By Susan Glover.

Ok, 2022. Let’s do this.

2021 started badly for me and my horse Steve. Well, it actually started great and then went downhill like a runaway wheelbarrow full of horse poop. I’d been feeling something was NQR with Steve off and on the previous summer, which saw us return to work after a bad bone bruise knocked Steve out over the winter-spring. I got his hocks injected and things felt fabulous for a while and then…he felt not fabulous, but only briefly, here and there.

The usual questions started, the ones that come up when dealing with NQR-ness and an animal that speaks a different language than we do. Was I imagining it? Was that just a trip in deep footing or did he trip for a more problematic reason? Steve never touches jumps so was that tick at the oxer just a one-off or a sign of looming trouble? And so on. Finally, after a big, wonderful jump school that seemed to throw all of my concerns in the dumpster, Steve came up three-legged lame. Investigations and more investigations turned up massive amounts of arthritis in his left hock, probably from the earlier injury to his leg that gave him the bone bruise. One experimental surgery and many months of stall rest, hand/kite walking/flying, and very slow, cautious work under saddle and we were back at it, somewhat against the odds. It looks like Steve will need regular maintenance for that hock but on the whole I feel like we dodged a big bullet.

Here is a series of pictures I took on the day I began to believe that his hock probably was ok. Steve actually had an abcess at that point and he was very dramatically limping around, barely able to walk…until I decided to turn him out to roll and the following shenanigans commenced.

If you look closely you can see the thick coating of dirt Steve applied to himself in between running around like a dummy.The other day we did a fun school over some slightly bigger jumps than we’ve yet tackled with one of my trainers, Morgan. She had gotten on Steve first to see how he felt and when he started aiming himself at jumps Morgan laughed and said he was obviously ready to go. It was so much fun, I’m smiling as I type, remembering. My horse truly loves to jump; I know people say that way too much and a lot of the time it’s because their horse is running around like a scared or untrained maniac and that is equated to enjoyment. In Steve’s case, though, it’s the truth. Jumping is easy for him and when he’s feeling good he likes to do little hops when we land and shake his head, and then he swaggers around in a huge “I’m awesome” walk afterward. It makes me happy to feel my sweet boy enjoying himself, especially since a few months ago I wasn’t sure we’d ever jump again.

Coming out of serious horse injuries or illness, it’s hard when you add everything up (no, not money! Don’t EVER add up the money, people!) and see how much time was lost. It’s also not very productive, but I’m only human, and I’m an aging human with a bad back, at that. Our last rated show was in August 2019. Since my other horse is living the fat life (literally) at his retirement home, I’ve just got the one, so this means I’ve been out of the ring that long, too. We managed to fit in a couple of very casual schooling shows last year, in between lameness, but that’s it. We’re not getting any younger and this was supposed to be our time to get comfortable in the Low Amateur Owner jumpers and then move up to the Mediums.

Steve and me schooling back in 2019, photo credit some nice mom who randomly took a video of us.

So, was this a lost year? Sort of? I know I’m supposed to say something uplifting about everything that I learned and how it gave me a chance to bond with Steve on the ground or something like that, but honestly it just kind of sucked. My first horse that I owned when I was a tween bowed a tendon right before the start of the show season. Had my parents and I been prescient it was at this point that we should have just thrown in the towel.

From that experience, through many other horses and injuries and illnesses, to this one, I can’t say that I learned anything worthy of cross-stitching onto a wall hanging other than that horses are a dumb animal to love. They are fragile and break (and sometimes even die) with alarming frequency. They can come in from the field with a deep puncture wound into their hock and no amount of walking the pasture will turn up anything even remotely suspicious. They can put their leg through a fence just randomly and need 22 stitches. They can get dehydrated at an away show because “I don’t want to drink THAT water, it isn’t MY water from HOME and I’d rather just DIE,” and you can spend $$$ on electrolytes and additives to encourage them to drink…and then they’ll drink, finally, but only when no one is looking. When we bought my third junior horse in the dead of a Wisconsin winter, he shipped to us in a borrowed blanket and a week later all of his hair fell out. And so on. I have so many of these little stories about my various monsters I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

On the other hand…horses are brilliant therapists: they just listen and let you emote at them, without judgment. Well, mares might judge, but that is why I have geldings. Horses let you take them on silly adventures, dress them up in obnoxious costumes for holiday photos, stick them in wheeled metal boxes just for the price of a filled hay net, and they come through again and again when you ask.

So, yeah, 2021 was not a great horse year for me but I’ve come out of it with my Steven happy and sound (um, at least for now), so I consider myself a lucky person. I’m ready for 2022, and whatever ridiculousness the year throws at me I’m going to keep at it, enjoy my wonderful horse, and maybe make some offerings to the soundness gods that we can get back in the show ring.

I hope the rest of you have had a better year with your horses, especially in the midst of the trauma that continues to plague our world. We are lucky we have these gracious souls we can turn to for comfort, and that is something none of us should take for granted. Enjoy your horses as this crazy, seemingly endless year finally winds down. Steve and I wish everyone a very Happy New Year!