Saturday, November 16, 2013

A tale of two horses... and their owners

By Gayle Carline
Author and Horse Lover

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

A friend of mine hates Dickens because his main characters never take charge of their own lives to alter their course, and of course he's right, but I particularly love this opening line/paragraph because it perfectly describes how various people view the world. To some, the glass is half full and it is the best of times. To others, life is always tipping toward the worst.

In 2008, I was longeing my beautiful black gelding, Snoopy, in the round pen. He was running, not bucking or jumping or acting crazy, when he began to limp. After some initial assessment by the vet who had stopped by because she's a friend of the ranch owner, we took him to the equine hospital down the street for x-rays. I still remember Dr. Klohnin's soft accent as he pointed to the picture on the screen and said, "Do you see the white line? He has broken the sesamoid bone."

He said a lot more, although once he said the phrase, "fuse the joint" my brain got up and left the building. Even so, I kept interpreting each sentence as positive. They could operate. (They've done this procedure before.) Snoopy could come back to full health. (Many horses had.) The procedure was successful about 85% of the time. (Better than 50/50!)

It took almost three years to get Snoopy's leg back to being fully functional, but I always believed that it would. I wasn't going to give up until one of his vets took me by the shoulders, shook me firmly and said, "It's over and done and we can't save him."

I guess you could say I see things as the best of times.

Recently, one of the horses at our facility managed to knock a goodly-sized portion of his hoof off, exposing the soft tissue underneath. He is in a box stall, which the entire staff has inspected, and no one can figure out how he did it, although I must add, he is quite the kicker when he thinks there might be food available.

As you horse owners know, having the foot exposed is a danger to infection, so Niki (the trainer) tried to call the owner, couldn't reach her, and made the executive decision to get the vet out. Dr. Garloff came out and flushed the wound, packed it with antibiotics and wrapped it tightly.

I was there when Niki finally contacted the owner. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but it was pretty easy to interpret. The owner was crying hysterically. Her horse, in her mind, was irreversibly broken. Niki kept having to reassure her that she would not have to put the horse down. The hoof will grow back. It will take a long time, but it will grow back. There is no reason for sadness and worry, as long as they follow the vet's instructions. Cleaning, antibiotics, wrapping every other day.

A week later, the owner was still expressing worry.

"I've been worried about your horse, too," she told me. (Snoopy has been having some issues that seem to be solved with different shoeing.)

I felt like telling her to keep her worry blanket off my horse. I save my worry for problems I see as insurmountable, and Snoopy was going to be fine. Just fine.

What does the world look like to you? Do you live in the spring of hope or the winter of despair? Do you believe in the power of positive thinking? Or is it all in the hands of science or fate or some other force of nature?


Anonymous said...

This takes me back 7 years when I had a weanling in the pasture shot by a very bad hunter. I didn't expect him to survive or be sound, but we took him to the vet, where he had a hundreds of stitches put into his hip. He had lost a chunk of skin and muscle. After months of care and medicines, the wound was closed and he had skin and hair growing on it. There was a depression where he was missing muscle. The bad thing is, it's not his only scar, he had stitches before I got him, and he had about 50 more after that when someone didn't move the stall latch out of the way before he went in. I worried about him for the first four years of his life. He seemed destined to kill himself or be unrideable.

He still has all the scars, though most people don't even notice. The muscle on his hip all grew back. He was never lame, in fact he is the most beautiful moving, athletic horse I've ever owned. I'm going to ride him today, knock on wood.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I suppose that what matters is realism plus enough of a positive outlook not to fall into despair. There's no point hoping for an impossible recovery. And yet a bad injury looks even worse than it is.

