Sheena: The brave little mare who never gave up

Sheena

Sheena, the brave little mare

In November of 2008, Gilbert made the acquaintance of Diane Robert, a fellow French Canadian who boarded her 24-year-old palomino Quarter Horse mare, Sheena, at a barn in Langley where Gilbert had a client. Thanks to Diane, here is Sheena’s story:

Diane had worked with Sheena as a foal, and she had been a little spitfire, very smart and spunky, showing a lot of promise. After her early handling, she was turned out to pasture to grow big and strong until she was old enough to ride.

When she was between 10 months and 2 years old (in about 1986), Sheena suffered severe injuries while turned out to pasture. What exactly happened, or how often, nobody knows. The end result, according to Diane’s vet, was a horse with semi-paralyzed hindquarters, a spine needing constant readjustments, tense neck, back and hip muscles, and a life of constant pain.

At 26 months, her resting position was all four legs within two feet of each other and back humped. When she walked, she would drag each hind leg and slap it hard on the ground, as if she had lost motor control. Her rump muscles had not developed normally for a Quarter Horse and she had problems with balance, so doing anything with her feet became a risky business.

Sheena was bathed and groomed regularly at Tickety Boo Farm

Diane bathed and groomed Sheena regularly after her move to Tickety Boo Farm

Around that time (in 1987), Diane heard about a chiropractor in Vancouver who was working with horses. The chiropractor did ten weekly treatments on Sheena, readjusting her spine. She also showed Diane some leg exercises which would help loosen up the muscles in Sheena’s rump and shoulder. The treatment improved Sheena’s condition enough that it became safe to work with her feet, and to train the little mare for light riding and driving, although she was still far from being rehabilitated.

For the next ten years or so, Diane and Sheena enjoyed each other. After 1997, however, Diane was subjected to the usual demands of motherhood, with less time for her mare. During that time, Sheena had to be moved to different barns, under the care of different farriers. Against Diane’s instructions and without her knowledge, the little mare was turned out with large groups of horses, left outside in the rain for days on end, and improperly fed and trimmed. Her initial injuries were exacerbated by being chased, kicked and bitten by the other horses, as well as being clawed by a bear and fighting rain scald. By the fall of 2008 when she met Gilbert, Diane’s little mare was in worse condition than when she came off the pasture as a two year old.

Sheena getting special treatment with a leg poultice

Sheena getting special treatment with a leg poultice

At that time, Sheena’s health and feet had deteriorated so badly that the vet’s prognosis for her was very poor, and Diane was forced to contemplate euthanasia. The little mare would lose her balance and fall, sometimes several times a day. But Sheena still had that spark, and Diane decided that if the little mare wasn’t ready to give up, neither was her owner. Determined to give her one more chance, she made the long drive from Port Coquitlam to Langley four or five times a week to make sure Sheena was getting extra feed, and to perform the strengthening and stretching exercises that would help her keep her balance. Then she met Gilbert Roy while he was shoeing horses at that barn.

Diane wrote that when she first met Gilbert, “Right away, I sensed that he was very knowledgeable about problem horses and took pride in his work. It took him well over two hours to trim my mare’s hooves and put two shoes on her front feet.” Sheena was so weak that she had to lean against the wall in order for him lift one of her feet. “Without any hints or clues from me, he told me that her feet had not been done properly for about two years,” she wrote, and that it would take several trimmings “to get her back on track.” He recommended a supplement to improve her weight, and showed Diane how to do some slow walking and turns with Sheena to improve her flexibility and her awareness of where her hind legs were.

Diane wrote, “After a week on [the supplement], I noticed a stunning improvement in her weight. Even the veterinarian noticed the improvement in both her weight and strength at each of her subsequent monthly visits.” Thanks to Diane’s diligence in following Gilbert’s instructions, Sheena did not need the wall to support herself during the second shoeing. After seeing the rapid improvement and how Diane was so willing to work with the little mare, Gilbert agreed to work on Sheena on a weekly basis to see how much she would be able to improve.

Sheena waiting to be set free after her bath

Sheena waiting to be set free to canter in the field at Tickety Boo Farm after her bath

In 2008, Diane wrote: “Gilbert combines physiotherapy, mind therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic adjustment, nutrition, shoeing and horsemanship, all tailored to the specific needs of my horse and myself. Each week, he adds a different exercise to improve her balance and flexibility. And he also trains me to spot when she had enough for the day. After just six sessions, her well-being is like night and day. She looks happier and feels less constrained in her movement.”

