JOHNNY TOWNMOUSE AND HIS JOURNEY BACK TO HEALTH by Alannah Whitehead.
You know those horse crazy girls? With braces, freckles and long hair? Well I was that girl. With a love for anything “horse” so big it threatened to endanger any ounce of a social life that I had.
I ate, slept and breathed horses. Not a lot has changed; I still have long hair and freckles only now I have straight teeth. I am still horse mad, but not in a ‘plastering my whole bedroom with picture of horses that aren’t mine’ way. The only wallpaper I have of a horse is the one on my phone – a very special horse that means the whole world to me and this horse’s name is Johnny Townmouse.
I first saw Mouse as a 17 year old on a ‘Horses for Sale’ forum. He wasn’t for sale though, he was just for lease. “Super quiet 8 year old thoroughbred”, read the advertisement. I was so excited running around the house, begging Mum and Dad to take me to meet this perfect horse.I was a 17 year old advanced beginner at best, had ridden at about 3 competitions my entire life and had only about 4 years of riding experience under my belt. I was not the ideal candidate for a young, green thoroughbred.
So early February 2010 we hopped in the car and drove to Cranbourne, with my very un-horsey parents and a family friend that was an avid show jumper as our only guide.When I first saw Mouse he was tied up to the metal railing windsucking his heart out. I didn’t see that though, I just saw the ribs and hip bones that were sticking out. We watched the owner ride him around one of the paddocks and he cantered around listlessly, not putting a foot wrong, even jumping a branch that was lying in the middle when she asked. My ride was nothing spectacular, I was used to a 15 hand Arabian who used to go around in this perfect little frame so all 49 kilos of me trying to make this 16.1 unfit and uncoordinated horse sit in a frame must have been somewhat hilarious. I didn’t even know what I was asking, just that I didn’t want him to be about 75 metres long! Our friend asked if he wanted me to have a ride, telling me that if he did, I knew that his answer would be to turn around and go home. After all I was looking for something that I could take to Pony Club next weekend, a horse that had some education.
A week later he was sitting in a paddock in Montrose with my Dad signing the lease. So began my journey with one of the most honest and trustworthy horses I have ever come across.To most of the world he is just a below average bay Thoroughbred but to those who truly know him, have had the pleasure of riding him and have seen me pull up at the vet check with the biggest grin across my face, know he is more than that.I never had any issues growing up, so this isn’t a story about how my horse Mouse helped me. This is a story about a below average horse who has taught me more than I ever have taught him.My parents paid $1000 for Mouse 8 months after I started leasing him and god knows how much they spent before I was working enough to be able to afford him on my own!I didn’t understand these things when we first brought Mouse home, in fact I don’t think that I even started learning about ulcers until I took on a full time Working Pupil position 3 years later. There Mouse was stabled through most of the day while I rode other horses and worked and then I would ride him. It started to become apparent that he wasn’t coping in this environment and being an ex- race horse this wasn’t entirely surprising.
We put him on a course of Ulcer Guard and he had a little improvement but not much.Looking back now we could have pumped all the Ulcer Guard in the world into him but while he was on fully grain based diet it would have little to no effect. I eventually left my Working Pupil position and turned Mouse out into a 5 acre paddock full of knee high grass. Never had I seen such a dramatic change in him so quickly. He stacked on the weight and his whole demeanour changed. I still fought the yearly winter battles as so many of us with Thoroughbreds do – weight on in summer, drops off in winter like clockwork. Feeding and feed store runs became the bane of my existence, changing feeds up every few months, taking photos to make comparisons, working him less, working him more, round bale after round bale of hay. He would look good and then would drop off a week later for no apparent reason, he was treated for ulcers both with prescription medicine and with the herbal kind. Nothing seemed to hit the nail on the head completely. I loathe summer and the heat but I always look forward to it because I know he comes into his best when the warmer weather hits. I don’t even thinks he enjoys the heat! I think he would rather cover himself head to toe in sticky clay like mud than swelter in the heat every day for 3 months.
