The Story of Lord Dusky
This is the story of how my beautiful Connemara pony, registered name Dusky’s Robuck, stable name ‘Dusky’ and fondly knick-named ‘Lord Dusky’ by his vet team, has managed to drop 62 kg (9 ½ stone!) in 7 months whilst on box rest.
On 24th June 2018 we pulled out of an ODE after going lame the weekend before during x country schooling. Dusky was left happily ‘resting’ in his field until early August when a trip to Deben Valley Equine Clinic resulted in a preliminary diagnosis of acute injury of a ligament in his foot. On 14th August a trip to Newmarket for an MRI confirmed our very worst fears and the diagnosis of a severely damaged medial collateral ligament of his off fore coffin joint was in no doubt. The prognosis was very grim and he was given a 30% chance of being ridden as a hack in a year’s time and confined to strict box rest. We decided to give him every possible chance of a recovery, of some sort, by under-going a series of IRAP treatments, joint supplements and remedial shoeing.
So, as if life could not get any worse for Dusky, I was kindly, politely and sensitively told by my lovely vet that he was FAT and needed to lose weight! This was of course true, being overweight could affect his general health, but may also inhibit his chances of achieving the best possible outcome from his ligament injury.
Box rest is hard enough, an emotional challenge for both horse and owner, but now, add the complication of an extremely food motivated, bored, angry at times, highly strung patient who needs to diet and my heart sank. In addition, I am lucky enough to see ‘His Lordship’ in his stable from my kitchen window – and he can see me. Yes, lovely, but NOT when you are trying to avoid his pleading, begging, big, brown eyes from putting you under a spell so that you walk out and give him a handful of ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING!
After his first 4 weeks of box rest and new diet, we went for our first weigh in at our wonderful vet practice, Deben Valley Equine, full of anticipation and hope…but he had only lost 3kg…..which I was kindly told was just ‘a big poo’! Dusky looked very proud of himself but I was devastated as I thought that I had been trying hard. This was the turning point.
Please forgive me if I am going to tell anyone the blindingly obvious, or teach anyone to suck eggs, I don’t mean to, I just want to share all of the things that I then did which, 6 months later have resulted in Dusky being crowned (only by me) as The Super-Slimmer, Weight Watchers pin up boy of 2019!
So what did I do...
- Ventilation is always good in stables anyway, but my great husband put in a window into the back of Dusky’s temporary stable to give him something else to think about.
- I invested in a digital, hanging fishing scale (less than £5 on a well-known market place on the internet) and worked out that Dusky should only be having 5kg of hay in 24hrs. Due to my work (which sadly always gets in the way of horse-life) I split that into 2 x 2.5kg nets. (My vet, Helen Whitbread had told me (in front of Lord Dusky) 4.5kg total food in 24hours was the least I could feed and that he could survive on just that!!!!!)
- I already had ‘Greedy Pony’ hay nets but I undid the rope around the top and put one inside the other and then joined them back together by threading one rope through the tops of both of them. How mean is that?!
- Dusky is hypo-allergic to dust so only wood chip for bedding (good as he can’t eat that) and haylage, not hay. Therefore I looked and found the lowest calorie ‘lite’ haylage which he initially turned his nose up to, but luckily he did not have the will power to attempt a starvation protest.
- He needed his joint and ligament supplement as well as a herbal calmer so his only hard feed was a 1/5 of a scoop of unmolassed Alfa-Beet.
- 3 handfuls of ‘ready-grass’ made for a nice distraction when I got in from work.
- I clipped ‘His Lordship’ out so that I could keep an eye on his condition and see his chubby fat patches in all their glory….and watch them slowly melt away!
- One very large Himalayan salt lick is a favourite of his and he is already onto his 2nd
- I didn’t spend a fortune on stable toys – my son read an article about a horse playing with a traffic cone and that has proved to be the best distraction and play thing. Dusky also developed a love for waving empty chaff and haylage bags around, making lots of noise but I suspect secretly getting a whiff of food at the same time!
- Despite what I have just said in point 9, I did feel sorry for him and got him the hardest to get to, flavoured, hanging ‘lickit’ – this definitely proved to only be a treat option as it only lasted 45mins!
- I tried a single ‘munchblock’ in a purpose made little net and hung it from the middle of his stable so that he had nothing to push against – didn’t work for us as he managed to rip a hole in the net within minutes and scoff the block, but this may work for other, less greedy neddies….
- I bought an £8 radio to be on during the day when I was at work – I mixed up the stations, KISS first thing in the morning, Radio 2 during the day and Classic FM in the evening, just to add culture and variety into his monotonous life!
- He is now in a small pen 14’ x 14’ during the day but I have rubber grass mats down to not only protect the ground, but they act like a grazing muzzle as they only allow odd blades of grass to stick up through.
Every weigh-in was a tense moment, made easier by jokes about making sure he didn’t have a stich on him when on the weigh bridge, always hoping it would be at the same time of day (as early as possible before he had eaten!) and feeling we had the smallest of assistance the time that he was weighed bare foot!
It has been a challenge in so many ways, even to the extent that going downstairs to make a cup of tea in the morning involved becoming stealth-like and crawling below windows and hiding behind posts in order not to be seen! All too often I failed and was yelled at by him – I am no Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, but I have got more agile!
On that note, I took a look at myself and decided that I would help the love of my life by joining him in the misery of dieting and have lost a stone since January – I felt driven to weigh less if ever I got the chance to ride him again.
The positives of the all these events have to be how much Dusky and my partnership has strengthened. I have spent hours and hours breaking up his time between meals grooming, washing, trimming, scratching and chatting with him. I have learnt SO much more about him, his moods, his idiosyncrasies and what makes him tick. I have taught him vocal commands to move around the stable and pick up his feet and have laughed myself silly at some of his games and antics.
So nearly 7 months on and I have been hand walking Dusky out, every day since Christmas. It started with just 5 minutes a day and we are now up to 35 minutes. Sedation has had to be our best friend as I did try walking him out without it and it was like kite-flying a horse so that was not repeated.
….and finally, the best news of all is that in the second week of February, Dusky was given the OK to be ridden, in walk, in straight lines, for 10 minutes twice a week. I HAD TO GET HIS SADDLE REFITTED DUE TO HIS NEW SLIMMER PHYSIQUE!!! I have sat on him again which is more than I dared hope for last summer and we are still continuing in the right direction so, even if he never makes it back to work, at least I know he will be fitter and healthier and be the most handsome field ornament there is!
Rachel and Dusky x
Deben Valley Equine would just like to add how proud we are of Rachel and the infamous’ Lord Dusky’.