Monday, April 13, 2015

The Shadow of Smith Rock

(Photo shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia)

Yesterday was kind of a hard day.

For almost two years, I’ve been mulling over a simple question: Can I continue with Blue?

For the first half of that time it was just a financial question. Since last May, it has also been an ethical question.

Last year, Blue he had one completion in three tries. He was lame most of the summer into the fall. This spring, as my career continues to demand more and more of my available cognitive load, I looked for a part-lease to keep Blue active and help cover my board costs.

The first lessee lasted almost two months, but she had to drive an hour to get to my barn and decided it wasn’t worth it. The second person who came to see him was a more serious rider with bigger ambitions. On the first day she came to try him out, he was visibly lame. Again. Somehow she saw it in he heart to give him a second chance… and he promptly showed her his lazy, arena sour side that has come out since we haven’t been able to get out and do distance.

I have talked to a lot of people. I have talked to trimmers, traditional farriers, vets, nutrition experts and my endurance mentors. I have read books and websites until my eyes burn. I put Blue on a low-sugar, low-carb, low-iron diet. I keep him in a sand-and-gravel drylot with no access to grass—the driest, hoof-friendliest possible environment in our region short of him literally living indoors on a treadmill made of bentonite.

Still, his feet reek of thrush and are tender to the touch.

To be frank, the math just isn’t practical anymore. At best I am seeing him once or twice a week and not doing any distance work. Half the time he is off on the front end anyway. The west side board bills are right on the edge of what I can afford before we even start talking about vets and fancy diet and remedial farriery.

HE is not the problem. HE is my all-time number one favorite horse—more beloved than even the saintly Topper, who I trained from babyhood.

On Facebook (most of my social life), Becky asked how people can afford multiple horses. The answers fell into two categories pretty much: own land and don’t have other hobbies.

If I owned land, I could postpone my decision. Blue would have a year or two of rest. Maybe he’d become a permanent pasture pet with occasional trail and camping duty or maybe he would finally adjust to the wet climate and recover his soundness.  And then, when he was 17 or 18 years old, we might be able to do two or three more years of LD—if things went well. Then full retirement as a much-loved but broken down old friend and a mentor to my next horse.

Since I don’t own land, that's all just pointless fantasy. Blue’s going to summer camp.

A nice trainer, fairly new to the area but highly recommended, is going to work with Blue. She lives in Terrebonne, (almost literally) in the shadow of Smith Rock, with the driest, grittiest sand-and-lava turnouts and arena I have seen in a long time. A cinder road takes her straight to one of the horse-fords at Smith Rock Park. No trailer needed. I am SERIOUSLY jealous of her place.

She will continue the strict diet and start him on a serious exercise regimen (you might see him at Grizzly or Still Memorial—say hi!). She is a trimmer and will keep fighting the good fight on his long toes.

And, a month from now, if the dry ground and wide-open spaces have done what I fear/expect them to do, she will help me find Blue a new home on the dry side of the mountains. She will help me make sure they are the kind of people who are thoughtful enough to do right by him.

Here's the bottom line for me after more than three years in the swampland: If all signs point to him being healthy and sound as a dry-side horse, then he needs to go back to being a dry-side horse. My emotional attachment to him is mostly irrelevant when the ultimate question is his physical well-being.

So yesterday I left with a full trailer and came home with an empty one. I'm optimistic that the dry climate will make the difference. And if Blue ends up an active, sound confidence-builder for some lucky Central Oregonian (and maybe I occasionally get to see him at rides) I'm going to call it a win.