Lexington’s Success Story
As told by Aleta McCormick
Omni Equus Research Center (O.E.R.C.) has accepted its first rescue horse rehabilitation research project – – an elderly horse named Lexington. Lexington is a big, 17-hand, almost solid chestnut Thoroughbred gelding with one small white ankle sock on his rear foot. His life story is vague and varied. He had once been a hunter-jumper show horse and, after a lengthy career, was “abandoned” by his owner and confiscated for past unpaid board fees by The Paddock Equestrian Center, a training and show barn outside of Los Angeles. The estimate and general consensus of his age was “somewhere between late ‘teens and early twenties.” Just to look at him and his teeth had me believe his age was closer to mid-twenties.
Then I began a little research into Lexington’s history. A very close friend recognized Lexington’s description. We went back and forth with the details of his size, build and coloring until she said, “Yep, that’s him alright. I know that horse. My horse, Kelly and I competed against him when we were a lot younger. At that time, Lexington was an older, more seasoned horse than my Kelly.” Then my friend revealed that her horse, Kelly had just passed his 30st birthday! Turns out that Lexington is indeed an equine senior citizen!
Lexington’s story is the story of so many of the horses that end up in rescue homes. I had no desire to take on another horse, but who could deny that soft nuzzling I felt on my back as I taught one of my equine massage classes at The Paddock. As I turned around, I gazed into one of the saddest faces I’ve ever seen on a horse. Deep hollows above Lexington’s haunted eyes tore at my heart strings. He was hungry for affection and I made the comment that “one day, O.E.R.C. will be able to take in rescue horses and work with them to give them a new start in life. “Oh, this horse is a perfect candidate,” I was told. “They’ve been using him as a school horse and, all of a sudden, he’s starting to “freak out” and act up under saddle.” As always, I put this “one more sob story” out of my mind as an all too common experience, knowing I could not save the world.
It was only a few days later when I received an excited telephone call from Sue Pandy, one of my students and a friend of O.E.R.C., exclaiming “he’s yours!!” I was floored. How did this happen? I’m always turning down horses – – some really nice ones, because until O.E.R.C. can support them directly, the financial burden falls squarely on my shoulders. But I felt that, somehow, this was meant to be. We all discussed and finally agreed on a date for his transfer and everyone pitched in to plan his move up to my home, Twin Oaks, and O.E.R.C.
Over the next several weeks, I visited Lexington at The Paddock each time I went there to work on other horses. We had a six week window in which we had to wait before moving him, because he was body clipped, had to wear a blanket at night and because, in Twin Oaks, the temperatures would dip below freezing at night. Each morning, as I broke the ice in my horses’ water buckets so that they could drink, I knew it was just too cold and too soon to bring Lexington home to Omni Equus Research Center in Twin Oaks. During these visits at The Paddock with “Lex,” he was aloof, barely friendly, and not all that lovable. What had happened? This was not the horse that, only a few weeks before, had torn at my heart strings. But I was committed, and determined to keep my end of “the bargain.” There was something there – – an invisible, emotional connection that occurred at our first meeting – – that signaled to me that this was the way to go and that everything would somehow work out.
As the weeks wore down, I prepared for Lexington’s arrival at Omni Equus Research Center by securing a corner of the geldings’ (“the boys”) pasture, so that he would have some private space and time to meet the other two boys before I put them together in a single, large pasture. I found a blanket that would fit him and keep him warm and cozy at night. We were finally ready for his arrival at Omni Equus Research Center.
Joan Childs, a trainer at The Paddock, and Sue Pandy arranged for Lexington’s trip up to Omni Equus Research Center. On the morning that Joan’s trailer pulled into my driveway, a quite undisturbed Lexington quietly followed her into his temporary paddock and made himself at home without any trepidation. My geldings, Rocky and Hobbs began to acquaint themselves with Lexington, and everything seemed just fine. Absolutely perfect!
