Friday, October 4, 2013

When It's Time

I want to put these thoughts out there and explain my decision making process. It's really more for myself--I've never fully verbalized what Cuna and I went through. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone and since I'm a grown up and a horse owner, I can do whatever I damn well please anyways.

That said.

We had an exceptionally hard (for us) winter last year. Layers of snow and ice restricted all movement and limited turnout. Cuna hates cold weather, and his general demeanor was cranky. We pulled his shoes towards the end of the winter because we weren't able to work and his farrier was very concerned by his feet, but their quality and lack of heels.

Two weeks after the shoes came off, the weather finally changed. We worked back to up to normal training. We started out tip toeing around in the arena and worked up to trotting and cantering and hacking out. Cuna needed his shoes back on to prevent further deterioration of his feet.

My valentine <3
In February (Valentine's Day), we started back riding in the hills. Cuna and I would trailer out once a week with a friend. She was conditioning to run some cool eventing tracks, but we started out walking. Cuna is a pretty fit horse to begin with, and getting more fit has never been an issue for him. We matched the younger horse stride for stride, in the arena and in the hills.

All seemed well. He was a little stiff, but since having his hocks done is a significant investment, I was holding off a bit and compensating by not asking him to do any hardcore dressage and really use his hocks.

And then in March we went out in the hills and he tied up. I've read through the literature, talked to people who had horses tie up, and gone over everything about Cuna's care. He had none of the risk factors and was on a great diet.

Several people have suggested that he simply wasn't fit enough to do the job. To that I say these things:

1) He was fully as fit as his friend, who had no problems whatsoever.

2) The tying up episode started almost as soon as we picked up the trot. I didn't know what it was at the time, or I would have pulled up immediately. He kept going forward through the whole thing, but he was nearly crippled at the end. His heart was in it, his body couldn't take it.

It's also been suggested that the "spring weather" contributed. To that theory I say:

1) Bullshit. If 50f is the magic temperature at which horses tie up, we would see a lot more problems.

2) I have ridden this horse in all terrain and all temperatures from 15f to 105f and he'd never presented any sort of problem before. I have talked to everyone who's owned him post-track, and it had never happened before.

So. There's that. Yeah, maybe a one-off situation, definitely weird, no definable cause. I didn't run blood because I was abysmally broke at the time and he recovered ok, albeit slowly.

In April, we moved forward again. We started slowly back into work. I wasn't able to take him in to the hills very much--obviously, I didn't want to throw him back in with the younger, faster horse who hadn't tied up and no one else was regular enough to make a huge fitness difference. We did lots of long slow hacks on the shoulders of the roads around the barn. After I got his hocks done, we stepped up our dressage. We weren't jumping a ton because our instructor was busy with other projects.

Cuna persisted in being a little on/off lame. It was slight and usually went away with a little rest. He was lame before our jumping clinic, but some bodywork helped.

He was lame before our dressage show, but again, it was subtle and a few days off made all the difference.

Wrapped, drugged, and uncomfortable on soft sand
Enter May. I gave him two days off after the dressage show, and then he was unsound. The farrier came out for a pre-scheduled appointment at which Cuna presented as sound. We made a slight shoeing change that we had discussed before.

Cuna felt better for a day, then worse. His only work had been a 20 minute walking hack on flat ground.

I had him checked over by another farrier, who called him unsound in both front feet.

And it spiraled down from there.

By the time we went to the vet, Cuna wouldn't leave his stall to drink or eat his grain. He was in agony, constantly. It can be argued that it came on quickly, but he'd been on and off for over a month at this point. His diet hadn't changed. He wasn't on grass. His legs were cold and tight.

His retirement photos
The vet diagnosed him with "lots of soft tissue inflammation in his feet" and later referred to it as a "laminitic episode". We x-rayed and put him in $$$ shoes, but there wasn't much point in doing more. The xrays showed no rotation, but Cuna couldn't walk. Cuna left the vet slightly less miserable than he arrived. 

He came back, even more slowly this time. We had to give him IV bute because he was too miserable to eat his grain. At the end of three weeks, he was still off. At 8 weeks post vet, he looked sound at the walk and trot.

My show friends were asking when we'd be back in the ring. My instructor proposed tentative plans to bring him back into work gradually.

And I made the call.

Cuna moved to his field to take the rest of the summer off. And now the rest of the year off. Probably more--my farrier says it will be at least a year for his feet to recover.

Once I turned Cuna out, his demeanor changed. He's less grumpy and more interested in life. His soundness hasn't changed--he was on/off all summer in various degrees. I am in consultation with a vet and we will explore options for him at an appropriate time.

