I’ve been begging Maegan Gossett, a hardworking 20-something AQHA competitor, to write a column for HN for months. I know it’s not the beginning she was hoping for, but Maegan finally turned in her first post.
My beautiful, 17-hand Appendix mare was Best Things To Do When Your Ex Breaks Up With You the type of horse that made everyone else jealous. People saw her in the field and would turn and make a sour look at their own horse beside them. She was a superstar. Her trot was airy and big. Her canter was smooth and long. She was quiet, polite and sweet. She turned six in February. I saw a whole career full of blue material, gold metal, and maybe at least one of those rose wreath things that they drape over racehorses’ necks in the winner’s circle.
Looking back, I can’t remember an exact day I knew something was wrong. I had recently moved my horse to a new barn closer to where I lived. Our winter was rough here in Tennessee; there were a lot of rainy days that ruined the arena. My mare promptly got fat. Her smooth, short-haired coat turned into a thick, long, dull winter coat. Then she cut her knee and acquired cellulitis in the wound. After a round of antibiotics, which grounded us for nearly two weeks, and a batch of bad weather, we were back to work nearly a month later learning to jump and wondering if we could be ready by the first show.
Then my fat horse turned devastatingly skinny. I took her blankets off one day and poof, she had withered away. I looked guiltily around the barn to make sure no one had seen her. What had happened? Surely, I would have noticed her losing so much weight, right?
We bumped up her feed. And waited. And waited. I waited for the in-shape, beautiful mare I’d had last summer. I rode nearly daily. I was getting my fitness back, but my horse could barely make it through a lesson. She was warm after the warm-up, soaked in sweat after her trot work. Every time we stopped, she gasped for air. At this point, I thought I was fighting a nutrition/fitness battle.
Except it just kept getting worse. She wasn’t shedding. She’s always had a diva reputation with all the mood swings that come with it, yet now it seemed like she hardly lifted her head. She lost her spunk. Her movement fell apart at the canter. I couldn’t lunge her for longer than two minutes straight at the canter or five minutes at the trot. It took twice as long as the ride just to cool her out. She was up to a scoop and a half of feed twice a day, a pound of rice bran, supplements, daily turnout, and almost a bale of hay a day.
A week ago, I stood staring at my lethargic, rundown horse and realized I had a serious problem. And it was all my fault. I cried. How could I have not noticed sooner? I felt guilty. Why had I pushed so hard during the rides trying to build fitness when she was obviously sick? I felt angry. Why couldn’t she have just told me something was wrong?
The blood work came back. She is severely anemic. She’s not bleeding out from ulcers. She has no parasites. No tick borne diseases. I’ve Googled equine diseases more than I’ve Googled Boyd Martin jumping videos. My vet says to me, “Well, she won’t just drop dead.” I try not to cry.
It’s a week later. My mare has been on antibiotics for five days. 1,000 pills. 25-day treatment. Twice daily. 20 pills each. $620 dollars. And I’m still not sure why we are doing this particular treatment plan. The iron supplement is restoring her energy. I think. Her weight is up, but I can still see rib a bit. The hair falls off by the fistful. She has bald spots. I ride for short periods. We’ve even had some great rides. I called my trainer and told her we would be at the next horse show. We are chasing this crazy dream of mine. I want to be an AQHA world champion. My mare used to look like she had the potential. Those last few rides, I felt a glimmer of the talent.
Today, I get her out of the field and find blood splattered across her heel bulb. I close my eyes and swallow. I used to want to be a doctor until operating on cat cadavers in my high school anatomy class made me sick. I pull back the flap of skin to see how deep it is. Not deep enough to need sutures. Deep enough for a two week stall rest. Injured enough for another setback. Once again, I try not to cry. Instead I’m nasty to the associate at Tractor Supply because they don’t have gauze.
Tonight, I sit in bed writing this and wondering if it’s karma. Is my horse being punished for all the swearing, skipping class, mean comments about ex-boyfriends, catty remarks, late nights, or a general disregard of any budget I’ve ever made? My list is embarrassingly long.
I wanted to start writing a weekly column here at Horse Nation about my journey to the top. I imagined all these things I would write about: tortuous lunge-line work with no stirrups, training a flying lead change, the first time we won, the first time we jumped at a show, having a horrible ride and wanting to quit, showing in different states, spending too much money, working lame jobs to pay for my dream, having that perfect ride, winning that world championship. I thought it would make for good reading.
Instead, I start with this. And I worry my first attempt at this is coming off dreadfully whiney. It’s not the starting line I had imagined. Not even close. But it’s a start right? I didn’t throw my hands in the air, smear some random goop on her cut, and toss her balding, skinny butt back out into the field. It’s a horrific run of bad luck at the worst possible time. I send email after email to my trainer, praying I don’t sound like I’m making excuses. I ask my parents for money to pay for another vet bill. My mom tells me not to call anymore today because she doesn’t want to hear more bad news. It’s three weeks until I graduate college, and I spend class time calculating my grade to see if I’ll pass, cursing myself for skipping classes to ride a sick horse.
But the point is that I’m not giving up. I’ll fight whatever mystery health problem my horse has. I’ll wrap, unwrap, re-wrap, and torture myself over bandages that I think might be too tight, too loose, too something. Bad luck has to end right? I can sit outside with a schoolbook and do that thing that students do… oh yeah, study… while I hand-graze for hours. We may be limping, but we will get to that starting line I had imagined for us even if we have to do it to cheesy Rocky-themed music.
My mare isn’t pretty anymore. She’s become clumsy and uncoordinated. I walk her slow and careful through the barn. But she bit me today, and for a moment, I saw that old diva glint in her eye. She doesn’t look the part right now, but I know I stumbled across a winner that day I trekked to Ohio to look at a young, green broke 3-year-old. We may not be inspiring much confidence right now to the onlookers, but I have enough faith in her to drag us both to a better starting point.
So until next time, I’ll be here hand-walking, hand-grazing, wondering where the plain colored vet wrap went and why it was replaced by pink flame vet wrap, researching ‘hypochondriac’, watching videos of people winning world championships, and telling myself I will graduate. I will.