Injury Takes Your Only Horse
Having spent the past
two months conditioning for Radnor, Worf walked out of
the recovery room in peak condition. Only the foot-wide
bandage around his knee marred the picture of fitness.
As it is my wife Audrey's routine to a limit a horse's
turnout in the weeks prior to a three-day, Worf, who was
already being confined before the injury, saw little
change in his daily routine after returning home from
the hospital. Except of course, the absence of work,
which, needless to say, was more the okay with him. So
everything went well at first.
instructions seamed fairly painless: two weeks of stall
confinement, followed by two weeks of five minute hand
walks, twice a day. Then two weeks at ten minutes, two
weeks at 20 minutes, and four weeks at 30 minutes,
followed by a month of unlimited turnout in a small
Being a bit lazy by
nature, Worf thrived in an environment where all he was
expected to do was eat and gaze out his stall.
Eventually it occurred to him that instead of it taking
20 minutes to eat his grain, it was now gone in minutes,
(his feed had been cut dramatically). Well as far as he
was concerned, messing with his knee was one thing,
messing with his grain was something totally different.
It was time for action!
Limited in his
retaliatory options, Worf thought long and hard.
Figuring that since we weren't allowing him out of his
stall, keeping us from coming in was good pay back.
Working all night, he managed to pile all his bedding
into a five-foot high mound in front of his stall door,
effectively preventing access to his stall. Audrey swore
that she saw a snicker on Worf's face as she toiled
away, relaying the bed. That afternoon Worf once again
piled his bed in front of his stall, creating what we
soon call 'Mt. Worf.'
To keep us on our toes,
Worf would periodically pile his bedding in different
parts of the stall. Sometimes it would be evenly piled
into all four corners, other times it would be against a
single wall. No matter where he placed it, you could be
sure Worf would always be found in the center of his
stall, admiring his latest creation.
Because of my work
schedule, the hand walking duties fell to Audrey.
Experienced beyond description, Audrey took no risks.
With a chain shank securely wrapped around his nose,
Worf had no option other than to be a perfect gentleman.
I on the other hand, was still in my delusory world and
walked Worf as if he was a faithful old dog. A habit I
would soon come to regret.
One day while leading
him through a narrow gate, Worf bolted. As he cleared
the gate, he leaped into the air, kicking out with all
four feet. I would have found Worf's antics cute had his
left rear foot not made contact with my right forearm.
It was over before I knew it. Worf was running free and
I was left holding a bloody arm.
Audrey was not too
pleased with me. I'm not sure if it was having to deal
with me and my compound fracture or the thought of now
having the sole responsibility for hand walking Worf
through the dark rainy winter months to come. Of course
it didn't help when she would return dripping wet and
shivering to find me sitting in front of the fire,
reading a book, and drinking a hot rum cider. Needless
to say, she wasn't very receptive to requests for back
scratches. Spring could not come fast enough for Audrey.
Eventually spring did
come and with it the end of the recovery period. To our
misfortune, Worf, while better, was still not 100
percent. So, once again we returned to Leesburg.
Returning to the trailer after checking in, I was
surprised, and in a way, saddened, to discover Worf
shivering. As it was a warm day, one could only surmise
that the shiver was a result of fear. No amount of
consoling or petting would calm his shakes. It wasn't
until Patty Doyle began to 'ooh and ah' over him, that
Worf's confidence returned.
examination went smoothly. In spite of the notable limp,
Dr. White and Dr. Doyle expressed little concern. The
stiffness was expected they said. To ease any
inflammation, an anti-inflammatory were administered,
and a strict conditioning regiment was proscribed.
