Reggie is one of the many lesson horses that I have had the pleasure of teaching on over the years. He was a chestnut quarter horse gelding, with a white star on his forehead. As with many chesnuts, he didn’t have much of a forelock. He did have a pretty tail when it was brushed out.
Where Did He Come From?
The trip to see Reggie (and Marley) was one of the most eventful horse shopping trips we have ever been on. My mom, my friend Megan and I road tripped to Orange, Virginia. For those of you who don’t know or are suburban slickers like we are, Orange Virginia is in the middle of nowhere.
We chose to make the trip because this particular horse trader had more than one horse that they said might suit our needs. It seemed worth the drive. Even though, we didn’t know these people or their reputation we had made a lot of drives to see a lot of horses and had no luck. We figured a place that had more than one horse would be well worth the drive.
We got lost on the way there. Ended up having to stop at a sketchy gas station to ask for directions. The funny part of it all was that between the man’s accent and the landmarks he was trying to tell us to go by, we might as well of not stopped. It was not helpful at all. The only things we could decipher were “high school” “lumber mill” “just keep going”.
We Finally Made It There
We did finally make it to the place we were looking for. I honestly don’t recall much about the place. I know Megan rode him in a round pen (I couldn’t ride because I had a broken collar bone at the time). I don’t remember there being a regular riding arena.
I remember that the first stall in the barn was a massive handsome quarter horse stallion. Reggie was in the next stall. They did not call him Reggie, they had no name for him.
They had him all slicked up and pretty for us. They tacked him up in a gigantic blinged up western saddle. Megan rode him at the walk, trot, and canter in the round pen, then out along their driveway a bit.
I don’t remember any other details. We went and saw another horse they had for sale, another “red gelding” as they referred to him. The other red gelding was Marley, the big handsome lesson horse that we still have now.
Horse Deal In A Parking Lot
We decided that we wanted to buy Reggie and Marley. They gave us a decent price on the two horses. They wanted to throw in a pony too. I can’t remember much about it. Except for that, it was cute and not broke and my mom said hell no, two is enough!
Orange, Virginia is a haul from where we live. Evidently, the horse’s owner trailers people’s horses around a lot. He said he could meet me in the parking lot outside the Timonium racetrack parking lot. It seemed a little weird, but it was going to save us a hell of a lot of driving.
Needless to say, that was my first horse buying transaction in a random parking lot. I have since had a few other sketchy horse buying transactions, but at the time that was the sketchiest.
I gave him the money, he gave me the horses!
Reggie is one of those horses that had a ton of personality. His face was super-expressive. You could always sort of gauge his mood by the look in his eye. He had a way about him that led me to believe that he was a very smart horse that was very aware of everything going on around him. Not that he was spooky, but he always looked like he well aware of what was going on.
He tended to be grumpy on the cross ties as many lesson horses tend to get. That didn’t bother me much, once you got on his back he went right to work.
Reggie was a super well-broke horse. He went along nice and easy as a western pleasure horse should. The lope that he had was amazing and a real asset to the lesson program. Many of our students had their first canter on him. It was like a rocking horse, smooth and slow.
Best Reggie Story
The best story I can think of about Reggie was during a lesson. I had two or three kids in the lesson. I had sent the one student out to the ring on Reggie. I specifically told her, don’t get on, I need to tighten the girth again.
Evidently, she heard go ahead get on, it doesn’t matter if the girth is tight. When I got out to the ring, the little girl was literally hanging upside down underneath the horse. It was weird it was like the horse and the kid were both in shock.
I had a lot of respect for Reggie being a solid horse before that day. After seeing him stand stock still while I untangled the kid and saddle out from underneath of him, I respected Reggie as a lesson horse on a whole new level.
Personality Changes/Signs Of Trouble
Reggie was always a spunky horse. You always knew what kind of mood he was in. He was expressive and full of himself. It wasn’t unheard of for him to try and take a nip at an unsuspecting student or parent. He was also known to prance and dance his way to the field on some cold mornings.
Reggie had a big personality, and he continued to have all that personality. It just started changing over time.
He began to show intermittent signs of lameness in the front end. At first, it wasn’t too often or too bad. Nothing that a scoop of bute here or there couldn’t fix. Worst case scenario, we gave him a couple of days off and he would be good to go.
Overtime the lameness became less intermittent and more consistent. At the same time, Reggie’s spunky fun personality changed to spunky and mean. He would try and chomp on you when you put his halter on. Despite how gimpy he was, he would put his ears back and throw himself around on the way down to his field.
