A Lost Year

I’ve been putting off this post for awhile since everything has been so up in the air over the last four months. Right after my last post, Boss came in with a swollen hock and a small puncture wound. I called the vet out to treat him, and she administered what I, and other vets I’ve since consulted with, considered an appropriate treatment plan of steroids and antibiotics to bring down the cellulitis he’d developed in his hind leg.

The swelling went down over 48 hours, but by Monday July 12, it was clear he’d foundered in both front feet. I called the vet out again, and got the same one who’d seen Oh So when he’d come in neurologic. She diagnosed him with laminitis, and we think the steroids caused it. It’s a one in a million chance of something with dex in it causing this reaction, especially in a young, healthy, thin Thoroughbred, and that mistake has cost me thousands of dollars, riding time, my horse’s health and well-being and my mental health.

I can’t really blame the vet because he wasn’t overdosed (although maybe he would have been fine with just an antibiotic and no steroid. Lesson learned), and there’s no way they would admit they did anything wrong, so I’m stuck with the consequences.

We tried stall rest for about 2 weeks until he got so upset he jumped out of his Dutch door, then out of his small paddock, but thankfully a friend offered to take him for rehab at a reduced price. Unfortunately she’s an hour and a half away, but she’s been taking good care of him, and he has a nice big stall and lots of hand grazing time.

We got a farrier from my old practice, Woodside Equine Clinic, to come out to fit him for some special (expensive) clogs that are drilled into his foot then glued in place with heel wedges to hold his coffin bone in a comfortable position. He wore those for about 8 weeks, but about 6 weeks in, he got very lame up front.

Until then, I’d been honestly wondering if I wanted to continue with any of this. Laminitis is a horrible disease that he’ll have to live with the rest of his life, and I’ll have to manage. I barely had 2 months with him and was starting to connect with him, but who knows if we would even be a good match in the future or if he’d like eventing? His entire future and resale value and ability is now in question. From what I’ve read, steroid-induced founders can recover and be just fine compared to those caused by predisposition or metabolic issues. We haven’t tested him for metabolic issues yet, but will eventually.

At the time, I was still unsure if I even wanted to start over with a new horse after the tragedy with Oh So, and this was just too much to bear. I cried for a week and could barely function when it first happened, then when he got very lame 6 weeks in, I started making arrangements. He has a mortality policy, so I thought it might be best to just let him go and start over again, and my vets stood by me, but couldn’t get out to see him for a week, so we gave him bute and waited.

Then he blew an abscess.

So that was that, and then he was walking better. We had him checked at 8 weeks, and the vet was pleasantly surprised at the amount of hoof growth, so decided to keep the shoes on a bit longer. At that point, insurance had told me if he could be pasture sound, they wouldn’t pay out, so I felt like I owed it to him to keep trying, even though this situation as brought my entire life and everything I know crashing down.

I’ve been fortunate to always have a horse to ride, even when one was injured, and now I have no horse of my own to compete and train on, which has been the focus of nearly every day of my life since I was a kid. For better or worse, horses are it for me and my life with them is what makes me whole.

Boss has his recheck last week and got a new set of clogs to wear for another 8-10 weeks. At the beginning of all of this, the vet estimated I wouldn’t be riding him for a year, which makes me sick to even think about. I truly hope he’s wrong. This entire year has turned out to be a lost one. People keep telling me to be positive, but I can’t find one thing that’s been positive that’s happened this year. The hits just keep coming and the progress is slow.

Unfortunately he can’t be turned out because of how high the shoes are, but he is allowed to start walking under saddle for some mental and physical exercise. My friend has ridden him a few times, and I’ll start trying soon and with lots of Ace. He was quite sore after having the shoes changed last week. but otherwise has been very lively while hand walking and seems to be striding out OK. We may try a small paddock with him on sedatives to see if he can handle it.

The whole ordeal is just so unfair, to him especially. He was a happy, healthy young horse with a bright future, and I feel like I’ve let him, his former connections and my parents who bought him down, and it’s entirely out of my control. I should have just said no to the vet when she asked if it was OK to give him the steroids and if he was prone to founder. How was I to know when I’d only had him 2 months? If he does come back, every day will be a question of if or when he’ll have a relapse, and I think it will be difficult to try to sell a horse with this condition. I was just starting to get excited about him after our first dressage and jumping lessons.

For now, I’m seeing him a couple of times a week and trying to catch rides on horses wherever I can, but I feel like I’m floating with no anchor. Just drifting and waiting for the tide to change. Without horses and being at the barn and showing and taking lessons, I’ve lost touch with people who were in my circle, and I feel left out while everyone else seems to be thriving. I need my own horse and that partnership and bond to feel whole Right now there’s a part of me missing, and I don’t know when I’ll get it back. This has been the worst year of my life, and I hope things will start turning around soon.

