Bittersweet. That’s how I feel when I look at Otis right now. One look into his great, soft, gentle, brown eyes and my heart literally melts. He has such a look of adoration, love and trust.
But things will never be the same as they used to be. And then I feel guilty. What should I, could I, have done? And where do we go from here?
You see, we’ve been walking in hand for six weeks and he had his vet check before I started riding. However there’s something not quite right still. On the lunge he looks great, but in a straight line there’s a niggle. So we took more x-rays and analysed them closely.
The consensus? The sidebone that was suspect in the first place actually has signs of a fracture. So we can only deduce that the fracture, which happened in the summer, hasn’t healed cleanly so is intermittently interfering with the connective tissues within the foot. Which means that he will never be 100% sound.
Obviously I was devastated, inconsolable, depressed, sad, and all other emotions on that scale. It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with Otis’s diagnosis but now I can think straight.
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions over the last six months. I’ve been walking through a dark tunnel, with a ray of light giving me hope. Then there’s a tunnel collapse and I lost all hope. After getting my bearings I start shifting the rocks, finding a glimmer of hope behind as I work out the problem each rock has thrown at me.
Let’s examine each rock and see how to move it.
Firstly, he’s only got a niggle that isn’t right. So can I manage this with remedial shoeing? I spoke to my farrier, who’s opinion I trust wholeheartedly. Otis was shod on Friday, with natural balance shoes and the breakover point has been brought right under the toe to support the back of his foot. He is also going to be shod in five weeks time to prevent his toes getting too long. Fingers crossed!
Would he benefit from being fed a supplement? This weekend I’m going to be researching feed supplements. He doesn’t have arthritis so it’s not a mobility supplement he necessarily needs, but the tendons of his foot will be at risk of abrasions so a supplement that promotes repair could be beneficial. Suggestions or recommendations on a postcard please!
This is the biggest rock. The most crushing statement the vet said to me earlier this week was; “I thought you wanted an event horse. He won’t be up to that work so you’d better look for another one. You might get him sound enough to hack and play around with.” It took all my might not to burst into tears at that point.
But now I’ve thought about the conversation I’ve realised that the vet originally asked me what we had been doing, to which I said eventing and dressage, and he has locked onto this idea that I want to event. That I want to ride around Badminton, perhaps.
I don’t. We did low key eventing because I enjoyed doing it with Otis. I don’t mind if we don’t event again. The worst thought of all is not being able to ride him again. So perhaps the vet was being pessimistic in his verdict because he thinks I want to do more with Otis, and take him right through the levels, whereas we will actually be alright with riding club level activities, or sponsored rides (if I can get him sane enough).
Besides, what does the future hold for me? As my Dad kindly pointed out last time I saw him, I’m almost past my prime and when are the grandchildren arriving? Perhaps Otis’s working life depends just as much on me as it does him.
Which leads me onto the subject of soundness. How many horses (or people for that matter) are 100% perfect in their gait? Some have asymmetric muscle tone, others have a queer movement, and others remain marginally lame after an accident or injury. They remain happy and able to do the work asked of them. They may have a mechanical imperfection, but it doesn’t affect their performance in their current job.
In terms of how to work him or what to do with him, I guess I need to learn by trial and error as the vet didn’t leave recommendations in this department. If I have to avoid hard ground I could jump or do dressage on a surface. There’s combined training, arena eventing, pure dressage. There’s plenty of options to pursue. Unfortunately I now feel that I’ve been signed off by the vet – possibly because he thinks I know how to bring a horse back into work, but some guidance would be helpful. I will speak to my friend, vet and chiropractor, about it to see if she can support me in creating a back to work plan for Otis.
The next rock is the elephant in the room. Is Otis in pain? I’d hate to think I was causing him any pain by working him. Judging by the way he was rearing and cantering around his field as I poo picked on Wednesday, and the way he marches into the stable everyday I don’t think he’s in pain. So perhaps I should just monitor his behaviour and demeanour as I bring him into work. He likes working and has an active brain, so giving him a routine should help. I’ve also spoken to another friend who’s horse has had lots of foot problems, and she uses photonic light therapy on his bad days to reduce inflammation and pain. Perhaps this is a route to go down too? Again, it’s a topic to research. Yes, you can feed half a sachet of Bute a day, but I don’t like the idea of doing this long term. I’d rather try natural inflammatories, such as turmeric, or a non invasive therapy like photonics. One vet suggested de-nerving Otis’s foot. Which is pretty drastic, and I think that if he needs his foot denerving then I shouldn’t be asking this level of work for him. After all, is it fair that in order for me to enjoy the rest of his life he has to live with a permanent dead foot?
So I’ve found some hope. Do my research, seek advice, and work out the best way to manage Otis – his level of pain, if any, and mechanical movement. I hope a combination of remedial shoes, feed supplements, photonic therapy, and the correct level and type of exercise can give him a happy, wholesome life.
I’ve been long reining Otis this week, gearing myself up to ride. But I’m scared. Is he going to feel unlevel? Is he going to feel amazing? I guess there’s only one way to find out. And I guess then at least I know which road we’re going down.
I feel better now I have a plan, and all I’m left with now is the bittersweet taste of regret that I didn’t fully appreciate what I had.
I did it. I plucked up the courage to ride Otis. Of course he behaved perfectly. What did I feel? His walk felt fine although I had to stop overanalysing every stride. We had a short trot along a firm bridleway – the happy medium between hard and soft ground. He felt like a wiggly worm coming out the pub on a Friday night as he looked around. So I couldn’t tell for sure. But I guess I’ve just got to keep on going slowly.
It was great though, sitting in my comfy dressage saddle, feeling the spring in his step, and the rotund belly pushing against my leg – he’s never been so portly! Plus I got to see that view between his ears!