Posted by: bizzylizzy262 | July 16, 2017

I think I’m ready to ride my horse again…

It has been a very, very long time since I have posted in this blog. Just hard for me to find the time I suppose. But this week I’ve felt like posting, and maybe it will open the door for more posts. I know that I will love looking back on this blog some day, so I will continue to post when I have time/have a reason to post.

Catching up is going to be difficult. My last post was 2 years ago! Obviously so much has happened since then, but I’m going to try to keep this as quick as possible. Last I posted, Cloud and I were enjoying my first summer without working summer school. We were riding with Debbie and living large in our brand new Patrick Keane saddle. Our rides were better and better each and every ride…we were flying high!

And so it continued on, I took lessons with Debbie twice weekly and rode Cloud 5-6 days per week. He was 23 when I last posted, and we seemed to be at a peak in our ‘career’ together. We were progressing with leaps and bounds in the dressage world (well, at home schooling) and loving every second of it. Seriously, every second. With Cloud’s age and our deep connection together, I never took a single ride for granted….

…which is a very, very good thing, because I never knew when my last ‘real’ ride on Cloudy Boy was going to be. By last ‘real’ ride, I mean doing the things that we were doing…walk, trot, canter, walk-canter transitions, canter-halt transitions, lead changes, shoulder in, travers, renvers, half pass, leg yields…we were doing the fanciest of things! Things I never knew we’d reach together.

I’m sad to report, however, that we have had our last ‘real’ ride. Oh gosh, just typing those words brings back the feelings of the difficult decision to retire my horse, and suddenly I’m typing through fresh tears.

I suppose I should back up. Cloud was at the peak of his career…he may not have had the young body he once had had, but we had the knowledge, tools, and confidence and were soaring together. Really progressing and our connection was UNBELIEVABLE. Stronger than ever before…but that didn’t stop him from being the age that he was/is. All good things must come to an end, and one thing I want to stress is that I always wanted to give Cloud a retirement. And somehow, I knew that I would know in my heart when the time was right.

It started with an injury at the end of January, 2016. Cloud fell outside on the ice and cut his leg 2/3 of the way around his knee, resulting in an emergency phone call which took me away from work, an emergency vet call, and a domino-effect which ultimately lead to his retirement. The vet was shocked that Cloud had not broken anything. The cut was bad, but he was walking sound on the leg. She asked if I wanted to do X-rays, but we both agreed that since he was already going to be on stall rest that x-rays might not be necessary. He’d be getting rest, which he would need if he had broken anything, and he wasn’t showing symptoms of a break. We concluded that if he had broken anything, we’d figure it out sooner or later.

The knee took forever to heal. 2 months stall rest, which for Cloud (and his mom who loves him) was torture. He was in a soft cast, which I changed diligently every couple of days. At one point I was confused for a vet at the barn. I hated seeing him stressed from being on stall rest, but I loved caring for him. I spent hours upon hours with him in his stall, grooming him, singing to him, massaging him, hugging him, kissing him. Anything I could do to keep him company.

The knee eventually healed, and Cloud was put back out with his pasture buddies and we worked on getting back into riding shape. And we did. We had one more really great summer under saddle together. Looking back, it was no less than a gift from God. Last fall Cloud began having difficulty with his right front fetlock (ankle), which has historically been his bad joint. I pulled out all of my stops to make him feel better, and when that didn’t work, I called the vet.

This time, we did x-rays. And the x-rays revealed some new ‘remodeling’ on the front of the joint. His old injury was on the back/side of the joint…so these new bone chips were a new injury….or rather, a newER injury. The bone chip edges looked old, not new and fresh, but they were only just causing a problem for Cloud because they were sliding into the joint space. And suddenly it all clicked together…Cloud likely HAD broken/chipped bone off of the fetlock in his big fall the previous winter. Obviously I can’t know it for sure, but it certainly makes sense.

I really think that things happen for a reason, particularly for Cloud and I. I’m sorry to get super religious, but I know that Cloud was a gift to me from up above, and because I love and appreciate him so much, I feel that we have been blessed with a guardian angel who knows what is best for us. Cloud’s big fall in January ’16 reminded me of his age and how fragile our time together is. It is pretty incredible to me that we chose not to x-ray at the time…if we had, I shudder to think of what might happened. With a freshly broken fetlock and a severe laceration around his knee to heal, and his difficulty with stall rest…it all might have been too much, and I might have thought it best to put Cloud down..I don’t know. But we didn’t know about the break, we let him rest and healed him up, and I got to ride him and enjoy our rides for the spring and summer. I am so very grateful for that ‘bonus’ time riding together.

