Iron Cleat and an Iron Will

Iron Cleat (Photo by Franke Photo Design)

Quarter Horses are our YourDressage Breed of the Month for April! This breed originated in America, and is known for its athleticism and its ability to excel in everything from horse racing, to western sports, to ranch work, to the dressage arena.

Dressage enthusiasts who ride Quarter Horses have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories of what makes this breed so special to them.  Here, a Region 2 rider shares how a conformationally challenged young horse, who faced the concern of never being sound, was aided by dressage training so that he could carry himself correctly.  

Cleat as a foal

By Nicole Trapp

Iron Cleat (affectionately known as Cleat) was born on April 24,2010. When Cleat was born, he was windswept and did not improve over the next 10 days.  He had Periosteal Transection on 3 of his 4 legs at the tender age of 2 weeks -his first of many vet adventures.  Over the next couple of months, things stabilized.  Then, he started to contract on both of his front legs.  Starting in June, he had a vet/farrier visit every 10 days.  He was on Cosequin, LegAide, and Equioxx.  

Cleat’s feet

Unfortunately, he continued to contract.  “He was weaned much sooner than I wanted, at the young age of 3 months,” his breeder, Beth Seip shares “I did it in an attempt to control his diet and hopefully his growth.  Weaning was a dream.  He hung out with my other mare and her foal, loving his time with the ladies.” On a vet visit in early August, his left front was at 78 degree with distraction of the lamina showing on x-ray.  A shoe was added a couple of days later to provide comfort and support.  

However, 10 days later, the x-ray showed his left front had worsened to nearly 85 degrees.  “At the early age of 4 months, he walked off a solo trailer ride into the clinic like he owned the place.,” Beth remembers.  “No screaming – bold and very curious.  Old soul in a baby body.  I was so freaking proud of him.”  He was scheduled for surgery on August 27, 2010. 

Very early on the morning of the surgery, Beth got a phone call from the surgeon.  He indicated that the situation was much more dire than he had even anticipated.  He cautioned Cleat’s breeder that he did not believe the foal would ever be sound enough to be ridden and that euthanasia might be considered.  “In tears, I woke my husband Mark.  I told him what I had been told,” Beth said. 

Mark had some advice. “You can always put him down.  Give him a chance.”  So I called the vet back and told him to proceed with the surgery. 

So, Cleat had his bilateral check ligament surgery and started the long path of seeing the farrier every 2 weeks for the next year of his life.  The risk of having the surgery so early is that the growth plates are closed.  So the risk of him developing a club foot or other concerns was high.  Sure enough, while he looked good to start with, albeit toeing out a tad on his left front, he started to get more and more upright and crooked.  All of the trimming in the world could not keep up with his growth.

Cleat went through a bad time at the age of 4 while at a trainer to start him under saddle. A farrier trimmed him very tight and short.  Beth received a call while he was at a show that he would not walk out of his stall.  She immediately headed there, trailer in tow, and met the vet and the farrier on the show grounds.  They took x-rays and assessed his situation, and Cleat  immediately came home with Beth.  His right front coffin bone was millimeters from the sole of his foot – dangerously close to foundering.  He had no foot to even try to attach a shoe.  He was in hoof boots and a stall size turnout on grass for almost 2 months.  He finally had enough hoof to attach a shoe. 

Cleat as a young horse

It was a several year recovery, working hard to get him shod to his conformation and not to looking pretty.  That has always been the key to his treatment.  He was shod to x-rays and conformation, not to an idea of how he should look.

He was on Equioxx (Previcox) forever, training his foot to provide the missing inside support.  

He was bred to be a Quarter Horse hunter under-saddle and an over fences horse.  “I accepted early on that this was not going to be a sustainable path,” Beth admits  “He was noticed by several Quarter Horse people at shows that would inquire on his availability for sale.  But I knew it should not be his career.  I wanted him to have the best career he could manage, not what the plan was for him.It was always about the horse.  Never anything else. I hope when people read this, while I know not everyone can afford to do what we did for him, sometimes you just have to try, pray and hope.”

This is where Cleat first came to me. 

From the beginning, it was clearly apparent that we would have to be creative in our training strategy in order to keep him sound.   When people say it takes a village, that truly was the case with Cleat. He was already started so it was a matter of teaching the beginnings of dressage.  Given his conformation and knowing that we needed to shift his weight as much as possible onto his hindquarters because of his front legs, dressage was perfect for him! 

Early on, it was all about suppling exercises to get him to a point to be able to be loose enough in his body that I could mold him to carry himself.  Because he was built like a hunter, the long and low part of training was the easiest for him to learn.  However, we didn’t want him to stay in that position for so long that he weighted his front end.  Lots of transition work was needed to encourage him to bend his hocks to lower his croup and have the carrying ability behind. 

Cleat began his dressage career in earnest in 2015.  He was quite successful and held his own against all the fancy warmbloods.  What Cleat may not have had in the big range of motion in his gaits, he made up for in his steadiness and ability to produce a very accurate test.   We took his training slowly and methodically, and along with incredible farrier work, his feet started to stabilize and take a normal shape.  For over two years, part of his hoof needed to be made of epoxy.  Slowly, it became less and less needed, and he finally had a normal hoof!

Cleat’s training incorporated cross-training as well, to not only make him stronger, but also keep him healthy mentally.  He was a smart boy and got bored easily.  We would do cavaletti to help him with his agility of his feet and the flexibility of his joints.   At BarryRidge Equestrian Center, we are blessed with lots of gently rolling grassy areas to ride.  Those were great areas to help his balance! 

Cleat all grown up and shining in the dressage ring

We continued to show Cleat through Third Level in 2019, with his changes being a highlight of his tests!   With limited showing, Cleat garnered the AQHA Horse of the Year at Training Level in 2015, Reserve in 2016 at First Level, Reserve in 2017 at First Level, and Reserve at Second Level in 2018.  He got his AQHA Register of Merit (ROM) in 2015 and his Superior Award in 2016.  

He now is owned by Caley Chambers and is teaching her all the finer points of dressage.  Still going strong and still sound many years after the concerns that he would never be sound. 

Cleat had a strong group of supporters that never gave up on him. A wonderful owner, a dedicated farrier, and a trainer that loved an underdog and the challenge of taking a horse further than most people would have given him the chance to. 

As YourDressage celebrates this breed all month, check out more wonderful Quarter Horses in our photo gallery.

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