Why Horse Ownership is Not for the Faint of Heart

My girl, "Mates Special Lady"
Photo by Sarah Mckenzie
It has been a month since I've blogged, crazy.

I have so many blog posts percolating and swirling around in my mind, but at the end of the day, I don't have the mental capacity to speak, let alone coherently post. Working for a trainer is hard but rewarding work. In any given day we are balancing a million different things, and trying to fit it all in so that we have enough time to sleep before we start all over again. Between working horses, checking cattle, cleaning stalls, feeding, ranch chores, hauling our stallion or mares to the breeding farm, vet and farrier visits, and all the other miscellaneous things that come up in any given day, there isn't a lot of time to do much of anything else. I'm desperately trying to find a balance, but for many of you that own, love and work with horses, you know that there is little balance, especially in the thick of show season. The horses come first, and everything else comes second. It's not always healthy, nobody said it was, it's an obsession, but it's an obsession I love. I really wouldn't have it any other way.

So this blog post is about that obsession, and the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows that come with horse ownership. I have been blessed with many highs, and I have been gutted with lows as well - we all have, that's horses.

Photo by Sandy Hansma
The highs, the highs are pretty great. You can ride those highs for a pretty long time.

You are ready for that next level horse
You achieve something you've been working on for months, or years
A new foal is born that is the epitome of your breeding program
You win your first big cheque

I recently had a pretty amazing high. At the beginning of the month Lady and I achieved not one but THREE goals I had for this year. Win a Class, Win a Circuit AND Win a Buckle. It was amazing, but it was hard-earned, I had to change a lot about my riding style to be able to get through a run. A combination of nerves was fuelling a bad habit of gripping with my herd side leg, and not trusting my horse to wait on a cow, and control a cow in her own style. This meant show, after show, after show, I came home empty handed and with lack lustre scores. So I worked harder at it, I took every single thing my boss told me to do, and went home and thought more about it before I went to sleep at night. At home, our consistency and hard work was working, but at shows I was still struggling. So, I took off my spurs, and tried desperately to calm down my riding, and quell those pesky nerves. It came together, and it clicked.

The newest piece of jewellery to add to the collection!
At the NCHA Day's show in Claresholm, AB I went in with my only goal to be clean and consistent runs. I entered a class called the "Never Won a Buckle" where the aggregate champion (best combined score from the two days) wins a buckle and is entered into a finals at the Canadian Supreme in the fall to compete against other NWB winners from the year. The first day we drew first, and won our class with a 72. The second day I knew that if I "pressured-up" I would blow my class, like I have in the past. I tried to just keep telling myself "clean-consistent-clean-consistent." That day we were combined with another Non-Pro herd, so I was second last in the class in a big herd of 14. The cows were really tough, and were proving to be pretty tricky. The first cow I cut took one look at us and tried to run us over, I held my breath the entire time, I heard people gasp and I just thought, I need to ride my horse, it needs to be clean. We survived. The second cow was better. The third cow I chipped off and cut well. The judge scored us a 71. I left the pen, covered in sweat and shaking, I had made it through the run, it was clean and consistent, that's all I had wanted. Then, I heard the score from the last rider in the class and knew I had won the class again, and the buckle. Then I cried, in front of everyone there, like a massive baby. I'll tell you one thing, when you have a horse with a heart as big as mine, who tries so hard every time she walks to the herd, and you've struggled to showcase her ability due to your own shortcomings... to pick up two first places on her, is a very, very special feeling. Our first wins together, like I said - an unbelievable high.

Lady hooked up to fluids at Moore & Co

Then... there are the lows... What goes up, must come down.

