Owning Horses is Painful

I mean that both literally and figuratively. Figuratively, if you’ve been on the receiving end of the vet bill or watching the cost of diesel go up knowing you will be paying double to feed what was already one of the most expensive pets a person can own, will make you want to break down in tears. Seriously I discovered in 2020 that buying and caring for my very own tiger would actually cost me less than creatures currently on my feed bill. I also discovered a subculture of pet owners that can give horse people a run for their money in crazy town. Thank you Tiger King! Literally owning horses is painful because the ground hurts. Horses will help you make friends with the ground. They’ll drop you on it, hurtle you at it, and squish your body parts into it. I had first hand experience with those last two this past weekend.

It all started out harmless enough in the usual way, in the dark at around 5am. I naively thought 45 minutes would be adequate time to bath two horses before loading them on a trailer for an 8am show. Everything went as planned with the first horse. In 15 minutes, Comanche was clean, dripping wet, and tied to the flatbed waiting for spotted dragon number 2 to join him. I was feeling super accomplished and proud of myself for being ahead of schedule. The horse gods hate that level of confidence and punctuality. So as I stepped up to Odessa’s side to slip the halter over her nose, Gunner who was twenty feet away munching on a hay bale, took it into his head to approach the opposite side in ninja stealth mode at the speed of Usain Bolt to bite her. I’ve never seen this navicular, lame horse move that fast.

I didn’t actually see him. I heard Odessa squeal and a sickening crunch, as her left front landed squarely on my right foot as she jumped away knocking me onto the ground leaving Gunner staring at me like “That’s right, I said move b$tch, get out the way.” Adrenaline is pumping through my brain as I sit up and try to focus on my foot in the dark. It’s still held together in my tennis shoe, and I don’t see blood despite the throbbing pain. I sit there, trying to push down panic, taking deep breaths making life decisions. Do I sit here until someone comes to look for me? Do I hop/crawl back to the barn? Keep in mind I am at least 100 yards away. I try to wiggle my toes, then test a little weight. Its not totally excruciating, so I try to stand, take a few steps. Once I can sort of walk, I decide I might as well halter Odessa and bring her with me. I can always lean on her if the pain gets worse, but in my equestrian insanity, I’m thinking, “I may still be able to show.”

As I hobble my way back to the barn, I’m aware of how wet my shoe feels. Rationally, I know that it was wet before the incident from bathing Comanche. My over-active imagination makes me wonder if I’m feeling blood. However, walking gets easier as I go, so when I don’t see blood on my tennis shoe, I give Odessa a bath and tie her to the flatbed beside of Comanche. My watch says I have 20 minutes to change into my breeches/tall boots and throw these horses on the trailer. Taking my tennis shoes and socks off was daunting, but it was the moment of truth whether I would be headed to urgent care or a horse show. Other than some swelling, my toes seemed to be attached and moved when I tried to wiggle them, so horse show it was.

We pulled into the venue about 15 minutes later than I had planned. Several trainers were directing groups of riders, mostly kids to the arena for warm-up. I checked in and was instantly frustrated. None of the jump patterns were available yet with only 30 minutes until classes began. I quickly tacked up both horses. The goal was to get both around all the fences before warm-up ended. I passed Dressage Queen in the warm-up. I could feel the frustration rolling off of her as she navigated the pandemonium of pre-teens on hunters, dodged kids that were not calling fences, and attempted to take fences jealously guarded by trainers for their riders. I totally empathized and the realization of why I hate hunter shows crashed into me. I had rushed to get here, the show was already 20 minutes behind, and no one had any idea when the courses would post.

I was using this schooling show as a chance to get my horses out and over some fences before their next event, but as I circled the warm-up I began to feel like this was an exercise in futility. The show started an hour late, and since the courses posted at the last minute I felt less than confident in my memorization of the courses. These were hunter courses which are generally easier to remember than jumpers, but going clear and fast is not the objective of a hunter course. I’ve only been training Comanche and Odessa for clear and fast. Odessa was totally “Hold my beer, and watch me go!” I had signed up to ride the “warm-up” course which is theoretically a non-judged class that gave me an opportunity to ride every fence without a million other riders in the arena. In reality, when I didn’t ride the course exactly to pattern, I was considered “off-course” and asked to exit. Fine by me, I was really only worried about the judged class except…my confidence is now shaken by the entirety of the morning’s events.

Even though I knew I had the course memorized for the actual class, a trainer I had met at the previous weekend’s dressage show, called to me as I entered the ring. Truly she thought she was helping me avoid going off course again, but she didn’t realize that I was not riding the Hunter 1 course. She called to me, and instead of going with my gut and riding the Hunter 2 course I had memorized, I listened to the trainer. So now I’m off-course in my first class. My foot is throbbing, and because I had taken the words “schooling show” to heart, I was wearing acceptable jumper attire (polo) but fell far short of the pretentious hunter hair/jacket ensemble every trainer was requiring of their riders.

I exited the arena angry with myself, frustrated that this show was not the event I had anticipated, and really craving an adult beverage. Odessa was breathing fire and ready to go wide open. If I couldn’t get her close to a hunter pace, there was no point in asking that of Comanche. I was down 2 classes and had 14 more to go. I just couldn’t see the point though. I had anticipated that my classes would be over before noon, but with the late start I would be there until well after 3pm. Since the majority of my competition over the past 3 years has been Dressage, Working Equitation or Horse Trials, I’ve become incredibly spoiled to being given an exact ride time for each course/test and course pattern days before the event to plan accordingly. So I did something I’ve never done before. I limped my way back over to the office, scratched every class, and cut my losses. I couldn’t see any point in frustrating my horses, myself, or wasting my day at a show that was the complete opposite of everything we train for.

Dressage Queen and The Sorting Pro that was visiting for the weekend both agreed that we were not among our people in Hunterland. The three of us untacked and loaded up. Dressage Queen headed home for family activities. The Sorting Pro and I headed home to watch our husbands work some mustangs which turned into a short road trip to Teskey’s in Weatherford TX. Walking around in A/C doing horse stuff seemed way more enjoyable than working with them in 95 degrees in 80% humidity. All of the money I saved scratching from the show and then some quickly evaporated once I found the perfect size roping saddle for Offspring that would fit his pony Moonshine. It was all worth it as I watched him riding his pony the next day with it.

After four days, I figured it might be a good idea to get an X-ray just to confirm that no bones were broken or that I wouldn’t have complications later. A few friends had shared horror stories of unattended foot injuries turning into major issues. The injury hadn’t slowed me down much aside from a slight limp and stabbing pains if I stepped wrong on my foot. I had continued to ride, walk the dogs, do some farrier work, and ground drive ponies since the incident on Saturday. Once I had confirmation from urgent that one toe was broken and an RX for some pain killers I really didn’t need, but are always a good time with an adult beverage or two, there wasn’t much to do, but continue on with life. For now, I’m a little more aware and protective of my right foot, but that’s just life with horses.

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