I am resisting the temptation to chronicle last night’s ride. It was a good ride. But after the HBO special last night about race horses being slaughtered, I want to forget about training for a minute and just appreciate what I have.
As a racehorse, Liam fractured his ankle. He had 2 pins put in, took some time off, and returned to the track to run another year. When I got him, I was told he had only a few days to find a home or he was going to be shipped to slaughter. He was 8 years old, trained only to race, and he was very sore. I gave him almost 5 months off and had him evaluated by a vet, who advised me to put him down. Judging by his x-rays and lack of real progress in those 5 months, he was just used up and beyond repair, and likely wouldn’t even stay pasture sound. I was absolutely heartbroken.
Those 5 months had not been easy. He had been called crazy and dangerous, and had put everything I knew about horses, relationships, trust, and faith to the test. I had spent a lot of time just being with him, sitting in his stall or hand grazing him, earning his trust and coming to a new understanding of what a partnership with a horse really meant. But he had come around, and we had learned to understand each other. For a reason I can’t even put into words, I chose to ignore the advice I was given and keep this horse, even if it meant I was done riding and would spend the next 10 or 20 years paying board on a pasture puff. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
His ankle did stabilize and begin to improve, slowly at first. We started trail riding, just going for long walks. Then we could trot out on the trail. Then we started doing little bits of schooling in the arena. He cantered, and even jumped little cross rails, then small logs on the trail. I won’t push the height with him, but he loves to jump! When the weather is really bad, he needs a little aspirin and to take it easy, but even then, he loves to work. When riding him, there is always this playful feeling. We tease him sometimes and say that his motto is “Let’s do it again!!” because he just wants to keep going and going, whether it’s cantering laps around a field or hopping over a log. He likes to splash in puddles, and he sticks his nose in mailboxes (in case there’s grain inside?), and he will walk away from his dinner and stick his nose in his halter when I hold it up.
Today, these are the things I am appreciating. And I am appreciating that I didn’t get a sound, quiet, just-too-slow 4 year old, because although it would have been so much easier, I wouldn’t have learned all the things Liam taught me. I might be a more advanced rider, or have an extensive show record, but I also might have missed the part where I learned that the reason I love to ride and to teach is not really about me.
I am also appreciating that he did recover. I am appreciating that his training is progressing as well as it is. I am appreciating that I took him to a show! I am appreciating all the amazing people we have met on our journey, some briefly and some friends I hope I will know forever. I am appreciating that he never had to know the horror of a slaughterhouse.
This was the background on my computer that first 5 months. It’s Liam in the picture, with the prayer of St. Francis superimposed. Somehow it offered me comfort and support during that time, I want to share it in case it can help someone else.