As the weeks passed,
Worf's unsoundness quickly faded, and his fat, flabby
body began once again to bristle with muscles. Within
weeks of his first event, his dressage work was
exceptional and his jumping was just about where it
needed to be. To test the waters, we chose to run Loudon
as a combined test. Worf's second place standing after
dressage was encouraging, as was his clean show jumping
Two weeks later we
tried our hand at Menfelt. Again, things seemed to start
off well. Standing in second place after dressage, Worf
leaped out of the start box and around the preliminary
course as in days of old, but four dropped rails in
stadium set off alarm bells. Sure enough, that evening a
definite limp had returned to Worf's trot.
This time, Drs. White
and Doyle greeted the news of the limp with concern.
Zero X-rays soon relieved the culprit, an osteophyte
growing near the site of the old chip. Attached on one
end to the bone and on the other end to the joint
membrane. Extreme movement of the knee, such as jumping,
was causing pain.
rare, are not a totally unexpected response by the body
after a bone injury. After discussing options, which
included giving Worf a year off, I opted for a second
surgery. (Least you fret about the cost of a second
surgery, as the appearance of the osteophyte was tied to
the first surgery, its removal was considered a
're-enter procedure,' and was thus charged at a
significantly, very significantly, reduced fee.)
Like the first surgery,
I was surprised by the quick response to my inquiry
about the timing of the surgery. After verifying that a
stall was open, Dr. White offered to perform the
operation the next day. The sudden realization that he
was going under the knife again, and under it the next
day no less, nearly sent Worf into cardiac arrest.
After removing the
ostephyte, Dr. White reexamined the site of the original
chip. While the bone was resurfacing, he was not pleased
with the progress. The scope of the operation was
quickly expanded, and the original injury site was once
again cleaned and repaired.
Later, as I waited for
Worf to return from the recovery room, Dr. White
expressed concern that in spite of the fact that we had
gotten to the injury earlier, the bone degeneration was
more advanced that he first thought. He gave Worf's
chances of returning to eventing at less then 50-50.
Worf, oblivious to Dr. White's prognoses, walked out of
the recovery room like a pro, and two days later,
returned home, shining from the many groomings he had
conned the nursing staff into giving him.
Unlike his confinement
following the first surgery, where he appeared more then
happy to be inside, out of the cold rain, the timing of
the second confinement, just as the grass was beginning
to turn green, quickly took its toll.
While the other horses
were enjoying daylong turnouts, indulging themselves in
lush spring grass, Worf could only gaze out longingly.
The hay we put in front of him went uneaten, as did the
small amounts of grain. More often then not, we would
find him, standing in the corner, head down. He quickly
began to drop weight, and the body tone he had begun to
develop evaporated almost overnight. The downturn in
Worf's demeanor affected everyone. You couldn't enter
the barn and not feel his sadness.
Upon hearing of this,
Dr. White immediately expanded his definition of
confinement to included unlimited hand grazing. Worf
whole heartily concurred, and his moral quickly
improved. It was soon impossible for anyone to walk
through the barn without being grabbed by Worf and
nudged in the direction of his lead shank.
Surprisingly, even with
all the experience I've had with horses, especially
Worf, I found myself nervous, almost freighted, the
first time I grazed him. Every time he flinched, I
jumped, which needless to say, made him jump even more.
With the plate in my arm still aching, it would be
months before I would once again feel at ease hand
The second recovery
period was over before we knew it. Of course that's easy
for me to say, given that again, the majority of the
work fell on Audrey. While we had discussed the option
of bringing him back for a second try at Radnor that
fall, in the end, we all agreed that the best
opportunity for full recovery lay with giving Worf the
rest of the year off. Again, Worf agreed full heartily.
By the end of the
summer, my lean, mean, eventing machine had so much fat
on him that when he walked, it rippled. Worf must have
thought he had died and gone to heaven, with the one
exception that his feed bucket only contained what
dropped into it while filling other feed buckets. Worf
had nothing to complain about. His ears were always up,
his eyes were bright and alert, and for the first time
in years, the massive wind puffs that had surrounded his
ankles were gone. He looked perfect. Fat, but perfect.
