2006 bay Thoroughbred gelding
Registered Name: Sir Gallagher
Type of Rescue: Animal Control Seizure
Intake Date: 11/28/2022
Adoption Date: 7/10/2023
Length of Time with SAFE: 8 months
ADOPTED!! by Raven Rock Ranch
Jax came to SAFE in November of 2022 as part of a seizure of 27 horses from Pierce County (who we called The Graham 27).
Who doesn’t love a thoroughbred gelding? This regal lad is the whole package – good in a herd, friendly, and handsome. He is a sweet guy on the ground, and was restarted under saddle with little issue. However, during his restart we discovered he had kissing spines. But after injections and various therapies, as well as clearance from our vets, we felt confident that his comfort was able to be managed despite this diagnosis.
When Raven Rock Ranch came looking for a horse for their program, Jax fit their specifications to a T. Jax now spends his days helping trauma-affected youth through equine therapy. His name is now Rex, and he lives alongside another thoroughbred mare along with other equine friends. Jax has a home that understands his condition and is more than equipped to manage it, and in his downtime he receives acupuncture and tons of love.
Yet another happy ending for a member of the Graham 27, as we said our goodbyes to Jax last month as he made the journey to his new home. From the beginning he proved himself as one of the most easily adoptable of the bunch (not that a horse’s singular value is in riding, but in this realm he was pretty safe and relatively uncomplicated, traits that take a bit longer to nurture in some), but his kissing spines diagnosis a few months in meant that he had a bit of an asterisk attached to his name. After injecting his back and rehabbing him, it appeared to both us and our vets that his comfort was increased to such a degree that he could go under saddle as a light riding horse.
It was kismet, then, that our neighbors at Raven Rock Ranch were looking for a horse with Jax’s exact specifications. In his new life, he would be an equine therapist for trauma-impacted youth. Raven Rock has adopted from us before, and their standards of care for their horses are top tier. Jax would not only fit perfectly into their program, but would continue to receive the necessary upkeep and care for his kissing spines for the rest of his life. We could not be happier for this match.
Special thanks to Bonnie, for the many hours of training and love to help him get to this adoptable place. Also to our vets at Rainland, who helped us develop and implement a plan to get Jax to place where his pain is managed. It really takes a village, and thanks to a great team, we could truly give Jax the best possible end to his story at SAFE.
In his new life at Raven Rock, Jax is called Rex, which means king (and with his royal TB bloodlines, it’s very fitting.) He is turned out with another thoroughbred mare called Roo, and the two were smitten with one another from first sight. The queen to his king, they are never far apart (but when one of them does leave, we hear reports that the other remains perfectly calm waiting for their friend to return). He is also turned out with a very small friend, who he treats with respect, as any great leader should.
We are truly over the moon for this royal boy, and can’t wait to hear future continued updates about his great new life!
Picture this: a Rocky-style montage of Jax during his rehab. Instead of running stairs, he’s going over trot poles, elevating his back to relieve pressure off his spine. He’s getting strapped into the saddle for the first time in over a month. He’s emerging victorious from his diagnosis, this initial battle won. Kissing spines is not something that is ever completely remedied, but with proper care and surveillance, it can in some cases be successfully managed, and it appears as though Jax is one such case.
So, more about his rehab process. After his injections, Jax was set to have a bit of time off before getting back into the swing of things. Our vets always provide us with a detailed re-entry into work plan depending on the individual horse, and this was no different. The gist of it is usually something along the lines of some time off, and then a gradual increase in time, gait intensity, and tack until the horse is back at it’s original level of performance. Of course, adjustments can be made if needed — some horses will never quite make it back to where they were pre-injury (or diagnosis), so along the way we are always carefully monitoring in the event we need to adapt.
One of the vet’s suggestions for Jax was finding ways to elevate his back muscles to take some of the pressure of his spine. Sending him over trot poles was one simple method they recommended. Bonnie, who had been riding and working with Jax up to the point of his diagnosis, quickly changed course and became a trot pole pro, keeping up his daily appointments to help strengthen his back. Jax was, for the most part, a willing participant, learning the ropes with ease.
