Farewell, My Friend

I’ve been putting off writing this post for awhile because the last few months have been so traumatic. After my last post Oh So got miraculously better, and we even had six rides together. The vet said to take him off the meds after six weeks, and maybe in hindsight that was a mistake. He relapsed within 10 days and just never got better, even after six weeks more on the same meds.

I’m copying the post on Facebook that I made on the day I said goodbye to him, May 4, which was ironically four years to the day that I broke my ankles.

“This is not the news I was hoping to share about Oh So, but sadly, I had to say goodbye to him today.

We’ve been dealing with suspected EPM since he became neurologic on January 29, and he made a seemingly miraculous recovery after six weeks. I was even able to hack him a few days before he relapsed again in March.

After trying more meds for six weeks, he wasn’t responding, so I took him to Morven Park on Friday to see their neurologist, Dr. Estell. Both she and their sports medicine expert Dr. Kelleher looked at him and determined that it could be a few things; severe arthritis impinging his spinal cord which can cause them to walk like he has been, EPM pending a spinal tap, which could come back negative at this point because he’s been on meds for it and it can skew the results, or sidewinder syndrome.

But before that, they wanted to look at his left hind hoof, which had developed a fever ring over the last month. He’s been getting progressively lame on it and also had a bruise on the sole .Unfortunately, it was the news I had dreaded—he’d foundered badly from leaning to the left. His coffin bone was very close to the sole, which was causing the bruise. If it was arthritis causing him to lean, he couldn’t be treated with corticosteroids because of the founder. If it was EPM, it was too late to try new meds. There was no hope.

They sent us home to keep him in “hospice care” with lots of pain meds until I decided it was time. As much as I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, it truly was the only option, so I decided to take him in today so I didn’t prolong his suffering. Coach Lisa Reid and his friend Meghan Schott Corbitt were by his side with me with plenty of peppermints to say goodbye.

This morning he was his usual self, rolling in the mud and then trying to trot in his small paddock. He was fussy while I groomed him and annoyed he couldn’t go out with his friends. As hard as it was for him to walk onto the trailer, he did it because I asked and because he knows whenever he gets on the trailer we’re going to have an adventure. Over the last few weeks, I could see it in his eyes. He was in pain, despite trying to be his usual wild self. He’s 21 going on 5, but his body wouldn’t let him be himself.

I wish I’d made the decision to take him to Morven sooner. Then maybe he would have had a chance. It still doesn’t feel real that he’s gone. Driving an empty trailer back to the barn was devastating.

Oh So has been my partner for the past 13 years, and it feels like a part of me is missing. It wasn’t his time. He deserved another 10 years in retirement after everything he’s done for me. He had that warhorse Thoroughbred spirit, racing until he was 7, taking me through preliminary and earning me my USDF bronze medal, and I expected he’d still be packing me around at 25. He’s never lost enthusiasm for his job, and before this, he’s never felt better in his body.

I’ll never be able to truly express in words what he’s meant to me. I’ve had him for most of my adulthood—he’s just always been there. He’s made me the rider I am today, and we were partners. We anticipated each other’s moves and were so in tune with each other. Almost everyone I hold dear in life I met through Oh So, and I know he has a huge fan club. I’ve appreciated everyone’s thoughts and prayers through the last few months.

After he had a suspensory injury in 2013, we gave him an easier job at novice and training, and he always had the same joy for his job that he did jumping the bigger fences. Our last two years of competition together in 2019 and 2020 were the best in my life. We rarely came home without a blue ribbon, but of course, it’s not just about that.He taught me to be brave and patient and to relax in the dressage and show jumping. With Oh So, there was never a fence too big or scary—if I didn’t want to go, he didn’t care and took me anyway.

Lisa always said he had that “look of eagles”—the thing that great cross-country horses have. Once he found a job he loved, he gave it everything he had, the same way he approached everything in life, and that’s a lesson I’ll keep in mind for the rest of mine.I’m not sure I’ll ever have another horse like him. He can never be replaced in my heart, and he’ll never be forgotten.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been four weeks since he’s been gone. I had him cremated and have some of his remains in a box they sent me. I think I’ll scatter his ashes at some of his favorite places. I have his tail hair and his front shoes and will find an appropriate way to honor him some day.

My friend Meghan took these photos on our last night together.

None of this feels real. This is not how I expected my 2021 to go. He was so full of life. After we took him to Morven, it was a very quick decision because we had to do it, and I think that’s what’s been so shocking. The worst part if we’ll never actually know what was causing the near symptoms, but what we do know is that it was the founder that was the end of it. There was nothing to be done.

The last several months I’ve been an emotional wreck, stressed and anxious and worried. I’ve had some other personal stuff going on too that’s just made me not want to get out of bed some days.

My spirits have been lifted by my friends and family though, and all of those who knew Oh So, either from real life or on Facebook. I didn’t realize how many fans he had!

But it’s still been so hard to feel like my normal self. I’m not there yet, for sure. He’s just always been there in my life, or at least for most of my adult life. I can hardly remember a time before him, and there’s a huge void. He changed my life and my riding in more ways than one. I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at photos or videos of him yet, but I’ll get there eventually. I just can’t believe that I might forget the feeling he gave me, from just hacking to flying over jumps, and all of his silly little things, like biting the cross ties and drinking from the hose.

He deserved a happy retirement, and I feel like I failed in some way by not taking him sooner.

