The Gift Horse

The Gift Horse

The tale of a very special horse and how he changed one woman's life

By Lisa Carter, CEMT
Heavenly Gaits Equine
Carlton, Texas

Caren Ruthven and her off-the-track Thoroughbred Twilight at a Parelli Natural Horsemanship Clinic in 2008Twilight (Twilight Agenda x Miss Maserti) was born in May of 1999 at C&C Colt Company and imprinted by Caren Ruthven. Caren had no idea at that time how much of an impact this one horse would have on her life, nor what tremendous obstacles this horse would encounter, and overcome, on his journey to maturity. From weanling to yearling, he experienced a series of very traumatic events, both physical and emotional, that no one horse should ever have to experience. As a weanling, Twilight was traumatized by a severe hailstorm that spawned baseball-sized hail. He became frightened by the storm and crashed through a fence, cracking his skull. He healed quickly, but was left with a small bump on his forehead.

Twilight's greatest challenge came as a yearling, when he somehow managed to get his entire body wedged in a hay feeder. It took several people and a tractor to free him. He sustained severe injuries and emotional trauma from this event. The vet was not certain Twilight would survive, but Caren insisted they try everything possible. Caren faithfully followed the recovery routine given her by the veterinarian. The injuries were so severe that Twilight had to be short-tied in a stall for two weeks with his front leg in a splint to limit movement.

Over a period of several months, he was allowed progressively larger areas to move about. He had to undergo very painful skin grafts, where skin was removed from his stomach and transplanted to his leg, unsuccessfully, and finally had to undergo a punch graft.

Through all of this, Caren was with him 24/7, caring for him and comforting him where she could. The vets thought Twilight would be in bandages for at least a year, but through Caren's diligent care, the bandages were finally removed after six months. They developed a very strong bond during this time. There was absolutely nothing that Caren wouldn't do for Twilight.

Caren Ruthven and her off-the-track Thoroughbred riding in an Eddo Hoekstra Clinic in 2008In time, Twilight was given the green light by veterinarians to begin training for the racetrack. While he was in training, Caren visited Twilight several times. When she entered the barn, she would call to him, and he would perk up and nicker for her in return. He genuinely seemed very happy to see her during these visits. But after about the third visit, his responses to Caren changed and he seemed, to Caren, to be mad at her for his being there. He appeared very depressed and sad, and was definitely not happy with his current situation. After a very brief and unsuccessful racetrack career, Twilight was to be returned to C&C Colt Company under Caren's care.

When Caren got Twilight back, it was very apparent that his old injuries were still giving him serious trouble and that was most likely the cause of his failure on the track. He had severe scar tissue built up in his right hip, and his pelvis was crooked. This seemed to be greatly limiting his range of motion in the hindquarters. One of Caren's clients at the time went to school to learn massage for the express purpose of helping Twilight. This seemed to help him quite a bit, but he continued to have problems. Caren eventually took Twilight to a "Sense Method" clinic with Mary Debono, a Feldenkrais Practitioner from California. During this clinic Caren and Twilight had an extraordinary experience.

During the clinic, Caren followed the instructions given to her by Mary Debono. For several days, Twilight showed little or no response to the therapy, despite having individual as well as group sessions performed on him. Then, on the fifth day, after the morning session, Caren noticed Twilight's hair was standing on end, like he was full of static charge. That afternoon, they performed a group session on him, and shortly thereafter, Twilight seemed to have a reaction, very similar to a colic episode. He laid down and his breathing became very fast, almost like he was hyperventilating. Caren was very scared, but followed Mary's advice during the episode. When Caren laid her hands on him, his eyes were wide and looking about frantically as if trying to tell the story of that terrible night he became trapped in the hay feeder. He continued in this state for approximately 15 minutes. Then he raised up briefly, his breathing came back to normal, and he quietly stood up and shook his head. Whatever he had just experienced was over, and he walked off as if nothing had ever happened. People say that you must face your fears head on before you are able to move on into full recovery. Caren believes this is what Twilight experienced and needed to go through in order for the healing process to begin.

A week later Twilight was behind the barn when Kerry, the massage therapist who had worked on Twilight so often, walked up and asked, "Who's the new horse?" She didn't even recognize him at all. He was a completely different horse. He appeared much calmer, and he seemed completely at ease. His entire expression had changed and even the way he carried himself was different. After two or three months, Caren noticed he had grown about 3 inches at the withers. It seemed that whatever shift his body had made, had freed up the muscles in order to allow freer movement and decompression of his frame.

Caren Ruthven and Twlight during a Parelli Natural Horsemanship Clinic in 2008These experiences with Twilight convinced Caren that she did the right thing by stepping out of the box and seeking alternative therapies. Conventional medicine was limited in the help it could provide. Shortly after the "Sense Method" clinic, Caren took Twilight to a Natural Balance clinic given by Gene Ovnicek. After examining Twilight and seeing how painful his lumbar area was, Gene felt he could help relieve a lot of the stress through corrective shoes. They tried a wedge pad on the hind feet, and this seemed to greatly help Twilight. It helped to ease his pain and his stride increased dramatically to the point of overstriding. She also experimented with several homeopathic remedies to address the scar tissue.

In 2006, Caren began taking dressage lessons with Twilight, which came very easily for him, despite his limitations. Twilight seemed to enjoy the lessons immensely and was always very attentive when Caren rode him. However, after about 5 months of training, Twilight started to display intermittent problems with shortstriding. His x-rays showed that he was in the very painful stage of fusing his right hock. Caren decided to put him on turnout for six months. During a recheck about the fifth month of his turnout, his left hock was found to be fusing as well. So, back out to the pasture he went for more healing time. During the ninth month, he went back for a recheck, and he was back to having problems with the right hind, which turned out to be a bone spur that had developed right inside the hock joint.

Caren started riding Twilight again in very light work in August 2008. Since then, he continues to experience periods of unevenness in his gait, but has more good days than bad. So, they take trail rides when they can and spend lots of undemanding time together. Caren is committed to doing whatever she can for this miraculous horse. Were it not for him, she would never have taken the path into the world of holistic health care and met the wonderful people and animals she's met on this journey.

Dedicated to Twilight from Caren, "Thanks, Baby, for opening my eyes. Momma loves you."


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