The first time I saw Stampede was the summer after my sophomore year of college. I was leasing a really cute mare for the summer and they had brought him out and were ponying him around the indoor. He was already much taller than the western horse they were leading him with, and really just super tall anyways. I remember thinking “oh my god, that horse will be huge!”
After that years went by and I never really thought of him or saw him again. As I was finishing up my final year of college I contacted the same barn, looking for horses to ride and possibly buy. I was told Stampede was out in a field somewhere else, but they would bring him in if I was interested. I said sure. We went and picked him up March 2006. He hadn’t been worked in at least a year, so I was surprised when he calmly got on and off the trailer and was immediately at home in the barn. I decided to lunge him and he did everything I asked for by voice command.
Now Stampede was not without issues, there was a reason he was living out in a field. He had laryngeal hemiplegia, or roaring. Basically one of the two flaps that open and close when you swallow was paralyzed. When he would work hard, the paralyzed flap would swell, cutting off his breathing. This creates not only the characteristic roaring sound, but an upset horse as well. If I had understood more about the condition I probably would have run from it, but I didn’t and I could work with him for free.
When I started riding him he was almost 6 years old and 18.1 hands. While he proved quite quiet, he was very green to the aids. From what I understand now, they tried to start him quickly and get him showing so they could sell him for a large sum and it backfired with the breathing issue and some less than stellar trainers along the way.
We started slow and worked on things. His breathing was not much of an issue in the early conditioning phase, so I was able to get a good feel for him. We jumped a little bit and I thought he would be a great project for me. A few months later after a prepurchase exam I signed a deal stipulating that he would have the surgery on the seller’s money and if he was usable afterwards I would buy him for a set price. Off he went to MSU to have his tie back surgery.
When he came back I almost fainted. I hadn’t been told what to expect, so I assumed there would just be stitched or staples. He had some stitches up one side of the throatlatch, but then a huge open hole under his jaw. When he would drink water would come out! Ick! I had to clean the edges of that daily and then put vaseline on them. He was only allowed to handwalk til it closed and he was so crazy! He would be grazing one minute and jumping up in the air and running around me the next. Then he would throw himself down on the grass to roll.
Time flew by taking care of him and moving into a house nearby. Soon the vet came and scoped him and cleared him as healed and I got back on the same day. He sounded like a normal horse and a few weeks later we sealed the deal with a check.
After his surgery he became a different horse in some ways. I think he realized he could be more athletic and still breath, because he became so much stronger. I was very glad I did all the work I did before the surgery. There was no english trainer at the barn, so we worked on our own doing mostly flatwork.
Finally the time came to get some help and start doing more jumping, so we moved on to another barn…
- Baby picture of Stampy!
- So I moved Stampy to a new barn to start doing more jumping and have a trainer. From the beginning it was a disaster. He started out by refusing tiny x’s for no reason and spooking at all kinds of things. Looking back I think it was ulcers all along, and I just didn’t know it. So we struggled along for quite a while.
In March of 2007 I was riding on a Sunday morning in the outdoor ring. He was being nice and quiet and we were trotting around. I was going down a long side on the quarter line near the woods when it all went wrong. I felt his right shoulder start dropping, and then the whole front end. We dropped together, me going right and landing directly on my shoulder, him somehow going left and landing on his side. We both laid there in shock for a moment. A sink hole sat between us in the riding arena, the reason he fell. He got up slowly, stunned, stood there for a moment, and then trotted off to the gate of the arena. I got up, my shoulder hurt, but I moved it around okay. Then I realized it wasn’t okay and quickly it progressed to the point where I had to hold my right arm or I was in horrible pain. Others showed up and took Stampede in, and I was taken up to the barn owners’ house. My future husband was at work at the time about 45 minutes away, so I called my parents who came and got me. We went straight to the hospital.
Not only had I broken my collar bone, but I had broken it in two places. It would require two surgeries to fix it – one to put a plate in, then one to remove it three months later. The plate would stabilize the breaks, but it would also make it so I couldn’t lift my arm all the way, which is why it had to be removed. The accident happened on a Sunday, and I would have to wait til Thursday for the surgery. I burst out in tears the second they told me it would be at least three months til I was better. How would I survive three months of not riding? Who would take care of Stampy?
We left the hospital and I made them take me back to the barn to see Stampede. I made sure all my stuff was put away and checked him over. He was concerned and super quiet with me in his stall. I have no idea how he didn’t break a leg or how he managed to roll left when he stepped in the hole with his right. I’m sure it could have been so much worse.
