The Return of Hope

If I would have known this would have happened, I probably would not have made the trip.

I stopped for gas two hours in on a three hour trailer haul. It was June 1 and the morning was getting hot the farther I got from the mountains. I half didn’t want to know, but I also needed to know. I had to open the trailer door (front door) to get a look. What I saw didn’t exactly surprise me, but for the first time in my own horse owner journey I very seriously began asking what happens if she doesn’t make it. I mean it’s a very large creature to pull up to your destination and have the life gone and to figure out how to move her and more importantly… where?

I was looking at a healthy Khaleesi maneuvering her head around to get a better view to determine if we were there yet but otherwise completely fine, and next to her was Hope. She was covered in sweat, standing at odd angles with her back legs apart and front feet together making a kind of awkward triangle. Her neck wasn’t exactly resting lifeless on the chest bar, but it hung pretty low.  Eyes so dull I could get no response from them. She was still breathing. But aside from that this was very, very concerning.

This trip could be the end of her.

I shouldn’t have brought her.

No. If we didn’t come the next step probably was going to be dig a hole, it was only a matter of time. I had to get her to someone who could really help her. 

At this point turning around was not an option, so when I got back in the truck I sent a message to my HH partner Brandea and Hope’s half owner Iva- both women of powerful prayer- and I let them know I’ve never been so concerned for the life of a horse and if they could pray for her now that would be great. 

They did.

The temperature continued to climb into the high 80s and I tried to think of about anything else as I kept going North on 81 to 66. The distance seemed to stretch on forever. Would we ever arrive? And when we did what would I find?

I knew she was sick and I knew this ride would be hard on her, but it’s a good thing I didn’t know exactly how hard because any sane person might have made the call not to do it.

Hope in the field in SC after a 4th rejection

If I would have known this would have happened, I probably would not have made the trip.

As I wrote that opening line I realized that though it was true for the trip to True North Veterinary Services in Northern Virginia, it was also true for the trip that brought the sweet little mare home to VA in the first place. 

I was looking for a new addition to my herd two years back and Brandea told me about Hope (then named Sugar- she was in South Carolina… the land of sweet tea and lots and lots of sugar…) she seemed like a good fit. She had a kind face but one that carried a lot of trouble under her eyes. Her story was vague, somewhere after she was born and started and maybe loved she ended up at a rescue. The rescue adopted her out… twice… she was returned both times before she ended up a prospect for Western style kid lessons at a boarding facility. 

They also saw a kind face and a nice quarter horse that seemed calm and willing. Apparently she had a marble streak in her that refused to do the work (I can tell you why she refused considering the kind of pain she was in though no one saw it) and she was kicked out of both the kids and the teen programs and then dumped for the time being in the pasture until they could figure out what to do with her next.

That’s where Brandea saw her and had a sense there was something of value inside of Hope, she needed someone who could help to call it out. Brandea has a gift for hidden treasure in many forms.

I realize that every one of my horses has been chosen for their value not so much of what they could “do” for me, but what they could teach me. Actually, I just realized that as I write this. 

Khaleesi I chose as a feral 4-year old because I wanted to learn to start a horse from zero and it was a bonus that she was 4 and had almost never been touched. 

Wyoming came a BLM wild mustang with minimal training (enough to gentle her and get her started) and I wanted to learn horse language from a native, that is exactly why I got her. To teach me “equine”. 

Hope had been chosen because I have not worked with shut down horses. I wanted to learn what to do with a horse whose lived under humans who have created a situation where the horse withdraws and goes inside to escape which usually happens for survival. I wanted to see if once the damage had been done, is there hope for drawing them back out. Could there be redemption? I hoped so. And when I loaded her on the trailer in South Carolina to join Khaleesi on the ride to Virginia her new name was strikingly clear: Redemption’s Hope.

If I knew just what was brewing in that sweet little horse it’s very likely, wisdom would have dictated I not make the trip.

In both cases, I’m glad I had just enough ignorance and optimism to move forward. That is my gifting. Ignorance and optimism.

God might have had a plan B for this sweet little mare, so I will not suggest that without me (and Brandea) she would not have lived or had a good life. Who knows, the plan B might have been even better than me!  Regardless, I’m honored now to be chosen for her story, as twisted as it’s become, I’m glad I didn’t know before I picked her up. In the end it will be me who is the lucky one.