The same day we said goodbye, my trainer Lisa happened to come across a young horse she’d seen a few times out schooling while she was up at Loch Moy. He impressed her again, and she kept him in mind. I spent the rest of the week grieving and in a bit of a trance, but she sent me a long email saying she thought I should get back out there sooner rather than later to have something to take my mind off my grief.

I went to watch the horse at his first Twilight Eventing at Loch Moy, and he was definitely quiet. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I went to try him anyways a few days later, and it went well, so we vetted him and brought him home on May 18.

I still feel like I’m stuck this sort of alternate reality or in some haze. I can’t believe I brought a baby horse home two weeks after Oh So passed. Maybe it was fate that Lisa saw him on the day we said goodbye to Oh So? I don’t know. I’m trying not to look too much into it. I’m not sure I’ve made the right decision, but if I didn’t make this one, I would have had nothing to ride really. My barn owner has been kind to lend me one of her fox hunters, but I’m not into trail riding. I like to have goals, and I like doing the work. But I still have some anxiety over my accident and didn’t want a super green OTTB. Luckily this one has been restarted well and seems to be sane and kind.

I’ll introduce the new guy in my next post.

A Shocking Development

I had kind of been putting off a Happy New Year update on the blog because honestly, not much has been happening since my last post. We’re just trying to make it through winter, and we had some really nice schoolings at Loch Moy over their arena cross-country course with friends and a few good jump schools at home.

My friends had started to ask if I was thinking about the next season, and I had a general plan in my head. We had a nice lesson at Morningside with Lisa on Jan. 24, then I decided to give Oh So two days off. We hacked on Wednesday, and I thought he felt maybe slightly weird in walk, tracking with his haunches a bit to the left, but he got better as we went. The weather was terribly cold that Thursday, so he had a day off and a nice groom in the stall. By Friday when I went to get him in the field, he was acting neurologic in walk, so I immediately called the vet.

His haunches were to the left in walk, and he had a tail tilt that way too. She diagnosed him with EPM based on visual symptoms and a neurologic test, so we immediately started him on the anti-protozoa medication Protazil and Vitamin E.

To say I was in shock was an understatement. Where the hell did this come from? He’s been perfectly healthy with no signs other than on Wednesday.

It felt like my life had come crashing down. I know he’ll be retired eventually, but he’s been going so well, and shows no signs of slowing down. If he retires, I’m left with nothing other than a mountain of debt and no savings to get my next horse. My life revolves around him and has for the last 13 years. I’m just not ready for it to be over.

I spent a week crying at home and every time I saw him. We put him in a small paddock because we’ve been having back to back winter storms, and we didn’t want him to slip. He didn’t seem to be getting any better 10 days in, and was starting to be in pain from shifting to the left all the time. It was hard to watch. I took him for hand walks to the nearest patch of grass, but he would trip while grazing and began to be lame from behind.

I finally decided to get a second opinion just to rule out anything else, which I learned from the first vet could be neck arthritis, although being on Banamine for a few days hadn’t helped, and he was using his head and neck fine, so that was unlikely. We do know he was arthritis in his neck based on X-rays from when he had strangles. His bloodwork came back about a week later and confirmed his numbers were 1:500 for exposure to EPM, which is not high, but the vet explained to me that the number doesn’t correspond to the severity of the disease.

The second vet took one look at him and was fairly certain it’s EPM. He recommended a compounded drug made of DMSO and toltrazuril, which is something a few friends had mentioned they’d also tried with success after he recommended it.

About two days after the second vet came, I started seeing improvement in his walk. It was less crooked, and he seemed slightly more comfortable. The new meds arrived on Friday, which was two weeks since his initial diagnosis, and I decided to try them. The second vet said he’s never had luck with Protazil and that it’s being trialled as an EPM preventative these days, so at least I could continue to use it after he’s better twice a week to use it up. $800 for that! The compounded medication was $180, and since he’ll likely be on something for a few months, that seemed like the better option.

As of today, he’s walking almost normally. It’s kind of miraculous. He’s able to walk over poles and is very eager to go on hand walks down the driveway. He’s not tripping while grazing, and I can now pick up all four of his feet without a problem. A week ago I was considering what would happen if he got down and couldn’t get up. Where would I bury him? Would I cremate him? How would I be able to go on without him in my life?

I’m thrilled that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. This is something I have no experience with and never would have expected in a million years. I have no idea where we go from here, other than finishing up a month’s worth of Toltrazuril. When will he be safe to ride? Will he ever be? With the progress so far I feel like there’s hope. I don’t think he deserves to be forced into retirement because of this terrible disease, and I believe he’s strong. I’ve never been an optimist, but I’m learning to be strong through this horrible situation. The second vet believes there’s a chance he can be ridden again because he didn’t start out with any muscle atrophy. That can be harder to come back from.

This horse is keeping me connected to the sport I love well past his peak because he loves it. I’m not sure what my future will be, and to think about not being able to ride and compete is devastating. It’s in my blood. It’s a part of me. I’m so thankful I’m able to ride a nice mare at the barn, and we’re hoping to get to some dressage shows this spring, but running and jumping is my real passion. It’s a privilege to get to ride Oh So, and I’ve learned to never take one day for granted at his age and after all we’ve been through. His enthusiasm for life is infectious, and he’s given me more confidence over the last 13 years than I think any horse ever could.

This still feels like some nightmare I can’t wake up from, but to go to the barn everyday and see him acting more like himself and happier makes me hopeful I’ll be able to look between his ears again.

The worst of it. Leaning against the wall to take pressure off the left hind leg.
Not too happy about being in a small paddock away from his friends.