Soon Gilbert was able to put shoes on all four feet, and Diane could start working Sheena on a lunge line, something that had been impossible for many years. “Both my horse and I have learned tremendously from Gilbert.”

She wrote: “Gilbert Roy is a natural healer able to combine multiple disciplines geared towards the well-being of horses. He understands them from the ground up and inside out. His knowledge is phenomenal. I feel extremely fortunate to have met him and work with him on my horse. I have no reservations whatsoever in recommending him to work on any problem horses.”

Sheena eventually came to live with Gilbert at Tickety Boo Farm. Diane came to see her two or three times almost every week while she was there. Although she was never able to realize her dream of riding the spunky little mare again, she watched Sheena canter happily through the pasture and enjoyed pampering her with regular brushing and bathing. The little mare was safe in a cozy box stall with an adjoining sand paddock, where she would stand surveying the farm and other horses when she wasn’t turned out in the pasture.

Diane’s spunky little mare never lost her spark and plucky attitude, and it is a testament to her dedicated owner that she recognized and respected Sheena’s strong will to live and let her enjoy her final years in safety and comfort.

Snug in her blanket, Sheena spent her last years in safety and comfort

Snug in her blanket, Sheena spent her last years among friends in safety and comfort

O’Keefe Ranch and Pistachio, the little Canadian mare

Over the years, Gilbert has seen many horses with behavior issues and movement difficulties that cannot be fixed by training alone.  He is very sensitive to energies in the horses he gets to know, and can often sense their pain.  From his many years of experience, he has learned to help many of these horses through manipulation, stretching and massage.  Some people say he has “healing hands”.

Gilbert and Soleil

Gilbert and I went to the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society’s summer event at the historic O’Keefe Ranch in Vernon.  To join in the fun, we brought our big Canadian mare, “Gigi” along with “Soleil”, a friend’s young Canadian gelding that Gilbert had recently started under saddle.  Gilbert rode Soleil in a number of classes, and the little gelding did very well considering his inexperience.  The weather was very hot, but we had fun with the horses, and camping and visiting with many of our old friends from CHHAPS.

The costume parade at O'Keefe

While there, Gilbert was approached by another friend from CHHAPS whose little Canadian mare had some problems with her movement.  Gilbert could see that she had an alignment problem in her spine, and worked on her for a little while.  A few weeks later he received the following email from the little mare’s owner:

Gilbert,  

I am speechless about Pistachio!  I have been concerned about the vertabrae on her back since we got her as a two year old.  It was only earlier this year that we were able to determine it was from an old injury of some kind and not her conformation or the way she was born.  I tell you no lie, I have had this little mare looked at and treated by three different vets, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists.  The last vet told me to send her to the States for an MRI, I was devastated.  You, have performed a miracle on our pony that I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.  We only rode her today for the first time since O”Keefe as we all took a week off of riding, then I took my girls away to the lake for a week.  Her back is straight and no longer has that hump on it.  Her movement is fluid, flowy and sound.  There is no more stiff looking movement, choppy, short striding, or dropping her hind end.  She moves into the canter on the correct lead and without any effort.  I am awed by all of it! 

From the bottom of my heart, and Charlotte and Pistachio’s too, thank you so very much! Here’s a picture of her and the girls to put on your “cured” trophy wall.  

Take care,   Liesa”

Uncle Gilbert and the Flying Mules

Po Lin Buddha

In April of 2004, Gilbert got a call from a company called Instone Air Services in Durango, Colorado.  The company was responsible for the transport of six mules purchased from Terry Aris of Tired Ass Ranch in Alberta, and destined for a cable car construction project in Hong Kong.  The mules were to be used to carry construction materials and supplies up the mountain to the Buddhist monastery where the upper cable car towers were located, because the company was unable to build a road through the environmentally sensitive area and had to use either helicopters or pack animals.  The cable car would bring visitors to see the Po Lin Buddha.

The mules were being held at a quarantine farm in Surrey, awaiting their departure by air to Hong Kong.  The farm was used to dealing with thoroughbred race horses, not mules, and the mules were used to being turned out in a field, not confined to stalls.  This led to a very difficult situation: the government veterinarian charged with examining the mules had been kicked by one of the mules, and so had the farm’s manager, Danny.  No one at the farm was able to handle their new guests, and in fact, the farm employees were afraid to even enter the stalls.