After that came days of sleeping in a recliner in a fog of pain meds and finally my first surgery. Surgery went as planned and I came home to continue my pain med fog. A few days after surgery I continued to feel like I had a big cramp in my right calf. It kept getting worse until I could barely walk on it. The doctor sent me to be tested for a blood clot at the hospital ‘just in case’. Well that turned out to be a real blood clot, which left me back in the hospital for five days and on blood thinners for months.
Stampede got put into training to keep him going. Once I got out of the hospital I would come out and watch the trainer ride him. She was only flatting him, I think because she was scared of him, and he was doing pretty well, although he was very nervous. After about 2 months I got cleared by the doctors to get on a horse and walk around. Of course this meant I started doing full flatwork. Stampede was a nervous mess with me, even worse than with the trainer. Trotting as fast as he could, head in air. We would circle around one of the jumps over and over again, Stampede foaming and scared.
Stampede just never stopped being that way at that barn. He was always running, I was always holding on. Maybe it was because it was the same arena. I personally was paranoid, looking at the ground as we went. To this day I always want to look at the ground in front of me to see if it’s safe.
The trainer and her husband took over the daily barn care and things got even worse. Stampede kept dropping weight and looked horrible. I got my second surgery and continued riding a couple weeks later. Finally Stampede got very sick. He didn’t want to eat, and he had started falling down before that, creating big sores on his front ankles. Never having a horse with any health issues before I had no idea how to respond. I tried to call the vet I used for shots and got an answering machine. I left a message – one they never answered. Out of desparation I called the number of the vet who did my prepurchase exam a couple years before. It turned out to be her cell phone number and she agreed to come out the following morning. This is why she is now my full time vet!
He was extremely anemic and sleep deprived. We started him on ranitidine for ulcers, had them change him to a higher fat grain, and put him on platinum performance to help him recover. My vet demanded that he get a full bale of hay a day. While he got somewhat better, the care at the barn was still in decline and other horses were getting skinnier. I finally confronted the trainer, who said they just couldn’t afford to feed the horses any more than they were. Off we went to find a new barn…
So we moved to our current barn a few years ago now. Stampede was immediately more relaxed there just stepping off the trailer. With the help of my trainer I’d say he is a fairly solid horse for me. His main issue now seems to be his fear of horse showing. He completely changes and becomes so tense and on edge. As soon as he’s in the ring alone to do his course he is just in a hurry to get it over with. Not really sure how to fix it other than to just keep showing and hoping he will get over it eventually. In the meantime it is often quite embarrassing being run away with on a tense angry beast!
- Horse showing with Stampede
- After quite a long time of Stampede displaying symptoms under saddle that included a reluctance to go forward, hopping behind, and tripping with no known cause we finally reached a breaking point in early 2013 where Stampede became impossible to canter. I again had a vet out to look at him and this time he saw something, a slight neurological deficit that pointed to a back or neck issue, and referred us to MSU for a bone scan. Stampede was diagnosed with kissing spines and received several steroid injections in his spine. I have since learned so much about kissing spines but the one thing I would want people to know is that kissing spines are the symptom not the issue. A horse with kissing spines either has a ligament problem or a facet joint problem that is causing the processes to get too close. Not knowing this really delayed how long it took me to figure out a good plan for Stampede who has facet joint arthritis. Thankfully, he continued to be rideable, albeit sporadically, until early 2017. We even managed to do a full show season in 2016 by only doing one division and sticking to 2’6″ which he can easily canter over. In early 2017 I tried to bring him back from time off for a hoof abscess and suspensory strain but his body just said no. Honestly the worst part of the back issues turned out to be that he wore out other parts of his body compensating. He was having trouble bringing his right hind under him or picking it up to have the foot cleaned or trimmed, he was off in his left front for a reason we never managed to diagnose (x-rays were clean), and I just couldn’t get him moving well enough to get his back strong again with all of that. I’m certain I could have injected and spent lots of money and gotten him going but I felt it was time to let go of my dreams and do what was best for Stampede.
Just seeing how he has changed since retiring home to Morstone Acres has been proof enough that I made the correct choice. My cranky horse with sleep deprivation issues has turned into one that follows my husband around in the pasture and goes to the fence to get treats from my parents. My family all really disliked and were scared of this horse before but now they can see the horse I fell in love with all along.
Stampede and I have had a long and crazy journey full of medical issues that led to retirement for him at the age of 16. I do hope he’s my first and only special needs horse but I love this mammoth TB just the same! Phoenix may be my heart horse but Stampede is my best teacher. Follow your gut and you will never do your horse wrong.