The Will to Survive

We are more alike than you think
November 3, 2019
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Today is my horse’s 13th birthday, he’s lucky to see it and so am I and this is the story of how we are both here to celebrate it. I consider this the lowlight reel, the highlight reel is what you see on my Instagram.

People often try to define what my horse is to me, is he my pet? He’d not thank you for suggesting that and I suppose neither would I. Am I his horse mum? Yeah, if you are going to utter that crap out of your mouth I’ve probably stopped listening to you by now! So what is he to me? I don’t know, I don’t define it but I’m pretty sure by the end of our tale you wouldn’t know either.

Now I am one of the very few people that can say they have known their horse since he was born and also can say that since the day I first met him, and his tiny blazed face, I have never wanted to own another horse. You’ll never catch me scrolling through Done Deal or ever hear me saying that I’ve seen something else I’d like to own. Truth be told, despite my wide experience of working with horses and admiration for the animals, outside looking after my own horse and those he grew up with, I’m actually not that ‘horsey’. I don’t spend anytime doing ‘horsey’ things outside of looking after him or when I need to work with them. Perhaps this is why I don’t see him as a pet.

He was born in Co. Tipperary, I didn’t see him being born as, quite unusually, the mare (his mother) had been sent to the yard down the road to foal. I was studying in the UK but I met him a few days after when I was back on a visit. I won’t lie, he was a pretty cute foal. I should probably tell you at that point in time I had no idea he’d actually become my horse, to me he was a foal we’d quite possibly prepare for the sales at the end of the year and he’d be off on his merry way towards a racing career while I’m left crying and holding the headcollar.  Anyway, the next time I saw him was under quite appalling circumstances. When his mother was to go in foal again they both (mare and foal) went to stay in a stud in North Tipperary while she was being covered. I don’t recall who had spotted her on a visit to the stud but they reported back to my boss that the mare was in shocking condition and he should get her back immediately. I don’t want to say too much about this as it was a very horrible time but she was emaciated, she was such a good mum still being able to the feed the Snurge foal (my horse). TLC and good grazing brought them both back to full health.

Moving on to why the boy not go to the sales…when he was not yet a yearling he (through no fault of his own) backed into a topper (grass cutter) while someone was holding him to get his legs washed (I wasn’t there!), resulting in him giving himself a nasty gash on his hind leg. I doctored it up every day and every day that bloody little horse tried to kick that shit out of me while I was trying to help him! This is where the bond began, within a few days he accepted his fate and let me do whatever I liked to him. He missed the sales so had a reprieve until he could go to the three year old sales.

Oh yes, you may have seen this coming, but just before he reached three we found him in the field with a nasty cut in the opposite hind leg, there was a large flap of skin hanging down from it, and despite my best efforts, and successful healing of the wound he was now on course to begin his racing career at his home near Fethard. It also could have had something to do with me constantly telling his owners that he was my horse and demanding we never be parted.

At three years old I began the process of breaking him in (starting him riding), he is quite simply the cleverest and quietest horse I’ve ever broken in. If he trusts you he’ll go with whatever you want to do but I also had some job keeping up with him, he learns fast and needs his mind occupied all the time, something that is hard to do now he’s older and not learning, basically if you don’t keep it occupied he’ll fixate on something and well…that can lead to him being a royal pain in the dramatic ass. It’s his birthday, I won’t give out.

During the next few years I had quite a difficult time with my own mind, it took me to very bad places and some days were so tough I just didn’t want them to keep rolling on. The only thing that kept me going was the boy. I couldn’t go a day without seeing him, even if it was the only thing I did for the day, to let him know I was ok, and still had his back, even though I felt like I was being an incredibly shitty human to him. It’s a lot of responsibility to put on someone or something but the best thing with him is he forgives me for everything, I’m very lucky because during that period I put a lot on him and returned very little, he saved my life.

One thing that people used to say about him was he loved his work and he really just loved being in a race, it was genuinely like he was having the best time with all his new mates, that was until he wasn’t. He told us he had an injury way before we spotted it, the enjoyment was gone out of running for him, he was hating it. Only because we knew him so well would we have bothered getting his leg scanned, his near fore (front left), nothing but the tiniest bit of heat and he was never a day lame on it. None of us, even the vet could believe it when the scan revealed a 50% hole in his tendon. It was devastating, even writing this now I still can’t believe it. My boss decided he’d take a chance, give him the year off, manage his weight and exercise so he didn’t do more damage and hope it came back good.

A year later and again after not one lame step, no bowed tendon nor smallest of lump, the scan showed that there was no sign of healing. Ok I feel sick typing this because I remember this so well, the discussions around this, the tears (I’m crying now)…this much damage which had not begun to repair in that time was cards for a horse, even getting up to a gallop across the field with his mates could be enough to tear the whole thing, in most cases the horse with no future would be shot. (I’m so sorry, that is the harsh reality of it) I had to save his life.

I hatch a plan, pleaded with my brother and asked could I bring him home to the farm in Scotland and leave him off for a year, I could not let him go. My boss gave me him (he said if I’d move back to Scotland as he was always trying to get me to be closer to my family – I didn’t move back!) and off I went to a farm, not designed for horses, to settle him in. The first day I let him off in the field he galloped around and straight through a barbed wire fence like he didn’t see it. (I did say the farm is not designed for horses!!) I had to stay two days longer than I had planned as he would not settle. Every four weeks I flew back to Scotland to see him, it took 4 visits until he’d stop walking the paddock. In the end he was sharing a field with two highland cows and a load of sheep.

When I brought him back to Ireland the next year I thought about getting the leg scanned but then decided to just see what would happen, I didn’t think I could take more bad news so I decided to just wing it, a concept I’m well-rehearsed in. I wanted to point-to-point him but a lack of funds to get in that position, and surprisingly hard ground for the time of year,  made that a difficult task so now he’s a riding horse, or at least one in the making. I’d like to compete him in another discipline other than racing but if it happens it does and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The leg has held up and for as long as it does we’ll continue.

I have, at times, really struggled to manage to afford him and keep myself afloat but I need to keep the partnership intact. I’ve wonderful friends who have helped me out in so many ways with him and continue to do so.

He’s not something I can sell (although I swear he drives me demented sometimes!!) or get rid of because I’m busy or can’t afford him (pretty much all the time), he’s my responsibility, he’s my thing and I owe him my life so I just always have to find a way, even if it doesn’t suit me, he gets priority.

He is spoilt, he is extremely self-centred, he costs a bleedin fortune and yes, my life would have been quite different if I hadn’t decided to save him but I regret nothing. For every bucket he’s broken, headcollar he’s wrecked, rug he’s ripped and bruise he has given me I count my lucky stars every day that he is my horse and when we needed each other most we both stepped up to the plate and saved one another.

Now, try and put a label on that!

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