Friday, January 14, 2011

The Horse Who Leads Me

I am definitely an animal person. I think that either you are or you aren’t and each side probably does not understand the other. I have always had animals in my life—dogs, cats, horses. There was never not a time when I didn’t have an animal around me. As a kid I was known to bring home strays—cats and dogs. I now bring home horses, and I seemed to have passed on my stray traits as my oldest son who is nineteen just brought home a puppy “from the side of the road.” Hmmmm…questionable.

Anyway, I would have to say that hands down my favorite animal is the horse. I have had horses in my life since I was five-years-old and I can’t imagine a life without them. It’s interesting because in the horse world there are two types of horse owners. There are the owners who see the horses as a business and that is their right. I have a family member who has a horse business and she doesn’t allow herself to get attached to them because it is her business. And then there are the suckers like me. I only jokingly refer to myself as a sucker but many would say that I am because facts are that horses are not cheap to keep. I have had to work some creative financing over the years during rough times to be sure the horses are well fed and taken care of. I view my horses like I do family. They are part of our family. When I make a commitment to a horse that animal has a home for life.

A couple of years ago, I made the decision to start showing again and really involving myself in the equestrian world as my little girl had taken a keen interest in riding and showing as well. I wasn’t actively looking for a horse for myself at that time, but I was for my daughter. But you know how when you’re not looking for something, it just tends to put itself right in front of you? This is exactly what happened. Through a friend I heard about a mare who needed a new home. She was a grey
Thoroughbred who had done her rounds on the show jumping circuit and who needed an amateur adult rider. I decided to take a look and of course when I saw her I fell in love. She was all they said that she was—sweet, beautiful, willing, smart and honest. I was super excited to get her home and work with her and plan out our show season.

However, it wasn’t long after I brought her home that I noticed she was off. Neither the vet, the trainer or myself could tell where the lameness was coming from exactly. The vet blocked her, we ran tests, we tried acupuncture, chiropractic, etceteras. I babied her and she seemed to get better and we started back on a slow course to work. Then she went lame again. We started the stall rest, easy program to work another time. It finally appeared that she was going to be okay. I set out to ride her one day and when I put her in the round pen for a little exercise I noticed her begin to weave like a drunk. It scared me so badly. Terri (best trainer and friend ever—yes I’m a brown noser) took a look and we thought maybe she had EPM. I prayed for her issue to be EPM because I knew the alternative wasn’t great.

It turned out that Krissy was indeed afflicted with the alternative, which is a neurological disorder called “Wobblers Disease.” Wobblers can be hereditary or caused by some kind of accident, which I am inclined to think was the real reason for the disease. When a horse develops Wobblers Disease, the symptoms are created by what is called stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal. A horse with Wobblers Disease has vertebra that are not shaped correctly, and pressure is exerted on the spine from these odd-shaped bones.

What this meant for Krissy and me was that my sweet mare was not going to ever be able to ridden again unless I was willing to let her go through an expensive and risky surgery. I had some people tell me to put her down. I asked the vet what were the implications of this mare living with this disease. The vet told me that the disease isn’t painful but that the negative is that she may become frightened and confused because she is feeling unstable. That was a year ago and I still have Krissy. She does not seem to be afraid or confused in the least. In fact, she seems pretty darn happy. She gets turned out daily and she has an ongoing love affair with her very handsome neighbor “Will,” who lucky me is now riding. She knickers when she hears my voice and she is only slightly spoiled with lots of treats, grooming and whispers from me on what a special horse she is. Yes, I know that some people say that I am crazy. Trust me, I’m fine with that.

I have been asked by a few people about the expense and why I would maintain it and not have her put to sleep. This just aggravates me and actually really makes me pretty darn angry. I don’t think of Krissy as an expense. She is family. Interestingly and ironically enough, at about the same time Krissy was diagnosed with “Wobblers,” my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. And in some strange round-about-way, my mare has helped teach me more about empathy, appreciation and patience when it concerns both my father and her, and frankly, everyone around me. My dad’s and mare’s diseases are similar as they both have instability and balance issues and because I learn daily from my equine partners I have been able to take what Krissy has taught me about her disease in her own language (and believe me, horses have their own language and are quite intelligent) and look at what my dad is going through in a way that I am not sure I would have without my horse leading me. I am thankful for my big beautiful girl everyday and all she brings into my life.

Animals can and do teach us so much and for me, my animals are an extension of my family and friends. Sometimes to comprehend what they want us to know, all we have to do is pay attention.


Laura Crum said...

Michele-- That is a lovely story, though I am so sorry Krissy ended up having wobbler's disease. I have (still) a mostly TB gelding named Rebby who went through the same sort of coming down with drunken staggers at nine years, and was diagnosed first with a strained sacroiliac joint and then EPM. I never knew which diagnosis was correct, and I too feared wobblers syndrome. Rebby is still with me--he's in his late twenties and has been a pasture pet since he was ten. Its a sad story, because we lost the use of him, but also a happy one, because he's had a good life, and seems very content. He still waddles a bit awkwardly, but he doesn't fall, is not in pain, and keeps his condition well.

Does your daughter still have Monte? (I hope I am remembering his name right). I have been wondering how you all are doing.

Good wishes to you and your family.

Francesca Prescott said...

Michele - I'd never heard of wobbler's disease; what a sad thing to happen to such a lovely mare. But it sounds as though she came to you for a reason, although not the reason you bought her for. What a lovely, bittersweet story.

Alison said...

Welcome back, Michele! I don't think you've posted since I've been aboard so we're just 'meeting' :) Loved every 'word' of your blog--informative and emotional at the same time.

Linda Benson said...

What a poignant essay, Michele. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings about your mare and about your father. I, too, believe animals have so much to teach us, if we only know how to listen.

Terri Rocovich said...

Michele - And thank God that Krissy has someone like you who values her more for her existance than for her use.