Friday, May 27, 2016

5 Years, 2 Bad Joints, 1 Long Journey

I've been working on a post about our show last weekend for awhile. As per usual, all of the life I put on hold to prepare for the show has come crashing down on me in the week after. I promise I'll have the write up soon, and it's a seriously great one, so check back soon. In the meantime, I want to reflect for a minute.

This morning Facebook reminded me that 5 years ago today I was crying uncontrollably in my car, holding a set of horrible fetlock x-rays.
Guinness' Right Front Fetlock.
May 2011
My vet had described what we had found as "significantly advanced degenerative joint disease of the fetlock," on top of other scarred tissues, possible bone chips, and other old injuries.

I was devastated.
Guinness' Left front fetlock.
May 2011
It was clear that Pig would never jump again. Our eventing career was over before it ever truly began. We weren't sure how sound he would be for flatwork. The vet cautioned me with a phrase that has echoed through my head ever since...
Guinness' right front fetlock.
May 2011
"This horse will do anything for you. It's obvious how much he enjoys working for you. Keep riding him. Don't let him sit. If he wants to do it for you, let him. He'll tell you what he can and can't do. It's your job to make sure he keeps moving, so he doesn't lose what little mobility he has left."

At the time, I didn't know what that would mean. I assumed that Pig's career (as little as existed) was completely over. I knew I couldn't afford a new horse, and he couldn't be rehomed until I knew how to manage him. Sobbing in my car five years ago, I made the decision to stick with him until we could figure out whether he was really done.
Puffy fetlocks and bare feet.
June 2011
Knowing the damage was already mostly done, we decided to treat him for pain only. A round of hyaluronan and corticosteroids was administered almost immediately. I started experimenting with feed through supplements containing USDF illegal herbal anti-inflammatory. Words like MSM, boswellia, and devil's claw entered my daily lexicon.
2011
I dove into arthritis treatment research headlong, and after a while began to mine my husband's med school studies for more information on effective treatments. Still, we were on a budget. I couldn't afford to inject all the time. Adequan was out of my budget. Pig's history of ulcers meant I didn't administer bute unless he was exhibiting extreme pain, which was rare.
The most ghetto of borrowed boots on the thinnest skinned of horses.
March 2011
We kept off his shoes to keep weight stress off the fetlocks. We walked, a lot, and mostly in-hand to start. Then we walked on the roads. After a few months we moved states, and Pig moved to a lush 24/7 turnout. Things started looking up.
Joy.
The vet had mentioned fetlocks sometimes fuse. He'd said it with a note of warning, though. "Sometimes fetlocks fuse in a bad way, and the horse can't move fluidly. Sometimes the fusing is painful, or not solid. Sometimes they don't fuse at all. But, fusing is your best chance of having a rideable horse someday."

After awhile, I noticed Pig's soreness was decreasing in the summers and winters. His hitchy warm-ups were starting to decrease in length, and he was playing more in the pasture.
He's always been soundest in the summers.
We started playing more seriously with training, going to shows and starting to lesson with an awesome "local" trainer. I told my new trainer that I wanted to get my Bronze Medal on this horse, if I could.

If he would last that long.
Training Level, June 2012
With my trainer, the focus was always on me not Pig. Anything I asked correctly, he was willing to do. He wasn't fancy, but we were more concerned with correct basics. I started to forget about his arthritis most days. By 2013, I had stopped his supplements and his injections. He simply didn't need them.
January 2013
Other injuries started taking precedence. When Pig would feel off, my mind started to flit to other possibilities first (abscess? bone bruise? muscle strain? riding crooked?). We had developed a feel for the arthritis, and the warm ups required to smooth things out.

We debuted at a USDF show, at first level. With no drugs in our system, and no recent injections, we trotted down the centerline. We weren't great, but it wasn't because of painful fetlocks.
It was mostly because of tension... oops.
Photo by Jen
The winter of 2013 we moved up to second level, and the work got harder. Pig didn't complain. His legs were tighter than ever. I had gotten so used to Pig's soundness, that I was taken by surprise in the spring when his fetlocks would flare up a bit. But, a few days of bute was all that was needed to get him through the tough week. We never had to go back to injections or supplements for the fetlocks. We showed, sometimes successfully too.
Second level at Heartland Schooling Show.
April 2014
Photo by Jen
We also just enjoyed relaxing. We went on madcap galloping adventures with friends.
Rustbucket and Ol' Ironsides, best friends in galloping.
January 2013
And went hacking out "alone"...
"There's a wolf in your field..."
Nov 2013
We've won fancy ribbons...
Fourth place in our GMO for Training Level!
January 2013
And miraculously survived horrifying accidents...
December 2014
And learned to do dressage changes...
Sorta.
May 2015
We've won ribbons at third level, though we didn't get our scores...
May 2015
We've moved across the country...
Hello Maryland!
June 2015
And moved into a palace...
January 2016
Photo by Liz
And trained with different trainers...
August 2015
This horse is amazing. He's never once said "stop". He's never told me that he is done. He's never asked to quit. I think back to what our diagnosing vet told me, and I am amazed further at the heart of this horse.
"He'll tell you what he can and can't do."
January 2016
Photo by Liz
So now I am torn. This horse has done all I have asked of him, but his aging and abused body isn't keeping up with his will and his heart. How much can I continue to ask him going forward? At the same time, is retirement really fair to him? Is it a death sentence to take regular work away from this creature, when it has saved his life thus far? Can I expect someone else to understand his limitations, forge a bond with him, and keep him moving at a level he is comfortable with? Can I let him go?
Is this comfortable?
Photo by picsofyou.com
I don't know the answers to those questions... yet. But I do know that this horse is my inspiration. He is an embodiment of the heart of the horse and determination of his breed. I am so lucky to have him in my life, and share in his joy in living and doing.

