Tuesday, June 07, 2016
really quite horrible news
My sweet little baby horse, my brave, big-hearted guy who gives me his all, and nickers at me when I arrive to see him whether or not I have carrots, has a neurological disorder. I didn't think today's vet visit would bring such numbing news. I drove out to Moorpark in the middle of the day and he whinnies at me, as he does, the sweet, big doofus of a brown horse, whose feet never seem to know where they are, the boy who closes his eyes when I rub his face, and we wait cheerfully for the vet. The problem is, he doesn't like to bend (and horses are supposed to bend) and he falls down to his knees when he grazes (I just thought he was young) and he sets his neck (they're supposed to flex at the poll) and he's been with lovely cowboy Dan, who fixes everyone's problem horses, just a little bit too long, so we thought that perhaps the vet might shed some light.
A barrage of tests later, all of which he failed miserably, and we discover it's really bad. Neurological disorder caused either by a virus (like West Nile or EPM) or by a fall (perhaps when he was a baby on the track he rolled head over heels) or perhaps his bones grew too fast for his tendons. It wasn't good. The vet, a very nice man who told me that his wife is 6ft 2 and looking for her perfect horse, couldn't have been more professional or clinical in his assessment. We went through the test methodically. He pointed out why he was doing what he was doing, and gave me context. And my little (big - 16.2, brown thoroughbred, off the track) horse, tied to a pole, winked at us and made faces and made us laugh. And then I asked that question you're not supposed to ask. "If he was your horse, what would you do?" And he looked at me and paused. And then he looked down and said "I'd put him down."
I'm not sure when shock actually sets in but I know the way it feels and it was in my body. All the loss and trauma, all at the same time. He's an animal, of course, but he's my partner, my friend, my solace, my every single weekend, my saviour, my lovely, lovely boy. I'm not being dramatic. There is not another thing in the world that cheers me up like being with him. Simple, calm, funny, loving, and brave.
The single quality I admire most in a person is courage. And he has it in spades. While hurting, quite a lot, one would imagine, he jumped big fences with me, tried his heart out, did everything I asked, just because I asked it. No-one but me and Deni, the brave girl of an assistant trainer, could ride him. He leaned, he changed leads, he bucked, he reared sometimes, not meanly, but he stood up, sometimes he wouldn't go forward, sometimes he rolled his eyes. And it was all pain. It didn't make sense that such a sweet, kind horse would behave that way. He was champion at the horse show. He has the biggest stride and was unbeatable in a jump off. I think it was the adrenaline that got him round, every single time. But we didn't know it.
And so I find myself in bed, eat cold peanut sesame noodles and drinking a California pinot noir, with my dogs by my side, absolutely numb and not sure who to tell, or how.
Liz, who helps out with the horse, confided in me today that her Australian shepherd, who's a pest because he rounds up everything and thinks he's a dog trainer and a horse trainer and generally likes to keep everyone in line, and has even been zapped with a shock collar to stop this annoying behavior, is actually very intuitive. "Every day" she said, "we'd come out to the barn and he would walk over to Jelly's corral (he's in an in-and-out stall) and stare at him and then bark." Like Lassie, he thought something was wrong and that a human should know about it. She paid attention, and while they were working in the round pen (a circular pen with wooden sides so the horse can't see out, which mimics to some extent lunging in English equitation) she noticed how he hung on the bit, and leaned hard on the rein when his head was pulled around. "I've never seen such a sweet horse hang so hard on a bit" she said. And of course, this is from all the awful pain in his neck.
My daughter, who is wise and brave and loves horses as I do, asked if I was snuggling with the doggies and drinking Ribena. "Horses" she said "are our partners." There is not other sport like this, where you are equal partners with your horse, and the best thing you can ever ask for is a horse that tries his heart out, and my little Jelly does that, again and again.
I don't really know what to do. But it helps to express it here, somehow.