Wendy Lind 0000-00-00 00:00:00
EIGHT YEARS AGO CHRISTIAN Rammerstorfer gave his wife Elizabeth an anniversary gift that she wasn't expecting, and at the time, not sure she even wanted. As the ensuing years unraveled, the gift became especially meaningful for the couple, a chance of survival for a small sorrel colt, and an inspiring example of how determination and patience can truly be life changing. THE RAMMERSTORFERS DISCOVER THE RESILIENCY OF A MAGNUM CHIC DREAM RESCUE COLT. The story begins in 2004, when Christian was the Oregon State University Equine Extension Specialist. One day in January of that year, he received a call about a group of horses that were being starved by a local owner. The sheriff's department had gotten involved, seizing 19 horses, one of which succumbed to starvation soon after, and a rescue group was subsequently trying to place the horses in long-term care situations. Ironically, Christian and Liz, both NRHA Professionals, had a tie to the case, training a mare for the neglectful owners in the past. When the mare didn't make the cut for a performance horse, the owners decided to breed her to a local stallion. Knowing that would result in a less than desirable result, the Rammerstorfer's recommended breeding the mare to NRHA Million Dollar Sire Magnum Chic Dream, who they felt would provide the genetics to counterbalance the mare's behavioral short comings. Now, three years later, the resulting yearling colt and his dam were among the list of neglected horses. Somewhat stunned because they had known nothing of the abuse going on, Christian contacted the animal rescue to offer a home for the soon to be two-year-old. He was informed, however, that the scraggly sorrel colt was unlikely to make it. "In addition to his terrible body condition, they believed he had a cleft palate and would need to be euthanized," Liz recalls. "At 20 months old, his weight was estimated to be between 300 and 400 pounds. He had a body-condition score of 1 out of 9." With impressive educational backgrounds (Christian has a PhD in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology while Liz has a Master's Degree in the same field); the Rammerstorfer's knew that prognosis didn't bode well. As Liz explains, The Henneke Body Condition Scoring system–the industry standard for evaluating the nutritional status of a horse–defines a score of 1 as such: bone structures are easily noticeable, the animal is extremely emaciated, while the backbone, tail head, and hook bones project prominently. At a score of 3, an animal is considered to be in a state of neglect. Survival A few months later, in July of 2004, the horse rescue program contacted the Rammerstorfer's with good news: the two-yearold colt had turned the corner and was still alive. As luck would have it, the suspected cleft palate was actually an abscess, successfully treated and now fully healed. The Rammerstorfer's' hooked up their trailer and went to pick up the sorrel colt. At this point, Liz was apprehensive about what was surely going to be a long and trying project. Christian, however, did his best to put a positive spin on the whole endeavor. "It was close to our wedding anniversary date and Christian informed me that the colt was my anniversary gift!" she laughed. "At the time, this was something I was not entirely thrilled about, being given a wild, physically and psychologically challenged colt as my 'gift.' It seemed like more of a way for Christian to avoid making a shopping trip." In fact, Liz's initial concerns proved true. The colt wanted nothing to do with people. She described the process of catching and loading him in the trailer as a two-hour "exercise in patience." Long Road to Recovery Christian and Liz did ultimately get the colt home, and continued calling him by his existing barn name of "Titan." The couple began the arduous process of gaining his trust and teaching him the basics of being handled from the ground. It fully took the remainder of 2004 for the colt to accept being caught, handled, groomed, and trimmed by Christian, who also is a farrier. One of the major hurdles turned out to be Titan's intolerance of being touched on his head, especially his nose, which Liz attributes to treatment required by the initial abscess. Adding to Titan's list of health problems caused by malnutrition and stunted growth, the colt was a bilateral cryptorchid. Luckily, after a period of time, he was able to be castrated without surgery. "Needless to say," Liz laughed, "to this day he is not a fan of veterinary treatment. Our hope was that we could teach him to be a trusting, nice little citizen so he could be turned out to babysit the weanlings and yearlings in the pasture." While the Rammerstorfer's were doing everything in their power to get Titan's condition where it should be, their background in equine nutrition told them it would have to be a carefully monitored process. "It was very important from the beginning of his rescue that Titan was fed in an appropriate nutritional plane: not too aggressively to cause accelerated compensatory growth which can lead to developmental orthopedic disease," Liz explained. She said to this day, Titan's diet consists of quality alfalfa and Purina Strategy fed in appropriate amounts, with access to a mineral/salt block. Especially impressive given the challenge of his first few years, is the fact that Titan has never received additional supplements or any type of joint injections. Model Student In the midst of Titan's rehabilitation, Christian and Liz were heading up the Equine Science Program at Oregon State University, where they taught a colt training program. In 2005, Titan's three-year-old year, Liz decided to use the gelding as a class demonstration. She figured he would be an