Mouse had been going well toward the end of 2014, was holding his weight well, we were out competing at EA competitions, placing top ten and getting ready to move up a level. I went to Equitana in November of 2014 and was doing the usual wander around with my friend when we came across a feed stand with a number of people speaking in strong British accents. One of my best friends is British so we walked over and I struck up a conversation with Anita Budgeon (the lady that would go on to change Mouse’s life) the lady who brought Blue Chip Feed to Australia. I was instantly intrigued when she told me I could cut my feed bills in half and continue feeding ad lib hay. Something that I have always had to do with Mouse and strongly believed in. All I would have to do was add in a Blue Chip Feed Balancer, Pro was the preferred option as it contains both Pre and Probiotics which would help Mouse with his gut issues. I took a load of information from her and agreed that I would contact my local feed store to order in a bag. But sadly, when I tried they couldn’t get their hands on the bag that I needed, I was slightly relieved because at this time I didn’t fully understand why the initial cost of Blue Chip was so great (I know better now). Mouse and I continued on with our lives and our constant battle to maintain weight, and not just maintain weight but keep his energy levels up and ensure that he didn’t become listless.
We continued to compete, I bought my first float, Mouse learnt to self-load, we started to compete more and more regularly, Moo never failing to impress me and everyone else with his huge heart and obvious love of his job. Then in March 2015 after the Wandin CIC Horse Trials the thing that every horse owner dreads -Mouse pulled up lame. I wasn’t concerned; I covered him in Swell Down, bathed his legs and gave him bute telling him that he would come good and that he had earned his time off.
A few weeks went by and I began to grow a little worried, he had swelling in his near hind hock and was more and more reluctant to walk around. I called my vet who specialises in unexplained lameness – she diagnosed him with arthritis in his hocks. This didn’t come as a surprise to me as he had done the work in his life and being just over 14, I was happy to accept that this was in fact the case. We started him on Pentosan and turned him out for a few more weeks while it worked its magic. By this time we were at the start of July and I was getting increasingly worried that it hadn’t worked.
He had been out of work for almost six weeks now, he had lost muscle and the months began to get cooler so weight again became an issue. I continued to give him hay, continued on his feed regime of pre-mixed complete feeds with not a whole lot of success. I had my vet out to re-asses him, she agreed with me that while he was better he was far away from being fully sound. She instructed me to slowly build his work load back up; being a horse with a history of having a very poor muscle mass he didn’t have a lot to support his weak joints. Looking back, this is all due to the poor quality of feed that I was feeding; to grow a muscle you need to feed and work a muscle. Well I was only doing one of those and wondering why I was not getting anywhere! The vet also wanted to X-ray both his hocks and his spine, just to double check there was nothing sinister going on. His hocks came back with mild/moderate arthritis, one worse than the other which is always the case but nothing as bad as what we expected due to the level of his lameness. The X-rays of his spine revealed that he had an advanced case of kissing spine, so bad that a couple of his vertebrae had actually fused together killing the nerve that runs between them and rendering that area rather numb and stuck.
So there I was, a total mess of regret, disbelief and the feeling that I had totally let down the horse that I loved more than anything in the world. That I had been riding him for so long and he had never bucked me off, never hurt me, never given any indications that he couldn’t bear my weight. In the time before he was diagnosed he had carried me around countless cross country courses, jumped a metre high showjump rounds, taken me galloping across paddocks of friends’ farms (beating the pants off any other horse in sight) to pony club and adult riding rallies, jump clubs, hundreds of lessons and clinics and he had never once complained. I have never been in awe of an animal as much as I was and still am in awe of my boy Mouse. A horse that owes me nothing and for him to give me all of those experiences without complaint is still nothing short of amazing. I vowed to retire him and give him the best treatment that money could buy, to get a new younger horse and let Moo live out his days; barefoot and naked bossing around younger horses and teaching them the way of herd life.
