California Riding Magazine • July, 2008

Western Side Story
The best-laid plans of
horses and men often go awry.

by Gayle Carline

This month’s column was supposed to be about my horse, Snoopy, and his progress toward the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Show in the Junior Trail class. I was going to talk about the challenge of moving him from the snaffle and the hackamore into a curb bit. Now that he is on a draped rein, he is being asked to lift his own back and shoulders, with mixed results. Since January, he’s been to three shows, improving a little with each event.

I was also going to share my experience at showing him myself for the first time at the Chino Hills one-day trail show. Held May 3 at the McCoy Equestrian Center, the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association hosted the event, which included a clinic by Sandy Arledge, an AQHA and PCQHA board member and professional horsewoman.

And then life made other plans.

On the Wednesday prior to the show, I went to Tina Duree’s ranch for my lesson. The day felt rushed and I was worried about being prepared. Tina had moved my appointment up, so I didn’t give Snoopy much of a lunge before I got on him. He rewarded me by throwing a hissy fit when I asked him to turn and he wanted to go straight. Tina sent us both back to the round pen, and asked my other trainer, Niki Owrey, to come along and supervise.

Niki and I stood in the center, clucking and whooshing my big, dark horse around the pen. He had just started his second turn to the right, galloping fast, although not wildly. Suddenly, Niki told me, “Make him trot.” I brought Snoopy down from his gallop, and then I saw it – he was limping, badly, on his back left foot.

And just as suddenly, I wasn’t worried about the show anymore.

A Lucky Break?

We took him out of the round pen and called the vet. Dr. Murphy came right out, examined him all over and recommended that we take him for x-rays. Fortunately, Tina’s ranch is down the street from the Chino Valley Equine Hospital.

I arrived in the exam room just as Dr. Klohnen was looking at the first of Snoopy’s pictures.

“You see this line” he asked me, in a lovely accent. “This is a break in the pastern.”

“Oh. What do we do about it?” I asked him, hoping the answer wouldn’t be, “shoot him.”

The doctor brought out a model of a horse’s foot and began telling me about scraping cartilage and fusing joints with two metal plates, because they’ve learned that one plate can lead to complications. Frankly, after I heard the words “fuse the joint,” everything else became a blur. I had a mental picture of my horse walking like he had a peg leg, and having a new career as a lawn ornament.

Gathering my courage, I asked some kind of vague question about his future that translated to, “but will he ever be a show horse again?”

Dr. Klohnen smiled. “Is he a Grand Prix jumper?”

“No.”

“Then, he should come back as good as new.”

Over the next few days, I got a lot calmer and became better informed. What Snoopy actually broke was the sesamoid. It was a clean fracture, and, as broken bones on a horse go, easily fixable. Snoopy’s leg was scraped, fused and otherwise bolted together, then put into a cast that extended down over his hoof and up to his hock. We were told that he could probably come home in 10 days, after the initial cast was changed.

Count Your Blessings

At this point, all I could do was to visit him at the hospital and thank God I had medical insurance for him. I did both daily. After 16 days in the hospital, at rates that would rival a stay at the Hilton, Snoopy at last came home to his own stall. He will stand there for the next six weeks, bedded in straw, surrounded by toys and thoroughly bored.

And I will stop worrying about whether my horse is earning points in his trail classes. Instead, I will focus my efforts on his health and recuperation. Dr. Klohnen estimated that it will be six months before Snoopy can be ridden again, so I’ll continue to keep my riding skills sharp by taking lessons on Snoopy’s mom, Frostie.

In the meantime, I will watch everyone else go to shows and I will count my blessings. I’m blessed that it was a fixable break, that Snoopy is a young horse and should heal well, that it didn’t happen after he had qualified for the World Show, etc.

Check with me in three months, and I’ll tell you whether my optimism level is still this high.

Got any news you’d like to share with the western riding community? Contact me at 714-296-6009, or e-mail me at gayle_western@sbcglobal.net.