I was working at the Woodside Horse Trials this weekend in California, and was approached to do body work on a 5 year old off the track thoroughbred that I had never worked on before. His harried owner told me he was dangerous and I should be very careful. She showed me scars! She warned me that he would kick and bite without warning and that he was very fast. I saw a very agitated horse in his stall and suggested we try and find a quiet place where he might be happier. To keep this story short, let me just say we never found that happy place!
So I entered his stall cautiously and started touching places I thought might be bothering him. Most race horses have spasms in their necks going up to the poll so I started there. He did kick out a few (dozen) times, but I just kept calm and tried to show him how getting spasms released was pleasurable. It only took about 10 minutes, but he eventually lowered his head, took deep breaths, half closed his eyes, and got quiet. I was able to work on his entire body. When I worked on his hind end I even walked behind him and worked on his tail without worrying about my survival. The only place I left alone (hopefully I will get there next time) was his abdominal muscles. I had the sense that might be pushing my luck. By the end of an hour I saw a new horse that was quite attractive and pleasant.
Later I had the opportunity to watch the pair in their dressage test. The warm up looked calm and relaxed, and the owner/rider told me he felt so good, she forgot where she was going during her test and made an error. But she had a big smile on her face.
I received an email this morning with many thanks. They finished their event and she reported that he jumped beautifully. Many people probably have written off this horse as a dangerous failure, but it really wasn’t that hard to transform him into a happy and willing show horse.