There has been a lapse in my articles lately. There were holidays and then I had to make preparations for being unable to work in the barn for several weeks due to a knee surgery. After the surgery, when I thought I’d have lots of time for writing, the pain medications took a toll on my head and stomach so I wasn’t even functional for sitting at the computer. Things are now heading back to normal, although it will still be several weeks before I can get back on a horse.
My surgery was to replace the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. Again. Two years ago, I had the same surgery. The original injury occurred when I got tangled up with a very sick horse. The horse didn’t mean to cause me harm; he was in terrible pain and not aware of his actions. I feel fortunate to have survived because sadly, despite every effort, the horse did not.
When I had my knee repaired, it worked fine for those two years but there were a few small incidents that I believe led up to the second rupture.
There was a collision between my son and I when we were on bicycles, a funny landing when dismounting a horse, and the final straw was when I hopped down from the bed of my pickup truck. Nothing dramatic, nothing exciting, I wasn’t doing backflips, riding wild broncs, or playing rugby to invite such an injury. I wouldn’t even have had the second surgery if it weren’t causing my patella to dislocate with no provocation.
I’ve had horses step on me, fall on me, bite me, kick me and throw me, but none of those compares to the pain of a dislocated knee. The only redemption on a dislocated knee is that once it relocates, the pain all but disappears. It’s the surprise element that is unnerving, like having invisible thugs lurking around and spontaneously whacking my knee with a claw hammer.
The people boarding here, and some of my students, rallied to take care of all the horses during my recovery. Horses are no good at looking after themselves, and a normal civilian off the street can’t just step in to do the care. The barn routine is complicated. This horse has to be fed first, that one has to go out first, this one has to come in first. One goes over there to eat, then goes out. One goes out and then he eats. One has to have his hay soaked. One has to have a pill hand fed to her every morning. The ponies have to have warm water.
Sometimes the horses need blankets put on, sometimes they need them taken off. There has to be constant monitoring for injuries, changes in body condition, behavior and eating habits. They get bored and start fighting or wrecking their stalls. They figure out when the electric fence isn’t working and rearrange their paddocks. Each of the 17 horses has a different diet and feed has to be measured exactly and prepared precisely. An error can mean a very sick horse and a possible similar scene to the one that started this whole problem.
My stable is run as a co-op, so all of the boarders are familiar with the routine, but the routine changes as constantly as the weather. It takes a devoted and flexible team of people to run a stable properly. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the people in my barn that I have now. They are all at varying stages of horse experience but the common thread is the willingness to learn as they go. In working with horses, egos are left at the door, emotions are put on hold and discomfort is a given. The work is 90 percent outside so we are cold, wet, windblown, muddy, hot, insect-bitten, dusty and tired by the end of it.
The question is, is it all worth it? Yep, it is. Not every person in the world can reap the benefits, but they are there. There are no wads of cash (except for those you give to the veterinarian and feed store), fame or glory (other than that which comes from being known as the one who owns “that horse”).
The rewards come from being able to communicate with and share peaceful company with an animal that outweighs you by a Volkswagen. You get to be outdoors when the fall colors are brilliant, the apple trees are blooming or the first snow falls. Unlike a gym setting, hard work and sweat actually results in something being done at the end of the day.
Owning horses isn’t all pitfalls and exasperation. Although those times do make for much more exciting stories than the time you stepped down out of a pickup truck.