Once I had a two year-old filly that jumped two fences then cut a hind leg deeply on a wire severing a tendon. It was sewn together and she spent many weeks with the lower leg immobilised in a cast. (That didn't stop her from jumping another fence.) The area of the injury remained with some ugly proud flesh, however she regained soundness and was trained to become a good robust trail horse. There was a stubbornness innate in that mare which inspired us to try and save her. We needed to keep her apart from the rest of the herd whilst recovering as they would bully her - native breeds trying to drive out a weaker member. When she became sound again, she went out and repaid her tormenters with a kicking. They showed her respect after that!

Laura Crum said...

I tend to balance between worry and determination to do what I can. It would be better, I think, if I could remain more firmly positive, but I do worry. When I was bringing Henry back from colic surgery, I worried a lot. But he is a healthy horse who has been a sound riding horse for five years post surgery, so I guess the worry didn't hurt him. Like WHP says, there was such a cheerful attitude and so much try in the horse himself that I think it was Henry whose outlook made the difference.

Dom said...

What a great entry on perspective. I am an eternal optimist, even when life gives me ample reason not to be. I firmly believe that life is what you make of it, and you can't let the bad times spoil the good times. We all get our share of both.

Gayle Carline said...

"Realism plus enough of a positive outlook not to fall into despair" - that's really it, WHP. As positive as I am, I'm also the person in our house who sees the reality of our older pets and is able to say, "It's time." My husband cannot make the decision. It's too hard for him.

Alison said...

Love your positive attitude, but what I really loved was your photos of your gorgeous horse! My two are fat pasture ponies with shaggy hair so it's nice to see a sleek, athletic example--and of course, your love shines through.

Unknown said...

I just got done reading your article, and really enjoyed it, thank you. You can see some fun horse books at where you can also hear the books read for the same price as a paperback book, as they are in paperback, digital and also audio, and fun to listen to.

Anonymous said...

I am still waffling between the spring of hope and the winter of despair. My horse came up lame 1 1/2 years ago- lame on right & front front feet intermittently. I went conservative with treatment, then got increasingly aggressive as time passed, it was narrowed down to soft tissue injury and no improvement was seen.- Two MRIs later, I never received a comprehensive diagnosis of what happened (pasture accident? incorrect shoeing?)- just that he had DDFT & collateral ligament issues, and was unlikely to heal outside of a rare surgery with a 60% recovery rate. Top tier equine surgeon told me he couldn't even recommend it, because he'd only done 4 in his career, and no way of knowing whether my horse would be a good candidate.

I nerved him, he still wasn't sound (apparently DDFT issues went further up his right pastern). Now entering the winter, after months of shockwave and injections, my vet has told me I might get my dressage partner sound with another 6 months of walking under saddle. He said time is sometimes the best thing. I've scrapped pennies together to lease another horse while mine rehabs, but it is hard to stay positive, knowing he will be 14, he might not ever come sound, all the plans to show, to lesson & clinic, gone with a possible retirement diagnosis next summer.

Sadly I can't afford two boards, even a retirement board & full board, so a second horse is out of the question. I'm getting older, and that dream of getting a USDF medal is further away. I tell myself he is going to get well, that maybe if he is never 100%, at least he's comfortable and well-loved. I still get hours of pleasure just being next to him. My horse and this journey has taught me patience at least, and that I'm lucky I wasn't ever facing a "put him down" decision.

Gayle Carline said...

Anonymous, the adjustment of my own goals with regards to my horse was both the hardest and yet most liberating part of my own journey. After Snoopy won the PCQHA Trail Futurity, my trainer and I had big plans. Get him qualified for the World as a Junior horse, breeze my way through the Novice division and someday take him myself as a Select rider.

And then came the injury.

Once I realized that I valued his life over his usefulness, I knew I couldn't campaign him, so going to the World was not a goal. Chasing points was not worth the cost to his body. And guess what? I relaxed. I stopped worrying about our performance and started working on a deeper connection between my horse and my riding.

Now when I take him to shows, I'm just there to have fun, and it's enjoyable.

I know how hard it is to give up a dream, but I know if you want it badly enough, you will find some way to either reach it or modify it to make you happy.