The Waiting Game

Increased heart rate. Rapid breathing. Furrowed brow. Stomachache. These are symptoms of a universal condition that plagues owners: waiting to find out what’s wrong with our horse when it comes up lame.

We’ve all been there. We bring our horse in from the pasture or out of its stall, and something just looks… off. We stare. We squint. We lunge. We watch for head bobs. We feel for heat and pulses, and then we lunge a little more to see if the horse is just a little stiff and will work out of it. Or, worse, we bring our horse in from the pasture or out of its stall and it’s lame – like, really lame. Head-bobbing, has to be dragged to the arena, three-legged lame.

That’s when we really start to sweat. Is it an abscess (please let it be an abscess)? Did the horse do its best impression of a giraffe on roller skates while it was in the pasture and pull something? Were the horses holding their late night fight club and now there’s a contusion or — worse — a fracture that needs to be rehabbed? Is this the dreaded career-ending stifle/SI/knee/hip/whatever injury?

If you’ve owned horses for any significant period of time, this has happened to you and these are all thoughts that have gone through your mind. As you prepare the horse for stall rest, wrap the offending limb, determine whether to call the vet, farrier, chiropractor, dentist or exorcist, you think about how much money is in your bank account, whether or not your credit cards are maxed out and your heart rate goes up.

Not counting the day you have to make the decision to send your beloved equine partner over the rainbow bridge, this is one of the worst parts of horse ownership. The waiting.

In the hours or days between the moment your horse comes up lame and the time when the vet/farrier/chiropractor/dentist/exorcist arrives at the barn, you have more than enough time to consider all of the horrible outcomes that could result from the horse’s latest injury. Even if you aren’t giving yourself ulcers by thinking of the worst possible scenario, you still can’t help but pace the barn aisles with your brow furrowed, wondering what the cause of the latest malady is.

Horse ownership does this to us. We know we’re responsible for these amazing and contradictory creatures that are strong and powerful and somehow incredibly fragile at the same time. The burden of our responsibility to these beasts sits heavily on our shoulders while we wait for answers about our horse’s condition. True, the burden is always there, but it’s heaviest in that stretch of unknowing.

At least once we have some answers — even if they are not what we would have hoped — we can plan a course of action. We can pack a hoof, sweat a leg, develop a rehabilitation program or move on to more difficult decisions. We can rejoice at good news, make an action plan for less than savory news or mourn what we have lost. But there is something we can do.

When you’re playing the waiting game, there is nothing to be done. Your only course of action is to make your horse as comfortable as possible, see what develops and maybe have a drink. The only real comfort is knowing that others have been there, that this is part of what we agreed to when we pursued our passion for horses.