That's the timeline. That's the information I have.

I know it's not the decision that everyone would have made in my situation. I don't know that it was the best possible decision. What I do know is that something wasn't working for Cuna. Mysterious and odd things happen to horses all the time, but when those incidents are getting more severe and closer together, I know I have to question what I'm asking them to do.

The bravest horse
At this point, I don't believe that Cuna will come back to work in a substantive way. He'll be 19 in January. He isn't an ideally conformed horse, and dressage does not come naturally to him. I don't think it's right to just keep pounding his feet and body into the ground when he's in this shape.

He is still my favorite horse. I can't explain my connection to him. I would be over the moon if he came back to be sound enough to trail ride again, but at this point, I'm not pushing him. Courage came into my life for a reason. I think that reason is to let Cuna have the well deserved rest that his body craves.

It's heart-breaking. If I think about it for too long, I cry. It isn't what I wanted, isn't what he wanted, but it is the reality that we both have to live with. Yes, older horses than Cuna go out and compete and do just fine. I think that's great. I wish he was one of those horses, but everything I see is telling me that he isn't. His body can't take it, even though his heart is in it.

So there you go. That's my understanding of the situation and the rationale behind the decisions I made.


  1. You made great decisions. It's so tough when what you want them to do isnt what they're able to do...regardless of their age. I know you'll continue to make the right choices as they come. He's so lucky to have you as his mom and thank goodness for Courage! How wonderful that he is in your life now :)

  2. I think its hard for people to understand what exactly happened with Cuna because most of the posts to this point have been vague. Now you've laid it all out. I don't really question what people do with their horses, because its their horse and not my problem. Wishing you luck in the future. Hope you can have him for a long time.

  3. I think you did everything possible for him and I probably would have made the same decisions. I agree with L, I'm glad you've put it all out there so we know what's been happening! Hopefully you'll be able to enjoy him for many more years to come even with not competing on him.

  4. well, Im a stranger, but i would say in reading everything here, you took responsibility and acted as a good horseman does - i think its a very appropriate call on your part...and the best part is that Cuna is reacting positively to the change.

  5. These decisions are never easy, but if you make them with the good of your horse in mind at all times, which you did, then they are always the right ones.

    I'm sure Cuna is happy with your company and no pressure.

  6. I love your dedication to Cuna and his care. I hope he eventually is sound for you to pleasure ride. It is so hard to deal with Laminitis and the pain it causes. You have done so well and bravo for drawing the line and standing firm on your decisions.

    1. PS I was so afraid you were writing that you had to put him down when I saw the title, so am really happy that was not the case. Even lame I loved having my retired Arab around because of our connection.

  7. No one understands a horse like their owner; not your trainer, vet or confidant. You know Cuna, and you know whats best for him.

    Personally, I think it's awesome how you've stuck by his side through thick and thin, because not everyone is willing to do that. I love seeing pictures of him happy in his field, and I'm so glad you found Courage so that you can continue to ride.

  8. I think Cuna is a lucky horse. :)

  9. I think that you have done an incredible job with Cuna, and anyone who says otherwise can take a long walk off a short pier. I am very proud of you for being such a good advocate for your horse, even when the circumstances don't make it an easy or fun thing to do. That isn't easy. I am so sorry that you're going through this, though :(.

  10. Oh my gosh. You are doing great. Thanks for sharing, because it's interesting.

    And, although it's expensive, I really feel in a way you have the best of both worlds- Courage to train, clinic and compete with and Cuna to just enjoy, hack, hug and chill with. It's all good, and BOTH horses are so lucky to have you as their mom!!!

  11. Sounds like you made the best decisions you could at the time.
    These things can come on in so many different ways, and sometimes there is no way to know! I hope I didn’t come across as judgy with my diatribe on your previous post re: Cuna. I didn’t mean it that way. I think I am just obsessed with laminitis, as I am living it right now.

    I worked my horse on what were more than likely laminitic feet for months. He would have good days and bad days, this went on all spring and summer. Ironically the soreness was coming through in his hind end, he never took a lame step on his front end, but my vet thinks he is just a stoic beast. I put him on adequan, gave him intermittent time off, chiro\accupuncture. Each rest period would yield a few weeks of soundness, then he would go off again. We never once looked at his front feet, always his hind end. Labor day weekend he came in from the field dead lame on his FL. I thought abscess and soaked his feet in epsom salts followed up by a poultice wrap for a week. I had the vet out on 9/9, and he was diagnosed with full blown acute laminitis. X-rays showed inflammation of the laminae on both fronts and reduced sold depth on that LF. The hoof walls on his LF had finally been pushed over the edge and buckled at the coronary band causing laminar detachment. He was days away from sinking.