When I brought her home I noticed occasional mucous mostly if under stress, trailer ride across a few states or doing some trot work etc. But it wasn’t regularly enough to dig too deep, or that’s what my ignorance and optimism suggested. I thought maybe it was a new location allergen. She’d get over it.

We began to do some work to earn her trust. We began to encourage her to explore, to be curious, to interact. We would do things she wouldn’t expect like ride her on the buckle, no steering, only forward and let her go anywhere in the arena she wanted. One day we even let her out of the arena and she went all over the area exploring. She had a herd, a home, and we cared about her above what she could perform for us.

Gradually the mucous issue increased, and by summer there was also an occasional faint odor. When we had a vet come examine her there was no sign of the mucous or the odor the day she came. She did some chiropractic work (what we thought at the time was her biggest issue) and said otherwise she seemed healthy.

By early fall the mucous was steady enough to get a sample (though of course it didn’t present when the vet came and I had to take the sample the next day) and the odor was more noticeable. A lab report told us what bacteria was present and what antibiotics would kill them. We went ahead with a double length course of Exceed and it seemed to clear the issues up. But a few weeks later it all began to return. This process repeated three times with new antibiotics shown to kill the bugs, into the end of the year ending with an attempt at homeopathic remedies which also worked beautifully… until the issue returned… every time.

This was about it’s worst in December 2021

I knew there was a deeper root cause we weren’t addressing by now and was at a loss where to go next. 

I began with a more “hospital” approach that was recommended and talked to folks at both VA Tech and a (somewhat) local equine veterinary clinic that has equipment and facilities of a large animal vet set up for most anything they might need to do diagnostics to treatment to surgical. The next approach seemed to the professionals to be a scoping of her guttural pouches and a flushing of the system. The best guess was the infection wasn’t really clearing because it was likely too deep and needed to be flushed. No antibiotics are getting to the root of it. 

That was going to be invasive and expensive but even more it was right around the holidays of Christmas and New Year, also our weather for travel gets really sketchy in January. Something did not feel right about setting that up and I sat on it.

I thought it was worth talking to my neuromuscular equine dentist first, but that’s not simple either because she comes up from South Carolina. Actually for some regulatory reason it’s almost impossible for someone with her skills to have a home base in VA. Reminds me of when I had to get my diesel Jetta from Washington State when I lived in CA. I ended up using biodiesel and using zero oil and was polluting the environment less than the Prius owners who got incentives and HOV lane stickers. I was penalized. Government intrusion and regulation from lobby groups has never stopped me from doing what I think is right and that’s still true today… I digress. 

If you’re interested in neuromuscular equine dentistry you can check it out here.

I would go without dental work before I would have a “normal float” done on any of my horses again. Especially now that we’ve worked for 4 years to get their mouths balanced, their TMJ functioning again, and their jaw working how it’s supposed to. That’s a whole other blog. Oh wait… I already wrote it.. Here’s a link!

My dentist is also in equine osteopath school, she saw Hope just weeks after I brought her home and as usual with a horse of this age who had “normal” dentistry for years, there just isn’t much she can do to help her until she erupts enough new tooth. This rehab process of the jaw, TMJ, and skull that balance with the teeth can take years because it depends on having enough tooth to work with and most equine dentist take off a lot of tooth to address what they see as pathology (waves, hooks etc). She made lots of notes on Hope, but adjusted very little the first visit waiting for a year when she could help her more. When I asked for help said she would try to find a way to connect with me to look at Hope (I thought a root cause could be in her teeth, but she didn’t seem to have anything obvious like a broken tooth or acute pain), however she suggested I was within driving distance from the best equine osteopath she knows. I might consider going right to her, she understands the jaw and teeth and can do good work in the mouth, but also she’s going to have the skills to take care of many other problems as well.

I took the information and continued to sit on it. I was working on if I could get my dentist to us or Hope to her somehow and that took weeks to hem and haw over. Today I wish I would have just called to schedule with Dr. Hancock sooner, but within driving distance is a three hour trailer ride, and the dollar signs and time commitment were both a factor. She didn’t seem to be getting any worse, or any better.

