My Fabulous California Trip

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My treatment trip to the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley in the mountains above Santa Barbara was a great success, after an unauspicious start.  I got to Heathrow only to find that my plane had been delayed for 3 hours!  As you have to check-in for transatlantic flights 3 hours before departure, it meant that I had 6 hours to cool my heels at the Airport!  Luckily, I was flying Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy (highly recommended), and no-one was in the seat next to me so I had the whole section to myself to spread out.  This was just as well because the normal 11 hour flight turned into a 12 1/2 hour flight because we were battling headwinds!  By the time I finally collapsed into my room at the Los Angeles Airport Crowne plaza, I had been on the road for over 24 hours.

Next day I awoke to beautiful California sunshine, picked up my hire car and drove 2 hours up the Ventura Highway to Santa Ynez.

Nicole with Beake (one of her advanced horses) and Smoochie, her Australian Heeler dog.

Got to the fabulous Freestyle Farm (my base for the next week) run by Brad and Nicole Chastain Price.  Brad trains and competes “cow horses” – reining, cutting etc., and Nicole is highly respected dressage trainer and rider.  Go to her website at www,

Brad and Nicole run the tightest ship I have ever seen.  Everything is spotlessly clean, tack cleaned after every use, horses in great condition, all set in the most spectacular scenery.

I was in the “guest suite” which was perfect for my needs, with a small kitchen, bedroom/sitting room and bathroom.  I unpacked my stuff and then headed down to the fantastic El Rancho Supermarket, deli and coffee shop, to stock up for my stay.

Next day was a big day – a demonstration clinic for local vets, riders/trainers at Freestyle Farm.  Los Angeles equine vet, David Burgermeister, hauled three horses up to SYV in his massive pick up and trailer, for me to examine.

David’s wife, Jenifer, is one of California’s top dressage riders and she has some beautiful horses, two of which were in my clinic, the fabulous Grand Prix horse, Andy, and her just backed three year old Colt, DJ, both big black warmbloods with bags of presence and power.

This is how they transport horses in California – David’s trailer.

DJ was a bit of a handful for a demo clinic, but we managed!  The other horse that David and Jenifer brought to the clinic was another Grand Prix dressage horse, Dante, who had retired from competition and now used as a schoolmaster, by one of Jenifer’s pupils.  Dante was an excellent demo horse, as he had a number of issues that would be expected in a horse who has been worked at a high level, and I was able to give his owner some good advice on rehab schooling and massage, and I demonstrated the use of the H-wave for lumbo-sacral mobilisation.

I also saw a western Quarter horse.  Most of the western ridden horses are quarter horses, and they do work them very hard from a very early age.  For example, one of the high speed sliding stops, is expected from a 4 yo and as a consequence they suffer many hock and back issues.  This particular horse was lame, but I demonstrated how to help him until a full lameness workup could be arranged with the owner’s vet.

It was a long and tiring day but it didn’t stop there.  Unfortunately one of my other referring vets, Lex McKenna, who keeps her horse Reo at Freestyle Farm, discovered him lame in the field.  He presented with a wound on the medial right fetlock, and with a temperature of 105F.  Our concern was immediate because they have a nasty virus called “Dryland” in California, which causes high temperature and abscesses, some of which can be in the abdominal cavity and fatal.  Lex managed to clean up the wound and give him antibiotics, just in case it was an infection from a cut.  Poor Reo then had a bad reaction to the antibiotics and his heart rate and respiration went through the roof.  After about 30 mins of worrying, his HR started to drop and he looked a lot better.  We decided that there was nothing else that we could do, so we bandaged the wound, put him in a quiet stable, and David, Jenifer, Lex, Brad, Nicole and I all went for dinner at a fabulous Mexican restaurant, with the best Margaritas I have ever tasted.  When we got back to Freestyle Farm, Reo’s temperature had dropped a little and his HR and resp were normal.

Massive “Dryland” abscess erupting on poor Reo’s shoulder

Unfortunately, as we later discovered, Reo did have Dryland, and developed a massive abscess on his shoulder (see pic).  Reo was rushed to the nearest Equine Hospital for scans which thankfully showed no abdominal abscesses but he was spiking a very high fever again.  As of now (3 weeks later) Reo is still very poorly with the abscess working its way down his leg and his temperature going up and down.  He is still eating and being very brave and we are all hoping that he recovers.  Sending hugs and kisses Reo xx

The next 7 day were just full out home visits, to treat some lovely horses for some fabulous owners.  I saw some beautiful top class dressage horses that belong to a former USA Olympic Dressage Champion (who is now a USA selector) and who has some wonderful liveries for pupils and professional riders.

I was also lucky enough to see and treat “Duek”, who was Antonio Banderas’ horse in the film “Zorro”.  Duek is now 18 (he was 3 in the film) and he has been a little poorly recently, with liver problems, but he is on the road to recovery.

Me and Duek

When I got to his stable he wasn’t there (he apparently has free range all over the ranch where he lives with his owner and trainer Kristi Ullman).   Kristi, opened his stable door, put her fingers in her mouth and whistled.  About 15 seconds later there was the sound of galloping hooves, and Duek did a handbrake turn around the corner of the stable block, trotted into his stable, turned around, shut the door with his teeth and slid the bolt on using his lips!!!!  Amazing – I have never seen anything like it.  Of course the down side is that he can let himself out just as easily which is why he free ranges.  He showed me some more of his tricks, he bowed to me, you can give him a number between 1 and 10 and he will stamp the number you give him with his front foot and lots of other tricks.  He still appears regularly in Film and Television roles, and was most recently seen in CSI.  He is also still regularly seen on the local dressage circuit, of which he is a former Champion.

Duek’s own label!!

Kristi also gave me a bottle of wine from their own vineyard, with an image of Duek on the label.  Kristi offered me their fantastic guest house for my next trip, so hopefully will see more of Duek and his friends.

After a whirlwind week, of treating horses in fabulous ranches in SYV, it was time all too soon to leave the warm Californian sunshine and return to the cold and damp UK!  Can’t wait to go back in March.  Big thanks to Lex McKenna for all her hard work arranging it, and Catherine Gallegos for doing all the PR.  See you all soon.




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