    1. Hi KB!

      I really appreciated your last post. I don't have a lot of definitive answers, so it helps me gather information when I see people in similar situations.

      I'd love to continue the conversation--would you email me at sprinklerbandits @ gmail dot com?

  12. No one can tell you what is right or wrong to do with your horse.. you know them the best and since you are mom, you get full rights to do as you please!

    Here's to you and Cuna having many more years together however that may look :)

  13. You are an amazing horsey mommy and are doing right by your horse even when it's hard. Its natural to second guess your decisions - we all do it, because we care so much about our beautiful beasts. But you have always done whats best for your horse, include following your gut instincts even when your trainers and barn friends and others might have been hopeful of a different path. Is positive thinking made horses sound then all vets would be out of business.

  14. Cuna is lucky to have someone like you in his life.

  15. It sounds to me that you made the right call, and you made it with the best intentions! I think Cuna is very lucky to have you. Best of luck with his healing!

  16. It's sounds like you made some tough decisions but honestly I don't know what else you could have done differently. Cuna is lucky to have you.

  17. As everyone said, Cuna is very lucky to have you. Most people at this point would've sent him off or worse. There's nothing wrong with a lawn ornament and if he's happy, what else could you ask for. Maybe the rest and the time will actually help his healing process. You never know, they surprise us every day! Best of luck.

  18. It too thought that you may be putting him down. So glad that is not the case. You may never compete with him again but that doesn't mean you don't love him. Sometimes letting their body rest is just what they need to continue on with life. Maybe he will only be able to go on easy rides around the farm but I know you will both enjoy it!

  19. Oh that's so sad :( Poor Cuna, poor you. It's too hard to know what to do when you don't have a definite diagnosis.

    1. Or is it pure laminitis? I'm still confused, oh well.

  20. Great decisions of a true horsewoman - Cuna is so very lucky to have you in his life.

  21. You are putting your horse's well being and comfort over your own dreams, goals, and expectations. Kudos for that. *hugs*

  22. I feel for you, but fully believe you've made all the right decisions and agree that Courage came into your life for a reason, as all horses do. Hang in there!

  23. Big hugs to you and Cuna. This post really hit me hard since I feel like I am going through something similar with my horse. Of course the exact details are different, but having an older horse experience multiple injuries/illnesses in a short period of time (without always knowing what caused them) and then having to try to decide what to do after... I can relate to that. I'm still lightly riding Prince but my rides have gotten shorter and shorter because I agree with you, it just doesn't feel right to ask anything of him, even on a good day. It's not what we wanted either.

    You know Cuna best and it's obvious that you are making all of your choices by what is best for him. Hugs again.

    1. I feel like we're in a similar place with the old guys. :-/ They want to do so much more, but it hurts them. Getting old is a bitch on all accounts, but I'm told the alternative it worse.

      Best wishes to you and Princely.

  24. I lost my beloved mare when she was 19. I'd give anything to have her back, even if it was in a retirement field. I think you made a kind, selfless decision.

  25. No one knows your horse better than you. No one can make those decisions better than you. I have a friend who just retired her perfectly healthy 17 year old horse. He had no problems and she still lightly rides him, but she wanted to retire him while he was healthy. You do what's best for you and your horse. Who cares what other people think

  26. The tough thing about horses is that no two horses are the same. I think in your specific situation for your horse, you've done everything you could to ensure his happiness, and thats all you an do. I firmly believe your right in thinking that Courage came into your life to allow Cuna his happy retirement. Sometimes life works in mysterious ways, but I think the lessons that Cuna taught you over the time you were able to enjoy riding him will only better you and Courage now.

    And if anyone says otherwise... Ef them!

  27. I really love this post. You could have written the end part exactly for Solo too. It still makes me sad to see him watch me so eagerly and shove his head into his halter with glee when I take him out. He can tear around his pasture bucking like a fiend and he loves to go out on rides. I probably could still spend a LOT of money on injections and stuff and take him back to work for a while, but why? He is just as thrilled if someone stands in the field with him and brushes him and feeds him treats. He does LOVE to go out and do stuff and go on trips, which we still do, albeit rarely. But he is healthy and mentally content. His back will never be the same, but he looks great, he is bright, and our connection gives me joy every day. He is only 17 and to the casual observer, 100% sound and strong. Only I know his body's limits, even though his heart would let him run till he dropped.

    It sounds like Courage is doing so wonderfully and giving you lots of fun new projects, there is nothing wrong with enjoying them both in their own way!


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