Fortunately I had a
young horse to keep my attention. Unfortunately, I had a
particularly difficult young horse, who, as it turned
out, really didn't want to be an event horse. By the end
of a less then fulfilling fall season, mired at the
bottom of the novice ranks, my eventing hopes were
pinned now more then ever on getting Worf back into
shape and into action.
By early winter, Worf
was playing with his buddies as if he was a
three-year-old. With the limp now a distant memory, I
chanced a hack. It was as if two old friends had
suddenly been reunited after a long estrangement. The
frustrations of the fall's season were quickly banished,
replaced by hopes of a possible spring season on Worf.
Eager to put him back
into work, I jumped at an opportunity to study in
Charlottesville for the month of January. South of the
freeze line, the footing would be perfect. Weary of
pushing him too hard, I started off with long walks, and
then gradually, trots. By the beginning of the third
week, I was breathing a little easier. On the forth week
however, I began to notice a limp when turning to the
right. Lounging reviled my worst fears: the limp was
back. Dr. White and Dr. Doyle were dismayed when they
heard the news. Zero X-rays revealed no progression in
the healing of the joint surface. I was faced with three
options. Inject Worf and continue to ride him, do
nothing and retire him, or operate one final time. I
chose the latter. Riding him on steroids would only
hasten the bone degeneration. Doing nothing would mean a
retirement in pain. A surgery at least held out hope of
relieving the pain.
Before the surgery,
everyone agreed that no matter what the outcome, this
would be the last, and that after it, no attempt would
be made to bring Worf back. Given this, I agreed with
Dr. White's request to try a new technique called
Micro-Fracture - where tiny fractures are made in the
bone to allow cartilage surfacing material to emerge
easier from below the bone's surface. It seemed like a
good shot, at worst, it might help perfect the still
Considered an old pro
by the now familiar staff, Worf settled in quickly this
time around, even offering to hold his own knee out as
it was shaved. The surgery went as planned, though Dr.
Doyle was a bit miffed when Dr. White fainted, leaving
her to close and clean up . . . but I'll not go into
Figuring that this was
going to be a regular thing, during recovery Worf sat
up, looked around, and lay back down. It was only after
one of the staff called him a cow, did the lazy bum
finally get up. By the time I returned the next day to
get him, Worf had settled in so well and was so happy
with the adoration lavished upon him by the attentive
nursing staff that he refused to get in the trailer and
Having learned the
downside of hand walking from the first two recoveries,
we borrowed a round pen for the third. With the
exception of the necessity to daily move the pen, the
last recovery period proved almost effortless, though
I'm sure Ashley, my compatriot in the daily moving of
the pen, might view it differently.
While the last surgery
did not return Worf to 100% as we had hoped, it did
nevertheless dramatically improve his soundness. Today,
he's sound enough to lead his herd in daily charges
around our large turn out field, and when he feels like
it, he still jumps our the three board fences to see if
the grass is really greener on the other side.
The way I look at it, I
made a deal with him many years back. I asked him to
give his all, and in return, promised to care for him
till he was old and gray. I hadn't planned on him
breaking down in the prime of his life, but no one does.
My goals with him had been to do intermediate, a
three-day, and to get him graded. He never did an
intermediate, but he did carry me around three
three-days, and in doing so, earned enough points to
hold a grade one ranking. I think that well enough.
Worf now lives out his
days as the best looking lawn ornament in the
neighborhood. Every once in a while I put a student on
his back and let him show them how it's done. He doesn't
seem to mind, in fact, he seems to enjoy it. It's hard
to see another rider on him. It's even harder to watch
him move so well. He's fit, his legs look great, and his
attitude is the best it's every been.
Every time I get the
urge to get on his back and put him back into work, I
remind myself: the third surgery was for him, not for
me. Instead, I brush him, give him a pet, and turn him
loose to enjoy his well-deserved retirement. I'm happy
that he's happy, and will be for the rest of his life.
After all, isn't that what horsemanship is really all
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