For many of us it's the ultimate dream, breed from our own mare and produce the foal. For Veterinary Student Natalie the dream was to become a reality when her mum decided to breed from their Westphalian mare Fanta. They chose a German stallion 'Dante Weltino' and the idea was to produce the resulting foal for Dressage.
Natalie had been riding at novice/elementary standard and was about to begin Vet school, so the plan was that in the 4 years for the foal to mature and start her ridden career, Natalie's riding would have progressed and she'd be a qualified vet and together they would be ready to start some serious dressage.
Flora was born in a torrential storm under the watchful eye of the team at Active Equestrian. Flora was the loveliest foal from the second she hit the ground, bold and always very people orientated. However when she was just 6 months old she picked up a nasty respiratory tract infection. Shortly after her recovery from the infection she became very ill with a severe intestinal infection called Lawsonia intracellularis, an infection which is most commonly seen in pigs but is increasingly affecting horses especially weanlings and youngstock.
Flora lost excessive amounts of weight, so much so you could see the vertebrae in her neck. Her condition deteriorated and she had to be hospitalised at Chiltern Equine for days over Christmas on a drip. Her recovery following this was long and arduous, with Flora having to be fed 8 times a day to try put weight back on.
Natalie finally got the ok to turn Flora out. After so much time on box rest and in veterinary hospitals it was a momentous and joyful occasion for the whole family, to finally see Flora out in the field. However their joy was not to last long as just a few days after finally being turned back out she came in lame. After more investigations she was found to have Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) in both stifles. This was another massive blow to the family and they were faced with making some really difficult decisions, eventually deciding to take a gamble and elect to have surgery when she was just 9 months old. A surgeon came from Newmarket, and scraped 7cm square of damaged cartilage from her stifles. There is no guarantee with this surgery and the family did not know if she would ever come sound following the operation.
Just to add to the odds stacked up against Flora it was also found that she has a grade 6/6 heart murmur, due to a very rare congenital form of mitral valve disease (a leak in her heart valve).
For Natalie the likelihood of her ever getting on Flora was diminishing all the time, and the chances of them ever competing seemed obsolete. But they still had their friendly foal who was a huge hit with all the vets, vet nurses and grooms, whom she'd made friends with on her road to recovery.
4 years later Flora was sent for breaking with Will and Ginnie at Tanglewood Farm. Nobody knew if Flora would even be sound once they started lungeing her. Thankfully she was, but it soon became apparent that getting on was going to be the biggest issue.This remains the only thing that has been difficult, but unfortunately is relatively important! It took nearly 6 months of patience and persistence before anyone could eventually get on outside, having started out getting on in her stable which she seemed to feel was a safe space. Once on, however, Flora was an absolute dream and has almost never put a foot wrong. After much work with very gentle progress Flora was turned away just before Christmas 2016, and brought back in to work in July this year. After 4 weeks re starting at Tanglewood Natalie finally made the brave decision to take Flora away to start their new adventure together in the real world.
Despite all of their challenges, Natalie describes Flora as an absolute pleasure to ride and own. She is still sound, her heart is still holding up, and they are forming a great partnership. They are stabled at a small professional dressage yard with Beth Day (Lambley Paddocks) so that they both have plenty of support and help.
Flora's biggest challenge remains the getting on process, but she is coming on in confidence leaps and bounds. She is naturally round,forward and athletic, so quick to learn, and loves to work. She is now 3 months back under saddle and they are working on the beginnings of lateral work, improving canter transitions, and consistency.
Largely due to the massive amount of time she has spent with people from being very young, Flora has been described by Natalie as a black labrador who doesn't quite know when to leave people alone! She's also very greedy.
Natalie aims to establish a really good foundation of the basics, and to keep on improving Flora's confidence when being mounted. Natalie is hoping to be brave enough to venture to their first dressage test in the next few months - although getting on might be a challenge in a new environment! Longer term, the team at Lambley are all very excited about her potential as an advanced dressage horse.
"I'm just amazed every time that I'm actually riding the sweet little foal who was so ill we thought we'd lose her. It still doesn't feel real to be where we are, given the challenges that she's already faced in her life. Flora has had so many supporters - everyone is always so excited to see us doing the next step, and no one can quite believe how well she's doing. We don't know how long she'll stay sound, or how long her heart will be ok for, but for now we are having the best time and looking forward to a successful future."
Natalie and Flora have overcome so much to get where they are today and it's amazing to hear that against all odds Natalie has managed to get Flora in work and the pair will soon be competing. We wish Natalie and Flora all the best for their future.
If you've got a great story about you and your horse that you'd like to share then we'd love to hear from you. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org