A horse who beat a severe bone infection, a fracture and repeated lymphangitis, not to mention travelling issues, has come out fighting to claim two British Dressage (BD) Area Festival wins at the age of 26.
Lestryne Wheldon’s 15.1hh chestnut gelding Oscar took the prelim silver and prelim freestyle classes at the Alnwick Ford Petplan Equine Summer Area Festival on 12 July, qualifying for the Area Festival finals in October.
“He’s such a special boy,” Lestryne told H&H. “I just went there thinking ‘what will be, will be’, just to have a bash. At his age, just competing affiliated and doing well is amazing, but to win at that level was a dream come true.”
Lestryne bought Oscar nearly 20 years ago — she still has his ad from a local paper — and she said as soon as she got on board, “something clicked”.
“I knew he was the one for me,” she said.
There were some early hiccups; a friend said he thought Oscar looked as if he could “be a bit sparkly”, and this proved true, when Oscar took hold and bolted across a golf course, to the course manager’s extreme displeasure.
“I was just pleased to be alive,” Lestryne said. “When I got back to the yard, my friend must have seen my face and when I told him what had happened, he said ‘I told you that horse could be sparkly’! After that, they just took the mickey, making golf jokes and shouting ‘Fore!’, which made me feel better. And I decided to keep him because I knew he was 100% in most ways, and it was nothing nasty at all; he’d had a great time.”
Over the years, Lestryne and Oscar competed in unaffiliated jumping and eventing, in which “the dressage was the unnecessary boring part of the fun”, but then he went very lame.
Vets found a minor pedal bone fracture and navicular, which meant six months’ box rest.
“About five months in, he jumped out of his stable and I thought ‘This is too much’,” Lestryne said. “He wasn’t happy and it wasn’t fair. But the vet said to give him a couple more weeks. Lucky I did as two weeks later, he came sound. I was so close to losing him.”
When Oscar came back into work, Lestryne minimised his jumping, trotting on roads and work on hard ground. They did some combined training, and found the dressage better than they had before, so Lestryne decided to concentrate on that.
During training, she found she enjoyed it more, and Oscar seemed to as well, so they affiliated with BD when Oscar was about 20.
“I qualified for my first Area Festival and got the bug,” Lestryne said. “I had lessons and little breakthroughs, and started to get a feel for it.
“I’d moved yards and the yard owner was teaching me when suddenly, Oscar became light and floating. She said he’d come through, which I’d never felt before. He was gliding round and it felt amazing.”
Lestryne had most of 2016 off as she had her son, Noah, then in 2017, qualified for the Area Festival finals.
But on the way home, Oscar somehow pulled a shoe off, stood on one of the nails — and spent four weeks at Rainbow Equine Hospital.
“They found the bone was infected from the nail so they had to go into his foot and scrape the infection out,” Lestryne said. “The vets said he’d be better in 12 weeks but he doesn’t grow much foot so I knew it would be six months.”
It was a long six months, of hand-walking and changing dressings, but in spring 2018, Oscar was allowed to come back into work, aged 23.
In early 2019, he started competing again, with the goal another Area Festival.
But on the way home from their first show, Lestryne had to repeatedly stop the trailer as Oscar was “scrambling around” and she felt unable to drive without him falling.
She pulled over on a main road and called the police, who directed traffic while friends arrived to take him home in a lorry.
Through research, Lestryne found this was owing to Oscar’s needing more space to spread his legs, so she sold her trailer and hired boxes for competitions. She again qualified for the Area Festival finals and came ninth, then was overjoyed to be offered a wild card by BD to compete at the 2020 Winter Championships at Hartpury.
“I was so excited,” Lestryne said. “Then Covid hit and it was cancelled. But BD rescheduled it for August, so I entered. Then last July, I got a call from a girl at the yard to say something was wrong, and I needed to call the vet.”
Oscar’s hind leg was “as big as a tree trunk” and he was “panting, he was in so much pain”.
He had lymphangitis, which meant daily vet visits for five days, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers.
“He was dragging his leg round the stable,” Lestryne said. “My dream of going to the 2020 Area Festival Championship had been shattered; my only dream then was for Oscar to survive. I knew it was a lot to ask of a 25-year-old horse, but he’s no ordinary 25-year-old. He was fighting like a youngster.
“I was there hosing his leg three times a day, trying to get him to move, counting out 100 tiny steroid tablets, plus the danilon and antibiotics; it was like a drug dealer’s den!”
Four weeks later, Oscar was looking better, then came another call from the yard; the leg was back up.
“We started again; I was devastated because he’d been to hell and back,” Lestryne said. “His leg wasn’t as big this time but the pain was as bad.”
The vet scanned his leg and found a blood clot, high up, which could have been the cause of both episodes.
“I felt ‘Is this ever going to stop?’” Lestryne said. “Every time we stop the steroids, was it going to come back? A girl at the yard said a livery’s horse had kept getting it and had to be put down; I’d never thought he wouldn’t recover.”
But recover he did and by September, Oscar was back in work. He was back at shows by the end of the year.
“I need to make the most of the time we’ve got left,” Lestryne said. “I’ve completely changed how I manage and look after him, and he was going really well, so I thought this year, I’m going for it.”
She qualified again for the Area Festival, and to combat Oscar’s tenseness and tendency to spook at new venues, drove him to Alnwick Ford for competitions and a clinic before the event, which paid off.
“Our dream was finally fulfilled and all of the heartache has been worthwhile because we only went and won not one, but two classes!” Lestryne said.
“It was like he knew, he was so relaxed and didn’t look at a thing. It was as if he said ‘I’ve got this; hold my beer’. He was supple and bendy and lovely.
“It was such a fantastic day; like a dream, and he seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. He’s such a special horse and he tried his heart out.”
Lestryne is now looking forward to the finals.
“Ever since I started with BD, the Area Festivals have been our dream, but I never thought we’d be able to do it,” she said. “And with everything he’s been through, and at his age, it’s unbelievable what he’s done.”
Lestryne paid tribute to her husband Keith, without whom she says she could not have achieved what she has, her saddler, physio and trainer Ian Brown.
She also hopes her story will inspire others going through tough times, and also show that older horses have much to give.
“Don’t give up on veterans and don’t bypass them; these last years have been Oscar’s best,” she said. “People couldn’t believe I spent £4,000 on vets’ bills for a 25-year-old horse but I’d never give up on him, he wasn’t going down without a fight.
“Oscar’s so fantastic, his attitude, his character, he’s so lovable; he’s my everything.”
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