ideal candidate. "I wanted to show the students what it was like to sack out and saddle a young horse with major trust issues; a horse who had also learned a lot of bad habits from his earlier days of being handled when he was unbroken, frightened, and sick," she said. In fact, Titan had displayed reactive behaviors such as flipping over, throwing himself on the ground, and being generally terrified. Liz's initiative proved to be spot on: Titan provided an ideal opportunity for students to observe how to deal with problematic behaviors, and even better, the more Liz worked with the gelding, the friendlier and more approachable he became. "As the students began riding their two-year-old prospects, I would ride Titan around in a hackamore while teaching class. He seemed to love being in the arena with everyone and everything going on," Liz recalls. The gelding also became happier and easier to catch in his pen. Though he was a three-year-old, Titan was still physically and mentally behind, weighing in at around 900 pounds and measuring a little over 13 hands. So for six months Liz did nothing but jog him around in a casual manner. This was fine by Titan, since he had not a clue how to lope. "Literally, he did not even know that loping was a possibility. He didn't even lope when he was out in the pasture with other horses playing," Liz recalls with amazement. "After six months of just jogging and guiding around for fun, we eventually convinced him to lope." At first, Titan would immediately stop after a few tentative strides at the lope, but with careful encouragement from Liz the gelding figured it out. Natural Talent Although he didn't initially look the part, Titan came from a reining background. Magnum Chic Dream, is the sire of some of the industry's leading performers. His dam, April Doc Bonanza, who Liz remembers being " a touch crazy and a bit stubborn," traces back to foundation performance horses such as Major Bonanza, Three Bars, King, and Leo. While Liz was riding Titan around as a four-year-old in 2006, she would introduce reining maneuvers to him in a low-key approach. She quickly realized that the gelding had a lot of promise. "He was so talented and it was so easy for him to turn and stop," she recalls, adding that the gelding wanted to stop from the get go, often putting her on his neck even from a trot. "After a while we had to find tiny, triple-ought sliders for him so he wouldn't hurt himself because he tried to stop so hard." Liz and Christian began hauling Titan to clinics they taught, other trainers' facilities, and local shows when it proved convenient. Though he seemed to enjoy the field trips, Liz said making Titan a show horse was never part of the plan. Instead, she focused on building up the gelding's stamina, spending a significant amount of time at the long trot in an effort to free up his movement. As he progressed in his conditioning, Titan developed an increasingly longer stride, and eventually became comfortable at a gallop. Christian and Liz Rammerstorfer Christian, a native of Austria, and Elizabeth, a native Texan, met at Texas A&M University. Christian was completing his Master's degree in which he had designed the first standardized exercise test for quantifying fitness in reining horses. Two years later, he completed his Ph.D. work with a study evaluating heat-stress. For her graduate studies, Liz followed suit with a research project that utilized Christian's exercise test for comparing methods of conditioning reining horses. Both served as teaching assistants for the colt training classes and Liz served as the assistant coach of the TAMU Horse Judging Team. Married in 1998, the couple began training reining horses at Jack Brainard's Diamond B Ranch in Aubrey, Texas. Christian later accepted a job to direct research and development at Purina Mills in St. Louis, Missouri. While the work was interesting, Christian realized he preferred working directly with horses, so the couple accepted a faculty position at Oregon State University in 2000. During their seven years at OSU, Christian and Elizabeth developed a popular industry-oriented equine science program, which included the Colts-In- Training Program and Sale, where students gain hands-on production and marketing experience. In 2008, the Rammerstorfer's relocated to Colorado where they ran their training business at the 6K Ranch in Elbert with a successful youth and non pro program while also starting colts and showing in the open divisions. Three years later, the couple returned to the West Coast to take advantage of year-round beautiful weather and the thriving California horse industry. The two NRHA Professionals currently train out of the Ross Ranch, just a few miles west of the Murrieta Equestrian Center, where they manage a successful training program of open horses and non pro clientele. In NRHA competition, Liz has earned over $22,000, while Christian has earned over $19,800. Given the Okay A year later, in March of 2007, Dr. Brady Bergin at the Oregon State University Veterinary Hospital examined Titan at Liz's request and gave the gelding a clean bill of health and soundness. Now, at five years old, Titan passed the flexion tests with flying colors and had matured to 14 hands and just over 1,000 pounds. It was at this point that Liz decided to try showing the gelding, knowing that he was now physically and mentally ready to handle the rigors of being a performance horse. "I took him to four shows in 2007, and he marked between a 71.5 and a 73.5. He either won his class or won money every time," Liz recalls. She describes winning the MEC/WCEF Spectacular Derby Limited Open Division Reserve Championship as the highlight of the year. "I never was able to get his AQHA papers since the original