Sunday, November 29, 2009

Felice--The Happy Jumper

I started taking dressage lessons in my college years. I didn't own a horse at the time, but a friend of a friend of my sister's had a horse she wanted to find a good home. It had some soundness issues but could do dressage. We checked out this pinto, and I immediately wanted the horse. A day later the person backed out and the horse was no longer available. I was bummed.

The friend knew of another horse, so we checked her out. Felice was a six-year-old Anglo-Arab mare, gray, over sixteen hands. I lived with my sister that summer. She had access to a barn and pasture next to her house. So Felice came to live with us.

Looking back, I'd have to say Felice was a little hot for me at my level of riding. I'd been taking weekly dressage and jumping lessons for about a year, but I'm not known for my coordination or my nerves of steel. Felice liked to go and go and go. What else would you expect from her breeding?

Felice had been evented by a teenager since she was three years old. The teenager loved that mare. She had straight, short pasterns. By the time, she was five she'd been diagnosed with navicular disease. Her owners had her nerved, hoping to continue to jump her. She couldn't stay sound, and she stumbled. So they'd given her away to me with the caveat that I'd return her if I ever decided I didn't want her. I spoke with people who knew the horse. Many of them mentioned, disapproval in their voices, how hard and often this mare had been jumped at a young age.

My veterinarian recommended a horseshoer. He said if this guy couldn't keep this horse sound, no one could. I begged the shoer to come out. He finally agreed, even though he wasn't taking new clients. The man was a miracle worker. He rolled Felice's toes and put pads on her front feet. She stayed sound and didn't stumble as long as he did her feet. Anyone else, she immediately went lame.

Felice and I had a few good summers.  We lived next to an arboretum with bridal trails and an abandoned golf course. The two of us galloped across the golf course and went miles on those trails. We even attended a couple horse shows within riding distance, and I received my first ribbons.

Felice LOVED to jump. It was a shame she couldn't jump any longer. Once a week, I rode a few miles to take lessons at a nearby equestrian center. I'll never forget one incident. I was in a group lesson. We were taking turns cantering around the arena. There were a few small jumps set in the middle of the arena. When it came time for me to canter. I steered her to the rail and asked her to canter around the arena. She was having none of that, not with jumps in the arena. She ignored me and headed for the jumps, popping over all three of them, turning around and jumping them again. Jumping excited her and scared me. Plus, jumping made her sore. We avoided places with jumps after that.

Felice knew a lot more than I did at the time. In fact, she did changes like nobody's business. All you had to do was switch the weight in your hip bones and slightly move your outside leg back, and she'd change. She'd do lead changes every stride if asked. She did half-passes, shoulder-in, haunches-in with the slightest cues from me. I wish I'd owned her about ten years later when I was good enough to appreciate all her talents.

I owned Felice for two years, keeping her at my sister's, six hours away from where I attended college. I didn't get to see much of her during the school year, and I couldn't afford to bring her to college with me.

My sister moved, and we no longer had the free barn and pasture at our disposal. I was graduating from college and didn't know where I'd end up. Felice needed regular riding or she became almost too hot to handle. You couldn't wear her out on a lunge line either. Lunging made her hotter.

So I contacted the teenager's mother and asked her to take her back. She picked her up while I was away at college. I told her several times to make sure that my horseshoer shod the horse. He'd agreed to continue as she was such a nice horse, way too young for her problems, and he felt obligated to keep her sound. The mother blew me off, said they had a good horseshoer.

Several months later, I dropped the mother a note to see how Felice was. She'd had the mare put to sleep. They couldn't keep her sound. I was devastated and so very sorry that I'd ever given the mare back to them. Someone would have loved to own that mare, as well trained and responsive as she was. She didn't deserve to lose her life at eight years old. To me, they had an obligation to her since they'd overjumped her in her youth and contributed to her navicular disease.

Several years later, I ran into the "teenager," now an adult and a well-respected horse trainer. She asked me how Felice was? My mouth fell open. I didn't know what to say. This girl's mother had never told her I'd given the mare back. She thought I'd kept the horse. I didn't have the heart to tell her what really happened so I merely said Felice was fine.

She probably was fine, galloping around horse heaven and jumping jumps to her heart's content, pain-free and happy.


Anonymous said...

Very sad story - but glad the two of you had some good times together.

lopinon4 said...

Very heartbreaking. I'm traveling the navicular road with my 10 year old gelding, and it sure is sad. I love him to death, and will always do what is right for him, but there are times when I question if I ever am. I have done the rolled toe/shoe thing with the best farrier ever, and after a few years, he was sore again. I'm now trying to transition him back to barefoot and see what happens. Keep him in your thoughts, will you?

Nan said...

Oh, I feel so bad for you. What a shame that happened to Felice. My first real horse, a Morgan named Dillon, foundered and my uncle, who had him at the time, ended up giving him away. I've always wondered where he ended up since he wasn't sound any longer. The not knowing is always painful. At least in your case you wer able to put a closure to her though.

Laura Crum said...

Jami--That is sad. And lopinon4, I feel for you. I traveled a similar path for many years with a great horse who had ringbone. We retired him at fifteen and managed to give him ten years in the pasture. We did everything--including nerving and every day pain med to accomplish this. In the end he got too painful and we had to put him down. But there were many times previous to this when we wondered if we were doing a good thing or a bad thing. Pistol went through a lot of pain which we could have spared him. But he was a very tough horse and seemed to enjoy his life in the pasture (he was always herd boss no matter how lame), and every time we would decide that enough was enough he would suddenly get a lot better and be trotting and loping around the field sans pain med. So I do know about this sort of journey. My only advice is to take it one day at a time, follow your heart and remember that these horses do sometimes get better and have some good years, after going through a long bad spell. That's been my experience, anyway.

Jami, how is your mare doing? I have been thinking about her (and you) and hoping all is going well.

Shanster said...

Oh that was a sad one...

autumnblaze said...

What a jerk her mother was! Poor Felice. Why didn't she tell her daughter? Why can't people tell their kids the truth and own up to their responsibilities? At least I guess she was at peace. At least you were able to give her some good fun years and learn from her.

Laura - I knew of a mare that had foundered several times. One time, she just wouldn't get up. My old boss went out and said, in front of the mare, 'Well, we should probably put her down if she hurts badly enough she can't get up.' The owners nodded in agreement, in tears. Doc didn't even have time to turn around and go get the needle...

The mare stood up, and walked off around the barn. I think she lived for at least several more years after that day.

Horses are funny.