We put down my last horse three weeks ago. Glory (officially Fallen Queen) was 31, mostly blind from cataracts, had Cushings disease and arthritis. I hadn’t ridden her for the past two years because her blindness caused her to stumble and, with her arthritis, I couldn’t take a chance on her falling. As long as she was in a familiar place her lack of sight hadn’t seemed to bother her too much until recently. Then things changed.
A couple of months ago, she somehow hurt herself in her stall, cutting her upper eyelid, and injuring her hip and front leg. Presumably she got tangled in a fence when rolling and had a hard time getting free. We had to have the vet out for her eye, but the other stuff healed quickly. She became jumpy and nervous after that, not understanding why she hurt and what had happened. Then the wonderful worker who had fed, and cleaned the stalls at her stable for years suddenly quit, and the owner had a hard time finding someone to replace him. The frequently changing new cleaners, who weren’t necessarily horse people, scared her and she became more and more nervous, jumping at the slightest sound. Moving her would have only made her worse. It didn’t seem fair to let her continue this way and we reluctantly made the final decision, one which our vet had recommended over a year ago.
I bought Glory 19 years ago when she was 12. She was a wonderfully trained Third Level dressage horse that would be a schoolmaster to help me learn more about higher level skills. With horses, either the rider or the horse should know more. Two tyros are not likely to do well. In this case, she knew about dressage and would make it easier for me to advance. My trainer fell in love with her during a test ride and confirmed my already positive opinion.
However, when I got her home I discovered she was very different from any horse I’d ever dealt with. I was used to high-strung, hot horses, but I’d never encountered a horse that was terrified of the world. Under saddle, she was perfect. On the ground, she was ready to panic at the slightest thing. She also was afraid of other horses, which I thought was really weird. It took some research and time to figure out what was going on with her.
Glory was a Thoroughbred destined for racing. She was sent to the track but was not successful. (She was too timid to challenge other horses.) She then was bred as a two-year old, had a foal, and was sold to a hunter-jumper barn. There she was trained for riding (racing TBs know little more than go, turn and stop), but wasn’t successful as a hunter-jumper. (Presumably because of her fear of other horses.) After that she went to a dressage barn and found her niche. Dressage horses compete by themselves. Because she was so good under saddle, a woman who was dealing with fear issues bought her but it wasn’t good match long-term. That’s when I got her and took on her prolems.
Like most Thoroughbred mares, Glory was hyper-sensitive to touch and her environment. Unfortunately, her previous owners had not paid much attention to that, trying to force her to behave like a laid-back warmblood. She hated being curried and brushed hard and their answer had been to carry a whip to correct her when she objected. That only made her more uptight. If something else happened while she was in this state, she’d blow up. And she developed the habit of pulling back, trying to break the rope, when she panicked.
She also had been through a variety of trainers, at least one of whom favored harsh methods. It turned out her good behavior under saddle was partly a result of fear. If she made a mistake, she would start shaking or even get a nose bleed. She obviously expected to be punished. (Though to be fair, what she considered punishment, other horses might not even notice.)
All this made for a rocky start for the two of us. I was used to confident horses who were willing to try and wanted to please. She was afraid to try anything different and wanted to be asked to do things in exactly the way she was used to. Given I was learning, that wasn’t a bad trait—if she didn’t get so upset when I didn’t get it right.
Several times I was tempted to give up on her and find an easier horse, but I’m stubborn and persisted. I bought the softest brushes and curries I could find and used them gently. We worked with a trainer on her pulling back and made good improvement. (Unfortunately, that’s habit that rarely goes away entirely.) She gradually got used to my other horses and found her place in the herd. In fact, in later years she took over the “protector” role.
It took years and lots of work, including alternative energy methods, to get her to really trust me. Eventually, she did accept that she had home and was not going to be sent away again. We learned to work together under saddle and she was a delight to ride. She remained a powerful, athletic horse with spectacular gaits, up until the Cushings hit.
I miss my Glory girl, and hope she’s been reunited with Portia and Koko beyond the rainbow bridge. A piece of my heart goes with her.
Healing is her life. Will it be her death?
Two dead bodies. One dirty cop.
Is she next?
Images – A Love Story
She’s learned to hide from life.
Should she hide from him?