29 comments:

  1. OK, I'm crying. Love you, love Pig, love how hard you fight for each other. <3 He's a special one.

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  2. Wow. What an amazing journey you guys have been on. I didn't start following until after you guys were well into dressage and had no idea of what had put you on that path. You are so lucky to have him - and you made all the decisions that have gotten you to this point, so you get a million gold stars. He's so lucky to have you.

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  3. I am new to your blog so this post was really helpful to read to catch up with what you have been going through. Truly inspirational to see how you both fought hard for your partnership. Made me a little misty to be honest ;)

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  4. *gulp*
    Nope I'm totes not sobbing over an epic tale of a glorious partnership.

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  5. And you have me crying at work... I have loved reading about your adventures with Pig. It is a tough spot but he won the horse owner jackpot the day you took him home.

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  6. I swear I just chopped onions.. I'm not crying....

    *sob*

    I had NO idea you guys had went through all of that. Thank you so much for sharing. Beautiful post <3

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  7. Tears...thank you for the FaceBook 'talk' this morning and sharing how you are managing Guinness' arthritis. I am trying to remain optimistic and this post certainly helps!

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    1. Stay positive and keep Riva moving! :)

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  8. Ok, crying a little bit. I know exactly how you felt 5 years ago, sobbing in your car. After OSU evaluated Mikey, I sobbed too. The injury was so much worse than we thought. You make decisions with his well being in mind. There isn't a doubt you'll do what you think is best for him, on the timeline you think is best for him. There's no hurry!

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    1. No hurry at all!

      I was so torn for you and Mikey with that injury. His recovery was also pretty darn miraculous.

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  9. Got me tearing up too, ugh I remember when you message me about your accident fucking terrifying. That is the amazing thing about T-beards, so much heart. Carlos had that torn suspensory off the track at 5 and it never bothered him again. Maybe you can do an in barn lease of the Pig one where you can still insure he is properly managed, to someone else who might like to get their Bronze if he'll hold up.

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    1. I heart T-beards. Especially long white wizard T-beards. ;) <3

      I've been tossing around the idea of a barn lease. We shall see.

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  10. AWWW. I love how much you listen to your special guy. He's all heart:)

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  11. The horses that give you their all are so special. I treasure mine and it sure sounds like you treasure yours.

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  12. What you two have been able to accomplish is inspiring and an example of the epitome of true partnership.

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  13. wow what an amazing read and I really think you are amazing for sticking with him. Its very inspirational and the partnership you two have is evident even in the pictures...which only capture a moment. If anything, you have such a cool history with this horse, nothing will ever be able to take that away from you.

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  14. That silhouette picture is what got me <3

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  15. You're amazing. Pig is amazing. That is really all I can say. I admire you. A lot.

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  16. He is a Pig with the heart of a lion. <3





    Another young rider would be lucky to learn what Pig could teach them, even at the lower levels. He might not be able to trot someone else down centerline at 3rd, but I bet he's got some great lessons on relaxation, correct basics, bend, and half halts in there for a training/first rider. I know it wouldn't be easy to find, but it seems like he might still have some teaching left in him.

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  17. What an inspiration! How amazing.

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  18. You're a good owner. This is a great post.

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  19. Pig you are a lucky creature.

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  20. I remember the accident- I was totally freaked out. I don't know what the answers are for you. If you were closer I would say for you to retire him here with me. Perhaps you can find a place like mine that you can semi-retire him.

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  21. Glad to see I'm not alone on weeping sweet, sweet tears. What a wonderful story of friendship.

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  22. This is a most beautifully written love letter <3

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  23. This is really beautiful. Makes me a little hopeful too for another OTTB with fat fetlocks and a sassy attitude.

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  24. Wow! This post is spectacular. You two are a testament to dressage.

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