Okay, back to where we were. We discovered the bone chips in September or early October. The vet recommended stall rest again, but I chose to let Cloud stay out with his friends in the pasture. I diligently wrapped his leg every morning and every night. The hope/goal was for the bone chips to find their home (adhere to bone) and hopefully they would land in a good place that wouldn’t make Cloud be in pain. Luckily they did.

By this time it was just about November. Once the bone fragments had found their home (confirmed via x-ray), it was time for me to decide what was best for Cloud. It was both an easy decision and a difficult decision. I always wanted to give Cloud the ‘retirement he deserved’…but also had ridden him and kept him going so long because he loved his ‘work’ and his ‘job’, and because I felt like it kept him young to keep him in shape and fit. Retiring him would put that all at risk. It was difficult to swallow that we had had our last ‘real’ ride. It was difficult to worry that he wouldn’t have a sense of purpose without the challenges from our dressage. It was hard to imagine his muscles going away, and how his body would react to being retired. What if he started to deteriorate?

But, like I said, I knew that when the time came, I would know in my heart that it was time to retire Cloud. I woke up on November 3, 2016, and I knew in my heart. November 3 is our anniversary. I bought Cloud on November 3, 2002. I celebrated EVERY anniversary by riding Cloud and loving on him hard. On November 3, 2016, I knew that I couldn’t ride him for our anniversary. I knew that this meant that he should be retired. It was fitting and symbolic and it was perfect. And when I knew in my heart that he should be retired, there was peace. The most difficult part was the decision, once it was made I felt a peace in my decision.

I also felt, and continue to feel, proud. I am proud of Cloud for everything he accomplished in his life. Cloud was a pretty successful racehorse. He raced until the very end of his 9 year old year, so practically until he was 10 years old. He ran 68 starts. The term “war horse” applies to a thoroughbred with at least 50 starts. Cloud was a war horse as a racehorse. And then he met me. I was so young when I met him and had very little experience. I found myself with a project horse and we both had a lot to learn. We learned it all together. We took our time and did things wrong so that we could find out how to do them right. We got frustrated with each other, but we stuck it out because we loved each other. The whole way it was a two-way street. He tried hard, I tried hard, he learned, I learned. We did some jumping, did some natural horsemanship, did some trail riding, and ultimately dressage. Very little came easy to us….until these last few years.

The last few years of our riding career together was the stuff dreams are made of. We didn’t do much showing….and that may not count to some, but to me and him, what we did together was magic, and it was more than enough. Our rides were effortless in the end. We moved together as one being. I didn’t have to do much to signal what I wanted. He read my body, my mind, and my heart. It was a magic that I can hardly describe, but in my mind I relive it constantly. I loved every effortless, magical ride that we shared together…and for that I am extremely grateful. I didn’t know when my last ‘real’ ride was going to be…but I can recall it like it was yesterday because I kept each of those rides close to my heart and never took them for granted.

I think you get the picture. I ‘formally’ announced Cloud’s retirement that very day. And in my mind I defined his retirement. He would be loved on, he would be meticulously groomed, he would have a job to some degree, and I would always put what is best for him first…no matter how hard it was.

That was put to the test early February when Cloud suffered another pasture injury. As much as I am trying to keep this short (ha!), I do want to describe the events of that night because I need to express how/why I know that we have a guardian angel out there watching over us.

I showed up at the barn that afternoon to feed Cloud. I couldn’t stay long because I had my second job to get to. As I fed Cloud, his pasture mates were moved to a new pasture. They were very jazzed about the move, and were galloping around. One of his pasture mates, Dusty, slipped and felt in some mud. He got up and trotted off as though nothing was wrong, but I called his owner to let her know what I saw so she could come check him out more closely. Later that evening, I got a call at work from Dusty’s owner. She had gone to check Dusty out as I had requested, and when she got out to the pasture Cloud was standing on three legs. Literally. Somehow, he had caught a hind leg in the belly straps of his blanket and was stuck.