Time To Get It Figured Out
With the changes in Reggie’s personality and the signs that his lameness was obviously getting worse, we decided it was time to find out what was going on. We took him to New Bolton Center, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
They did a comprehensive exam, including nerve blocks, flexion tests, and Xrays. They nerved blocked him multiple times to determine the pain was most definitely in his feet.
I had navicular in the back of my mind, just because of his front end conformation being so upright and it is fairly common in middle-aged quarter horses with these type of feet. When the vet said she suspected navicular I really was not shocked. I figured it would just be a matter of corrective shoeing or something of that nature to get him more comfortable.
Well, it wasn’t that simple. Reggie’s case of navicular disease was one of the worst the vet had ever seen. He had a golf ball size hole in his navicular bone… For those of you who aren’t familiar with navicular, this is a really bad sign.
The vet we saw was amazing. She explained exactly what was going on in Reggie’s feet and how it explained the changes we were seeing in his personality.
Then came talking about options. There was a possibility the doctor said that with the right shoeing we could get him sound enough to get another season of lessons and summer camp out of him. The thing is he was only going to get worse, not better.
We Are Not That Kind Of People
We are not the kind of people who buy horses and then send them packing when they can’t work for us anymore. This is what is so hard about being in the horse business. Horses are expensive and a lot of the time, they become unsound or unusable. Making it hard to justify keeping them. Not to mention not desirable for anyone else to want to purchase.
Reggie worked hard for us while we had him. He taught a lot of kids how to ride, and taught me a lot about horses and teaching. It would not be fair for us to patch him up and try and get another lesson or camp season out of him. He served us well, letting him go with respect and before his condition degenerated anymore was the best choice for him so that is what we chose.
Coming Home With An Empty Trailer
I honestly did not think that I would be coming home with an empty trailer. I knew Reggie was hurting, but he must have had a hell of a high pain tolerance because none of us ever imagined that his feet would be in such bad shape.
Maybe we’d come home with instructions for the farrier, or suggestions of some time off or supplement. I wasn’t sure what we would come home with. It never crossed my mind that we would come home without Reggie. It was a real shock, a somber ride back home with the empty trailer.
What I Learned From Reggie
Horses Broke By Western Trainers Tend To Be Super Well Broke
Reggie was super well trained. You couldn’t have asked for a more obedient horse. Of all the lesson horses I have tried from English barns and trainers, none of them were as well trained as Reggie. He was light, balanced, soft in the mouth and responsive.
I have believed in this theory that horses that are broke by western trainers had better basics for a long time. Reggie was the first example. I have more recently supported my theory with Ruby and Diesel. Two horses that were originally western-trained and now are going English.
Pay Attention To Personality Changes, Big Or Small
Reggie’s personality did change a lot over his last few months. I attributed it to sour lesson horse behavior. I should have taken it more seriously. He just never seemed to be that lame that it would cause his personality to become so grumpy and mean. We now know that he just had a really high pain tolerance. He had every reason to be grumpy, he was living in a lot of pain.
Again, it is not that I didn’t see the personality changes, I just didn’t put two and two together. As I said he wasn’t going around like a cripple and a lot of days he still looked halfway decent. His behavior in no way made me consider he might be hurting really bad. I just figured, like most lesson horses, eventually they get a little tired of their job and get grumpy. It is just part of the whole lesson horse thing, not a big deal.
Now I will look a little harder at situations like a change in personality. I will try and look beyond the surface level. Now I know that some horses, like Reggie, are tough and will keep on going to work for you even when they are hurting badly. After seeing those x-rays it even to this day amazes me that he continued to work as he did for as long as he did.
Horses Force You To Make Decisions That Are Hard On The Heart
Yeah, we could have tried to keep him going. Put some expensive shoes on his feet and kept him on a maintenance level of bute. There were a lot of things we could have done. It just wouldn’t have been fair.
Reggie worked so hard for me when he was in so much pain. Day in and day out he went out there and did his job. I could not in good conscious keep using him knowing how bad his feet were. Putting on corrective shoes and antiinflammatory drugs would have just been asking him to go the extra mile for us. To push himself when he was trying to tell us he couldn’t do it anymore.
I could not do that to him. Reggie was a great horse, and he deserved to be out of pain and to leave this world with dignity. Not to leave it after limping around our riding ring until he couldn’t go anymore. To keep him going would have been a selfish decision.
Do What’s Right For The Horse
Reggie was a reminder to me that we always have to do what is right for the horse, even if it hurts our hearts. Horses and hard decisions seem to go together. It is the unfortunate truth of the matter.
We owe it to our horses to make selfless decisions for them when things get tough. It is the least we can do when they spend their lives serving us so well.