In my last blog, I was still glowing with the welcome high of a Nationals qualification with Rival. The horse that two years ago, I doubted would ever compete again and has now returned to form better than ever and this will be his second Nationals since returning. He is, and always will be my very special miracle horse. I just love training with him, as he loves to work and I remember when I didn’t think he would come back again, that I felt something akin to grief at the loss of him. All the horses I work with are special to me and I believe in that strong bond of horse and rider but he will always hold an extra special place for me.
Unfortunately, there followed a series of occurrences that all to soon moved the yard onto day to day survival rather than maintaining the celebrations. What seemed to be the week of accidents, started with Bebe one of my two brood mares. I arrived as normal just before 7am to feed and check the girls on my way to the yard. They are housed in the lap of luxury at my local farmers’ yard, where they winter in a huge barn surrounded by cows. They were lying down when I arrived, nothing unusual there, but when Bebe didn’t get up immediately making sure she was the first to be fed, I knew there was a problem.
As I approached her, I could see that she had lain down to close to the metal railings along a short side of the barn and her head was under the bottom rail which meant she couldn't lift her neck. Initially, the situation didn't look too bad as it was only really her head under the bars. Not that worried, I went to fetch a lead rope to guide her head the right side of the bars. Unfortunately, in the minute it took to fetch the rope from the far side of the barn Bebe started to become more aware that she couldn't stand up and began to struggle. As she could only push from her hindlegs she started to make the situation worse, pushing herself further under the bars. Suddenly I could see this was becoming a very dangerous position, I could see the bars were not easy to dismantle and she was now much further under. Thankfully, I had my phone on me and immediately phoned the Claire, the farmer’s wife, who was rudely awakened by me asking for help as soon as possible and lunge lines. Bless her, she asked no questions but quickly appeared with her husband Alister. In the meantime, I kept my weight on Bebe's head and tried to keep her calm. We managed to put lunge lines around her front end but even with Alister's strength, the angle of her body and the bars meant we couldn't swivel her back away from them. Worse still, every time we tried she was trying to stand up and she was at huge risk of breaking her neck.
With the situation worsening with every minute, I had already phoned the nearest vet requesting immediate help as keeping Bebe calm was getting harder and I could see this going horribly wrong unless we could get her sedated. In the meantime, Alister set about dismantling the metal bars, which had obviously not been undone in a long time. He managed to undo four of the bolts, but the one above her head was rusted solid. He tried to hacksaw it, but the noise was way too much for Bebe. It's not good when all my weight and Alister's foot is not enough to keep her head down. In all my many years of working with horses I have never felt so helpless or scared, we felt so close to a disaster which I couldn't solve. No matter how close that vet was, it wasn't close enough. I can honestly say Bebe owes her life to Alister's practical quick-thinking. He managed to bend the bar over the top of Bebe's body with sheer determination and leverage, giving her just enough room to somehow shimmy under the middle bar to freedom.
I pride myself in keeping calm in all those crazy situations youngsters get themselves into but I was as close to losing it as I have ever been. I am just so glad I checked her early, obviously before she herself had realised she was stuck and, crucially, that my farmers were so quick to help and save the day. I think the adrenaline shock from my early wake-up call left me exhausted and rather shell shocked for the rest of the day, although Bebe enjoyed the extra attention of multiple visits.
Later that week, I was booked into my yearly first-aider reminder course and I'd decided to travel a bit further as the date suited my diary better. Having to contend with the usual rush hour traffic on the motorway, I set off early and having driven for two hours was less than pleased with the phone call ten minutes before the course was due to start, cancelling the day! At least the journey back was a little quicker as it was no longer rush hour! In the meantime, at the yard, one of my liveries’ horses had jumped on team member Holly and her foot was very black and swollen so she had been taken off to the local hospital. I began to feel the joy of the previous week being pushed aside by an endless stream of incidents. Thankfully, she had just badly bruised the ligaments, so just a few days of resting it and she was back up and running, well walking at least!
I normally take Sundays off, and that weekend we had a family meal planned to celebrate my very unhorsey but tolerant husband’s birthday. When the yard phoned at midday to say that one of my youngsters had somehow got himself hung of his own door, whilst not wearing a headcollar and had briefly been choking, then managed after much struggle to free himself, I confess to a definite feeling of ' no more please!' I arranged a later meal time and dashed off to inspect the damage. It seems as if he had lost his footing on his hind legs and ended up bearing most of his weight by his own head on his own door. Luckily he had mainly superficial scrapes, and only one wound that needed dressing, a few bruised bits but I felt older and greyer! Despite all our safety precautions, my horses were on a mission to need more attention. So, only an hour late for the birthday lunch I made it and, once again, had to apologise to the in-laws for yet another horse incident!
With a ski holiday booked only a week away, I could feel my anxiety levels rising - would the horse antics settle down? Was skiing a suitable activity with my current safety luck? How much bubble wrap could I use for me and my horses? Luckily, I had some distractions of a more positive nature later in the week. I had had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of American Grand Prix rider and judge Sandy Osborn two years ago at Aachen. We hit it off and stayed in touch and last year did a fund raising demo’ together. This year, I had arranged a clinic at my yard for myself and clients to benefit from her fabulous ‘eyes on the ground’. I had a training session with Rival, and we worked on his piaffe steps, which I haven't done much of, since his return to full work. He showed a real aptitude it and had his normal enthusiasm which really helps with this more collected work. Sandy is an inspiration as she remains as enthusiastic for the sport as I do and is generous with her time and knowledge. It is lovely in a sport that can be isolated in its nature, to find a kindred spirit, even if she does live across the Atlantic!
So, after the spate of accidents, it was with slight trepidation that Glynn and I went on our skiing holiday. My mum comes from Austria and they have a little flat beside a lake in Corinthia, twenty minutes drive from some great ski areas. The flat is so cozy, it's like a home from home and means that we can relax as soon as we walk through the door. We were really lucky with the weather this time, plenty of snow and quite a few days of brilliant sunshine. Once I got my ski legs back, I soon forgot about being worried, it's such a great way to relax as it's not hard work but does need a certain amount of concentration, so you can't dwell on problems back at home. I came back feeling a different person and remembered how much I love what I do, with all its ups and downs!