Nibbler was a beautiful, big Thoroughbred with a mass of problems - most of them, I realise now, due to minerally imbalances.
He was a very angry horse, working his way up to tantrums of massive and frightening proportions.
Thinking he just needed to learn to trust me, I worked on this for about a year before he became trustworthy enough (I thought) to ride out.
Most days he was terrific but he was completely - and frighteningly unpredictable.
It all came to a head one day on a quiet road in Hawkes Bay, we were cantering up a slope and a cow stuck her head through the fence.
Most horses would spook, it's true, but it would be more of a large swerve out and back. Nibbler, who was living with me on a huge station amongst cattle (and sheep), went bezerk.
In a fraction of a second he had thrown me up out of a STOCK SADDLE - (one of those one you're not supposed to be able to come out of ;-)) in a cartwheel up in the air crunching down onto the road.
Fortunately the only damage was a broken ankle with all ligaments torn and tendons damaged. (mine - not his)
Nibbler, after kindly determining that I was happy enough lazing around in the grass by the side of the road, wandered calmly back up the road and home.
I thought at the time that Nibbler's shy had been an extreme reaction but, being a 'bear of very little brain', 6 weeks later I was back on board determined to ride him through whatever it was that had got into him.
One day a few weeks later we were out in a paddock where there were a lot of tree stumps. It was very quiet and Nibbler, who had started off as good as gold, began to get more and more spooked.
In those days it took a lot to get me to actually get off a horse so I pushed him on despite being able to actually feel his heart beating against my leg.
Finally I realised that it was becoming impossibly dangerous to be on board him he did not even seem aware of me at all so I got off him.
Lucky I did. He broke away from me and bolted back up the paddock in sheer terror.
By the time I caught up with him he was a foaming eye rolling mess.
I realised then there was something seriously wrong with him.
The Vet Visit...
The vet came out and suggested anything from a brain tumour to staggers. I asked what I could do and they said to try a toxin binder.
I did and Nibbler seemed to settle down relatively well. He was still a bit unpredictable but not nearly as bad so I kept riding him though I could never trust him.
About a year later I moved down to North Canterbury. Two days later I decided to ride Nibbler out for his first ride down here. I knew, when we went out the gate that he was 'hyper' but I had expected some level of dancing around as we were in a totally new place. We managed to get about 500 yards up the road before a sparrow flew out at him and he completely 'lost it' again.
I was beginning to think my saddle had an ejector button, up I flew, and yes it was the stock saddle I'd been told only an idiot could fall out of; and I landed on my thumb - not a good outcome for the thumb.
However, being of hardy stock and being absolutely furious that I managed to fall of Nibbler again and right in front of my new neighbours (who spent the next couple of years looking out for me whenever I went riding) (entertainment value I suspect), I got back on him and marched him one handed, up the road 5km and back with a hand that was the size of a balloon by the time I got back. (More torn tendons etc)
It STILL did not occur to me that there was anything majorly wrong with him (DUH!).
I started to blame my riding and the fact I'd had an abdominal hysterectomy a few weeks before I came down to Canterbury - I mean I've been riding all my life - I should be able to ride a shy! (Admittedly one that cartwheeled from one side of the road to the other)
Also nothing made sense to me in that some times he was wonderful, and he wasn't scared of trucks or tractors or anything major - just birds in bushes and shadows and grass bent the wrong way...
Dressage seemed to settle him so I spent a lot of time schooling him...
I'm ashamed to say I spent the next three years faffing around with toxin binders, mineral licks, changing his grazing to what I thought was safe grass - I had a learned a little of various people (most of it, conflicting advice) about the grass harbouring endophytes which could cause hallucinations in horses.
I became cynical about the various mineral/vitamin products available after trying various options but always sticking to the cheaper ones as I thought they would have the same stuff in them and couldn't see the point of paying more. THAT WAS A BIG MISTAKE.
Nothing seemed to make any difference.
His spookiness became worse and worse and more and more frequent - there wasn't just a season in which he was spooky to ride now - it was all the time - he finally became too dangerous even for an eijit like me to ride.
The Real Solution...
Then, one day Jenny Paterson from Calm Healthy Horses contacted me about doing some design work for her.
We soon got talking about the problems I was having.
I was still sceptical as it seemed like I had tried everything but at that stage I was desperate as I had had to have one horse put down due to terrible head flicks (a week before meeting Jenny) and my other horse Persil had lost so much condition since shifting out to Eyrewell and despite being hard fed twice a day and being on piles of grass that I was beginning to doubt my horsemanship altogether.
Despite everything I had been through with Nibbler I loved him and I understood that he could not help the way he was behaving.
It was hard to get my head around the fact that each of my horses was reacting so differently to the same thing!
We worked out a plan for my horses - the full CalmHealthyHorses Plan!
I could not believe the difference in my horses.
Within 6 weeks both of them not only looked a million dollars (see Persil's Story) but Nibbler had calmed right down - he was so calm about everything I was back riding him out on the road in a BITLESS!! bridle with complete confidence.
His Nibbs became a wonderful quiet ride who I could trust completely - so exciting to finally get to the bottom of all the troubles I'd had - THANK YOU Jenny!
I learned a huge amount about grass affected horses the hard way.
I can break it down to the following...
Excessive spookiness is NOT normal
NEVER ride a horse who you think may be grass affected until you have it under complete control using the CalmHealthyHorses Plan and the right grasses or no grass at all.
Grass affected horses who are spooking badly are actually hallucinating - they are NOT being bad, They should NEVER be punished for spooking - get off them immediately - you can not reason with a horse under the influence!
My horses reacted to the deficiencies in their diet in the following ways...
Excessive Spooking (Nibbler)
Nutting off and throwing major tantrums (Nibbler)
Dangerous to handle on the ground - not being aware of me at all (Nibbler)
Jerky short strides (Persil)
Extreme loss of condition (Persil)
Unable to walk sensibly on a ride (Persil)
Head flicks which became so bad he was almost falling over (when he warmed up) (The Phantom)
Light Phobic (The Phantom
Mud Fever - (The Phantom)
Horses can react very differently to the same thing.
I spent a ridiculous amount of money on vets, chiropractors (for both horse and me), hard feeds etc when the CalmHealthyHorses Plan works out so much cheaper and actually works - I could kick myself now!
Jenny Paterson is a Godsend - I can't thank her enough - listen and implement EVERYTHING she says no matter how outrageous it seems at first - she is speaking with a huge amount of knowledge, a scientific background and experience with effectively rehabilitating many many horses!