Another suggestion of our vets was to try a therapeutic tape, like Equi-Tape, to help with muscle engagement in a more passive way. Our dear friend Jackie came by to help tape Jax up, a process for which he was an engaged (and well-informed!) participant. He was incredibly patient as he got all taped up, and had some big yawns after all was said and done, which we like to think means he was feeling good.
The final step of his rehabbing involved encountering the saddle once again. This was, in some ways, the true test of how his recovery was going, given that sensitivity to being cinched up had been the initial indication that something wasn’t quite right. And after all the work that had been done to get him there, it appeared as though he was ready to be back in the saddle.
He is still taking it easy under saddle, doing some light work with a rider, which is likely to be the best and most sustainable path for him going forward. We will continue to check in each time we work him to ensure that he is still remaining comfortable, but so far, so good!
As is the case with any new horse, it takes some time before we get to know them. That period of unknowing that comes before knowing is always so strange to reflect on – the hidden personalities that lurk beneath the surfaces, waiting to be teased out by proper care and caring. When 15 horses arrived on our doorstep all at once last November, we knew it would take a bit before we knew each of them.
Jax was one of the first off the trailer. He was immediately kind, letting us flit about him to get his intake vitals and measurements. He had a lip tattoo that he was coy about letting us peek at, but his subsequent dental float allowed us to learn he was only 15 – quite young, and in good physical condition, no reason why he couldn’t be brought along as a riding horse.
And so that’s just what we did. After his intake quarantine was over, we brought Jax into the fold of our horsemanship program, and found him willing and responsive. He faced the same challenges as most of the Graham horses – an initial franticness when asked to move forward, an inability to bend laterally, and a pushiness on the ground – but he was a fast learner, and never felt dangerous. We guarded our hearts a bit as we got to know Jax, knowing that his would likely be a fast turnaround.
But as we spent more time with Jax, we began to notice he could be a little ‘cinchy.’ The issue did not present itself every time he was cinched up, but there were several instances where his reaction to the cinch being tightened was quite dramatic. We called our vets.
Dr Lewis had previously seen Jax for a soundness evaluation, something we put nearly all the Graham horses through in preparation for their restarts under saddle with us. At that appointment, she had recommended shoes for him to help bolster his thin-soled feet, and prescribed Equioxx to help cover the mild hind-end arthritis that is so common in horses of his breed and age. But since the shoes and the meds, he had been doing very well under saddle, and as she palpated along his back at the appointment we’d made for a diagnostic for his cinchiness, we told her so.
Fashion statement of the year: lead jackets, coming to a vet appointment requiring radiographs near you. Technology certainly is amazing, that the time between the X‑ray being snapped and its image appearing on the computer screen is mere seconds. And on that screen, in black and white, was our diagnosis.
Kissing spines, a rather cute name for something painful. If you want to get technical, you could say he has overriding dorsal spinous processes – essentially, the touch or overlap of these DSPs. On radiographs, Dr Lewis identified 5 spots in which Jax’s DSPs overrode one another significantly, making his a moderate case, radiographically. His clinical signs, however, were mild.
Kissing spines is not an uncommon phenomenon, especially, it seems, in thoroughbred horses (one study showed 40% of horses have it to some degree). Some horses who have it never exhibit any clinical symptoms of discomfort or pain, while others, like Jax, only have mild signs that something might be amiss under the hood. Given his diagnosis, we wanted to be sure that we were doing right by Jax, but Dr Lewis told us that, with the appropriate management, it was likely Jax could be kept comfortable as a riding horse going forward. There would be some work involved to help maintain him, but this did not necessarily have to spell the end of his time under saddle.
So then, what next? We scheduled an appointment to have those DSPs injected with a steroid, per Dr Lewis’ suggestion. This injection will be followed by a period of rest, and then gradual strengthening before getting back into the swing of full work. We also made Jax an appointment for some acupuncture, another treatment Dr Lewis recommended. He was a very near perfect boy for this treatment, and seemed to have good responses.
As a more in-house treatment, we will help Jax alleviate some of the pressure off his spine by helping him strengthen his abdominal muscles and stretch out his back through targeted exercise. And of course, proper saddle fit and significant warm up time will also be important going forward.
