What can we do when our horses are ill or injured?
Obviously the first step is to do the necessary: call the vet, clean them up, patch their wounds, bring them in for a night, whatever is needed.
Which is tricky enough. I have spent more hours hanging onto hind legs trying to disinfect wounds without getting kicked than I want to think about.
My right shoulder reminds me constantly of that horrible moment when you've got to get that dressing on while they lurch away from you, determined to get away from the stinging sensation. and why do I always forget to have a spare hair elastic to tie their tail out of the way? Cady chooses to whip me in the face with her tail whenever I'm trying to sort her out - dirty dreadlocks in your mouth makes a stinky job worse!
But worse than the logistics of treating an injured horse is the feeling you have to confront when you drive home having done all you can for that day. I would rather apply a hundred bandages than face that sinking feeling, that knot of uncertainty which includes a a raft of questions - When will they get better? Will they get better? Should I get the vet out again? What state will they be in tomorrow?
It's an exhausting state, and the only thing that satisfies those questions is time. And even when we get the answers, they're not always the ones we want.
Being a horseowner means facing uncertainty head on. So little is guaranteed and so much can go wrong. If there are riders who've never experienced this, I've never met them - most of us have experience (s) of things not working out.
So what we can do to get through the times when it all goes wrong?
1) Start at the start. Whatever practical care needs to be done, do it and do it well. That way you know you've done your best to aid a full recovery. No one wants to look back on these times and think 'if only'. Also, having a good first aid kit at the yard will help you to act faster and reduce your stress levels. Until recently I kept mine at home, until Cady came in covered in kicks and I realised my hibiscrub was a fat lot of good eight miles away.
2) Look after yourself too. When you've done all you can it's best to go home, get a bath and some food and go to sleep. I used to read pony books where the heroine would stay up all night with her wounded horse. Ok, sometimes that might be necessary, but most of the time it's just going to wear you out faster. And if your horse is sick for a long time you need to avoid burn-out. Take care of yourself when handling a sick or recovering horse too. If they're on box rest and you need to walk them out, hats and gloves are a must. Don't wait till they're rearing and boxing at your head to remember.
3) Accept the misery. When Harvey was sick and I knew he was going to be put down, I let myself feel awful. A good cry helps us come to terms with a horrible reality.
4) Distract yourself. You've done all you can and now it's just a waiting game. If your horse is ill for a long time and the stress is getting to you, go and visit your friends, go and see a film, go out in the world and remind yourself that there is life beyond the stable yard. I think this rule also applies to times when you're going through a bad schooling patch, a behavioural problem, a stroppy phase or a tough run at competitions. You might think everyone else is having a great time while you struggle on but this often isn't the case. Reconnecting with other people is the quickest way to realise this.
How do you handle your horse being ill or injured? If you'd like to share your story please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org