut down’ and unresponsive.This kind of behaviour is common in flat racing horses that have raced their socks off by the time they are 2 years old. But I have *never* seen it in unbroken 3-year-olds. Angel also has frown lines above her eyes: these will only appear in a young horse if it is suffering illness or chronic pain.

Today I went back for the first follow-up treatment. This time Stella was there and she told me that Angel’s behaviour has already changed a lot since my initial visit. She is moving better, she is much calmer and is interacting more with Stella and others.

That’s the best and most rewarding thing that happens when working on youngsters: they react very quickly to positive input and recover very fast. Their metabolism is faster than that of an older horse and their bodies repair themselves more efficiently. They are also quite resilient to psychological trauma and will usually recover quickly from the emotional effects of mistreatment (including over-training).

I will do a third visit at the end of this week. Then Angel will be left unbacked until the spring time.
What gets me is the audacity of the dealer who sold this filly as ‘unbroken’. When Stella called the dealer to complain about the issues I had identified, she was told that she (Stella) must have caused the current problems, so there would be no refund or return. There is absolutely no way that Angel’s state could have developed in just 4 weeks, especially since for the first 2 weeks she was in an isolation paddock, then for the next 2 she was only ever lunged, never ridden.

The phrase caveat emptor (buyer beware) seems to apply here – although the Trades Description Act should also apply!

Luckily Stella had decided to keep Angel anyway, so there is no danger of any civil action here. We both think that she is a good cause. Some horses become aggressive when they are abused: they tend to bite and kick. Angel though became passive, which is a strong indication that she has a lovely nature, so there is a good chance of a positive outcome.

Time is definitely the best healer in this case: I am sure that Angel will enjoy her rest and recuperation and will make a full (if slow) recovery after a bad start.