Introducing…Who’s My Boss

It all happened pretty fast after Oh So died. I was still grieving, but my trainer Lisa had come across a young horse the same day when she went to meet a student at Loch Moy to school cross-country. She’s seen him before and liked his look, but obviously wasn’t thinking of me at the time. She waited a few days before mentioning him to me.

We went up and watched him do his first little show at Twilight Eventing at Loch Moy, and he was pretty quiet and willing, then a couple of days later I went to try him at Destination Farm in Maryland.

Two weeks to do the day that we said goodbye to Oh So I drove up and picked up Who’s My Boss.

For the first few weeks I was still in such a daze about everything. Was I ready to take on a young horse again considering my past trauma with Thomas? Was this too soon? Did I need more time to grieve? Should I have looked at more horses first? Was it a bad sign I was ambivalent? Should it have been love at first sight? Should I have asked more questions to his previous owner? But he was a good deal for the amount of experience he had, and I trust Lisa, so we took the chance.

He’s a 7-year-old OTTB who race 33 times at Charlestown until June of last year. He even won six races. Destination Eventing let him down and restarted him in the winter. He’d been schooling a few times, and they said he was very kind and willing, which is what Lisa wanted for me for my next project.

Our first couple of weeks we longed in the round pen to see what he was like, then got on and walked out to the ring and gradually to the fields and down the driveway. He’s been fairly willing under saddle, and we’ve had a couple of jump lessons now where we’ve introduced one gymnastics and canter poles.

Unfortunately a couple weeks after he came he got bit on the back, so I couldn’t put a saddle on for two weeks. Then I was traveling a bit for work, and now this week we’re dealing with a puncture wound on his hock, so even though it’s been about 7 weeks, I feel like we can’t get off the ground, so to speak. I would like to be able to be consistent. Luckily, he seems to pick up and retain information easily, so I think he’ll come along quickly.

I took him to a friend’s farm close by while he was healing his back wound to do some trailer practice, and he had a meltdown in the trailer, breaking my butt bar and scraping himself up, so I feel like we’ve had a pretty big setback. I would feel comfortable starting to go places for lessons now, but we need to do some more confidence-building work first at home before we try that.

My dressage trainer Heidi came for his first lesson with her last week, and we worked on getting him to start softening and bending. She says he’s 7, so it’s time to stop babying him. I’ve been doing flatwork in a jump saddle for now until we can get him his own saddles, which was supposed to happen the day he came in with a swollen hock. Horses….But at least I have a few with me to try when he’s better.

She also helped me with the loading, so we’ve been practicing getting on and standing and backing off when I say so. Next step is to close the butt bar and take a short ride around the farm. I’m nervous about it. I’ve never had one who has a problem with the actual travel. Loading issues can be fixed, but he has to stand quietly while we’re moving. I think I’ll be getting a trailer camera for my own peace of mind.

It’s a little strange looking through a different set of ears.

I feel like we’ve been bonding slowly. He seems a little aloof at times. He doesn’t love grooming, but Oh So didn’t either when he was first off the track. He definitely watches me and is attached to me in his own way, but he doesn’t have that soft, kind eye that Oh So had. But I think it will come. He’s not a cuddler yet, but Oh So wasn’t either until much later.

I don’t think he’ll have much problem with different types of jumps. He seems very willing to jump the panels and things we have in the ring at home. I think the biggest thing will be independence. He came from a very busy barn and always traveled and hacked with other horses. I’m alone a lot of the time at the barn, so he’s getting used to it.

So for now it’s just leaning about ground manners and trailer practice, and once I can get back on, it will be full speed ahead with the flat work and grids. He needs a lot more strength and more weight, but we’re slowly working on that too. He seems a bit gangly at the moment, but I’m confident it will come together.

This all still feels like some sort of alternate reality. This is not how I expected my life to go so soon. I still feel like a piece of me is missing. I miss Oh So and our partnership, and I miss competing. At least now I have some goals to work towards. With Oh So I felt like I was coasting along because he was such a schoolmaster, and we had such a great partnership, and building one with a new horse takes time and patience. I’ve had to get back into “training” mode a bit, and consider everything I do from the perspective of a green horse, and it’s been awhile since I’ve done that.

Part of me wishes I was more excited about this new journey, but the truth is, I’m nervous. Breaking my ankles after Thomas dumped me while I was getting on four years ago still gives me anxiety every time I put my foot in the stirrup of a new horse, especially an OTTB. So far this guy (barn name TBD) has been pretty good about that part, but I think it will take me awhile to trust him.

Change is always difficult for me in every aspect of my life, but I’m grateful to have the chance to continue doing the thing that gets me out of bed every morning and what I’m most passionate about. I’ve got amazing friends and family around me cheering me on and telling me I can do this and helping me through my grief about Oh So. No horse will ever replace him in my heart, but I’m trying to keep it open to new possibilities.