breeders didn't register him, but it was very important to me that his NRHA Competition License included his sire and that he would be an official money-earning offspring for Magnum Chic Dream," Liz explains. "I sent his hair sample to UC Davis for parentage verification and received the confirmation that Titan was indeed a son of Magnum Chic Dream. I sent this info and an explanation when I applied for his NRHA Competition License. So when Magnum went over the $1 million NRHA Sire mark last year, Magnum Rescue was an official part of the family." In a tribute to the struggle he overcame, Liz officially licensed Titan with the name Magnum Rescue. "Magnum Rescue may not be one of Magnum Chic Dream's highest earning progeny, but I do believe him to be one of Magnum's most remarkable offspring. I give a lot of credit to Magnum's DNA for making Titan who he is: a horse with a ton of grit coupled with a stellar attitude." In the Groove Since that auspicious start in 2007, Titan usually spends half the year turned out in pasture with the weanlings and yearlings, and Liz says the sorrel does "a magnificent job of babysitting the young stock and teaching them some manners." As with most trainers' own horses, Titan is last on the list to be ridden. "I've only taken him to a few shows each year, since he is my horse and I have to prioritize the client horses. But every time I take him to a show he makes me so proud," Liz said enthusiastically. "When I don't get in his way he can plus-half every maneuver and every now and then he gets a plus one on his right spin." Between 2007 and 2010, and with limited showing, Titan garnered $5,172 and numerous class wins in NRHA competition. The beginning of 2011 brought a lot of change for the Rammerstorfer's' when they moved their training operation from Colorado to Northern California. After the move, Titan's main pastime was enjoying his turn out time and intermittent trail rides. However, in May, Liz made a quick decision at the Rein for the Roses show, which was being held at the Brookside Equestrian Park-only 15 minutes from the Rammerstorfers' training operation. "On the last day of the show, I ran home and picked up Titan. I didn't even have time to give him a bath or clip him. I knocked as much dirt off of him as I could, saddled him up, warmed him up at the long trot," Liz said. "After stopping Titan a few times to get a feel for the ground, I sparked his turn and walked in the pen." The duo tied to win the novice horse open level 1 class. A month later Liz took the gelding to the Best in the West Affiliate show, marking a 73 to win another novice horse open level 1 class. On a roll, she decided to throw Titan in with the rest of the Rammerstorfer's' show horses and take him to the prestigious Reining By the Bay show in Woodside, California. There, the duo marked a 74 in what Liz describes as the thrill of her career. "I've marked 74s before, but I just can't describe what it meant to mark that on Titan," Liz said thoughtfully. She and Titan marked a 72.5 the next day, securing the circuit championship in the novice horse open level 1 division. Well Worth the Effort Fast forward to today, and Liz freely admits that Titan was the best anniversary gift Christian could have given her, despite its seemingly off-hand delivery. "Here we are years later and I like to go on and on to anyone who will listen about Titan's story and how he is the best anniversary gift ever!" she says with a smile. When asked how Christian could ever top that, Liz said he almost did this year. "On our 13th wedding anniversary, which immediately followed the Reining By the Bay show, Christian surprised me with rushed pictures from John O'Hara of Titan and my face when they called the 74 score!" Titan has become an amazing case study for rehabilitating abused horses. In April of 2004, the two Salem, Oregon women that owned the neglected horses received a deferred sentence by pleading guilty to three counts of animal neglect (the remaining 17 counts of neglect were dismissed). Placed on three years' probation, they paid a fine of $4,600, relinquished ownership to all their horses, and were prohibited from owning livestock for one year. Sadly, just a few months later the women were arrested on five counts of animal neglect related to their dogs. At the time they adopted Titan, Christian and Liz were told that all of the other neglected horses had been adopted; Titan was the last eligible for adoption due to his precarious health. Liz has kept in touch with a man in Eugene, Oregon, who adopted Titan's dam and has come to love her. For his part, Titan has developed into a handsome athlete with a unique personality. Liz describes him as the politest horse in the barn, always with his ears up. The gelding has never needed a set of front shoes, but is very particular about his farrier. "A few years back, when Christian broke his wrist and we had another farrier work on some of our horses, Titan freaked out," Liz explained. She also pointed out that the gelding has developed a trademark habit of whinnying loudly in the show pen, and a particular napping style: on his side, all four feet stuck straight out, ears pricked forward. "He looks just like a Breyer horse lying on his side," laughed Liz. "At nearly every show I have taken him to, someone has approached me about wanting to buy Titan. But he will never be for sale. He has a home with us forever," she said adamantly. "Ray Hunt once said, 'If given a little thought, a little understanding and a little common sense, the horse gives back in full measure.' Every time I ride Titan, it feels like he is happily repaying a favor."
Published by National Reining Horse Association. View All Articles.
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