The Trouble with Colts

… is that sooner or later they are either going to produce more colts or they are going to have to cease being colts, and since time and funds are stretching, the latter option is the only one I can take. Unfortunately, this means that our beloved vet has to trundle over, knock out my poor baby horse, and start chopping bits off him.

I know, I know, it isn’t that bad. I’ve watched a gelding surgery before and it wasn’t traumatic at all. However, this is Thunder we’re talking about: Thunder, who was born tame; Thunder, whose only fault is his excessive friendliness; Thunder, who at only a few weeks old would whinny when he saw me, in delight; Thunder, patient, willing, with all of his mother’s gentleness, the apple of my eye. Ergo, I would very much like to cover him in bubble-wrap and keep him in a sterilised oxygen chamber.

This was not easy.

Three things made it easier, though: our vet has more than thirty years’ experience and knows his business; I saw Achilles gelded and he was perfectly fine; and there’s Someone named God Who loves horses very much and has been with Thunder for every single second of his young life, and Who has a big plan for one little horse, or He would never have made him as amazing as He did. So I pulled myself together and heartlessly locked Thunder away in a little pen by himself with no food, water or company, for 15 hours, because he was going to go under general anaesthetic. Then I went to bed and watched Thunder being gelded about twenty times in my dreams. I swear, this whole scene is harder on me than it is on the actual horse.

Dr. Louis rocked up on Friday morning to find a worried colt and his very frazzled owner ready and waiting. I tried to un-frazzle in an attempt to stop Thunder from fretting and led him calmy over to the clean paddock we’d selected for his surgery. Despite being rather stressed out after a night alone, Thun plodded calmly beside me, lead rein slack, polite and obedient. I felt like a traitor, even though I knew that I was doing what was best for him. He won’t miss being a colt, of course; he doesn’t even know what happened to him, but the operation itself has got to hurt, if only a little.

The vet injected a sedative into Thunder’s jugular vein and, within seconds, he relaxed, lowering his head and pressing it against me (I nearly broke down at that moment, but managed to keep what was left of my composure). With the help of three workers, the vet ran a rope around Thunder’s neck and hindlegs to help pull him down and secure him for the operation. Then, he gave him another injection, this time of anaesthetic, and Thunder was looking ready to flop over by himself when the workers hauled at the ropes. He wasn’t too keen on going down and staggered backwards, the vet yelling “PULL!” and the workers yelling Zulu, but eventually he fell onto his side on the hay and everyone leapt into action. I flung myself sobbing over his lifeless neck. No, not really, I jumped on his neck and unceremoniously sat thereon to hold him still. (He was under anaesthetic, but not too deep, which could be dangerous; it also hadn’t fully kicked in yet). His legs were tied up out of the way, a clean sack placed under his head to protect his eye, and the vet got to work. Using a giant clamp thing to pinch off nerve endings and blood vessels, the vet kept bleeding to a minimum – there was hardly any blood and that was just from the skin incision. Thunder, peacefully asleep, didn’t know a thing. In fifteen minutes flat, the surgery was over. The vet left the incision open so that the operation site could drain out, injected 25cc of penicillin into Thunder’s neck to prevent tetanus, and untied the ropes. Sprawled in the sunshine, blissfully unaware of anything that had happened to him, Thunder was left to wake up by himself.

He must have been having fun down there, because I stayed by him to make sure he came

Out like a light

round, and he sure took his time. He slumbered away, breathing evenly, for the next forty minutes while I stroked his neck and squeaked variations on “Thunder, it’s time to wake up now”, “Thundy, my boy, you’re oversleeping” and eventually “THUNDER, WAKE UP!”

I needn’t have worried. About an hour after going under anaesthetic, the gelding suddenly raised his head, struck out his forelegs and leapt to his feet, tottering off in a slightly drunken beeline for the nearest patch of grass. Still just a little wobbly, he lowered his head and tucked into the fresh, green spring grass. He didn’t have a clue about what had just happened; he just ate, happy as a bird. His pals from the paddock next door trotted up to say hello, but Thunder flatly ignored them and ate and ate and ate.

Two hours later, I brought him a bucket of water and found him still eating and virtually fully conscious again; he refused the water (saying that the bucket smelt funny) but was not dehydrated. By evening he was back in the paddock with his friends, eating supper perfectly and looking perfect.

He’s still fine; he hardly noticed that anything happened at all, despite the fact that the vet didn’t give him any painkiller. I treat the wound with antibiotic spray and get him to run around a bit if it swells badly, but apart from that, there’s not much to worry about.

The past few weeks have been eventful for my Friesian/labrador crossbred. Since the lungeing ring is still a work in progress, and his manners are near perfect in hand, I started to introduce him to the saddle and bridle so that he could get used to them so long.

First, while he was tied to a gate for his grooming, I took the reins off Arwen’s bridle with its soft, loose-ring snaffle and slipped it gently over his head. Having something rub up over the eyes, then the ears being squashed and finally a great metal thing wrenched into their mouths can seriously frighten some youngers – I knew a Friesian stallion who was gentle in all respects, but had to have his bridle taken apart and put on sideways when he was first backed – but Thunder kept his head low and, when I slid my thumb into his mouth, he opened up and took the bit without a squeak of protest. Slipping the headpiece over his ears and behind his poll was no trouble at all and he didn’t even pull back on his lead rein. I let him mouth the bit while I groomed him for fifteen minutes or so, and he settled remarkably quickly. At first, of course, he champed and chewed and shook his head, but in a few minutes he was just chewing a little, and by the time I had groomed him, he was standing perfectly still, holding the bit calmly in his mouth.

