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Worthy of Devotion

A young Fell pony finds his way to the care and friendship of just the right person to meet his needs. In turn, she finds the delight and joy of Fell pony presence. Taryn Smedley shares her story of a bio-mechanical puzzle that posed challenges in keeping her pony sound. Solving the puzzle for this pony has not been easy, but very much 'worthy of devotion'.

Highbrook Young Master (Nox) FP72683G

Submitted by Taryn Smedley of North


Edits and introduction by Kimberly Dunn

(I) purchased Nox from a breeder in Illinois who imported him from England. He pulled on my heart strings when I saw his picture and knew there was something about him. I knew he was going to teach me something that I have yet to discover about myself. After he was gelded with (his) prior owner, he developed locking stifles. (He) received bilateral ligament splicing surgery post gelding to help eliminate the locking. After purchasing him is where our journey began.

When I purchased him I was in a place in my life where I had no idea how much humor I needed. He has provided so much laughter, joy, and pride. During the period of working on getting him stronger he was so steady on the trails. (He rides) loose rein, calm, and when he faced something he was unsure I could feel he was willing to try. (He) just needed his hoof held. Even after being stirred up on occasion, he would come down from his episode quickly. (When) off property, he is steady and reliable. He provides the goofy kind of humor that I am sure those who own a Fell know what I mean!

When I am not busy working with bodywork clients, I help manage a small equine facility part time along with training Icelandic horses in both North and South Carolina. I have a deep rooted passion for advocacy for the horse and enjoy educating to all ages. My Fell Pony experience started through a close friend who had a Fell gelding I helped work with. I fell in love with their cheeky demeanor, their amount of tireless try, humor, and how strong their minds are. I am so grateful for Nox and having him in my life.

Nox was diagnosed by multiple vets with locking stifles. By two different vets he had received the ligament splicing surgery. One (surgery) was done before I purchased him and (the other) was done (after he came to me). My current vet indicated, since he was older, (the procedure) may now be more successful. The more work I did with him the worse it seemed to get before he had the second splicing surgery. I did notice he seemed to improve once he was worked after the second surgery. Stifle injections were done (zero change), estrone injections (seemed helpful but hit/miss) Equioxx (did nothing), long term work with poles (with and without an Equiband), straight exercises on the trails with hills and having to step over logs. Nothing seemed to be fully helpful. Pole work was the best out of what we tried while using the Equiband.

I can see how the locking limits his ability to have full range of motion. When he is “stuck” he first turns both forelimbs before moving his hind. With this I can see how it is hard on him emotionally as well. Backing up is his hardest and most challenging movement. This maneuver is something I avoid as backing up strengthens the psoas muscle. The psoas needs to be as loose as possible in order to properly bring the hind end underneath and stay engaged.

For his individual issues I feel as though his issues do not truly stem from the stifles but are a secondary cause. For a more “classic” case it could have evolved from birth trauma, an injury, conformation, or a potential developmental issue that needs to be addressed through rehabilitation and exercise. Common factors seem to be two muscles that work together in harmony that will continue the disfunction unless they are released. Those two are the brachial cephalic and the psoas (muscle). Hills are only beneficial if the thoracic sling is developed. To help minimize risk, my suggestion is finding a good bodyworker you trust to help aid in developing the horse together. If they are able to work on the areas that need guidance before training, will help the pony build the muscles it needs to properly set him up for success. This will help discourage strengthening disfunction. Good dentistry and finding a qualified farrier who is able to help keep a shorter toe with a roll and proper heel is also very important. No hoof, no horse. Formulating the proper hoof also starts with nutrition to build a strong and healthy foot. This implies avoiding high starch and sugar diets and finding a balancing faced feed that supplements their needs appropriately.

Posting on forums on asking for local and reputable bodyworkers is what I find to be quite helpful. Word of mouth is a powerful resource and seeing whose name is the most mentioned gives you a good idea of the quality. Even just researching bodyworkers in the area or finding one you like and seeing if they travel. I currently reside in North Carolina, but frequently travel to Kentucky and South Carolina. My states of travel are increasing based upon demand. So the bodyworker who may seem a bit too far may frequent your area! Making sure the individual has received hands on training and is certified. I am a firm believer in continuous education and find that to be quite important.

How I view it is that these individuals are not only members of our families but also athletes. Their upkeep and demand can be put into different categories varying on their capabilities. An equine is unable to verbally tell us how, where, and why they may be hurting or what is causing discomfort so can be a guessing game. When they have a problem they only know how to compensate. Finding the underlying problem can be quite the puzzle! Having a professional come out to help figure out the answers to the how/why/where’s is always an excellent way to listen to them. Along with noticing certain patterns and if their idiosyncrasies are actually cries for help. Say your horse is girthy. Sign of ulcers? Tight pectorals? Maybe the girth is pinching? Cut somewhere you can’t see? The more we “gaslight” our horses the more we strengthen the disfunction. A bit of a harsh reality that I too have had to take a step back and realize I have done that for most of my life. As we continue to be in a world that has let us pause and reflect during these pandemic times, use it as a safe space to see what your horse is truly telling you. Even just looking up basic acupoints are an excellent start on helping us aid in comfort but helping us listen to their needs. As I deep dived into Equine Massage I used Nox as my case study. Upon working on his lower lumbar, sacrum, psoas, and brachial cephalic muscles his stifles would completely unlock. I followed the flow of travel along the muscles that play together into making his lock more. This lead to the discovery his stifles are not the issue after all!

Figuring out the why, where, and hows can be quite a scary place. No one in this is alone. I think if we all work together in helping not only our Fells but all equines, it builds us stronger as a community.

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