In every show jumper’s career there are horses who stand out as real partners and friends, who take a rider up the ladder of success in leaps and bounds as big as their gallop over a grand prix course. And when time begins to take its toll on that noble friend, it’s only right to turn a competitive partnership into a caring one. For Sarah Orberson-Taylor, 23, who trains at home in Charleston, SC, with Tony Sgarlata, and on the show circuit with Jack Towell and Liz Boyd of Finally Farm, that special horse has been a 1995 Selle Francaise gelding, born Hukas de Hermet, competed as True Religion, and loved around the barn as Hootie.
HOOTIE AS TEACHER
“Hootie is certainly the most special horse,” says Sarah. “Before we bought him, I was about to quit the sport. Hootie was able to bring me from being scared to jump anything to the point where I was waiting and wishing for jumps to be bigger. He taught me more and built my confidence more than any horse ever has and, as far as I’m concerned, ever will.”
At 14, Hootie was already a seasoned campaigner when he and Sarah joined forces, but if he was developing arthritis or performance issues, he didn’t show it. “He did his job to the best of his ability, and instilled a confidence in me that hadn’t been there before, so the vetting was not a concern. We couldn’t ask him to jump any bigger, he was jumping clear at 1.15 (meters), and we didn’t want to stress his joints, or his tendons and ligaments, in order to do the Low AO (Amateur/Owner) classes.”
Hootie took Sarah from the 3’ Adult Hunters to top ten finishes among the jumpers, including seventh place in the $25,000 Barry Lane Memorial Grand Prix at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers.
In February 2011, just before his 16th birthday, Hootie was retired, Sarah says, “after the 1.15 Gambler’s Choice in Jacksonville (FL) in January. A repetitive suspensory tear in the right front and blown fetlock were the end of his jumper career.
CAREER OVER, BUT CARE CONTINUES
“My vet, Dr. John Malark, and my farrier, Mick Doyle, both of whom I’ve used for years on all of my horses, have been a huge part in keeping him comfortable. Dr. Malark keeps him comfortable with regular check-ups followed by injections (in his hocks, fetlocks, and coffins) when necessary. Tildren® keeps his joints comfortable. Mick keeps him shod correctly up front to keep arthritic pain to a minimum.”
Dr. Malark, a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Equine), established Edisto Equine Clinic on Yonges Island, SC, in 1995, offering diagnostic imaging for horses, including retired campaigners like Hootie. “The equine body is a complex system,” he says. “A full radiological exam allows more accurate diagnosis of any musculo-skeletal problem a horse may have, leading to a more promising treatment and recovery plan. Digital imaging has made it possible to save horses from being put down, because it gives veterinarians clearer images, and options in orthopedic surgery like never before.”
Tildren® is used in Europe to treat navicular disease and is available in the United States to veterinarians who go through special licensure. It is similar to drugs used to treat osteoporosis in people by suppressing destructive – and painful -- cell activity. Also used to treat hock pain, many lameness diagnosticians feel it has been the first major breakthrough in treating navicular disease.
“We keep his dental, vet, farrier, chiropractic, and acupuncture up to date as if he is one of the show horses,” Sarah says.
The synergy between acupuncture and chiropractic treatments can offer older horses relief from performance issues. Kerry Ridgway, DVM, who operates the holistically based Equine Therapeutic Options, in Aiken, SC, with wife, Christine Heraud-Ridgway, wrote in Acupuncture and Chiropractic: A Synergistic Combination : “Properly addressed, acupuncture releases muscle tension, and chiropractic restores full range of motion of vertebrae, thus allowing inflammation to subside. Acupuncture and chiropractic function best as a paired system, and with the combination, more lasting relief can be achieved.”
NUTRITION REMAINS THE SAME
Hootie remains on a feeding program similar to his old sporting life. “His nutrition,” says Sarah, “is kept the same as if we expected him to go jump the 1.15 clear next weekend. Nothing will change unless it is needed.”
It’s a solid course to steer. Unless they have veterinary abnormalities or nutrient deficiencies, Rutgers University Department of Animal Science associate professor Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN (veterinary nutrition), suggests that most senior horses receiving an appropriate complete and balanced diet do not require supplements: “Except maybe vitamins A and E, if the quality of their pasture or hay is not good.”
To maintain a senior horse’s weight and condition, providing their liver function is good, Ralston suggests a daily cup of vegetable oil. “Fat is a good source of energy at less than 10% of the total daily ration. Daily oral supplementation with B-complex vitamins (brewer's yeast is a good source) and ascorbic acid (0.01 g/pound body weight) may benefit horses with liver disease or who are chronically stressed due to other medical or physical conditions.”
Sarah has promised True Religion a comfortable trot into senior statehood. Properly retiring a senior show horse is the best way to say thank-you for his role in a rider’s brilliant career.
“This type of horse is not replaceable,” says Sarah. “You can’t breed or teach the type of brain and heart this horse has. He set out every day to do his absolute best, regardless of what was going on around him. He doesn’t owe me one single penny. He will live like the horse he is for the rest of his life.”
L.A. Pomeroy of Northampton, Massachusetts, has been an equestrian photojournalist, award-winning publicist, and member of American Horse Publications since 1992, working with the U.S. Equestrian Team, Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, Equisearch.com, and Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, as well as heading development and marketing for zoological institutions in New England. She enjoys trail riding in her native Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, collecting/researching equestrian art and collectibles, and making life better for the animals that share this planet with us.
Sincere thanks to Sarah for sharing Hootie’s story and celebrating his noble career.