Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life is a Rollercoaster

I quite like Ronan Keating. He’s the lead singer of that recently reformed Irish boy band, “Boyzone”, as well as a solo artist. I’ve seen him live twice; once about a decade ago in Zurich, performing with Boyzone (a somewhat disappointing concert; Ronan was clearly in a foul mood that night), and then again about four years ago when he gave a private solo concert at a chi-chi event my husband and I were invited to (smiles, twinkly eyes, and Irish charm all around!). Do you know Ronan Keating? He’s the guy who sang “When you Say Nothing at all”, the theme song for the romantic comedy “Notting Hill”, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. He has a nice voice, and he’s kind of cute.

At this point, I guess you’re wondering why the heck I’m rattling on about Ronan Keating on Equestrian Ink. Well, simply because I’ve had one of his hit songs, “Life is a Rollercoaster”, stuck in my head for the past week. It’s been pursuing me ever since I hit this wall of sad truth: Kwintus’ dressage career is over. Actually, it’s worse than that. Kwintus won’t be being ridden again.

Yes, life really is a rollercoaster,as maybe you’ll remember that the last time I blogged here, two weeks ago, my equestrian horizon was all blue skies, sunshine, and a happy, healthy, fully recovered horsey. That first ride in over two months was a dream (which is why I so related to Jami’s post on Sunday, although I read it with tears in my eyes, having already made my decision): Kwintus felt so…enthusiastic and youthful and bouncy. But the days that followed brought me back to earth with a bump. No, I didn’t fall off, but the way he started to stumble again brought back memories of close calls with hard surfaces. Falling off a horse is never fun, but having a horse fall away from underneath you is a truly horrible sensation. Also, a few days into his return to work, he started throwing his head in the air and yanking the reins out of my hands, something he’d only ever done when suffering from a pain in his upper neck. He also felt stiff and tired, and…well, just blah. But what really freaked me out was that tackling the slightest incline was clearly unpleasant for him. The way he shuffled down the not-so-steep hill leading from the stable block to the private road, making teeny-tiny steps, catching the tips of his front feet on every other surface irregularity was hard to watch. So, last Friday, with lead in my heart, I took him for a short hack to the next village, feeling terribly unsafe on his back as we inched down the gently sloped trail beneath the trees. He must have stumbled four or five times. Twenty minutes later, I dismounted. For good.

I could call in the top osteopath in the country. I could cart Kwintus right back across Switzerland, have him x-rayed from head to toe, and then infiltrate every creaky nook and cranny. I could. But it would be wrong. He’s going to be nineteen next year. He’s worked hard all his life, giving all his owners (I reckon he’s had about 5) his very best. He gave me back my confidence when I lost it to a rearing, twirling youngster. He taught my daughter and me flying changes, pirouettes, half-pass, piaffe and passage. He won first place for my daughter during their first competition outing together. He’s been an amazing horse. He’s had an amazing career.
But it’s time to lay off and let him take it easy.

And so Kwintus is officially an OAP (old-aged pensioner) as of last weekend. He will spend the rest of his life strolling around the huge pastures surrounding Stephanie’s stables, initially alone as he’s still wearing shoes (I shod him ten days ago, so his feet need to grow a little before we can take his shoes off), and later in the company of Stephanie’s old, retired eventer.

I’ve shed numerous tears this week, and hauled back buckets loads of other. I’ve never enjoyed riding any horse as much as I’ve enjoyed riding Kwintus. Heck, I’ve never loved a horse as much as I love Kwintus! So I’m therefore extremely grateful to Steph for letting him stay on at her place, as the last thing I want to do is send him off to a retirement home for horses hundreds of kilometers away, which would mean no longer being able to see him regularly.

So there it is. In the space of one week I went from ultra high to mega low. Now? I’m coping. Okay, so I’m a little blah. But I’m also at peace with my decision. There’s comfort in knowing that I did everything I could for my horse’s wellbeing, that I can get off this particular rollercoaster, that I’ll no longer keep second guessing myself over whether or not Kwintus had really reached the point where he was dangerous to ride.

My equestrian future? Meh, it’s sort of vague. I’ll give myself some time, get through the winter. Come spring, I’ll hopefully be able to start searching for another horse, hopping on a whole new rollercoaster.

Right now, I’m just hanging with Ronan Keating. Go on, sing it to me, Ro! Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it…


Anonymous said...

