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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Ninety percent of training a horse is getting the horse to understand exactly what you want them to do. In general, horses are generous and willing creatures who want to please us; very seldom do they behave badly on purpose. Horses don’t come out and say, ‘Let’s make Mom’s (or Dad’s) life miserable today by going as poorly as possible - most prefer to do the right thing, as long as they know what that is.
Regardless of the level at which a horse is competing, its veterinary team is at the forefront of most decisions regarding its career and well-being. Liz Arbittier, VMD, CVA, has been working with equine athletes for over two decades. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) in 2001, she worked in private practice with a focus on sports medicine and pre-purchase exams until joining Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center Field Service team in 2013. Situated in the heart of Area II’s eventing scene, the team provides ambulatory services to the surrounding area, which is home to multiple Olympians.
US Equestrian (USEF) announces the appointment of David O’Connor to the newly created position of Chief of Sport beginning October 3, 2022.
Aspen Farms in Yelm, Washington was host to this year’s USEA Area VII Championships on September 16-18 and put on a spectacular show where 10 horse and rider pairs celebrated victory by being awarded the title of Area VII Champion in their respective divisions. Hear about each pair’s weekend below.