My first 13 or so years of experiences with horses were overshadowed by a lot of fear – on my part and the horses. I was learning to ride and train based on fear motivation. I was often ignoring my gut which was screaming at me to do something different. I found refuge from a life that was difficult in a barn that at least felt safer than school.
I put my head down and competed, worked as a working student, and rode more days of the week than not. I loved horses – I just didn’t want to be competing. I’m not sure I even wanted to be riding. My first paid job was in a barn. I had my sights set on a life and career with horses.
Then I met a mare named Shadow. She was the first to crack open the hard shell that I had built around my heart. Compassion for this Tennessee Walking mare was the first light to reach the pain and the fear I felt inside. My outrage on her behalf was the first time I found my voice and refused to listen to what others had to say.
Shadow was an abandoned mare with a severe case of laminitis. She could barely walk around on her elf feet. I knew she wasn’t well and I fought to save her. I tried to get animal control involved to no avail. I tried to help her with kindness and Bute paste. I would carry her buckets of water so she wouldn’t have to traverse the steep bank of the creek to get a drink.
Eventually, I had a vet do a nerve block so we could pick up her feet. I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing at the time. I could see the perfect half-moon of her coffin bones. The rest of her front feet looked like the underside of a mushroom cap with black, smelly goop oozing out.
I now know that I was getting a gruesome anatomy lesson – I was looking at her laminae. The black ooze was the rest of her hoof that had liquefied. I now don’t know how she hadn’t actually sloughed off her entire hoof capsule on one or both front feet. Somehow she stayed standing on her bones.
I would love to say that this is a triumphant story of how I rescued her and brought her back to full health. The truth is that she continued to stand in that field even after the vet had been out to see what was going on. The vet was fresh out of vet school and didn’t help me out. While she had agreed to take a look – the horse wasn’t mine. What could she do?
I convinced the property owner to agree to sign her over to me since she hadn’t heard from, or been paid by, the woman who owned Shadow in over 4 years. That meant this mare had no hoof care, vet care, or any other care in over 4 years.
Armed with a “contract” that Shadow was mine, I went straight to the barn. It was 9pm on a Saturday night. She was out in the field lying down which I knew she did too frequently from the pressure soars all over her belly. I held her head in my lap and waited for the vet to come euthanize her. The emergency fee was worth it. I wanted her to stop suffering.
For the first time in my life, I stood up for what I knew was right. I wasn’t going to let the professionals tell me what to do. I was going to follow my gut and heart. I was going to listen to the cry for help without regard for how others would view me. Shadow was my first lesson in authentic power.
Shadow led me down a new path. She was the first horse that I ever really knew who had been so blatantly mistreated. It was thanks to her that I became involved in equine rescue and the humane treatment of animals. She cracked open my heart so that I could begin to see that there was more going on in my beloved world of horses than I had been aware.