Cosequin Presents Aftercare Spotlight: Well, That Didn’t Go As Planned

The past several years we’ve closed out the final installment of the Aftercare Spotlight by focusing on resolutions that equestrians and horsemen (and women!) can contemplate adopting as their own. It’s also one of the few times during the year (some years the only time) that I press pause on covering other horses, people and incredibly worthwhile organizations and focus inward on my own life, horses and goals for the coming year.

Resolutions are as much about taking stock of the year that was as they are about looking ahead to the year to come. Last year at this time I was excited and proud as I looked back at the resolutions I’d made in 2016 and all my horse and I had done to accomplish them (see here for last year’s New Year’s Resolutions). We’d added many new experiences to our repertoire and had worked on improving our flexibility, balance and strength. I only had one horse when I made those resolutions, but a month later my stable doubled to two, and by the end of the year I included both in my resolution for 2017.

That resolution was simple: “to make the lives of those I care about better in the coming year.” For my horses, that meant giving them whatever would help them become a better version of themselves. What I thought that would mean was more lessons and valuable training experiences; horse shows; regular therapies like massage and chiropractic work to help support them as they learned to use their bodies in new ways; and lots of riding.

What that actually meant was something entirely different.

To offer a brief recap for those who don’t get the pleasure of hearing me banter on about my horses incessantly, I have two Thoroughbreds:

Lucky (Jockey Club name Lucky to be Wild, age 10): Never made it to the races, and after bowing a tendon as a 2-year-old, got a “brief” vacation from ages 2 until 8 when he and I met. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

Cooper (Jockey Club name I’ll Show Them, age 11): A horse I met and one of the first horses I’d advertised when I worked as marketing director for Three Chimneys farm. I bought him off his trainer as a 10-year-old to retire with a goal of making him into a fun low-level show horse for myself or someone else.

While I thought this year was going to be about bettering them through riding, lessoning, showing and pampering, it ended up being more about bettering my horses through an emergency vet visit, lots of vet work, medications, more vet work, diagnostics, and yet more vet work. For someone who has been lucky enough to have a number of “easy  keepers” over the years, this was an unpleasant surprise to say the least.

The abridged version goes like this: Cooper has dabbled with enteritis, an allergic reaction to a spider bite, a tail injury, reoccurring gastrointestinal issues and more hoof issues and swollen legs than I can count. Lucky, who has been a bit tightly wound since I met him (for some reason that’s part of what made me fall in love with him), began presenting a series of odd behaviors, including fainting, becoming increasingly spooky and exhibiting a few aggressive outbursts.

While I don’t think I would have handled any of these setbacks any differently had I not made that resolution a year ago this week, I definitely thought time and time again about the promise (resolution) I’d made to myself this year.

For Cooper, that meant that a lot of specialized care. I probably have sat on his back less than 25 times since I bought him nearly two years ago (and a number of those rides lasted less than 10 minutes because he just didn’t feel right). Instead, he’s had a customized diet; quarterly dental work; supplements for his gut, feet and joints; and lots of leg sweats, hoof packs and sole paint, among other things. When I felt I was getting into a “two steps forward, one step back” rut as I approached my busiest time of the year work-wise, I decided to conserve my funds anywhere I could, pick up a few extra freelance opportunities and send him to a local equine rehabilitation farm for a month or two so he could get the best of care regardless of my schedule. He’s now been there for 5+ months and is the picture of health. If all goes well, I plan to start him back under saddle in the spring and see what I’ve got to work with.

Lucky was a completely different story, but one I am equally hopeful about. As the year began this past February and into March and Lucky began demonstrating the odd, dangerous behaviors mentioned earlier, to the point I felt it was in my best interest to stop riding him. I enlisted the help of my veterinarian (I figured she could use a break from Cooper!). We began trying to rule out everything from a testosterone imbalance to a brain tumor, and after months of tests, he was diagnosed with three things: sleep deprivation, vision impairment and chronic Lyme disease. While his unique combination of symptoms didn’t point to any one ailment, the combination of the three connected all of the dots.

Lucky was in a very active pasture with several other horses his age. He played and roughhoused right along with them, so it never occurred to me he wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping among them. That, combined with less than perfect vision (which could have been caused or exacerbated by the Lyme disease) and the hypersensitivity to sensory perceptions (which can also be a possible side effect of Lyme) could easily cause some sleepless nights, and lack of sleep can lead to fainting, aggression and other odd behaviors. Even horses need their zzzs!

Since identifying and beginning to treat the issues in play, Lucky has made slow but steady progress. He’s now in the most sedentary field on the farm. We shipped him to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute to be seen by an eye specialist to truly understand the eye abnormalities my veterinarian had noticed during one of his exams. This specialist has since checked him several times since so we can document any changes and track the progression (if there is any – so far there have been no further changes). He just finished a three-month round of doxycycline to combat the Lyme disease. I can honestly say that as tough as our rides were at the beginning of the year, December has brought some of the best rides we’ve ever had together – much more supple and sane with minimal spooking and zero acts of aggression.

It’s funny how you go into a situation – whether it be your New Year’s Resolution, a day on the job, a round at a horse show – and it ends up being so different than how you envisioned it. I truly feel that I fulfilled my 2017 New Year’s Resolution to my horses (as much as my non-millionaire means would allow) and did right by them however I could, but it was so vastly different than how I’d planned. It may not have been the equestrian year that I wanted, but it was a learning experience that brought me closer to my horses, my vet (a dear friend, an incredible diagnostic sleuth and a saint of a human), my barn family and so many others. While I wish the year had gone differently for those two horses, I wouldn’t do anything differently than I did.

This past year gave me a new perspective on both life with horses and life in general. As the popular saying goes, “When we make plans, God laughs.” So, for 2018 my resolution is simple: be flexible.

I have two horses that – touch wood – will start the year healthy and ready to ride. Sure, I will set many goals for each of them, and for myself in my non-barn life, and hopefully we’ll achieve a few of them, but if we (or I) need to adjust our goals based on any number of reasons, that is okay… I will let that be okay. It won’t be a failure, just a deviation or a new path to explore. I resolve to try my best to be flexible and deal with life as it comes.

Tell us in the comments section or tag us on Facebook with your New Year’s Resolutions. You never know – it might help someone else make one for themselves!

Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.

Email Jen your story ideas at Jenlroytz@gmail.com or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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