Back on Track ‘Horse Therapy’: Jessica & Rascal
Jessica Sutcliffe had lost her confidence in the saddle completely and was on the verge of giving up when she met Rascal, who brought her passion for riding back to life.
When I first met Rascal, I had completely lost my confidence in my riding even though I had been riding for 17 years. During my very first lesson with my new trainer, I told her that I didn’t want to jump and I didn’t want to canter. After watching my ride, she said that I had downplayed my riding ability and that she had a horse for me to ride named Rascal that had a little bit of an attitude problem but would be perfect for me. Intimidated already by the ‘tude, I told her that the following week, I would rather ride the same horse I rode in that first lesson — a beginner packer that felt “safe” to me.
The following week, the beginner packer came up sore, and I had to ride Rascal anyway. Not happy about it, I took my first lesson on him. He was lazy, took a lot of leg, and was hard work for me to ride (I was out of shape due to inconsistent riding in the past few years).
Despite this, I grew to love Rascal. Together we grew — I got my strength back and was cantering and jumping; he was developing his top line again and losing his attitude towards me. He would nicker to me when he saw me, come up to me in the field, and loved to lick my hands after I gave him a treat. I trusted him with my life, and I knew he would never hurt me, even though I was warned many times of his past antics. He was my teammate and my partner.
On October 9, I got a phone call from my barn manager telling me that Rascal was colicking, and it was severe. I rushed up to the barn, not prepared for what I was going to see. Rascal had gotten cast in the turnout shed and banged up his eyes pretty badly. He was in pain and being tubed by our vet. He was given pain medication, IV fluids, and being walked. He would slowly improve only to go downhill again. I spent 13 hours with him and my barn manager, walking him, watching him, doing whatever we could to make him comfortable. Our vet was optimistic, especially because he was improving slowly that night and even passed some manure several times. I only went home to sleep at the urging of my barn manager and a promise that he would text me with any updates.
I barely slept that night, and I woke up every few hours to ask how Rascal was doing. The answers were “pretty much the same,” which I thought was good because at least he hadn’t gotten worse.
At 10 a.m. the next morning, I was told that Rascal had gone downhill, and there was nothing else they could do. I asked if they could wait for me to get to the barn before they put him to sleep, but they had already done it before I could even get into my car.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to him before he passed, but I sat there with him in his stall after he died. I told him how much I loved him and how grateful I was that I got to ride him and how lucky I was to know him. I don’t know if he heard me, but I hope he did. To this day, I am still angry and upset that I didn’t get to say goodbye before he left. I wouldn’t have left the barn last night if I knew that he wouldn’t be there the next time I came.
It has been nine months since Rascal died, and I still miss him every single day. But I am so thankful for the time I had with him. He restored my confidence in my riding. He pushed me past my fear of cantering and jumping. He made me love riding again.
I am now doing full courses and would rather canter than trot and walk. A few months ago, I jumped 3’ for the first time. I am hoping to begin showing in the amateur hunters and to do some equitation classes as well. I never imagined I would be in this place, and I hope Rascal is proud of me because I owe it all to him. If it hadn’t been for him — and my trainer who knew exactly what I needed for my riding when I needed it — I probably would’ve quit.
Rascal saved my riding career, and I will always be thankful that we met when we did, even if it was only for a short time. I only wish that I met him sooner.
Here at Horse Nation, we believe that the best therapists are our own horses. We love sharing the stories of special equines — email yours to [email protected] to be featured in an upcoming edition of Back on Track “Horse Therapy.” Go Back on Track, and Go Riding!
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