Instone had received Gilbert’s name from Jim McCrae, a well known “mule man” from Aldergrove.  Gilbert had lived at Jim’s farm for a couple of years, and in that time had learned a lot about mules to add to his wealth of experience with horses.

Chris at Instone asked Gilbert if he would be willing to help get the mules ready for their flight.  It was important that the mules be safely examined by the veterinarian and blood taken for testing prior to their departure, and it was also necessary that the mules could be safely handled to load them on the aircraft.  In fact, the mules’ lives depended on them being well behaved in their stalls on board the aircraft, as the Instone employee had been instructed to administer a lethal injection should any mule become uncontrollable during the flight.

Of course, Gilbert was up to the challenge!  At his first visit to the quarantine farm, he had a good laugh over how the barn staff was managing to clean the mules’ stalls.  The mules were in a set of stalls on one side of the barn aisle (shedrow) and the stalls on the opposite side were empty.  The barn staff would lay out a trail of feed from a mule’s stall, across the shedrow into the empty stall on the opposite side.  Then by opening the stall doors on either side, they would create a “chute” between the stalls and let the mule follow the trail of feed.  Once the mule was inside the fresh stall, the employee would slam the door behind it.

Gilbert’s first job was to meet each mule inside its stall so he could get them haltered and on a lead rope.  Each mule had a numbered halter, and a loop around its neck that held a tag with its name and sex.  The mules’ names were Larry, Katie, Oscar, Chappy, Denny and Duffy.  Katie and Duffy were molly mules (females) and the others were all, I believe, johns (males).  (Most mules are the progeny of a donkey stallion and a female horse.) Haltering was easier said than done, because the mules would turn their butts to anyone entering the stall, and threaten to kick.  A mule’s kick is swift and hard!

First of all, Gilbert had to make the mule stand quietly and face forward.  His quick reflexes, skill at reading and communicating through body language, and unshakeable confidence as a leader were critical in getting the mule to face him and let him approach.  He would enter each stall with a lariat, and use it to keep the mule moving away from him until it was ready to stand and face him.  One by one, he worked with each mule in its stall until it would trust him and allow him to approach.

The next step was to get each mule to follow quietly on a lead rope.  This wasn’t new to the mules, but the handler and the environment were, so some of the mules were a challenge.  One of the mules, possibly Chappy or Larry, had Gilbert “skiing” down the shedrow on the end of the lead rope when he first took it out of its stall!  But he did soon have all of the mules willing to follow him quietly up and down the shedrow on the lead rope.

Duffy following Gilbert

Gilbert had to work with the mules six days a week for over two weeks in order to get them ready to travel.  Teaching them to lead quietly was only part of the job.  The mules were used to running freely in a large field, and standing in a 12 by 12 stall all day left them with no way to release their pent up energy.  They all had to be exercised daily to help keep them fit, as well as use up some of their excess energy, but they couldn’t be turned loose in a field while in quarantine.  That meant that Gilbert had to take them out, singly or in twos, to lunge them in the quarantine farm’s hog fuel corral.

So that the mules could be safely confined when the veterinarian came to draw blood, the farm built a chute behind the barn.  Gilbert also made it part of the mules’ program to get used to entering into the chute and standing quietly while someone worked beside them.  The photo shows Gilbert and Danny, the farm manager, with Katie in the chute.

Finally the day came when the mules were scheduled to fly to Hong Kong.  Gilbert accompanied the mules to the airport.  He’d become very fond of them, as he does with all the equines he works with, and was especially fond of Duffy, the big molly mule.  At the airport, he helped to settle his six charges in the “stalls” that were specially designed to load in the belly of the aircraft.  He said a sad goodbye and away they flew!

The mules became minor celebrities in Hong Kong.  Soon after, we even came across a photo of a t-shirt that was being sold in Hong Kong with Duffy’s picture on it.  You can still find dozens of references to the mules on the internet, when they talk about the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the Po Lin monastery.  The trail they used is still in use by hikers and referred to as the “mule trail”.

The mules at work in Hong Kong

Soon after, Gilbert received a postcard from Chris at Instone Air Services that read: “I want to personally let you know how grateful I am for your work with the mules.  You were informative all the way through and clearly relayed your intent as to how you were planning out their handling.  Your assistance on this project and your humble, generous, honest work attitude was a pleasure.  The work you did made for a safe situation for the mules and anyone with hands on involvement.  Thank you, Gilbert.”

