by Laura Crum
This last week has been a real roller coaster ride for me, horsewise. Those of you who read this blog may recall that a month ago I wrote that Smoky, my boarder’s good six year old blue roan gelding, a horse that I rode quite frequently, blew up unexpectedly when saddled, got hung up in the trailer safety chains and threw himself down, ending up half under the rig with his leg caught in the chains. I wasn’t there at the time, but apparently Wally, my friend and boarder, and others were able to free Smoky and he walked off sound, though with a nasty cut on his pastern.
So, OK, Wally and I were dismayed that the previously very sensible and reliable Smoky had done such a thing and were agonizing a bit over how we would go on with him from here, and, of course, we were doctoring his leg as instructed, with wrapping and antibiotics and so on. Smoky seemed to be healing fine. And then, a week ago, he got suddenly worse. Obviously lame at the walk.
Wally took him to the equine center—they X-rayed him and said there was no damage to the joint, and they thought it might be proudflesh adhesions. They cleaned out the wound, gave us new medication to wrap the horse with, more antibiotics, and sent Smoky home.
But Smoky got worse, not better. In a couple of days he hardly wanted to put weight on his leg. A week ago, last Weds, I called Wally up and said that we had to do something. The worst of it was that Wally was leaving the next day for four days of team roping finals, on his good rope horse, Twister. Wally would be gone, and so would the horse trailer. (Wally and I share one horse trailer between us.) And I was worried that Smoky might be becoming an emergency.
So Wally hauled Smoky down to the equine center and then took off for the roping. And the next day the vet called me (who was left as the contact person) and said that he thought Smoky had a “septic joint” (in essence, the joint capsule had been injured and infection had gotten inside the joint) and that if we did not proceed with several thousand dollars worth of surgery and follow up, the horse would have to be put down. And if we did go forward, the horse had about a 75% chance of being sound and would always be vulnerable to arthritic changes in the injured joint (since it was the pastern joint, this translates as ringbone).
As you can imagine, this was pretty terrible news. Neither Wally nor I are rich people. And Wally owned Smoky as a potential rope horse. Even if the horse could be saved, the likliehood that he could stay sound as a competitive rope horse seemed very faint. When I finally managed to reach Wally on his cell phone, his first reaction was “put him down”.
Well, I spent a sleepless night agonizing over this, and, as it turned out, Wally did the same. We are both very fond of Smoky. He was never my horse, but I did ride him a lot, and I once thought he might some day become my horse, as Wally’s horses will be mine when Wally can no longer ride. So, I am attached to Smoky, too. And he is a sweet little horse, very endearing. In the morning, on the phone, neither of us could stomach the idea of not giving Smoky a chance. Wally asked me, “Can you find him a good home as a riding horse?”
So, last Friday morning I called many people and eventually found a taker—an ideal home. A lovely woman named Kerrin, who already has another of our horses, Lester, who did not work out as a rope horse. (Lester was/is perfectly sound—just didn’t have the right mind for such an intense event.) Kerrin loved Lester and thought he was a great riding horse, and when I explained that Smoky was an equally nice horse (with the exception of his unexplained blow up and now his injury), she was willing to take a chance on him. Kerrin has a great facility, lots of help, and was in a much better position to do the necessary rehab and only needed Smoky to be trail horse sound, not performance horse sound. So this was great.
But who was going to shell out the initial two thousand? Kerrin did not want to pay this for a horse who might never be sound. I would have to borrow the money from the bank, and though I was willing if it was needed, it was a real hardship for me to pay that amount of money for a horse that I did not even own. Wally, tough old cowboy that he is, thought it was “idiotic” for him to pay a couple of thousand in order to give the horse away. But….Wally’s heart is pretty big. In the end, he agreed that he would pay to save Smoky’s life if Kerrin would assume all responsibility after the initial procedure was done. Kerrin visited Smoky, loved him, and agreed.
So far so good. The prodedures were done as prescribed and went well. By Monday morning Smoky was better, but not out of the woods, and Kerrin agreed to take over responsibility. Kerrin is a vet herself, so is totally competent to make good decisions, and she gives all her horses the best of care, so both Wally and I had perfect faith she would do right by Smoky. The question was whether the vets at the equine center would be able to clear up the infection so Smoky had a chance. And, at this point no one knows for sure if that will happen.
As for me, I’m exhausted. I have gone through tears of grief over thinking the horse would have to be put down, through a flurry of busyness, trying to arrange a new home for him, through sadness over having to let go of my dreams that he would some day be my little trail horse, through relief over the fact that I was not going to have to continue to manage a horse that I really did not have room for and who might be permanently crippled. A whole gamut of emotions. A real roller coaster. And among them was downright exasperation and disgust over the constant fuss and bother that owning horses entails. My husband put it this way—he calls it his five horse rule. “If you have more than four horses, something is always wrong with one of them, so something is wrong 100% of the time.” My husband is not a horseman, but that’s a pretty damn accurate statement.
I guess I’m not ready to give up horses yet, and I try to look at the big picture. Smoky may have been a real disaster for us—Wally and I put in three years of time and a huge investment of emotional energy as well as many thousands of Wally’s dollars on training Smoky, and now we will not have the use of the horse. But overall, our horse program remains great fun—Wally and I and my son ride often and have a blast on the other four horses that I keep here. So, horses in general are still being a wonderful thing for us.
And, if we can save Smoky’s life (still unknown) and he has a good home with Kerrin, surely that is a happy ending of sorts? I am aware that we were really maxed out having the horse here; my property is set up for four horses, and Smoky was always one too many. Wally and I were just barely able to do what needed doing, and we kept after it simply because Smoky was such a good, reliable, perfectly sound, healthy young horse. So, in a way, there is some relief, too, because I did know I had too many horses and I will be able to do better for the ones I have left. But it is still sad. I will miss little Smoky.
Anyway, that’s my horse story for this week. Have some of you been through something like this? Did you, like me, briefly wish that you had no horses at all? I feel sort of guilty for saying that, but the emotion definitely went through my mind. And, please, wish Smoky luck; he will surely need it.