Your next level horse comes up lame
You horse starts to sour in the show pen
Your new foal dies from complications
You don't pick up a cheque the entire show season 

Our low came one week later at another small club cutting show. I had given Lady most of the week off, worked her once on the flag, and once on cows, she felt really good. Then when I started to warm her up, she felt a little slow, but nothing crazy. Then right before we were suppose to walk to the herd, she felt dramatically off on her front right. I got off, no heat, didn't overreach, nothing. So I walked her out, and she felt okay, so I went ahead and showed her, she was pretty fresh because of the walking and we didn't have the best show because of it. Afterwards I put her up and she seemed fine. When we got home we jogged her and she now seemed off in her hind end, swinging out her back right leg as she trotted. She seemed lethargic as well. I gave her a bit of bute, and planned to call our lameness vet the next day. When I went to put her into her turnout, she kept trying to lay down, she wasn't rolling, or seemed uncomfortable but again just seemed so lethargic. So I called the vet, he couldn't be sure what was happening, but agreed she didn't seem right. He gave her fluids and told me to monitor her. She seemed fine that night, and looked like she was bouncing back.

I recommend having a good dog to keep you company,
and sleep on the barn floor, in situations like this. <3
The next morning, she seemed even worse, very lethargic, and kept trying to throw herself down, or alternatively stretch out her hind out constantly in a "prayer" type position with her front legs extended. I loaded her on the trailer and took her to Moore and Co. When we got there, after multiple ultrasounds throughout the day, they found she had excessive fluid in her colon, colitis, as well as an impaction. Due to the fact her colon was enlarged her small intestines were moved and displaced as well. They put her on fluids, banamine, and pulled her feed. Throughout the day they were able to physically remove a lot of the impaction by hand, and treated her for the colitis. I was able to get her two days later, and tapered her back onto feed myself at home.

In the end they suspect she contracted a virus or a bug, and by the time it exhibited itself it had already passed through her system so they couldn't be sure what it was. She had a bad spell of diarrhea last fall and they said that may have affected her colon flora, so when faced with a bug, it could have spiked that causing the colitis, which in turn likely caused the impaction.

It was a very scary and stressful time for me, after losing my three year old bunny last year, I am pretty sensitive to horses getting sick, and tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion. I am so grateful to the team at Moore and Co for taking the best care of my horse, and also happy that we were able to avoid surgery for so many reasons. I am happy to report that it has been a week since Lady has been home and she seems much better, and back to her normal self and feeding schedule. The only small thing I have noticed is she seems to be dragging her hind toes a little when she walks, so we'll see how she feels when I get to start riding her again this week. Our show season was halted a little, but i've refocused my goals with her for the fall, and having her in prime condition for the Canadian Supreme in Red Deer at the end of September. Lady owes me absolutely nothing, if I had to retire her tomorrow I would be gutted, but would move on from it. In my mind, her health and happiness is the forefront before anything else.


So there you have it, that story is in it's very essence why horse ownership is not for the faint of heart. In a week's time you can have a massive high, and a gut-wrenching low, and you still have to roll out of bed the next day and go through the paces. You can come off a big win, but you still have to listen to your coach tell you that you need to fix something in your riding. You can come home with an empty trailer, and you still have to bring the rest of the horses in and feed for the night. That's how it is with horses, because when you care for them, when you take care of them, there will be highs and lows every single day - some bigger and better than others, some worse and more terrible than the ones before them... that's just how it is out here, so you better have pretty thick skin, and be able to roll with the punches. I think, atleast, that it is totally and completely worth it.

Comments

  1. First off... CONGRATS, girl! You have worked so hard for that buckle! I hope you don't put it up on a shelf, but get some cute belt to wear it with and wear THE HECK OUT OF IT. Because you earned it. And second, I'm so so glad she pulled through. It sounds like if you hadn't been on top of things, she could've gone south and fast. Thankfully, you take excellent care of your horses :) Soak up the highs, and accept the lows with grace.

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  2. Yay a buckle, I have to admit Im a bit jealous but so excited for you! And wow poor Lady, glad it wasnt anything worse and she came through it for you she really is a trier that horse

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  3. Congratulations on the goals achieved!
    So glad it was nothing super major with your mare, though it was bad enough; I would be a wreck if it was my horse! Do you think maybe Lady would benefit from probiotics?

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  4. Wow, what a roller coaster. Glad that Lady is ok. Congrats on your buckle!

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