Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Smoky's Story

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.


wilsonc said...

I only have two horses and I sometimes wish I had no horses at all. When I start to think about the big empty place that would be left in my life without them I know I don't really think that at all. We are just finishing paying off a 2500.00 vet bill from one horse, and this morning I am going out to meet the vet because the second horse cannot chew his hay and we don't know why. Maybe a jaw fracture. I'm sorry to hear about what happened to Smoky, but very happy that he is getting a chance and a home. We all just do the best we can. Hang in there.

BB said...

Regardless of the outcome of Smoky you are ao kind, caring lady and more horse owners should be like you. We volunteered to take care of some horses on a plantation and the owners were very rich but cheap as all hell. They refused to buy hay, quality feed and de-worming needs. Basically they just wanted them to look decent for potential property buyers. It makes me so mad that there's no feelings about the horses. One got a bad eye infection and we called the vet ourselves and he gave us meds and instructions on how to care for it. They wanted to take the vet to the hospital where they could monitor the doses and keep him calm but we caught hell for calling the vet. The end result was if it looses the eye it looses the eye. Then the owner took them to his home far away. We still miss them and hope they are taken care of and that the eye healed ok. We never even got a thank you from the owner.

Funder said...

Oh, Laura, I'm so sorry! What a horrible week you've had.

Putting Smoky down wouldn't have been a wrong decision. Obviously you found a better one - yay! - but y'all wouldn't have been terrible people if you'd chosen to euth him. Poor little beastie.

I am very lucky to have always had easy choices. I had an old mare who developed congestive heart failure - I kept her as a pet til she told me it was time to go. And my good gelding crashed SO fast - he had (undiagnosed) liver cancer and a blood vessel in the tumor ruptured. He was gone within a day.

I think the fun times outweigh the painful ones. Sometimes life is awesome, and sometimes it sucks and keeps on sucking, but the awesome times will eventually return. This too shall pass, both the good and the bad.

Alison said...

Wow! I am overwhelmed as always by the intensity of the posts and comments on this blog and kissed my two very healthy horses soundly this morning thanking them for being healthy, easy-keepers. Everybody's experiences have been incredible stories, and as a writer, I must admit, I love each story (no matter how painful) and can't help but react emotionally. Thank you Laura, wilsonc,Funder and Barb for sharing and for loving horses!

Mrs. Mom said...

THoughts are with Smoky, and of course you and Wally too, Laura. You guys were sure caught in a rough bind there.

I agree with Funder- if you had to make the decision to put him down, it would not have been a horrible one.

Please keep us posted on how Smoky does!

And for the record- it totally sucks being horseless. There is a hole in my heart. Most days, I can cover it up. Most days, I enjoy others horses via blogging, the few horses I still trim, and memories of horses in my past. But some days-- some days I cry in the shower and wonder-- will THAT horse come along?

Kiss Sunny and Henry from me ;)

horsegenes said...

Those are all things we as pet and / or horse owners that we face. And it is never easy. I think that any rational human would have the same thoughts that you did. I have 4 old broodmares that are all lame and OLD. They are pasture ornaments and sometimes when I am writing that check for hay or to have their feet done or their teeth done, I think I should be renting a backhoe and writing a check for a "group euth" clinic. I know that is terrible but it does cross my mind. And when the time comes that they are not comfortable anymore for whatever reason that is what is going to happen.

off topic... Laura, you write alot about not wanting to show anymore - can you write something about it from the horses prospective. I am back in the show ring this year and I am wrestling with what to do with my horse at shows. I know ropers leave their horses tied to the trailer for hours and the horses don't seem to mind. What are your thoughts on how to make your horse happy at the horse show? The last show I went to I left my horse tied to the trailer quite a bit and he stood quitely. I gave him water throughout the day and he had hay to munch on. But by the end of the day, he was one cranky son of a gun.

Laura Crum said...

wilsonc--I feel just like you. And I am so sorry to hear you are having similar troubles. I hope your horse does not have a jaw fracture.

Bouncin Barb--Yes, I think horse owners should care about their horses--but it is a fact that not all do. It makes me both sad and mad.

Funder--Thanks. I agree it wouldn't have been "wrong" to put Smoky down, but neither Wally nor I could stomach not trying to give him a life, if it was possible. I don't think I would feel very good right now if we hadn't tried.

Alison--Don't you just love it when all your horses are fine and ordinary? I long for a boring life.

Mrs Mom--You are so right. That "I wish I didn't have any horses" feeling didn't last very long. I enjoy Sunny and Henry so much--it has been in the 100's lately, so between that and Smoky I haven't been riding, but I still smile every time I go down to the barn and feed or just drive in and see the horses standing there. I really hope you find "your" horse soon.

kel--I will try to write a post on horses at horseshows. The short answer that comes to my mind is that horses are all different. Some horses haul well, seem to somewhat enjoy being at shows or ropings, don't mind all the time spent tied. Other horses fret and seem miserable. The old cowboy method is to leave em tied until they give up fussing, but in my experience this doesn't work on all of them. It doesn't sound like your horse "fussed" exactly. If you only have one horse, its an option to stay on him a lot, just watching, cruising around, even eating your snacks on his back...etc. I have done this before with horses who seemed unhappy to be left tied. Of course, this means you don't get to sit around at the barn with your friends. Sometimes, though, if you keep a horse engaged like this for a few shows, rather than let him get frustrated or bored, he gets over the hump, so to speak, gets used to the show routine, and doesn't mind the tie up periods so much.

