By Beth Goldring
We all know the amazing stories of horses or riders (or horses AND riders) overcoming all kinds of odds and injuries to become champions. Everyone publishes them and we all read them with stars in our eyes thinking, “It could be me and my horse, we are special!” I have an ugly truth to share with you. Sometimes, you just aren’t.
I know, I don’t like to hear it either, but it’s true. I am going to focus on horses with injuries, because that’s my story. There are the stories about the horses that rehabbed for three years with patient owners who were able to do everything they could for the horse and lo and behold, the horse comes back and is winning and better than ever! I know I have read these stories and taken heart while my horse has been laid up, and I was doing rehabs. “We can do that too!” Except, sometimes, maybe you shouldn’t. The hard to swallow pill is that sometimes maybe it’s time to call it quits and allow your horse to retire from the injury instead of investing time and energy (and dollars!) in a long, careful rehab that may not get you your horse back. So, for everyone who is dealing with this situation, and I know you are out there, I am sharing my story with you. We may not be special, but we are also not alone.
I had the incredibly good fortune to go down to Wellington with my trainer in March of 2019, to train and show my wonderful Tosh. The trip down was uneventful, and the horses did very well. Tosh felt super and acclimated to his new house quite well. My trainer and I got to work on some serious training with the intention to show. I completed my show entry one night and went out to the barn the very next morning to find a sad, lame Tosh. Thanks buddy, super timing… We had the vet out to check it, and determined it was cellulitis. After a few days of treatment, the heat and the swelling came down, but the lameness didn’t dissipate like it should have. Time for the ultrasound and sure enough, big, fat check ligament. And there goes the rest of the month in Florida and any hopes of competing this year. Cool.
I start the long rehab process that I know all too well, having done two previous rehabs on Tosh before (all front leg soft tissue) and a whole lot of other rehabs on other horses. At least we are hand walking in the sunshine? We make the trip home and continue the slow process. Getting approved for tack walking and eventually trotting. Finally, FINALLY, we are at the end of the trot work and having the vet out to check him to clear us into canter work. Nope, she still sees lameness at the trot. Damn. It’s ever so slight, but it’s there. So, here is the question, do I keep him where he is and continue the slow rehab work? Do I investigate more aggressive support options (PRP, stem cells, custom support boots, etc.) for this rehab cycle? Do I continue investing in this horse monetarily and emotionally? Do I throw in the towel and retire the horse?
There is a lot of soul searching to do in order to answer this question. There is a scientific approach to it, but horses are emotional, I don’t care who you are, there are always emotional investments in a horse. While Tosh is a very talented horse with a lot of potential to take me far in dressage, if I was going to be 100% honest with myself, he wasn’t rehabbing like he had in the past. I made the incredibly difficult decision to retire him. I was not going to push him forward in a rehab he was already telling me he couldn’t do. And to what end? The way his conformation is, he was just going to break again. In good conscience, I couldn’t continue to ask him to come back when the only eventual outcome was that he was going to break again, and maybe worse next time. I refuse to be responsible for breaking him more. At the end of the day, I did what was right for my horse. It was sad for me, but it was right for him and not for a second can I regret that decision.
Just like that, I made the choice and he was done. All the dreams I had with him of competing and qualifying for fun shows and showing off how fabulous I have always known he is, are gone. I keep telling myself that after a year of standing in a field he may be able to be hacked around and do something. In all honesty, I think I have just said that to make it easier for myself. After all the hopes and all the positive stories and all the care I gave while rehabbing, at the end of the day, I wasn’t special. I didn’t get my horse back. I am not out winning ribbons. I am going out every now and then to find a very happy retired horse who is loving his life in a field with a friend. It’s not exactly the year I had envisioned, but here we are anyway.
For anyone else out there who is faced with this decision or has felt the incredible disappointment of having to make this decision, you are not alone. I feel that if you work with horses long enough, you are going to have to make this decision. Keep in mind while it breaks your heart, there are lots of other broken hearts out there just like yours. You may not be that special story of hope and perseverance but know that it comes with a community of people who can all understand you.
article originally appeared on the blog “When a Princess Becomes a Queen.”