Deli and I really were ready to hit the trails. I promise you: I had it all planned out. I’d charted how many miles we would have to average, on what kind of terrain and what kind of speed, to reach the level of fitness needed for some limited distance rides in spring 2014.
Right after I got her feet trimmed and a chiropractic adjustment for the Red Mare, had hind boots cued for purchase and an appointment scheduled for a saddle re-fit… Deli had another traumatic accident.
Long story short, Deli fell hard in the barn (ironically she’s incredibly agile navigating odd ground out in the pasture or trails) and got back up with a suspected pelvic and/or rib fractures. After the fall she went into serious shock necessitating emergency vet calls and concern that we would have to attempt to get her to the hospital. Luckily some hard core pain killers administered by my vet – who was also quite close to us at the time and was able to get to us quickly – stabilized her.
After a couple days of stall rest I got the okay to move her out to a tiny paddock constructed in the pasture where the rest of her herd lived. Given the rate of her recovery my vet does not believe that any bones are broken – but just in case she needs to stay in a confined area so she can't make any "violent movements".
It looks like she may be ride-able again someday if I can keep her calm and healthy in her confinement. That's a big IF for a horse that does not do confinement well. I'm just not going to be back in the saddle anytime soon. With best possible results, I probably won’t be starting under-saddle rehabilitation for at least another three months. I’m certain she has several seriously pulled muscles and perhaps other soft tissue injuries as well that will be hard to diagnose while the area around her ribs is so badly bruised. Time in confinement will only serve to make sore muscles stiffer and tighter. We are doing hand walking now, about two weeks after the accident, and she’s doing well. But I can tell she’s frustrated. When I’ve been taking her on hand walks she wants to tug me up the driveway, away from the barn. I’m frustrated too. And disappointed.
It's going to be a long winter.
|Her impressive edema makes it look like she's got an alien child brewing in her belly.|
I’m also extremely thankful that she wasn’t more badly hurt. This is the third time with Deli that I’ve been faced with the possibility that she might never be ride-able again. Ironically I came to terms with this possibility during her second potentially career-ending injury: her groin pull that led to me starting this blog. It’s too soon to tell whether that is the case in this situation, but I know that this horse has come back from incredibly bad injuries with full soundness. Granted, she takes a lot of maintenance to keep her comfortable, but I’m on board with regular massages and making sure her saddle fit great (to me, these things come with owning and riding an athlete anyway).
|Hand walking includes a bit of hand-grazing as well. It's good for the mind and the body.|
However I have to ask myself: when is it too much? When has a body been traumatically injured too many times such that it can never come back? I face this same question with my own body every day as I struggle with my own fitness and daily pain. For me, the injuries I sustained when I was hit by a car nearly four years ago feel like insurmountable obstacles. More often than not, moving hurts. Of course, sitting around hurts just as much, so when it comes time to choose I will always choose movement. I hope the odds are more in Deli’s favor because she’s a natural athlete.
This question haunts me because it’s one thing to never know your horse will be ride-able again. It’s another to know that she will be sound for light riding when I’ve been having these dreams of competing in endurance. I’ve come to terms with her being a pasture-puff. She’s certainly worth it to me even as a pasture-puff “pet”. She has taught me so much about horse ownership (i.e. being a slave to their whim) and riding, and the bond that we have after so many miles and trials with her, demand no less of a retirement for my heart horse. In reality, I never included plans that she would be more than a non-competitive limited distance horse anyway (25-30 mile races). But Deli’s getting older (she will be 15 next year) and losing what fitness she had during this rehabilitation process will be a HUGE setback for her physical comfort. Endurance riders I’ve spoken with about the issue have been encouraging – never underestimate a horse’s ability to heal, they tell me. Be patient, they say.
I’m patient. Just sad and disappointed in this year overall. And filled with that unsettled feeling of well-laid plans set aside. I admit it: I’m a planner. And there is nothing Deli and I like more than an open trail stretching in front of us. There is nothing that makes me feel more myself than moving through the trees with her.
Now that she is injured I’m finding the same problem I had last time she needed constant care (because this horse won’t let anyone else handle her like she will me when she’s hyped up and in pain): I’m driving a LOT back and forth from the barn, and not riding or walking with her in-hand nearly as much. The time wasted driving, as well as the physical pain driving causes me (due to old injuries), means that I am getting out and running much less. My own fitness and health suffers when this happens. It’s already suffering. Of course, these issues would be solved if Deli lived in my backyard, so one of my solutions has been to really put my head down and try and find employment and connections somewhere where my dream of getting out of traditional boarding barns can be realized.
One thing that really made the difference for Deli when she injured her groin muscle was our move to a barn with serious trails. Instead of riding her through her rehabilitation I hand walked her through MILES of hills on good footing. We probably did about 10 miles of walking together in-hand through the woods every week, ramping up to 15 and then 20; all while I was also doing easy arena work and rehabilitation exercises with her. I have no doubt that the walking in-hand is what saved both of us – it was great to boost my fitness too for when I really started to ride her again. That next summer I conditioned her for an endurance ride I never got to attend because our trailer ride was canceled, and she was absolutely ready for an LD. Of course, at our current barn we don’t have trail access and I’m still trailer-less. The cards just don’t seem to be adding up for us this year.
I’m going to try not to make plans. Clearly making plans is something you do while life sneaks up to stab you in your plan-happy back.
Someday I would like to make plans and have them happen. I love this mare and I never want to stop having adventures with her. I'd just really prefer our adventures to be out on the trail, forward moving.