Anonymous said...

I love my horses dearly, but times like those described in your post are very hard - it's hard to see the horse suffer and it's hard to make the necessary decisions. Sometimes there are a variety of good decisions, and that makes deciding all that much harder.

Do I ever wish I had no horses - sometimes - they are a lot of trouble and work, and, as you say, there's often something wrong with one or more of them. And when I have a bad day with a horse - this is rare - or I'm just not up for the work that has to be done - I sometimes wish I had no horses. But then what would I have - horses have been at the center of my life for a long time, and some of the best moments I have, almost every day, happen with horses. It keeps me going.

Sending best wishes for a good recovery to Smoky and all the people who care about him.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--Thanks for the good wishes. And I agree, I'm not going to give up horses, even though I'm sometimes exasperated. Because, like you, some of the best moments in my day, every day, have to do with my horses, even if its just listening to them munch their hay.

The vet called this afternoon to give me an update on Smoky. And there was the good news and the bad news. The good news is that Smoky is better, not noticably lame at the walk any more. Which means he probably does not need any more expensive procedures in the near future and Kerrin can take him home tomorrow and start rehabbing him.

The bad news? Smoky will have to spend at least two months in a small pen/stall. If he is sound at that point they will ultrasound him cause guess what? A little detail that was never mentioned previouusly is that they think he has injured the ligament as well, and AFTER the septic joint issue is behind him it will take careful rehab (lots of hand walking, then riding at the walk with no small circles, no up or down hill) for several months. And even after that he still stands a chance of reinjuring the ligament if he is stressed. The vet concurred that we were wise not to return him to his life as a rope horse.

Anyway, that is a lot of rehab work for a horse that may never be performance horse sound, and I am grateful that Kerrin is willing to take it on. She has the perfect 20 by 20 pen, covered and bedded, and lots of helpers who will be happy to brush, pet, hand walk and love on Smoky. And they are all willing to be patient and acccepting that he may only end up servicably sound at best. Yep, I am so grateful. Because though my heart is in the right place, I am truly not up for, nor do I have a suitable place for that sort of rehab program on a horse that may never be truly sound. Let alone I don't have time.

I plan to go visit Smoky regularly and rub on him, and Kerrin has promised to keep me posted every step of the way. So I think things are going as well as they can. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and saying prayers.

Joy said...

Oh lordy how I can relate to this one. I had a perfect, extremely athletic and smart horse. He took to roping like he'd always done it and took second the first time he was team penned on. He was so spectacular that I figured once he was a finished rope horse I would have to sell him, because who the heck am I to own a $20,000 rope horse? (my trainer had offers the second time he took him out to train at a practice, I swear to god)

And then he shattered his P2 (small pastern). He wore a cast. And then another. He spent 9 months in his stall. Never even stepping out the gate.

It almost makes me sick/cry to remember it sometimes.

But for me? He was totally worth all of it. Even the vet bills. I got a gift I could never buy. He gave me patience. And a whole lot of peace. And we trail ride and do all the things I ever wanted to do.

So I guess it's all a matter of perspective. I didn't need a finished rope horse or cutter or otherwise. And I guess the universe said, ok, you can keep him then.

He's totally happy every day. And so am I.

I'm glad Smokey didn't get put down. I wish him a very long and happy life as "just a trail horse". That's as good as it gets in my book!

Laura Crum said...

I'm with you, Joy. All I want of my horses is that they be good little trail horses. If Smoky had been my only horse I would have done just as you did and hope that some day we'd be on the trail together again. But I have Sunny and Plumber, my own horses, who I do not ride as often as I wish, so I truly don't need/have time for another horse. And Wally does not want to keep Smoky if he can't use him as a rope horse. To top it all off, I never really had room for the horse in the first place--I have a nice set-up for four horses and one small pen/stall for sick/injured horses. Poor Smoky was kept in the small pen, with regular riding and turnout into a bigger pen. It wasn't ideal. And I try not to keep horses in the small pen in the winter cause it gets muddy. I just don't know how I could have managed the intense rehab program that lies ahead of Smoky with winter (and the rains and mud) coming on. So, yeah, I wish I could have kept Smoky for my own trail horse, but I don't think I could have done right by him--and Sunny, Plumber and Henry--given the time and resources I have. But I will be very happy if he becomes a good little riding horse for Kerrin and her crew, and I can go see him whenever I want. It helps to know that Lester, the horse I placed with Kerrin over five years ago, looks great when I visit him there--happy, healthy, and very well loved. So, I'm hoping for the best.

Joy said...

Well it sounds like you did your absolute best for Smokey and that he's going to be in the best place. So great job Laura. I can understand Wally's thought process, so many people need horses to do a specific job and if they can't, well, I guess there's no point for those people. I'm just glad about how this story turned out.