While there is a surgical option, Dr Lewis has seen equal results with less invasive modalities, so the non-surgical route is how we will proceed at this time.
Until his treatments begin next week, Jax is taking it easy, shedding out in the spring sunshine alongside his buddy, Picasso.
What a nice horse Jax has turned out to be! He’s made such a transformation since entering our horsemanship program about a month ago. It’s been extremely enjoyable working with this gelding, and teaching him a new and better way of being.
When we started working with Jax, there were two issues that came to light right away. First was anxiety…he seemed to think that “being worked” meant flying around the round pen at top speed. We introduced him to a new gait called the walk, and helped him understand that walking in a relaxed manner was a perfectly acceptable option from time to time. He was also massively stiff in his neck and body, like he’d never been asked to bend before. We started with gentle bending exercises, then started working on moving in small circles, then taught him to move his hindquarters over. This work was transformative to both his body and his general outlook on life. There are some who criticize the horsemanship we do because it seems to involve a lot of bending…but to see a horse who cannot bend, who can’t move away from pressure because his feet are stuck…frankly, it’s awful. There is a clear connection between freedom of movement and happiness. Jax is living proof of that.
Under saddle, Jax has been wonderful to work with. He’s such a patient, tolerant, unbothered horse. True, he has more whoa than go, but he literally never does anything naughty with a rider on his back. In our large outdoor covered arena, he can get a little distracted knowing that there are horses in every direction, but not to the extent that it becomes obnoxious. He’s got a lot of try, and he’s a pretty smart cookie too. He’s very teachable. He needs to continue to build his strength — right now his trot is pretty hard to sit — but his stamina has already improved a great deal. We’ll try to get him out on the trails real soon, but I have a feeling he’ll do great in the great outdoors.
On the ground, Jax wants to be a pocket pony, which is sweet, but not what we want from an animal his size. He came to us with some annoying habits, like rubbing his head on you, pushing you with his nose, getting into your space etc. but it has not taken much for him to understand that rudeness will not be tolerated, mainly by backing him up and making him stay outside his handler’s “bubble.” It’s pretty clear that he got away with such behavior in the past, so his adopter will need to be mindful of this and correct him quickly if he gets pushy. He knows better, and with consistent boundaries, it’s not going to be a problem.
All in all, this horse is pretty special, and will make a great friend and partner for someone. I may be biased, because I like Jax a lot, but I swear he gets better looking all the time. His dark bay coat shines now, and his head looks more sculpted than it did when he arrived. He’s got good confirmation, and a really good mind and disposition. If he didn’t have a lip tattoo you might not believe that he’s an off-the-track Thoroughbred. He’s made terrific progress during his time at SAFE and he has the potential to go a lot farther!
Jax has a lip tattoo that denotes his past as a racehorse. It’s always fun when we get a horse who comes in with some kind of marker about who they were in their past — so often we don’t have any clue a horse’s history. Looking into Jax’s lip tattoo, we discovered he was born ‘Sir Gallagher’ in 2008 here in Washington state. He is a grandson of Storm Cat, but his career earnings were not quite as impressive as his famous family’s. As a two year old, he had two starts and placed third. As a three year old, he had six starts. His total earnings over his career totaled $1,415.
Jax is the younger of our two thoroughbred geldings, his lip tattoo revealing him as being originally christened ‘Sir Gallagher,’ born in 2008, which makes him 15 this year.
He arrived at SAFE with loose stool, which we helped clear up with a course of biosponge.
Jax is up to date on vet and farrier care. He has had a dental float, his sheath cleaned, and is up to date on his vaccines. He was also dewormed upon arrival, as he arrived with a positive worm load. He is gentle about being groomed and lifting his feet – he has been trimmed once since arriving at SAFE, with a 6 week trim schedule set going forward. He gets daily thrush treatments to help combat the thrush all the Graham horses arrived with.
We will assess Jax more thoroughly in our training program in the coming weeks, but we have high hopes that he might be able to be a riding horse, his age younger than we originally thought, and his body in good condition.
Jax is currently turned out with his Thoroughbred counterpart, Sparrow (their names together a happy ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ accident), and gets arena turnout with neighbor, Hopper.