I’m sure the mules would thank him, too.

Katie and Larry

Rock Star Farm

Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert, what more can we say!?

It seems like we’ve known Mr. Roy forever (1970’s or so).  He’s become just a super trusted friend and we feel like he’s a part of our family… especially when it comes to training and working our horses.  We had some behavior issues (specifically bucking and rearing) when we started Games Days at Langley Riders with our 2 American Saddlebreds.

Jag working cows

Jag – 6 years old unbroke with “abuse issues”; he was about 500-600 lbs underweight and had skin problems and you couldn’t do his feet or even pick them up!   It was like handling a 6 year old overgrown foal.  Gilbert tamed him and in the end and he was able to do team penning, Langley Riders Queen’s Mount, Drill Team, parades and roping. Gilbert got him on supplements and his coat was show condition in no time.

Cody penning

Cody – 4 years old and totally full of himself; he had some difficulties with a previous trainer and didn’t care much for people (including us) to handle or ride him without a fight.  So off to Gilbert’s he went and returned with a whole new attitude…  and willing to work again; barrels, team penning, games & trail, the Cody we used to know was back.   Jag (now 20 years old) and Cody (23 years old) are still here with us in Alberta and still placing in the odd barrel race out here.

The Barber twins team penning with Saddlebreds

We now have a total of 8 horses (all different ages and training) babies to barely broke mares, so we have had trouble finding knowledgeable people to help train them under saddle, sooo back to Gilbert we went.

Splash the barrel horse

We sent our barrel mare back to B.C. with Gilbert and then decided it would be easier to fly Gilbert out to use in Alberta the next summer to work with our horses.  Best time was had by all…!  A terrific guy to have around …

Gilbert at Rock Star Farm

Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert, what more can we say!!!

Thanks again, Gilbert!

The Barbers Rockstar Farm, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

Linda and Sierra

Gilbert is an expert rider and has trained difficult horses to perform successfully, as well as helped experienced riders discover better ways to handle their horses.  However, he has a soft spot for beginners and the patience to help a beginner (young or old) learn “horses” from the ground up.  In the summer of 2011, one of his clients was Linda Jakubec, who had owned horses for several years but still felt uncomfortable around them, especially a spooky little thoroughbred mare with “issues” from her past.  Sierra wouldn’t let herself be caught, and would start to panic on the lead rope.  Even experienced horse handlers had difficulty with her, so it’s no wonder that Linda was frightened by her behavior.

When Sierra first arrived at our farm, she was so jumpy and hard to handle on the lead rope that I (Ruth) didn’t think that Gilbert would be able to turn that little mare into a safe riding horse for Linda.  I wasn’t even sure that Gilbert would be able to ride her!  And he didn’t – not for several weeks – because she wasn’t ready.  First, he had to spend time working on some pain issues.  Possibly due to some pasture horse play, the little mare had severe pain in her neck and poll area, as well as down her back.  That’s why she acted up on the lead rope  in reaction to any pressure from her halter.

Gilbert's first ride on Sierra

Gilbert spent weeks working towards taking away Sierra’s pain and making her more comfortable.  He adjusted her spine through manipulation and massage, helped her learn to trust the human touch, started at square one with ground manners and basic training.  He made sure that her feet were balanced and comfortably shod.  When Sierra was happy to be touched and there was no more sign of discomfort in her neck and back, she was finally ready for saddle work.  Gilbert started her gently and gradually, giving her time to get used to having someone on her back again.

Linda wrote:

I am 61 yrs old with little riding experience, didn’t know how to put on a halter or saddle, and knew nothing about the background of my horse “Sierra”, who shyed and spooked at almost everything.  As green as we both were, off we went to Gilbert Roy.  Sierra went first, and stayed with Gilbert so he could work with her every day, until Gilbert felt it was time to re-introduce her to me.

What really stood out about Gilbert in training sessions with Sierra, was his high regard  for safety, both for horse and rider, and his thoroughness with every little detail from the ground up, so to speak.  Whether it was a session on grooming, putting on tack, or riding technique, he was extremely patient, and allowed us to get comfortable with what we had learned, before moving on to something new.

Linda riding Sierra

Because of Gilbert, Sierra and I can now enjoy each other’s company the way horse  and rider should.

Thanks Gilbert!

Linda Jakubec