Fun Fact: When searching for a cowboy to deal with your problem horse, New Jersey is not an ideal place to live.
I've never wanted to live in Texas or any more traditionally "cowboy" area, but holy mother of god, did I wish I wasn't in NJ. Robin knew nobody near me, and the only name I had was based on some online forum research. While the Chronicle Forums are pretty reliable, I wasn't about to ship a horse that reared off to anyone. I remembered the fictitious Walter Farley cowboys, breaking horses of rearing by breaking a bottle on their heads when they went up. That was 1000% not cool. I wasn't looking for someone to bully Java into behaving, I wanted someone who could figure out the root of the problem and work through it. However, my list of potential cowboys was pretty sad. As in, there wasn't a list.
So I fell back on my aunt, who I'd ridden with years ago in middle school. I had ridden reining horses with her, and always respected her knowledge. She'd lived in Texas for a while, too, so it was cowboy by proxy. Even though we haven't been in touch in some time, she responded to my email right away and we set up a time for she and her daughter, another solid rider, to come check him out. She watched me tack him up and lunge him, a bucking, racing dappled grey rocket on a string, until he skidded out in the hind end and had to stop or fall down. Her conclusion was that he was going to need a lot of work and was probably nursing a serious injury.
I'm not really about quitting, and I was looking for a reason to keep trying, so I called Robin again and ran that info by her. She wasn't so sure about injury, as he had never taken a lame step with them, but suggested a few things to ask a vet/chiro. Fortunately, I knew just the one. What NJ lacks in cowboys it makes up for in excellent equine professionals, and I called my favorite chiropractor/lameness vet/superwoman.
Artist's rendering of the vet getting my nightmares under control.
We did everything but the kitchen sink. I jogged Java on the straightaway and in circles, and lunged w/t/c both ways. She saw the slipping, watching the zooming grey blur, and concluded that he wasn't lame. Anything she would note was from him running around unbalanced and out of control. Then we did a neurological exam, since I was worried he was heavily one-sided and weaker on the right. No problem there, he passed. The adjustment was consistent with his slipping on the lunge, and and was a little tense in the jaw. But as she finished his adjustment, she turned to me with her final assessment.
"Sounds like he needs a cowboy."
Even better news? She knew of one and had worked on a horse he trained! And guess what? Big surprise, it was the same trainer I had found on the Chronicle Forums. Apparently there's only one cowboy worth having in the NJ area, and that's Roddy Strang of SportHorse Training, Inc.
I called him the same night, explained the whole drama, and his response was simple. Sure, and when did I want to bring him? When I asked if I could visit first, he gave me an open invitation to come by any day, Monday through Friday, to watch him work and see what I though. I really appreciated the transparency and the open invite. He clearly wasn't worried about visitors showing up and seeing something bad (cue breaking bottle nightmares). So I took him up on it, dropping in one afternoon to watch him work two horses, one with a rearing problem and another OTTB. He talked the whole time, explaining his process and beliefs, thoughts on ulcers, feeding, and his riding history. I was sold before he was halfway through the first horse.
And at the end of August, with a little trailering help from H, Java found himself heading off to Lancaster County to get some religion.