Reprinted from Endurance News, February 2013, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372
Yesterday I posted a photo on Facebook, not a particularly unique photo, a shot from the saddle, showing the horse’s ears and the trail ahead, in our case, covered with a foot or so of fluffy white snow.
I quizzed everyone as to whether or not they could guess the horse since there was a clue in the photo.
My close friends knew, our neighbor who horse-sits knew, fellow competitors knew, but people who I had always thought to be somewhat on the outer periphery of our life also knew, and that surprised me. You see, Ned, my big ol’ Arabian/Trakehner gelding is missing the top part of one ear, the result of a feedpan skirmish some years ago, and that clue was clearly visible in the photo.
Some horses, some people too, have personalities bigger than others.
My favorite phrase about Ned is that, after a couple of thousand miles, several 100s—including a friend’s first one day 100, traveling up and down the eastern seaboard, and doing us proud as members of an AERC Decade Team, he does not owe me a thing.
This was not Ned’s best year. A melanoma that was removed a few years ago returned this past spring, larger, uglier, and in a location that was likely to end his life sooner rather than later.
With a 19 year old horse, you find yourself pondering certain questions regarding quality of life. You look at the personality of the horse, their tolerance for medical procedures, and the likelihood that drastic measures will make a difference in the end.
It was an odd several months for me as we contemplated the surgery. For the first season ever in over a decade, I did not compete with Ned. I never even really conditioned him. I let him be.
Ned is not one of those horses who waits beside the gait, first in line to be haltered and brought in to be tacked up. Ned is the horse in the corner of the paddock with his figurative eyes closed, standing very very still and hoping that because he cannot see you, that you, halter and leadline in hand, cannot see him.
Oh sure, I brought him in and brushed him. I gave him scritches and peppermints and would reach up to check the growth of his tumor, and go tack up his younger herd-mate, distracting myself with other things.
People would ask after Ned and I would shake my head and say, “Oh, he’s sort of semi-retired.” A psychological defense mechanism, I’m sure. I had him on hold, emotionally. Waiting to see.
From time to time Ned would pull riding duty, and each and every time, he would shock me with his soundness, his power, his seeming inability to become truly unfit, and of course, his penchant for you-didn’t-see-this-coming-didja misbehavior.
This fall, we made the call to have the tumor removed, now a solid 10” in diameter.
Ned was exactly the stoic patient that I told the surgical staff at Cornell he would be. He required no sedative for physical exams, he came out of general anesthesia unfazed, he stood up so well to the pain that he received little in the way of opiates, reducing his risk of post-surgery impaction. He, of course, absolutely refused to cooperate with being medicated orally with a dose syringe, a battle line he’s held firm for many years.
I’m told we’ve bought him some time.
Recovery involved exercise three times per day for several weeks and tending to his wound, time where I got to know him again, admire him again, fall in love with him all over again.
I’ve started riding him again too, making plans again, not too much, not too far, never too often, and definitely not too fast. Ned has always known, in a way that I’ve never experienced with a horse before, what is best for Ned.
Now more than ever, we’ll do it Ned’s way.