If you haven't read my previous post, it would be a good idea, as it's linked to this one!
I spent all of last winter mucking the horses out and taking Zak for his daily walk. I tried to walk him round in the lunge ring, but he got a bit excited. Too much bucking and rearing for a horse that's supposed to be taking it steady. I plucked up the courage to start walking him up the road, and he was extremely good. I gradually increased it from the initial stages of a twenty minute walk up to an hour, and his tendon was doing fine. I always felt like the groom taking the horse round the parade ring before a race, I was so proud of this horse.
As you can see from yesterday's photo, he was very skinny when he came to us, and I have to say, feeding him to increase his weight has always been a challenge. He kept sticking his head in Missis' feed bins, and obviously liked the contents, so we gave him conditioning cubes, but it didn't do very much. This winter we've fed him on Allen and Page Weight Gain, and he's much better on it, but I'm afraid he will always be one of life's greyhounds!
After many months our vet came out to see Zak, scanned him, and said he was fine and could be turned out and gradually ridden, building up slowly to strengthen him, as we'd done with the walking in hand. We were thrilled. We turned him out, and he went berserk, cantering up and down. Max and Barnaby seemed pretty excited by it, and jumped the dry stone wall into the next field to celebrate! (They looked a bit confused once they'd done it and Mr O had to go up and catch them and bring them back down).
So Mr O started riding him, and doing really well. Soon the time came to jump him, which they did, and everything was fine. We decided to box the horses up and take them to Osberton. This is a beautiful place near where we used to live. There is a place called 'The Green Mile' which is exactly as it sounds. Missis and I decided to wait and let Mr O go off on Zak first, then we would go off and catch him up at the top. I watched him disappear into the distance, then we set off, but to my consternation, we hadn't gone far when I realised Mr O was walking back to us. Zak had gone lame again.
Once again we helped him back to the lorry and took him home. He was back on box rest. We were beginning to wonder what we'd got ourselves into. Would he ever be fully sound? This time though, he did seem to come sound more quickly. We have had our walks round the village to strengthen him, and Mr O has been riding him out at the weekends (bearing in mind we've had all the snow). This is partly why he's still skinny, as it's been impossible to build muscle on him, with the limited amount of work he's been able to do, but more work will improve his shape tremendously.
I came out and fed everybody one morning around this time last year, and changed their rugs. I had Barnaby's leadrope in one hand and Max's in the other but as I passed in front of Zak, he just exploded a load of muck at me. I know horses can't be sick, but don't let that fool you. The quantities of liquid and feed that can come down their nose is phenomenal. I didn't know what to do, but I knew it was choke.
I put the horses out and watched Zak in horror. His neck was convulsing. I knew what choke was, but I've never seen a horse with it in over twenty years of working with them. I ran in and read my wonderful book, 'First Aid for Horses'. It said choke is caused by a blockage, and normally it rights itself after twenty minutes. After twenty minutes he was worse. I rang the vet. She said she would come out if I thought it was bad. I thought it was horrific. I was so glad she trusted my judgement and didn't think I was just a hysterical owner. When she arrived, she thought it was bad, too. I had to walk him up and down the road, and loads more muck came out. I couldn't believe there was so much in relation to the size of his feed. But he came back into the stable and started retching again. It was awful.
The vet decided to 'tube' him. This involved putting a thick, clear tube up Zak's nose, the poor boy. It did seem to work, and the vet left, saying if he hadn't improved in the morning he would have to go into the hospital.
By the morning he was worse. We started up the lorry, and slowly and carefully managed to get this staggering, sweating horse up the ramp. I was crying. It took half an hour to drive there, and I didn't think he would survive the journey.
We arrived and managed to unload him, just talking calmly to him and wondering if we should say goodbye now, while we had the chance. He was absolutely dripping with sweat. The vet came out and greeted us and led us to the stable he would occupy, then said we could go home. Parting from him was absolutely dire. We both assumed we wouldn't see him again. I broke down in the lorry on the way home.
Three hours later the vet phoned to say they'd tubed him twice more, the blockage had dislodged itself and Zak had fully recovered. I cried again. We drove off in the lorry, rocking through the local villages in our haste to get to him. There he was in his stable looking a bit sheepish, but absolutely fine, no sweating or anything. I just buried my face in his neck and hugged him. We loaded up a healthy horse, and took him home.
When we bought Zak he was originally going to be a stop-gap, a project for Mr O, to bring on a bit and sell on, something to keep him occupied while Barnaby got better. I hope you can see from the above account why he has become a part of the family and is going absolutely nowhere. We adore this horse. How could you not?
He is a wonderful animal, an officer and a gentleman, and a pleasure to own. As my posts will show, he's always been very meek and mild, and adores Barnaby. He's done lots of sucking up, saving the best bits of haylage for him and so on, but in the last few weeks I've noticed a dramatic change in attitude, where he will actually chase Barnaby off and eat the haylage himself. He is learning to exert himself, and it's very surprising.
So really we have only scratched the surface with this amazing animal. Our hope is obviously, that he will stay sound and go from strength to strength. I think Mr O should do endurance rides on him, as he goes for ever and doesn't break into a sweat. But it seems a shame to waste that phenomenal jumping talent, doesn't it? All I can say is... watch this space.
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