Nat's blog: How to age 20 years in a week

Things haven't been going well for Nat and her horsey gang recently, with multiple trips to the vet. Despite a tough few weeks, Nat explains why she's keeping positive and hasn't been put off horse ownership just yet... 

The last couple of weeks have probably gone down as some of the most heart-breaking in all my years with horses. And believe me when I say I’ve had more than my fair share of bad luck!

If you read my last blog, you'll know that I was taking both horses up to hospital to get to the bottom of their respective issues. 

First up was the hooligan. 

Hooligan in Horsepital

If I'm honest, a few days before he went in, I'd already decided that, if my suspicions were correct, I'd probably be retiring him from ridden work. 

So he was sedated and his back x-rays were taken. The result was that he has five dorsal spinous processes just behind his wither that are extremely close. 

Fortunately, they don't touch when he's resting, but there was some evidence of bony changes in this area and the vet told me that they couldn't rule out the fact that these might touch once the weight of a saddle and rider was on his back. 

The vet suggested we could give him the summer off and then start him again in the Autumn, training him to work long and low to try and avoid these pieces of bone touching, but my mind was made up. 

I was told that the hooligan was totally comfortable at rest and that was the most important thing. So he came home to officially retire. One down. The worst still to come.

The diva's turn 

A few days later, we headed back with the Diva, to investigate her extremely noisy breathing during exercise. 

I'm a fairly level-headed person, I can watch procedures happening to my own horses and approach it from a very pragmatic point of view, but the over-ground scope (a fantastic piece of kit, I must add) was an awful experience. 

The Diva just couldn’t take to the tube up her nose and was extremely distressed while being ridden, which was really upsetting to witness. 

It was made worse by the fact that it was probably one of the hottest days of the year so far, so the pair of us came out of the hospital arena looking like we’d just done ten rounds in a boxing ring. 

The footage went off to be looked at and the Diva then went for her tracheal wash. It was as the camera was headed down her windpipe that the vet started to look puzzled. 

They performed the tracheal and lung wash, which Flo coped with fantastically. I was asked if it was ok to take her down to x-ray, as there appeared to be something wrong with the appearance of her trachea. 

By now another vet had come over to look at the screen, again, with puzzlement.

Me and my long-suffering Dad went to grab some lunch while Florence went for an x-ray and then we had a long wait while the results were discussed with the senior vet. 

At 5pm, we were told the findings - the Diva has a rare and likely congenital disorder that means her trachea is permanently collapsed inwards, from her throat to her lungs. 

It's a poorly understood condition and there's no cure. Due to the extra effort to breathe, the airway is then sucked in even further. 

As well as this, she has a marked collapse of her pharynx at exercise. 

Of all the outcomes, it was something we hadn’t even considered. The hours of trawling the Internet had thrown this outcome up only once or twice, it’s that rare. 

The only suggestion from the vet was to try and get her weight down, in an attempt to make everything a bit easier for her. 

I was advised to keep her in light work, but to be aware that she must be allowed to stop when she needs to get her breath back. 

This effectively meant that she would be no longer able to sustain anything other than very light hacking and some light schooling at walk and a bit of trot. 

As she doesn't get enough oxygen in to her body during exercise, this explained the other symptoms that she'd been showing - poor performance, tight muscles and severe fatigue. 

I drove us all home in a state of absolute shock. It's testament to this incredible little pony that she has tried so hard for me, particularly in the last 12 months. 

Despite everything, she has given me 100%, never wanting to let me down. I can only imagine now how well we could have done if she was completely fit and healthy, but sadly, we'll never find out.

I spent the next few days in a state of total shock, but as with anything with horses, you have to pull yourself together and carry on. 

Nothing has changed in Flo’s mind, she's still the same pony - utterly demanding but totally lovable - and I've tried to keep that in mind. 

We're still hacking out every day and managing small amounts of trot and canter. 

She still believes she’s the most important pony to ever grace the earth and, if it’s even possible, she has become even more special to me.

A new addition

Prior to the week from hell, I'd arranged to go and see another pony, because apparently I’m crazy enough to believe that going back to three horses is a good idea. 

A long story cut very short, I've welcomed the wonderful Tia to my (now entirely useless - see how I can joke about it??) team of horses. 

Her arrival didn’t go entirely without incident, when the clutch on my wagon went on the motorway on the way home, which I found out when I put my foot on it and was met with a pedal that was about as responsive as a piece of boiled cabbage. 

By some miracle we made it home safely and Speedy T, nicknamed due to her desire to do everything at 300mph, is settling in nicely.

The hooligan has gone out to grass livery a few miles away and is thoroughly embracing his new life of doing absolutely nothing, which, in all fairness, he’s spent the last three years rehearsing for! 

A few days before he went, I took him along to a local show to have a go at an in-hand class, largely so that I had something to show for six years of, let’s face it, mostly misery. 

It didn’t get off to a great start when I lost him across the show ground with a bridle between his legs, but he behaved very well in his two classes and came out with two 2nds. 

This sounds great, but given there were only two in both classes, it becomes slightly less impressive! 

The very helpful judge explained that he couldn’t place him higher as he just doesn’t move properly behind, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the horse is a mechanical mess and physically can’t, so I simply thanked him and accepted my rosettes. 

We got some nice pictures of us together, and I have some frillys to hang up that I can proudly write Tobi’s name on the back of. 

It marked the end of a dream that never materialised, with a horse who had so much potential.  It’s a good job I love him!

Now I just have the girls at home, who are getting on like a house on fire. Speedy T had her teeth done yesterday and a new saddle is being fitted this week. 

The plan is for her to take over as my competition pony - mostly dressage and perhaps a bit of working hunter, as she has quite the pop in her. 

But she's seriously green and needs a lot of re-schooling, which is my speciality, so I can’t wait to get cracking.

So here’s to new beginnings, happy retirements and a lot of hacking!

‘Til next time,

A considerably more wrinkled Nat x