Lex was the underdog when he was later introduced into the boys’ pasture, but they worked it out over time. I discovered that I had to do a little horse juggling with my earlier plans once Rocky (who, at the age of nine, had only been gelded a year before) discovered he could terrorize Lexington and chase him around at night. So I decided to bring all three boys into my makeshift stalls at night and turn them out in the pasture during the day. Eventually, I separated the front part of the pasture and put Lex in there alone at night, and that solved the problem.
In the first three months that Lexington was here at Omni Equus Research Center, he was a loner, not interested in bonding with me and just sleeping all the time. Eat and sleep, sleep and eat, that was it. I didn’t try to force a bond. I simply went through the motions of what I normally do with all my five other horses, providing plenty of food, water, fly spray, a little hello, a pat and a scratch here and there. I simply treated Lex like one of the family.
After a couple of months, Lex stirred from his inanimate, somnambulant state and just “woke up.” He began to notice me, nicker at my arrival, come to me without invitation, and show little signs of affection. The once skinny, sad, lonely horse had become almost fat and contented. He was beginning to trust that he had a home and was now safe. I had his horseshoes removed and our local farrier, Steve Kashiner, began to work on seeing if we could work some kind (if any) of magic to mend his badly formed hooves. Steve is a strong believer in horses “going barefoot,” not having horseshoes, and the “natural mustang trim” method of keeping horse’s hooves shaped and trimmed.
My rehabilitation and therapy program for 30+-year old Lexington is very basic. While in pasture, he is allowed to move freely, and participates in some organized playtime, headed up by none other than 10-year old ex-stallion, Rocky, his initial adversary but now fellow companion. My plan is to keep Lex barefoot and work with nature to experiment with possibilities for rehabilitation to his hooves. The footing here at Omni Equus Research Center is so soft, there isn’t a better place to try this. And every two weeks, Lex will be photographed and given his deep tissue massage and bodywork session. Everything else will remain as it has been.
In the last three months since Lexington has joined us here at Omni Equus Research Center in Twin Oaks, he has been left to his own natural rehabilitation process by way of plenty of roomy pasture time, his companions and plenty of alfalfa and three-way hay. His weight has improved dramatically and his personality has emerged – – no, blossomed – – into a sweet, loving, willing to please “puppy dog.” I have to admit, I’ve fallen in love with him. So for now, only bodywork on a biweekly basis will be the new ingredient in his rehabilitation program. By keeping his therapy and treatment pure and simple, I hope to be able to demonstrate what I expect to be progressive, dramatic effects of my deep tissue bodywork methods. Later on, we will introduce my movement therapy to see what effect this has on his body and way of going.
Lexington’s first body work session occurred on July 1, 2004. Here are our initial findings and assessments of his muscle and tissue condition:
Neck: Left – Tight; little to no muscle separation; lots of scar tissue
Right – Very tight; little muscle separation
Overall appearance – Very thin “pencil neck;” no muscle tone
Shoulders: Left – Lots of scar tissue at top of scapula and all through scapula; muscle opens and separates easily. Lexington clearly communicated that he needed and enjoyed my working on his left side, as he exhibited grooming behavior as I worked on him
Right – Old car tissue throughout, but muscle opens easily
Back: Left – Tight; Lexington clearly indicated that he wanted me to administer deep tissue work
Right – Tight, but good muscle tone
Hindquarters: Left – Extremely tight; after I worked really deep on this area, he began to back away from further work; this was the side of his body that he once protected; very tight around hip joint and upper hind leg
area with lots of scar tissue in hock
Right – The really tight side of his hindquarters, especially around the hip
joint; administered very deep tissue work, which was well received
by horse. We know that he “injured” his right leg and and hock
area at one time, perhaps due to becoming cast in a pasture or his
stall. No work on right hock in this session.
In monthly reports, we will update you on our website as to how Lex is progressing and the results he is experiencing. Together, we will follow his progress.