Taffy's Story of Hope, Overcoming Challenges, and Miracles
Taffy in Grand Prix condition, August 2015. Photo by Lenny Truett.
Lafayette HQ ("Taffy" to his friends) is a 2002 Hanoverian gelding from Some Day Soon Farm in Maryland who now calls Dancing Horse Farm (DHF) in Lebanon, Ohio, home. When Taffy was 4 years old, he escaped from his stall and tried to explore the barn and ended up "ping-ponging" (as he's still known to do) himself into a heap of trouble. He wound up getting one of his hind legs caught in the tongue of a manure spreader! His wounds were treated and he was turned out to pasture to recover. As a result of the injury and three years of developing strong compensation patterns while he was left to his own devices, he became significantly asymmetric, with a twisted pelvis and atrophied muscles all along his injured side. He also developed a fascinating overcompensation pattern on the opposite side to make up for the "missing" side. There was at least a foot of difference between the length of stride of the strong versus the injured hind legs. As if all these physical issues weren't enough complication, his overactive terror response to everything coupled with a wild canter that required a buck to start and several times required a solid wall to stop made for very interesting and quite scary early rides.
Lafayette arrived at Jen Truett’s DHF in October of 2009 on a trailer with two other horses for Jen to train and sell. Within a couple of days of his arrival, Jen called the owner with the news that she would not be able to sell him because he had too many problems, both mentally and physically. The owner gave Jen two weeks to evaluate him and try to find someone to take him on, but if she couldn't find a viable option for him, the owner would do the responsible thing and have him put down so that he didn't wind up hurting someone or getting into a neglectful or abusive situation himself. Jen had her soft-tissue bodyworker, Linda Booren, evaluate him and was shocked to hear really encouraging feedback. Linda felt that Lafayette (he wasn't "Taffy" yet) was very willing to change both physically and mentally. In fact, she said it's rare to find a horse with so much elasticity in his joints even with no prior history of injury! So, Jen rode him the next day with the goal of determining whether or not he was willing to make biomechanic pattern changes and to "try." To her amazement, Taffy did both in one ride!
After a handful of encouraging rides but still with great hesitation, Jen called the owner and agreed to buy him for the whopping price of $1 with hopes of rehabilitating and selling him within 6 months. This was not the first rehab horse for Jen. Her previous Prix St. Georges horse, Lydia, who had just died from laminitis a month before Taffy's arrival, was also a purchased as a $1 rehab project. As a newly acquired project horse with only a short window of time to become marketable, Jen started Taffy in her aggressive bodywork, chiropractic and biomechanic ridden work regimen right away. She also had the vet do a full evaluation of the injured leg and found that not surprisingly, arthritis had developed in the scarred hock and pastern joints and that the large calcification along the length of his cannon bone was likely from his body laying bone to heal a fracture. Joint injections at six month intervals and a program of monthly IV polyglycan injections began, but fortunately, the frequent joint injections are not as necessary anymore.
Taffy's biomechanic asymmetries were very complicated to address because he developed several intertwined patterns that built on each other. In order to avoid using his injured hind leg, he developed a significant lateral swing of his pelvis each step toward the strong hind foot to quickly unload the weaker one. This swing was more than a simple limp because it included extreme over-undulation of the strong hind leg and over-articulation of the injured hind leg which caused a prolonged hanging, or suspension, phase of that leg. So, he had to relearn how to draw the injured hind leg forward and under his body and how to shorten and quicken the strong hind leg. He also had to let go of the thoracic holding pattern that kept his strong side laterally shorter than his weak side leading to a bulging of his weak shoulder and making turning toward the strong side very difficult. Breaking the very ingrained pattern of using his powerful back like an inchworm was, thankfully, the most straightforward of his problems to resolve. It was fortunate this was easiest to resolve, because his way of moving made it nearly impossible to sit the trot and gave the canter the feeling of riding a tidal wave.
With a lot of help and guidance from Jen's biomechanics coach, Mary Wanless (http://www.mary-wanless.com), Jen and Taffy were able to start to "peel the layers of the onion" away and slowly changed Taffy's acquired compensation patterns to re-teach him to use his body properly. Jen addressed his over-developed terror reaction with a magnesium feed-through supplement called NupaFeed (http://www.nupafeedusa.com) to help remove the lactic acid build-up in his muscles that were never given the opportunity to relax since he spent his life “on the muscle.” Addressing the chemical imbalances in his body made a huge difference in his attitude and focus in general. Before the NupaFeed, he spent most of the time he was in his stall spinning circles toward the injured hind leg only, which further ingrained his body’s strong compensation patterns.