This lasted all of about a week. Right after I broke the news to all of my coaches and friends I took him out along our favourite trail and bawled my eyes out. He was still so happy to carry me, so content cantering along, looking down on the silly humans that dared to ride their two wheeled contraptions near him. With me half laughing and half crying vowing that I wasn’t ready to give up on him just yet….
In my search to rehabilitate Mouse I happened to come across an ad to “Become a Blue Chip Agent” I had totally forgotten about the feed company and wanting to take on a job to do with nutrition, this was perfect. I applied and three days later I was named Blue Chip Feed Australia’s Agent in the Yarra Valley and surrounding areas. I was so excited to get this feed balancer into Mouse; it was now well into winter and he was only in very light walking work. I began to learn about Blue Chip and how it works, how I would have Mouse on a full fibre diet with just his Blue Chip balancer (Pro) to ensure that he was getting all of his daily essential nutrients. I weaned him off his complete feeds, kept up the round bales and began rounding up clients to try this new feed.
Mouse started on Blue Chip Pro in July 2015 and within 24 hours (I am dead serious) he was a different horse. Neighing to me in the paddock, trotting up and tossing his head for dinner, he no longer was dragging his heels down to the arena, his work ethic improved and he started to stack on the weight.
Friends and agistees alike couldn’t believe the difference in him, I couldn’t believe it either! How had 500 grams of a feed balancer made so much of difference in my horse in such a short time? Well the answer is simple; Blue Chip is made of the highest quality ingredients money can buy; it contains the best performing Prebiotics and Probiotics, hoof, respiratory and coat supplements, blood building formula, nucleotides, vitamins/minerals, and the right amount of protein to help him start building his muscle. It contained everything he needed and nothing that he didn’t. He came to life again and I started to see that maybe he was going to be okay, maybe this wouldn’t be the end of our riding days together yet.
Mouse before starting Blue Chip
Mouse after 5 weeks on Blue Chip Pro
I consulted with my vet and my coach, my friend fellow Blue Chip Agent Amanda Lewer, and we agreed that it wouldn’t hurt him to continue his ridden career. His back had been like this for more than half his life so there was a reason behind him not dumping me off all those times that he could have. He was to remain on the Pentosan and he is not allowed to have any one else on his back. I am not allowed to get any heavier than I am now to ensure that he is not carrying more weight that he needs to, I had to get stronger in my two point and normal positions to ensure that I was not hindering him in any way and that I could get off and stay off his back while he jumped.
We introduced Blue Chip Dynamic to Mouse’s diet as well to encourage bone density, and to aid his arthritis and kissing spine – already the difference is huge, he is even and through from behind, accurate in his strides and not plagued by niggly stiffness. Under Amanda’s careful coaching and rehab exercises, Anita’s feed advice and my over protectiveness he has built topline, his coat has a shine back, his horrible hay belly has lifted, he is holding his weight for the first time in the almost six years that I have owned him and he is happy. Through very careful coaching, exercises, stretches, magnetic boots, ice boots, Swell Down, Pentosan, the best diet in the world and an improved work regime, we have increased his stride length, brought bounce and strength to his canter, taught him how to carry himself and how to bascule.
Amanda said to me in my most recent jumping lesson; “Look at his face! Look how happy he is, look at his stride and his enthusiasm for life” I just laughed and laughed again becoming amazed at this wonder horse, this below average Thoroughbred with a heart to rival the size of Phar Lap’s and a love for his job – and me (I hope) so strong that he didn’t give up and I learnt not to give up even at the worst times. There is no doubt in my mind that Blue Chip has changed
Mouse’s life, not only the quality of it but the length of his ridden career. I have learnt so much about nutrition and feeding correctly in my short journey with Blue Chip.
I am always telling people how great Blue Chip products are and how we need to stop feeding our horses feeds that their bodies cannot utilise. We need to bring feeding back to basics – less is more.
And this will happen: one feed regime at a time.