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Cimarron's Story /page 2

Long wait between classes at a schooling show

During the year leading up to Cimarron's retirement, I had become increasingly obsessed with his hoof balance. I had no idea if they were correctly balanced – to the extent of my knowledge at that point (about average) they looked okay  yet something was nagging at me. I had, however, been having a world-class local farrier working on Cimarron's feet but in spite of that when I heard about a seminar on feet and performance problems, horses welcome to attend, I jumped at the chance to attend with Cimarron.

At the time I didn't know that the clinician was so controversial. Had I known, but understood the changes he was going to make in my much loved Cimarron, I wouldn't have cared anyway. But I was told by many people that this person, the late Tony Gonzales, would cripple my horse if I followed his advice. I listened to this man and thought that what he had to say made a lot of sense – and my horse was already crippled, what on earth did I have to lose??

Tony gave me back my horse, almost immediately. Just by adjusting his hoof balance. Cimarron had some side to side imbalances, but the main problem was long toes and low heels. Now, it wasn't quite as simple as one shoeing session. Cimarron needed follow-up work to continue to improve his hoof balance. I had no idea at the time that this would be as difficult to find as it proved to be – nobody wanted to trim Cimarron in the way he needed. They all refused or didn't understand. A solution to Cimarron's problems within my grasp, and it was going to be yanked right out of my hand...what was I going to do??

I solved my problem by going out and studying and understanding the theory behind what Cimarron needed. I also spent countless hours on my hands and knees under my horse studying his feet and legs. I spent further countless hours watching slow-motion videos, often frame by frame, of Cimarron and other horses in motion. Then I went out and found less experienced farriers who were willing to work with me to give my poor horse what he needed. Some of it was a little radical, and some of the detail involved drove these farriers away. Each time I had to start out with another farrier, Cimarron slipped back to Square One. It was so frustrating. When the last in this series of farriers became pregnant and stopped shoeing I thought I would never stop screaming...! Aaargh!!

Okay, I thought, there's only one thing for it: I would have to bite the bullet, invest in an anvil and more tools, and shoe Cimarron myself! I had learned to "cowboy shoe" when I had my first horse up in the wilds of the Yukon. My regular farrier would make up sets of shoes to approximately fit my horse's feet, and I would take them with me up north every spring and reshoe as the old shoes wore out (they broke in 2 every 8 weeks up there, very abrasive footing). I had also been resetting Cimarron's shoes between farrier visits so that we weren't losing too much ground between shoeings. However, I became quite proficient with the resetting, even though I was painfully slow, and knew that I could now trim Cimarron the way he needed, as well as apply the shoes. Shaping the shoes was going to be the real challenge now, but as it happened the pre-made shoes I liked to use on Cimarron were very close to the shape of his feet. Things actually purred right along, and I found it was a lot less stressful on both Cimarron and I to have me shoeing him, and the shape and quality of his feet began to improve steadily. So did his performance, his back pain decreased markedly, and we were back to having fun together.

Except for one thing.

After all the research I had done to try to help Cimarron, I now realized that he needed help to learn how to use himself fully, something he had not previously been able to do. It had become terribly obvious to me that the popular approach to dressage training that I had access to just didn't sit well with Cimarron. Finding someone to help me re-educate Cimarron locally was as difficult as finding a farrier. So I took him to some Charles de Kunffy clinics to get me started. He was the first and only clinician to encourage me to keep going with Cimarron, and he started me off on the road to discover how to help my poor horse. Mr. de Kunffy didn't visit us very often, however, and sometimes his clinics were not available to me, so I found myself delving into training techniques that weren't strictly mainstream dressage, but primarily I listened to Cimarron. He proved to be a most enlightening and adept teacher, ever patient, and he managed to improve my tact and sensitivity and skill as a rider more than any human being could have. Once I discovered how to help him improve his posture under saddle, I was able to continue his dressage schooling although I had lost my taste for competition. The path had become far more interesting than the destination.

In 1997, Cimarron suddenly went blind in his right eye. In spite of various tests, the cause was never identified. I was devastated, but he seemed to adapt to it better than I did. I decided that since I was not going to ride him for a while to give him time to adjust to his new vision, I would try to let him go barefoot. This was a major change for him, as he had always been very ouchy and could hardly stand, particularly in the hind feet, without shoes. I started by pulling the front shoes, and this went far better than I anticipated. Some time later I pulled the hinds, and after a few days of moving tentatively he has never looked back. Today, more than a dozen years after we first dipped our toes into the deep end of the hoof balance pool, Cimarron is not only comfortably barefoot, but his formerly shelly feet have excellent horn quality. I owe Tony Gonzales a huge vote of thanks for making it possible not only for this horse to come back from retirement, but to have him sounder than he ever was in his younger years, and no arthritis either, in spite of joint changes years ago. There are times when I think ignorance was bliss, but the frustration has certainly borne fruit.

Cimarron now lives in his own field adjacent to his friend Oporto, my young Lusitano stallion, where Cimarron is safe from aggressive herdmates who capitalize on his blind side. He has been the most incredible of teachers, inspiring me to challenge established practices, and opening my mind to holistic approaches to horsemanship and horsecare. Now that he is getting older, I rather expected that he would challenge me to investigate equine geriatrics with a view to helping other horseowners ease old friends into a healthy older lifestyle! Indeed, Cimarron now is showing symptoms of Cushings syndrome so it appears my expectations of his insistence to continue teaching will in fact come to pass. He'll continue teaching me to the end, I feel sure.

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