Finally the day came in spring when I felt like worse was becoming a pattern and I sat in my car after feeding one morning and prayed: God, I know you want to heal this horse. You haven’t done it yet, so I’m sure I’m missing something. Can you tell me what you want me to do next?

As if from heaven but only in my head it was about as booming as one could get:


I did just that, in that very minute actually, from my car, and that brought me to True North Equine Veterinary Services. From here I chatted with Stephanie Carter who has already been worth her weight in gold to me. She explained that they won’t schedule a visit with Dr. Hancock until they assess the diet for chronic cases. They want to be sure there isn’t an inflammatory diet issue that will mean the osteopath changes won’t be effective. 

I already liked this approach, it was so different- it was exactly what I had been searching for and didn’t know how to find.

Stephanie did a dive into my current feeding program and found it over all really solid. I am whole food based and stay away from commercial mixed feeds of any sort. For years my horses are on 24/7 forage and their supplements (mostly minerals) come through a small amount of Coolstance and timothy or orchard hay pellets. That’s it. My horses don’t need and don’t get any alfalfa, any beet pulp, or any feed mixes. I stay away from things that tend to be GMO (soy, corn, beet, alfalfa) It’s super simple. I have had their pasture and hay analyzed in years past and have found a basic foundation from CA Trace minerals and I add a few extras: chia seeds, extra magnesium, occasional spirulina, vitamin E, and plain salt. It isn’t perfect, but it was keeping my already healthy horses in pretty good shape. However for Hope though Stephanie didn’t find sources of inflammation in the diet, she found the amount I was supplementing though probably fine for a normal healthy horse was not enough for one who came to me likely immune compromised, with a lingering chronic infection (creating inflammation), probably carrying heavy metals, and then taken down even farther with three rounds of serious antibiotics killing off her gut biome.

As I thought this all through, I realized I would have never deep dove into Khaleesi’s supplementation because as far as I can see she is healthy and thriving, but when we decided to send in a hair mineral test to get a better picture of what was actually getting through to Hope’s system, I added K too. Turns out Hope is carrying a high amount of aluminum which didn’t surprise either of us, and her nutrients indeed were not making it into the ideal range (we also found a high parasite load). 

Khaleesi is overall doing well but her adrenal function was low which means she isn’t going to have a lot of quick energy. Now I can look into supporting this in a variety of ways before it shows up in ways I can see it on the outside. There were a few really minor things I can address to tweak her health into a more excellent place, especially supporting her more when she’s in harder work. 

So we began with a few changes to Hope’s supplements to build up her system and a probiotic she’s had good luck with and then set the appointment for a few weeks out with Dr. Hancock.

I decided it would be plain stupid for me to take a two horse trailer three hours each way to see what I was told is one of the best osteopath vets around and not take two horses. So I loaded up both K and Hope. And this is where we pick up the story. 

Thankfully when I (finally!) pulled into the satellite barn facility (not the main office) and met Dr. Hancock, I opened the front door to see her awake, alert, and … not dead. I cannot discount the value of a few praying warriors here because she should not have gotten BETTER in that last hour as the temperature continued to rise and her fatigue increased from the drive. But she offloaded without drama and walked over to eat some grass.

We began with Khaleesi who was in overall really good shape, but this is so cool to me: Dr. Hancock found a pattern that went from poll to hind by her sacrum that seemed like it had been in place a while that was off. She did light sedation, went into her rear end and adjusted a few things to put her into alignment. I believe the years back when I had a lot of trouble keeping her sound etc, that I also found was likely related to a saddle I was using, and also I have had years to learn about my own body and balance and how to improve, I think she was able to set right something that needed attention that hopefully I have in recent years made adjustments that will keep her in good balance going forward.

Meanwhile Hope had laid down in her stall and was out cold. Not dead, but exhausted.

We encouraged her to stand and Dr. Hancock did a very preliminary overview. Hope ate a little hay and we felt at least she wasn’t going to expire yet. So we talked over what to do and it was clear to both of us she was not getting back on the trailer. This was an unusual circumstance neither one of us had particularly planned for and we made the start of a plan. 

Dr. Hancock would keep her and begin diagnostics to sort out the layers including X-rays and bloodwork, fecal testing, farrier visit and osteopath body work. Because Hope was so depleted, having her at her own barn would allow her to do it over time which would make it easier on Hope.

