Phoenix Rising


By Toni Akerley

The inspirational Rescue Horse! We are celebrating them as our April Breed of the Month on #YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Rescue Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the International Rescue Horse Registry is a participating organization.

Here, an avid equestrian shares her story of rescuing an Appendix Quarter horse and their journey to recovery and progress in the world of dressage.

I’ve had Phoenix for eleven years, and he was a 15-year-old when I saw an ad for him that I had to check out. He was skinny in the ad. When I saw him in real life, my mouth just dropped. He was emaciated, and had no life in his eyes. His coat was rough. He looked at us as if to say “please help me”. His owner had ridden him with Tennessee Walkers, and all he could do was trot, while also being kept in a small area with no grass.

Moving forward, the day he came to our barn, he was a neurotic mess and so scared.

Within the next day or so, the vet came to deworm him and administered his shots.  This was in August.

By September, he was gaining weight and had life in him again. When we went to take him on a trail ride, he refused to load, but with some patience and time, he got on. Now he self loads!

While on the trail ride, he trotted a majority of the ride, so I decided to spend time teaching him to relax. He would also stomp his feet and try to rear up, but what that told me was that his previous owner was afraid of him. He soon found out that I wasn’t. He hated snaffles and he would throw his head with any pressure, so I bought him a snaffle with a lozenge in the center and it worked like a charm.

Come winter, he would grow a coat like no other, not losing it until June, and he would come out of the winter hard. I live in central New York, where the winters are very cold. Although he wore a blanket all winter, it didn’t make a difference. The vet came for spring shots and thought he might have Cushings; sure enough, he did, so he has been on Prascend and it has made quite the difference. Due to his missing teeth, we modified his diet. He gets alfalfa/Timothy pellets and chopped hay, soaked, three times a day. He chews hay, but spits it out in a wad after he chews for a while. Apparently, he thinks he’s a cow.

So, we started going on trails all over the place. He learned that he really didn’t have to trot to keep up, but enjoys hanging back, then trotting to catch up, which is fine. When I canter him, he doesn’t take off and listens to me. We actually think that at one time he was a dressage horse, due to his responsiveness to aids. I have found that he is an attention seeker, sucking up hugs and kisses like a sponge, probably because he never got that.

About five years ago, my girlfriend and I thought we’d try Western Dressage. He took to it very quickly, and loves to strut his stuff! Then, we transitioned to traditional dressage. He can move off my leg easily and squares up at the halt, all I have to do is close my hands and he halts immediately. We began at Intro and quickly moved up to Training Level. Then, during his lessons last summer, he would either hold the canter or refuse to canter. Naturally, my trainer thought he was just being stubborn or, due to his age, got tired fast. Therefore, we dropped back to Intro Level.

Last summer, he was doing a little better at the canter, so I entered to ride a Training Level Test 3 at a competition. It was a disaster. He was stiff and could not stay cantering. My girlfriend videoed my test and you could see how stiff and uncomfortable he was. There was a problem. This was on a Sunday, and I called my vet on Monday and she came on Wednesday. She did a full evaluation and ordered X-rays. We discovered he had a bad right hock. I wasn’t ready to put him out to pasture, so my vet prescribed Adequan®, and he improved rapidly. Before, when he would trot or canter, his head was high and he would hollow out his back. Now, he lowers his head, his trot is smooth, and his canter smooth. He now goes out with the other horses and plays with them. I couldn’t just give up on him–he’s too nice of a horse.

One of his addictions is treats… like every horse. He sees his mom coming and gets so excited. He has never bitten, kicked, or become aggressive in any way. When on trail rides, he loves the water, getting in, snorting, and stomping his feet to play all while I’m on his back. Needless to say, I get wet.

I was told by the previous owner he was an Appendix American Quarter Horse. He does have Thoroughbred features, but the QH demeanor makes him very brave. And even at this age, he can gallop.

He is my whole world and I cannot count the number of compliments we’ve received on how we make a great pair!

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