The healing work done by Linda Booren and Jen's veterinary chiropractor, Dr. Mark Haverkos (Village Veterinary Clinic), helped transform Taffy from a lame horse with an atrophied rump, crooked pelvis and a scarily terrible attitude to a sweet and sound horse. Like any athlete recovering from an injury, Taffy had to be willing to try to do what Jen showed him and experiment with his body in “new” ways. What makes him truly exceptional is his desire to please, his impressive work ethic and adjustable gaits - we often refer to him as the horse with a thousand trots.
Once his internal chemistry and body asymmetries became more normalized, it was time to see what judges thought of him. In the second year of his rehab, 2011, Jen worked with USEF “S” judge, Susan Madden-Mandas, to help prepare them for the show ring. In this, his first competition year, Taffy started the season at Training Level and moved all the way to qualifying and competing successfully at both 1st and 2nd Levels at the 2011 USDF Region 2 Championships.
The amount of trust Taffy's developed in Jen is incredible considering at his first show held at DHF it took 15 minutes to get him into the show arena and then his first show away from home required Jen to withdraw because he wouldn't go anywhere near the judge! He is so confident in Jen now, that during their 2013 Florida stay, he LITERALLY faced down an airplane taking off a runway that ended where he and his mommy were enjoying an afternoon trail ride that put them at the end of an active runway! When Jen heard the engines behind them and turned to see the twin engine plane take off less than 150' away, the only thing she could do was to turn Taffy to face the oncoming plane that buzzed them no more than 20' overhead.
Amazingly, Taffy didn't tense one muscle while he watched that plane fly straight at them then over their heads. He believed in his mommy and her protection, even if at that moment, she didn't really believe in either one of their abilities to breathe, much less deal with this terrifying situation! In retrospect, Jen found it interesting that she didn't have her life flash before her eyes, instead she saw all the possible horrible things that could happen to Taffy if he galloped for home and hit the pavement at top speed, losing his mommy somewhere along the way. The only thought in Jen's mind was that she would do everything in her power to not let him get hurt to protect him from having a bad experience. To survive being buzzed by a plane unscathed with a horse who used to turn to run from anything with tires and/or an engine (probably because he was so severely attacked by that evil manure spreader years ago), is nothing less than miraculous. Jen is blessed by Taffy's presence in her life as much as he is blessed by hers. They need each other - they are partners.
Taffy has developed quite an impressive fan club comprised of the many people in our area who enjoy watching his evolution at shows. In one season of showing, he went from a timid but sometimes explosive, and sometimes uneven behind, Training Level horse who would spook at invisible things, to earning what was announced as the highest scoring Musical Freestyle ride ever in Region 2 history at 78.1%! He also earned 3rd place in the 1st Level Open Championship with a 72.1% and tied for 7th place in the 2nd Level Open Championship with a 67.2%. One of the judges of his freestyle Championship simply wrote in the comments section of his test sheet, "He is coming home with me!"
Taffy is a testament to the benefits of being a patient rider with clear goals who always keeps symmetry and biomechanics at the forefront of ridden work, as well as the benefits of chiropractic and body work. It is sad to think how many riders and horse owners are still completely unaware of, don't believe in, or misunderstand the incredible value of using a "wholistic" (Jen's term for what she does) approach to training horses. Today Taffy is a happy, healthy, and thankfully SOUND horse who is NOT for sale! Interestingly, the calcification mass on his cannon bone has remodeled so much that it is now at least half its original size!
From severely crippled to champion in less than two years—what an amazing ride!
Taffy has learned to "smile", for treats and always makes silly cookie faces for anyone who walks down his aisle. He loves his mommy, daddy, grooms, granny and anyone else who will let him carefully “touch” them with his nose. If you ever doubt that horses can understand English or your intentions consider this: the very day Jen decided to buy Taffy, he went from a horse who might very well bite you if you were too close to him to a total mush-pot. He also deflated under saddle one day when Jen's husband, Lenny, jokingly commented that now he was going so well, it was time to sell him. Jen very quickly "scolded" Lenny and had him apologize to Taffy and promise to never sell him; Taffy responded by quite audibly sighing deeply and relaxing back to work again. He knew he'd found his rescuer, and Jen couldn't love him any more if she tried.
If you haven’t clicked “Like” on Taffy’s Facebook page yet, please go here: facebook.com/LafayetteHQ and do that! If you’re already one of his fans, thanks for following his journey!
PS: May 25, 2014: Taffy showed Prix St. Georges for the first time this weekend, and got a 70% in his second time out at PSG and a 67.5% in his third time. Those two scores completed the requirements for Jen Truett's USDF Silver Medal! Yay, Taffy!
PPS: August 9, 2015: Jen and Taffy did their first GRAND PRIX test, receiving a 61.8%, Jen's first needed score for her gold medal!
PPPS: March 1,2017: Jen and Taffy did their first CDI at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby in Florida! Jen was THRILLED that her formerly crippled horse trotted SOUND for international judges at a CDI! He's come such a long way!