We planned for a 9 day stay and I left her there feeling unusually confident (I don’t trust a lot of people to care for my horses). Turns out that in that 9 days, though much was uncovered, there was more to go and we continued to extend it. In the end she spent a month with the True North folks and the rest of the “duct tape” as I call it with a horse that needs deep healing came off layer after layer.

This is interesting to me as I’ve observed it and talked to others who have been involved in deep rehab cases. The horse can put up a lot of inner protection to survive and people can add duct tape to keep them in work and things look not so bad. This horse has had very little work since coming to me. She’s had basically what would be necessary for rest and recovery, better nutrition than she likely has ever had in the past, turn out, a stable herd, shelter…

It’s not likely anything that we have addressed was a result of her time in my care, and yet I look back a year plus ago and anyone would have thought she was basically a horse that could use a little TLC and would be great. I have pictures of Iva trail riding around the property, her working in a local clinic, and we even took her camping one weekend at an endurance event though she didn’t compete she got to ride around the trails and be in ride camp with Khaleesi.

How did she go from not thriving to almost dead?

Stephanie and Dr. Hancock have seen some rehab cases in their time and Stephanie said to me in one conversation:

it means a lot when a horse trusts you enough to finally fall apart. 

Writing that even now makes my eyes get all damp. 

I saw this play out in recent years with Brandea and Molly. The Woman who sold Molly was certain she was ready to be competing in 25 mile distances and was expecting that was just what Brandea would do with her. Actually it’s exactly what Brandea had planned to do as well. It was only after we began to peel back a few obvious concerning layers that over time we learned that one reason she was “so fast” was because if she wasn’t rushing around she had so little balance she’d probably crash. What a ride. She went from a previous owner who was disappointed that this amazing horse wasn’t being competed within months to a vet visit where the small team who had assembled did some diagnostics and told Brandea the horse would barely be rideable in a pasture for a kid, she was finished. Neither story was true. That little Morgan mare has come through amazing transformation and Brandea has had to give up a lot to commit to what the horse needed and not what she wanted. But today she says it’s all worth it. She isn’t racing quite yet but she is in the physical shape where she could, and maybe soon her mental capacity will get there too!

When we want the truth, not only what we hope for (I sure hoped that Hope would be up for teaching some kids this summer, and doing some trail riding) but we really want to know the deep truth, it will come out. I think this horse hasn’t had a safe place to let that truth come out for many years. A place where her value was greater than what she could perform. Both Iva and I did everything we could to ensure she somehow knew that we valued her because she was “ours” and she was safe, and no matter what we were there to give her what she needed, not to get what we needed. And I’m not sure, but I think she had to know somehow as well that we wouldn’t be “afraid” of what was in there either. We could handle it.

I would like to add that Iva wanted in on this project without me ever inviting her. She asked if she could be a part owner of this little project horse. She wanted to try an endurance ride someday, even if it was only a limited distance ride. She would have loved to do some jumping (her own background) but in the least she would have been happy with some great trail riding. And yet this young woman of an unusual grace has been totally heart invested in Hope regardless of the fact that at the age she is now when she can still do some of this, she’s sacrificed her own “dreams” because this horse symbolizes to her a giving back to all the lesson horses that gave to her in her teenage years. It’s a maturity level I rarely see in any adult forget one just passed 20.

And so, over time we began to peel back some of the duct tape and allow her to fall apart and she began, very slowly to trust us with that process too. And it has taken a professional experienced staff a month to find all the pieces and help sort them out. 

I think the pieces are basically in place, but there is much to still do to have a strong thriving horse come out of this.

I am grateful for the return of Hope.

No. My summer at Hope Horsemanship does not look at all like I’d planned. And probably if I knew how much expense and time and effort would go into bringing this creature back to a fullness of life, I might have not made the trip. But as the staff told me in an update email a few weeks ago:

Hope is why we do this, to see her slowly coming around and looking more alert and even younger by the day has been encouraging to watch. She is such a sweet mare, we all love her and are so glad she is getting another chance.