The next time I bridled him he still kept his head low and didn’t shake his head at all, and the chewing lasted for only a few minutes. He also keeps his head low to have the bridle taken off and spits the bit out like a gentleman (weird as that sounds), and by the third time, he only gave it half-hearted champ or two before going to sleep in the sunshine.

What did I tell you? He’s a horse in a million.

The saddle was next, and I expected little trouble, since in my (extremely limited) experience the saddle is much less invasive than the bridle. It’s the girth that bugs them, and Siobhan took the saddle without any problems at all until she saw the sunlight glinting off the stirrups. Then we had fireworks.

They grow up so fast

I started by rubbing the saddle gently over his body, omitting the usual first step of rubbing a numnah over him and putting it on; he wore a blanket all winter, so the numnah would have made no difference. Letting him smell and lick the saddle, I touched him all over with it. This got absolutely no reaction apart from Thunder looking minutely interested and then faintly bored. I slipped the saddle gently onto his back, letting him take the weight slowly. He stood calmly, watching me with mild amusement. I untied him and led him around in small circles so that he could get used to the feeling of having the saddle on his back and how it moved, with the girth and stirrups still up. Tipping his ears back, he listened to the squeak of the saddle, walking by my side with the lead rein slack between us. I stopped him and he immediately began to graze and went on grazing as I slid the girth down and buckled it as loosely as possible, so that he could only just feel the strap on his hair. Thunder flatly ignored it and even with the girth pulled up relatively tight, enough to keep the saddle still, he made no fuss at all. Eventually I let the stirrups down, put two long reins on him and sent him around in a small circle at a walk. I can lunge him a little bit, but not much; I just wanted him to trot with the saddle on, and two reins make it a lot easier to control his circles. He trotted once around – a little rushed in the beginning, but quickly relaxing – and I called it a day.

Arwen’s news is relatively quiet; despite having a completely brainless moment and bucking a friend of mine off (in the arena at a very slow canter) yesterday, she has been a real little angel. I’ve ridden her out twice in the company of a friend on Skye – more on Skye’s splendid news later – and she was perfect, walking nicely on a loose rein and having no spooks. Both rides were very short and along safe routes that Arwen likes, but she was noticeably calmer with company. She does have loony moments going up the hill where we normally gallop home, especially when Dancer thunders up to investigate, but she calms down quickly and none of it is hectic. On the schooling side, she is getting better at bringing her head in and cantering on the correct leg. We jumped on Wednesday for our lesson and she was foolish in the beginning, stopping twice at a very small 60cm upright, but after a while I convinced her to jump and we finished off jumping a 1.00m spread with flying colours. Each time she jumped in very nice rhythm, so that, at least, has improved.

Siobhan was being stupid with Rain and the girl who rides her for her lessons. She had started a habit of coming to a complete halt at the exit to the arena and staying there, refusing to turn, refusing to walk on, refusing, in fact, to do anything very much until I would storm over and bellow at her until she meekly plodded forth. The annoying part was that she would never try it with me on board, so there wasn’t much I could do. She was, in fact, being absolutely stunning; responsive, quiet, sensible, cantering three sides of the arena in ease and comfort. She doesn’t canter the fourth side, which is downhill, because I don’t much like cantering downhill in general and on Siobhan in particular. The mutton withers and short pony neck give you the illusion that if she so much as sneezes you’ll catapult straight over her head. We’re going to start working on that, though.

On Wednesday, she finally pulled her arena-sour trick and got a mighty lesson on that from the Mutterer and I. Hopefully, that will have pulled her together.

And now for the most splendid news of all. My beautiful, prancing AHS Survivor, majestic Skye, is sound again. After months of being lame on and off and having to rest and general worry, she is her bounding self again, full of zeal. She’s very unfit with a big hay belly and rather less of the frantic energy that she used to have, but riding her is still like typing on your own keyboard or putting on a pair of old shoes that have moulded themselves to your feet, except twenty times more exciting.

It’s amazing to have a go-anywhere do-anything horse again; one that’s up for anything, game for anything, lionhearted and always reliable, whilst being sprightly and spirited and wonderful. We are under instructions to ride slowly in case we sprain that muscle again before she is fully fit, but even the short canters we allow ourselves have been amazing. Well, I say “canter”. I tried to make her canter on Thursday.

Me: Okay, beauty, we’re going to canter really slowly. Ready… easy… canter.

Skye: HURRAH! [bursts into a flat-out gallop, snorting like an Arab on steroids]

Me: WHOA! [hauls Skye back into a trot] I can see we’re going to have to work on that. One, two, three… canter…

Skye: YIPPPEEE! [heads for the hills]

Me: Slow down! Slow down! [getting her to trot again] One more time, girl, before you sprain something again. Now. Slowly. Really slowly. Caaaan…

Skye: YEEEEHAAAAA! [takes off like a shot with her nose and tail in the air and giving a little buck for good measure]

Me: WHOA! SKYE! STOP! STOP!

Skye: Okay! [spins around and dives off the path and into the bushes, ploughing to a halt amidst the wreckage]

I did eventually get her to canter, but she wasn’t keen on the idea. And never once in that plunging, snorting, bucking frenzy was I ever afraid, because I was riding a horse called Skye who belongs to God.

A horse in a million? More like the best horse of them all.

The best view

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