Oct 12, 2013

To Continue

Naturally, I wasn't able to ride after my surgery, but I put a plastic bag over my boot and went to the barn as soon as I could. Not riding just meant more fun time for body working, lasering, grooming, etc. The barn I was keeping most of the horses at has an Equicisor and lots of turnout so I was able to keep the boys in some sort of work. Sue, the owner, and Augustine, the main worker, had been taking such good care of them all while I was laid up, so I knew they were under watchful eyes.

I was in the cross ties working on Rheingold when I saw the reality of Zeus falling. I had a hard time believing what I was seeing but it was soon apparent that something was very wrong with him. I had the same denial experience with Charlie; I could see that he was lame, but it wasn't so bad, and I wasn't too worried.

Charlie was another horse that I had known and loved and then ended up owning. He had lived in my barn aisle, owned by a nice girl, and his sweet nature, charming character, and good looks had endeared him to me immediately. His owner left the barn and I didn't see them for a while. A year or so later she contacted me; she was busy with a new foal. Charlie needed a home and would I like to have him. Absolutely! A couple of weeks later he was mine.

Charlie was a US Hannoverian. 17hh, old style, a Walldorf son. Plain red bay with a perfect heart on his forehead. He had been bred to be a stallion, owned by a partnership, and destined for great things.
He was kind, very fancy, just a wonderful horse in every way. When the partnership broke up due to economic reasons, he was gelded and sold to be a jumper. I guess he was not a very good one; an ad for him says 'wants to be a dressage horse' >;-> That was fine with me.

We lose track of his story there for a couple of years, but he was sold a few times and then my acquaintance bought him. Again through no fault of his own he was somewhat back burnered. When I got him he was 13, usually clinically sound with some visible ringbone. I took his shoes off, put him in work, and he was just a peach. Usually the horses I get, like Bryan, are pretty wrecked and need a ton of rehab work. Charlie was broke, very serviceably sound, and just a joy to ride. He was naturally so uphill and so balanced, easy and so fun. He was also very sweet and personable. People naturally gravitated to him and he seemed to like them back. He had a funny tongue game that he liked to play; he was hard to resist. He had a big, quiet, expressive eye and a steady way of looking at you that made you know he was special.

The barn has a couple of big grassy fields; I turn the boys out in groups of two or alone. While I was laid up he was out every day or in the Equicisor. The barn owner gave me updates on the boys and said Charlie had become lamish. I wasn't that worried; figured maybe a bruise. It didn't resolve though.

I knew he had some ringbone; you could see it. I also had old xrays that were not great but not bad; I always go by clinical anyway. So when I had my vet come see Zeus, we also xrayed Charlie. I still wasn't really worried. Figured we could always inject or what have you. So we fired up her new digital xray machine and shot away. What we saw silenced us, utterly.

While both ankles were bad, it looked like a bomb had gone off in his left. It was a galaxy, a milky way, an explosion of bony growths, spurs, cracks, edges, holes. He had bone where he shouldn't and spaces where he should have had it. We stared.

Then we cried.

How in the world had he ever been sound with those ankles! But it went to show what I have known since high school; xrays are just a small part of the soundness picture; you can have grade 5 lameness and xrays that look quite benign and the reverse. Charlie was the reverse.

I think we both knew it was hopeless. But we sent the pics to Wayne MacIlwraith, my favorite ortho surgeon, to see if there was anything that could be done surgically.


We did a CT at Dr. Martinelli's clinic and talked to Dr. Rantaanen. Was there any hope of a positive resolution?


Why had he gone suddenly lame after all that time of clinical soundness? It was hard to say, but probably, during play time in the field, one of the spurs/arthritic growths had broken. Or finally all the crap in there had just reached critical mass. We thought we could see a p2 fracture; maybe that was the final straw. But it didn't really matter. He was getting lamer by the day and would never be without pain. I even considered nerving which I am generally against; not so I could ride him, but just to make him pain free. He wasn't even a candidate for that.

And so five weeks after saying goodbye to Zeus in the field, we sent Charlie to the Bridge as well. I was scheduled for my second surgery the next day, in which I faced a tendon graft and three months of casting. In a fog, I went home. My dear friend Hunter, who had been staying with me for the winter, greeted me with hugs and tears. It was just a sad, sad, blue day.


  1. The hardest thing in the world is having to make that decision; the bravest is putting your heart out there and taking the chance of having it broken. But who wants to leave this earth without having known love? Peace be with you horse sister.

  2. Yes, Elaine, you are right. The grief of losing them is so intense that sometimes I have wondered if it is worth it. But that's silly, I know. Having them, caring for them, riding them, just playing with them; the joys of a horse life are always worth it. I wouldn't trade a minute of it, even to avoid the heartbreak.

    Thank you for your kind comment. I know you understand!