Please share this story with your friends! I hope that other sport horse breeders in this dilemma can gain hope from Rocky's story!
It takes a village, or Team Symphony!
Rule #1. Breeding is always a risk! Never forget that while imagining that gorgeous foal that you will take to the Olympic Games 20....!
Here at Symphony Dressage Stables, we have had a small, but mighty breeding program for the past 12 years. The first 3 mares are competing in the FEI levels, and our Rocky just broke that barrier last season, with his first Prix St George's and Intermediare 1! This story is all about Rodarte, aka Rocky.
I started calling him “Rocky” after watching him fight to live from day one. Jan Handlers and I bred Free Spirit(7th in the nation in her Hanoverian mare inspection) to Rousseau (need I say more? ) We had dreams filled with sugarplums and Olympic games medals! She conceived right away. The pregnancy was on track. We sent her to the local vet hospital to foal. She arrived and gave birth to a magnificent black c**t on July 21st, 2010. When I got there, I gasped! He was so beautiful! And, then he tried to get up... That was not so beautiful. The foal had severely contracted tendons in his front legs. The tendons running along the back of his front legs would not stretch enough to let his heels touch the ground. He stood like a crab, with his knees out in front, on his tippy toes. The next day, he could only get one front leg out.. the other dragged under his body. And the third day, he just started shuffling around on his knees with his butt in the air. It was a pretty awful sight. Poor guy, fortunately, was tall enough to nurse on his knees.
We proceeded to agonize over the vet's recommendation to possibly euthanize and breed again. Our regular vet was out of town. After a day or two of diagnostic tests, we basically had a healthy foal, except that he couldn't stand up. I got my vet on the phone to update him on the foal's status. Dr. John Halford said to bring him home; he would meet us there.
We got the foal into the trailer and drove 10 minutes to the barn. I carried him to his stall with a frantic mom in tow. Then, all of my clients started crying! He was a really pitiful sight, shuffling on his knees trying to keep up with mom in a 24 x 24 stall. Mom and foal settled down quickly, though. On the other hand, the people were varying degrees of distraught.
When Dr. Halford arrived he calmed everyone when he said, "We can fix this."! That was when Rocky started to resemble Forrest Gump. We started wrapping enormous rolls of sheet cotton around his entire front legs from hoof to elbow. Then, we proceeded to wrap at least an entire roll of vet wrap on each leg. Finally, a quarter of the circumference of a PVC pipe "splint" was secured with duct tape to the back of his leg for support.
Next, we found a halter that could be used as a harness. The nose part went around his neck, the buckle went around his girth, and then we had a handle on his back. This was necessary to help him stand several times a day - to get pressure on those tendons. At first, the PVC splint was basically positioned so his toe and the splint touched the ground at the same time. Over the next several weeks, we gradually positioned the splint so that the toe and the heel would reach the ground more and more. For the first few weeks, he could not get up in his own. We moved our travel trailer to the barn and lived there 24/7 to get him up every hour. After a week or two, we could attach the halter to a lunge line looped over the rafters in the barn which allowed him to walk a little with support.
Jan, his owner and breeder, was going through her own issues with a frozen shoulder. She felt terrible that she couldn't help while everyone at Team Symphony was helping so much. No one minded the time spent; we were all set on the same goal.
Under discouragement of the foal’s slow progress and Jan's shoulder injury, one day we had a little bit of an argument about giving him more time to get better or again euthanize... Of course no one wanted that, but it was hard to see him struggle and be so dependent on us for everything. Truthfully, we didn't really know if all our efforts would help him in the long run. While we were having this mildly heated discussion, he got up on his own for the first time! I'm sure that he knew exactly what we were talking about and said to himself, "I'll show them!". That was the last time we talked about euthanasia!
After that, Rocky improved steadily and didn't need as much help. At three months, he and his half-brother R Star from our Grand Prix mare Nova, went to the American Hanoverian Inspection. For Rocky, this was his very first time running on his dam's side. We were all holding our breath. I was hoping that he wouldn't trip and fall or otherwise injure himself! He was amazing! The judges starting talking about his nice suspension, etc. I don't think any of us really listened... all I heard was Charlie Brown's teacher, "Wash, wah, waah."! He TROTTED! That WAS the amazing part!
Rocky proceeded with growing up and then it came time to start him under saddle. His forearms were still under developed due to having the wrapping around them during the first months of his life. So, he tripped often in the beginning. My assistant trainer, Jackie Duncan, was handed the task of starting him under saddle. Over time, he showed constant improvement with his training under Jackie’s guidance. She did a beautiful job and later even took him to CDS Junior Championships and won her division! Earlier in the season, I rode him in the FEI Young Horse 4 year old class at San Juan Capistrano. His first time out he ranked 7th in the nation! He and I continued on to 2nd Level and came in 3rd with a 70% at the CDS and USDF Championships and Champion in the Freestyle! This past season we took a show break to get in some concentrated training. Rocky showed PSG for the first time earning a 64% and is now moving on to Intermediare 1. At home he is schooling one tempis and piaffe / passage. He loves his work and he loves to please. One clinician almost made me cry. After telling his story, she said he seems to know how much you have given him and he wants to give as much back to you.
Watch Rodarte, aka Rocky coming up. He is going to knock your socks off. And, he will have his ears up and bright eyes while doing it! He definitely has the eye of the tiger!
Thank you to all of Team Symphony past and present and John Halford, DVM for your help and support of this wonderful miracle baby!