The ups, the downs and why he now holds the name trouble maker.
A little insight to 5 years of owning, loving, loathing and ‘bubble-wrapping’ my horse Zeeno (‘bubble-wrapping’ to be explained later).
Every little girls dream
At the age of 6 I became obsessed with horses. I had everything with horses on, clothing, bedding, cushions, bags, pencil cases, purses. You name it! If it came with a horse on, I wanted it. I was very lucky to be granted my wish of owning my own pony at such a young age; that no cold nights, dark mornings or rainy days could keep me away. Since my first lead-rein pony and after many loan ponies, my obsession only grew. I would ride any horse I could, big, small, young or old! But after discovering the world of showjumping, full of fancy horses and flashy warmbloods, whilst learning all I could with my beloved Connemara pony Buddy, I dreamt of the day when I could get my very own ‘flashy’ warmblood. At the time totally unaware of what I was letting myself in for…
For years I pictured my beautiful 16.2hh Bay Warmblood, lo and behold on the 28th February 2013, he arrived. Eyes on stalks and snorting like a dragon, he JUMPED off the trailer (something he’s still not learned to do properly). He was everything I’d ever wanted and from day one, he had the heart of an angel, a trait which would be undoubtedly tested throughout his future antics…
A career change?
After jumping in at the deep end with my 5 year old warmblood, I quickly realised we had A LOT to learn and even more work to do before he’d be the fancy showjumping horse I dreamt of. We decided to temporarily postpone the showjumping life and work on his flat work which very quickly led us into dressage and then affiliated British Dressage, which we fell in love with.
I watched DVD after DVD of dressage training tips to try and perfect our movements. I’d choose to spend my time practicing in the school instead of jumping or hacking out! Zeeno must have thought I’d gone mad, but he never once complained and always tried his best. He particularly enjoyed the parts where he could flick his toes like a fancy dressage horse 🙈. We were in our element!
Despite the many setbacks that came our way, we managed to accomplish a few of our goals during our time as a dressage pair.
If I had little knowledge on how high maintenance a 5 year old warmblood could be, Zeeno made sure I knew about it! I have now lost count of the amount of injuries he’s kindly brought up on himself over the years, never mind the amount of box rest and rehabilitation we’ve had to endure.
I began protecting him from head to toe every chance I had, we’d ride fully booted or bandaged and turning him out in the field was like preparing him for battle. He even tried living with miniatures one summer (his little bodyguards). Needless to say, he still managed to get injured and be out of work. I did consider wrapping him in bubble wrap on the odd occasion.
We became pros in cold hosing and hand walking. Observing his legs for new injuries became a daily practice and every bit of heat or swelling had to be fully examined, not to mention any cuts or wounds. After his many injuries, months out of work, on box rest and in rehabilitation, we still managed to get back to ‘normal’ and would be straight back in the dressage arena the first chance we got.
After all of Zeeno’s mishaps and injuries we almost became used to him being out of work and repeating the same healing process time after time was a ritual which we mastered. What didn’t change however, was the disappointment and heartache of knowing our goals and dreams were just moving further and further away.
In May 2014 Zeeno trumped all his previous injuries with a punctured foot. Even better, he did this while I was on holiday so I was completely unaware. It was left down to my mum to deal with the situation, rush him to the equine hospital as well as take on the great job of breaking the news to me when I was home. Escaping the worst by the skin of his teeth, we brought him home and was left with another 3 months of rest, healing and rehab. Despite my mum having to practically sign his life away at the hospital, he fought his way through (as per usual) and came back stronger than ever.
We got back to the dressage and with help from fabulous instructors we made it down the centre line to our first Regional Championships, a much awaited dream come true. No error in that test was going to knock my mood, I was on cloud nine and I finished our test with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Some people may argue the fact, but I’m sure Zeeno felt the same feeling of shear accomplishment and gratefulness to be there, that I did.
Never giving up…
After coming through the other end of his injury fighting and seeing our dressage scores going up, we decided to move up a class and start to learn a few more complex movements. This however, seemed to just open up a can of worms. Our dressage dreams were instantly shattered after discovering a condition which threatened his entire ridden career. With the thought of him not being able to compete or even be ridden, his future looked rather bleak and any form of recovery was poor. A field bound life is rarely suited to a horse with such a strong desire to work like Zeeno.
We tried months and months of rest which showed very little promise for improvement. This led on to further examinations and even more treatment and rest, neither of which made any difference. With money, time and hope running out, he was given one last chance with a different treatment. Despite our vet saying it would be a miracle for him to come back from it, he once again proved everybody wrong and fought his way back.
We’re a long way from the dressage career we were once aiming for, but to still have him here, after 5 years of trouble making, still loving his job and being able to have fun and work comfortably, is a dream in itself and quite honestly isn’t far from a miracle.
A lesson learnt
We’ve had ups and downs, blood, sweat and many many tears. He is of course now limited in his ridden capabilities, but we’re still able to keep having fun and compete without taking ourselves too seriously. Flicking his toes like a dressage horse is still his favourite thing to do and he does it with such elegance that no one would even notice his condition.
Everything we have been through has made me so much more grateful and everything we accomplish now is just a bonus. I’m sure anyone can relate, no matter what the partnership (human or animal), going through tough times together and coming out the other side only builds your bond ten times stronger!
He’s not only taught me what it means to be patient, to persist and to never give up but he’s shown me unconditional love, trust and a friendship bound for life. He’s not the dressage horse that I once dreamed of and that will unfortunately never happen for him now, but he’s my best friend and I wouldn’t swap him for the world. In my eyes, he will always be my fancy dressage horse, my Valegro 💕