Dec 24, 2020

Now on Course: Tracey Hopper Finds Her Dream Horse

Tracey Hopper and Scooby on course at The Event at Rebecca Farm. Roya Brinkman/Shannon Brinkman Photography Photo courtesy of Tracey Hopper.

There are so many different sayings about horses. "Never look a gift horse in the mouth," "No horse is ever free," "If you want to be a millionaire with horses, start as a billionaire." Horses are incredibly forgiving and they fill in places we cannot fill ourselves. My dream horse came to me in the form of a malnourished, emaciated, just gelded, 6-year-old rescue. He was confiscated from his prior owner by our local regional animal protective services after he and several other animals were found in horrendous conditions. He spent a few weeks at the local fairgrounds, was gelded and rehomed. Remember the saying, "Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?" He had perfect teeth, but his spermatic cords were a whole different beast.

Scooby, just shortly after he was rescued. Tracey Hopper Photo.

Scooby has the kindest brown eyes, which melted my heart the second I saw him. After gaining enough weight and some saddle time, we started to have issues. Random, vicious bucking, and the other 99.9 percent of the time he was an angel. It didn’t make sense until one day grooming him, I found what appeared to be an abscess on the left side of his scrotum. Some diagnostic testing and several vet visits later (insert small bills here), it was determined he had developed a walled-off infection from his castration. He was 6 when he was gelded and in pretty rough shape. So, I wasn’t surprised when I was told he needed surgery (insert large vet bill here.) My vet whisked him away and I watched my boy go under the knife. Being the medical nerd that I am, I was thrilled they let me watch the surgery. Avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach.

Scooby on the operating table. Tracey Hopper Photo.

Eight months later, the other side developed in a similar fashion. What are the odds of having two scirrhous cord infections in one gelding? This is how horse people become broke. I was just starting my first year of school to be a physician assistant and wasn’t sure we could afford another surgical bill. With thoughts of ramen noodles for a year, we went ahead for the second surgery. This time, he didn’t recover as well and the infection continued to malinger. The prognosis was guarded. Our options were limited as funds were depleted, and placing him under anesthesia a third time didn’t seem humane. We elected to try a 45-day course of antibiotics, and if unimproved would have to decide if euthanasia would be best. After a month, it began to heal. Eight years later and I still check his scrotum daily, fearing the infection has returned.

The medical struggle was just the beginning. He was never given the opportunity to develop adequate muscles or really mature given his malnourished youth. Every attempt of getting him going under saddle was thwarted by another surgery. Recovering a horse from being emaciated, and then from two full surgeries, was beyond difficult. The main question was, would he ever be able to carry a rider? When we started he could barely hold the canter on his own, let alone with an unbalanced amateur aboard.

Tracey and Scooby. Photo courtesy of Tracey Hopper.

Every day goes by and I cannot believe he is still here and that he tries his very best for me. He suffered at the hands of humans and remains a gentle, easy-going guy. He will try just about anything I ask of him, with the exception of some super scary cross-country fences. I watched three-day eventing from a young age and always wanted to give it a try. So, four years ago, we began to train. There have been several ups and downs. I have wanted to quit on many occasions after mishaps, injuries, and feeling inadequate as an amateur trying to train her own mount.

This past year was slated to be our year, and then COVID-19 hit. Event after event canceled, which was discouraging after preparing for so long. The eventing gods must have a sick sense of humor, or they took pity on us, as the one event I always coveted decided to run. The Event at Rebecca was going to offer limited entries AND a Beginner Novice division. This WAS it. I still cannot believe we were accepted and competed for a top 10 finish. I must be a true equestrian because I wanted a ribbon regardless of placing. Even better was the Equis Save Foundation ribbon we won for being the highest placed rescue in our division. I am beyond proud of my rescue. I think it was fate he ended up with me. We stuck it out together despite the difficulties, and are a united team.

Tracey and Scooby on course at The Event at Rebecca Farm this summer. Alison Green/Shannon Brinkman Photography Photo courtesy of Tracey Hopper.

Those memories fill my cup on a daily basis. I have a deep sense of gratitude for the resilience and love our equine partners share with us, if we just listen. Don’t forget to hug your horse, because there is no guarantee they will be here tomorrow. My life will never be the same after being chosen by a free, rescue horse.

The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Jessica Duffy at [email protected] to be featured.

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