You see how crazy  those events are? Had Dusty’s owner not gone to the barn, Cloud would have been stuck like that over night and probably would have suffered catastrophic injuries struggling to break free, or if his 3 remaining legs couldn’t stand the pressure anymore. As it was, Cloud was very hurt. I got out to the barn as soon as I could. Even when his leg was free, he was not putting weight on it. It looked very bad. I thought for sure he had dislocated the joint. I stood waiting for the vet at 10 pm, comforting Cloud while the very darkest thoughts clouded my mind. I thought that the vet would put Cloud down that night.

Long story short (not really), Cloud tore a muscle. It was a big tear, 6-7 inches long, and required stall rest. I was hesitant to put Cloud on stall rest. I had promised to do what was best for him, and he hated stall rest. But my vet convinced me that this injury would heal and we would take it day by day. I owe her for that!

Cloud spent 2 full months in a stall. He had a buddy who was also on stall rest which was our saving grace. Once he was cleared for turnout, I made the decision to keep Cloud in a stall over night. He was stall boarded for years and years before, but I had put him on pasture turnout (lives outside 24/7) for his joint health…it was good for his joints to be in motion that much. But now that he is retired, my vet and I decided that it was more important to 1) keep him safe and 2) fatten him up in a stall with good hay, alfalfa, and full meals.

We had a rocky time figuring out a good turnout group for him, and actually he is turned out alone right now while we waits for his stall-neighbor to break free from stall rest, but he has 2 groups of mares on either side of his pasture that he is quite friendly with. So right now, life is good as far as his turnout situation, and he appreciates coming in at night and the good food that comes with his stall.

As far as his job…clearly with another winter injury, he hasn’t had much of a job…but this spring and early summer I did ground work with him. I taught him new cute tricks like fetching a treat bucket. I did some ground-driving with him, which is like driving a horse and cart…but I walk instead of sit in a cart. It has actually been really fun, and it’s something new and different so Cloud enjoys it too.

I had only ridden Cloud once since our last ‘real’ ride. I rode him on Christmas morning. Like, really early in the morning. It was beautiful, it was quiet, it was peaceful, it was perfect. It was my Christmas present to myself.

I have realized that I have been dealing with a loss. Obviously not a loss of Cloud (thank heavens), but retiring him and putting our magical rides in the past was a big loss. It’s bittersweet, I am so honored and blessed to give him his retirement, but there is some sadness to it too. There are moments when I remember that I’ll never feel his canter and I get sad. Because I recognize that this was to some degree a loss, I was never hard on myself for how I handled things. I thought initially that I would ride him (walk only, of course) 2-3 times per week, but it didn’t really happen. I loved my ride on Christmas..but just didn’t feel like saddling him up for walks. I wasn’t hard on myself for this, because I still was there every single day spending time with him and loving him and doing other things with him.

Two days ago I got to the barn, walked inside, and was suddenly overcome with the feeling that I wanted to ride Cloud. It actually scared me that it was some sign from Heaven that I needed to ride him. I turned around and retrieved my riding gear from the car (more on that later) and saddled up. I rode Cloud for 20 minutes…10 minutes on a loose rein, 5 minutes with contact, then 5 minutes on a loose rein. As I “cooled him out”, the wheels in my mind were turning. There was so much I could do at the walk. I knew this all along, but I just wasn’t forcing myself to ride him if I wasn’t feeling compelled to. But as I rode him that day, I was excited to start riding Cloud again.

I think I just needed that time from my decision to retire him to grow accustomed to what retirement meant under saddle. I needed a break from the time when we were doing such amazing things, to accept that we would be walk only from here out. It gave me a chance to grieve the loss of our magical rides and accept that our walk only rides can be special, too.

I rode Cloud again today. It was a little less magical because there were other horses in the arena, so I wasn’t alone with Cloud and our thoughts. But still, I enjoyed myself and I think Cloud did too. Although, he was feeling pretty good and tried to take a few trot steps. I know he was saying, “Come on Mom, let’s go!”, but I have to do what is best for him, as hard as it is.

This is what I WANTED. I wanted to retire him sound, not ride him until he was in pain. I want him to be able to comfortably trot and canter outside to say hello to his girlfriends. I know if I asked him to, we could do all of the great things we were doing before. But this is the ultimate test of my love for Cloud. Our hearts want us to walk, trot, canter, walk-canter transitions, canter-halt transitions, lead changes, shoulder in, travers, renvers, half pass, leg yields…but because I love my horse so deeply, I have to be the one to say no Cloud, this is enough. You have been the best, and you will always be the best. You owe me nothing. Let’s walk on.

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