Rachel & Casey - A Champion's Tale
I first met Casey in the summer of 1991, when she was 3 & I was 11. I arrived at the riding school one evening, to find one of the staff from the dealer’s yard that was part of the business, tacking up a new pony. I remember him telling me, "We just broke this one in this morning," as he slapped the saddle on her back. She looked utterly terrified, wild eyed & with her mane in ringlets down her shoulder. She was completely bewildered in the lesson. I remember he had a horrible short stick that he kept smacking her with. A couple of times she dropped her shoulder & dumped him on the ground, & I secretly thought, "Good for you, pony!"
Shortly after that I started riding her. I had always been told "Don't ever ask for a pony, we can't afford one," so it came as a total surprise when my mum & dad told me what I was getting for Christmas that year - Casey!
We spent my teenage years having fun with friends, going to shows, etc. Casey was never the easiest pony to ride back then, she was very spooky & flighty, & frequently galloped off with me. I put it down to her bad start at the dealer’s yard. I was constantly being told by other people, "That pony is taking advantage, get a stronger bit in her mouth." I was once persuaded to try her in a pelham - it was as if she had never been broken in. She stood & shook, & refused to move. So I went back to the little rubber bit I had been using. At that time nobody I knew rode bitless, it was pretty much unheard of among my horsey friends.
The breakthrough came in autumn 2000. For my 21st birthday Casey & I went to a training weekend with Richard Maxwell, an ex cavalry officer who had trained with Monty Roberts & then gone his own way. I had been to a couple of his demos & liked the way he worked. Max, as he is known, watched us ride the first morning, then rode Casey himself, & quickly decided that she was super sensitive & couldn't cope with any pressure in her mouth. So I got back on her, he took the bridle off & told me to just let her go, as she had to figure out for herself that there was nothing to run away from any more. She took off round the school, & I can vividly remember the other course participants flattened against the wall of the school, with looks of horror on their faces as we thundered past, & Max calmly saying, "You're doing fine, just sit there, she needs to work this out"! Gradually she began to relax & slow down, & finally came to a halt. I spent the rest of the weekend riding in a rope halter, & went home with a changed pony & a new approach.
Casey has never worn a bit since then. There were times when my friends would be going to shows & I would think it would have been nice to be able to go as well, but I refused to put a bit in her mouth just because I fancied a day out, & there were even fewer opportunities to compete bitless back then. Luckily we had access to plenty of hacking, so we spent our days exploring the countryside, hacking for hours in the hills near our home. People who had known Casey before couldn't believe the change in her. She can still be spooky & likes to go fast, even now, but the fear had gone.
That would have been the end of our story, had it not been for a fateful day in October 2014. Casey was struck down by a severe bout of laminitis, brought on by Cushing’s disease. She had never had laminitis in her life, & was showing no symptoms of Cushing’s, yet she was literally crippled overnight. It was devastating. She spent the next 7 months on box rest. Her pedal bones sank to within 1mm of coming through the soles of her feet. She had to have holes made in her soles to relieve the pressure, & I had to change her dressings every other day. It was a very dark time. She wasn't expected to make it, & indeed the decision had provisionally been made to let her go. Her feet were too unstable to travel her, but a specialist from the local equine hospital agreed to come out & see her at my vet’s request. We thought long & hard about whether it was the right thing to do, but decided to give her a chance. It was a long recovery, but she was amazing throughout it, & coped really well.
After 7 months her feet were stable enough to travel, & she was ready to start turnout. We were forced to move yards as the yard we were on couldn't provide restricted grazing. She settled really well at the new yard, & continued to improve. To this day my vet & farrier still talk of her recovery as being nothing short of a miracle. All I wanted was for Casey to be well again, I was fully expecting never to ride her, but in Sept 2015 after 11 months off, I sat on my special pony again!
My vet & farrier both agreed that as long as I was careful, a bit of gentle exercise would be good for her. I was worried about the concussion on her feet if I hacked her on the roads, but the new yard has an outdoor school, something we had never had before, so we started playing about doing little schooling sessions. To my surprise, we both enjoyed it! We rode our first ever dressage test about 18 months ago. Someone had told me about online showing, which sounded perfect for us. It gave us something to aim for, without any of the stress of travelling - & we could do it bitless!
Casey & I started competing with Interdressage in January last year, & shortly after Nina invited us to join IROBE. We have had so much fun this last year, trying out lots of different classes. We even made it out to an actual show, wearing our home made bitless in hand bridle! When I think of how ill Casey was, for us to be able to be learning new things & having so much fun, never mind winning awards, is just amazing. Nina's passion & commitment to promoting bitless riding is an inspiration, & Casey & I are very proud to have been part of IROBE's inaugural year!