She needs daily rehab, not intensive, but there are things that her body just doesn’t believe yet are possible, like she doesn’t have to hold her chest muscles like tight little balls to support her entire body and to avoid pain in her heels. We have a long term plan to help her with the last 10-20% of healing. Sometimes that final stretch takes the longest. But she will get there, and when she comes into strength, with no duct tape needed, her last years will be her best. And I and sure there is treasure in her. I cannot wait to see the beauty as it unfolds!


For those asking what was actually wrong with her, these are the details:

An Xray of her skull showed a place where lower teeth were creating pressure into the upper teeth just enough to create a constant pressure abscess. This was where the inflammation and constant sinus infection was coming from and she relieved the pressure which began the healing of that.

She had other issues as well relating to balance and being able to pick up her feet. The first year I had her we kept shoes on her, but in December I had them pulled and with her not in work I thought barefoot was fine.  Though radiographs of her feet show no serious changes it is likely she has some soft tissue damage in the heel causing pain which is what contributed to her chest being so tight from having to hold herself in a way to alleviate the pain in her feet. This had gotten so bad over time that it was difficult to get her feet picked up at all to even trim them and her heels were slightly long which made it all worse.

Dr. Hancock had to do a nerve block on the feet just to get them trimmed, and then they had to wait a few weeks in the rehab process to try again at getting a heel relief shoe on her because she would not stand long enough with her foot picked up to get a shoe on- even by a top professional who is apparently “very fast”. 

They ran tests for both Lymes and EPM. The lymes was negative but the EPM had low but present titers. She is on a treatment protocol that as far as I understand goes through the immune system to get rid of the protozoa that remains. It’s hard to know how long she’s carried the EPM, but we had always noticed she had a tendency to trip and not have a good feel for the ground under her feet.

Since we brought her home in December 2020 we noticed her entire body was very hard. Her neck was like stones, her spine had a roach hump very noticeable and her hind end “didn’t exist” to her. Her chest has always been pretty tight and her TMJ is not properly functioning either. We had some chiropractic work and myofacial body work done last year hoping to help her come right through her body and I’m sure it was positive, but the month long gradual changes Dr. Hancock was able to do has completely changed her body. Her neck is not a solid chain of rocks anymore and she can bend it in both directions pretty freely (this is in itself a miracle to me!). Her roach spine began changing even last year to relax as she began to release the tight ball that was her body even in increments. 

I cannot discount the part her mouth has played in all of this the more I learn. First my dentist noticed last year that her mouth was basically in the same shape as her spine. Yikes. She did what she could with the tooth matter she had to work with, and we watched the spine stretch and come down over months. However the teeth being able to meet in the jaw is key for the feet to be able to feel the ground properly. Apparently humans and horses cannot really walk a straight line if their teeth cannot meet in their jaw. Also there is a fascinating interview where Dr. Hancock talks to Wendy Murdock about how the jaw in a horse almost acts like a third pair of legs the horse balances on. If that system is out of whack lots of issues show up in the rest of the body. (Video Link Here: Webinars with Wendy)

It is certain that Hope has had problems in her mouth— the biggest being the pressure in one place creating an abscess and inflammation. I wonder if some of the balance issues and tripping she’s had connect to her not being able to have a properly functioning jaw, TMJ, and in the end skull. It’s stunning to me what whole horse problems can have a root in a dysfunctional skull, jaw or TMJ. And yet we cannot see any of that from the outside, and most people don’t look at a horse with stifle issues or a small grade lameness and say: hm, it looks like the TMJ is stuck and thus the hind legs cannot function properly.

No ones says that.

More commonly they inject the joints, or give you a protocol for backing up hills, if they are really good they might look at the saddle to see if there’s atrophy or impinging that make the hind unable to function fully creating a movement that will over time create damage.

This is why I’m so grateful to have found someone who is really looking at the whole horse from incisor angle to the tail placement. A team who started with the diet before trying to fix the acute issues that were visible on the outer layer. 

I am not glad that Redemption’s Hope had to go through all this healing. It’s expensive and time consuming for me, and I’m sure even the healing process is somewhat painful as she gets better for her. However, I know that connecting with this team and learning what I did is a vital piece of Hope Horsemanship from now on out.

And I thank them for all they did over and above what was professional, to invest in her wholeness.

Published by JaimeHope

Violin teacher and endurance rider living in a rural mountain county - one of the least population dense and without a single stoplight.

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