You are a kind and loving horse owner - it's great to see fine horses like this get the retirement they deserve. I know exactly how you feel - my Maisie was permanently retired (at about age 14) this fall due to permanent hind tendon/ligament problems that made it impossible to keep her sound while in work. She's pretty happy now, and that makes me happy too.

Laura Crum said...

I am so sorry. It sounded as though you were on your way to lots more riding with Kwint. I retired my horse Plumber last year due to similar stuff. The tiny uncomfortable steps going downhill, tossing the head in obvious discomfort, some stumbling, etc. He clearly did not want to run any more, nor walk downhill on the trail. Since I had Sunny to ride, it wasn't the same grief to me. I just wanted to treat Plumber well, as you do Kwint. He'd been my main riding horse for many years. One thought I would share. Sometimes, after lots of turnout, these horses get a lot freer moving. I have seen this many times. You just observe them and see the change. I would still get a new "main" riding horse, but you may yet find that you and your daughter could go for quiet walks together on your two horses on terrain that isn't too steep. After a year "off", Plumber walks down little hills pretty freely. I don't ride him, cause I have Sunny and my son has Henry, but I'm quite sure I could use Plumber for light, occasional walks if I wanted.

Anonymous said...

He's lucky to have you. He'll have a good life out there in his beautiful pasture.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you Kate. I'm sorry you had to retire Maisie at 14, tendon and ligament problems are a nightmare. Do you have another horse to ride?

Laura: yes, I was so sure he was going to be fine after that first ride, such a downer. About freer moving after turnout, Kwint was going bananas in the field yesterday when I turned up, charging around full speed, tail in the air, blowing and bucking. He looked wonderful. I guess we'll have to see how it goes after the winter has passed. Steph tells me her horse's back collapsed (sank) very quickly when she stopped riding him - I wonder if this will happen to Kwint. What's your experience with that? I hope this doesn't sound fickle, but I'm already itching to find another horse to ride, and keep finding myself "window shopping" on the internet! But I must be patient and wait the winter out.

Redhorse: thanks for reading and sympathising. I really hope he enjoys his peaceful days, and doesn't mind the bad weather we're bound to have pretty soon! It snowed so much up there last year, it looked like the arctic. Beautiful, but pretty slippery...

Jami Davenport said...

Cesca, your posts keep making me cry. Here I am getting ready for work, putting on my makeup, and reading your post. Needless to say, I need to redo my makeup.

I am so sorry it didn't work out for him, and yet I'm happy for him that he has you and your daughter. I also think he came into your life for a reason, and he fulfilled that reason. Is there a horse at your trainer's you can take lessons on for now? I know I'm facing the same thing in the future and have planned to get my horse fix by continuing weekly lessons on other's horses.

Francesca Prescott said...

Oh Jami, you and I keep making each other cry for similar reasons! I've got tears in my eyes just reading your comment to my post.

No, there is no horse for me to ride at the moment. I have a friend who has offered to let me ride her horse once in a while at a different stable, and there's one at Steph's who's been in the field for the entire year, recovering from tendon problems, whom I may get to ride if the ultrasounds show improvement. But that will mean total retraining as he's probably gone semi-wild! And I'm not the bravest rider in I'll wait and see how he reacts to another rider before I climb on top of him.

Maybe I'll finally get another book written while I wait until I can buy another horse to ride.

Alison said...

Francesca, Ronan Keating is SOOO cute he would cheer anyone up. Think of this event as being for Kwintus: meaning he is so fortunate to retire with YOU as his owner. Here in the US, he might end up with a dubious owner and a dubious ending. So hats off to you for being the best "mom" to a horse who rightly deserves a happy retirement.

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I'm not sure about horse's backs "collapsing", but certainly older horses have a tendency to sink in the back. Henry's back has done this to some degree (Henry is 22) even though we ride him regularly. I don't see it as much of a problem. I added an extra pad and I wouldn't let a heavy person ride him, but Henry is still completely sound and free moving. In my experience horses vary on this issue, but again, I don't think its a barrier to light riding. My horse Plumber, who hasn't been ridden in about a year (he's 21), looks about the same as he did when we quit riding him and walks downhill pretty freely now. The other thing that helped (or so I think) is that Plumber has been barefoot for a year. Turned out on pasture and barefoot helps an amazing number of older horses. However, certainly its a great thing to retire Kwint, and getting a new riding horse can be fun, too.