Nat's back - and oh how we've missed her. It hasn't been an easy few weeks, but here she explains where she's been. Have a box of tissues handy...
I must start this blog by apologising for my apparent disappearance over the last couple of months, but in typical Nat style (who you may be starting to gather is the human version of the number 13..) , the end of 2017 proved itself to be pretty hideous.
Sadly, in November, I made the decision to say goodbye to the Hooligan. Things had started a few weeks previously when I realised that he was dropping weight once again and had returned to his rather zombie-like cribbing on the fences.
He'd come over to see me when I arrived but had become alarmingly stiff behind, a sign that he was clearly spending a long time indulging in his beloved habit.
Tobi had been diagnosed with hock and pastern arthritis some years ago, plus navicular in both front feet, but aside from toe drag in trot, his soundness, miraculously, had rarely been an issue.
I monitored the situation for another week, but despite plenty of grass, he was still choosing to crib over eat and, as a result, getting even stiffer. So at the end of November, I decided to bring him home.
He settled back into his old routine straight away - out with the Diva in the day (by this point, Polly was in hospital - more on this later), but I had grumbling concerns.
I was worried about his legs and feet. He seemed sore and stiff and was particularly struggling on the hard ground again.
I also sat one night and watched him furiously cribbing on the stable door. This was nothing new - in the six years I've had him, stable cribbing has always been his thing.
I went in to rug him up the next morning and the snarling horse had returned. The behaviours that had all disappeared when he was living out - the box walking, the weaving - they were all back.
He didn’t seem particularly unhappy as such, and once out in the field for the day with the Diva, he was seemingly back to his usual self.
But all the reasons I had turned him out full time to begin with, they were back. We were back. Right back in the place I didn’t want him to be.
He was 13 with an abundance of health problems that were slowly getting worse and it was heartbreaking to watch his stressy-behaviours return upon being stabled.
As any animal owner will know, it's rare that the decision to say goodbye to a beloved friend is cut and dry.
If you wait for the day that you stand in front of your depressed and ailing horse, have you not waited too long?
Quality of life will always be more important to me than quantity and I felt that, although we could have continued on for some time, the only person I would be doing it for was me.
Tobi had enjoyed six super months living out, but things were deteriorating and to come back home to try and get it under control would mean he would once again have to endure the mental stress of being stabled for a portion of his time.
So the decision was made and he had one last lovely day out with his beloved Diva and then went very peacefully to sleep with his long (long!) suffering mother by his side.
I hope that, if he's up there in horse-heaven, no doubt leading the other residents astray in hooligan-like activities, he looks down fondly on a human who only ever wanted the best for him. But I do miss him an awful lot.
Problems with Polly
At the same time as this was happening, I started having a problem with Polly. Up until this point she'd been doing fantastically.
She had the go-ahead from the physio to do more work and was moving brilliantly. That was until her canter, which has always been her best pace, started to develop problems.
It began with a few little changes behind, disuniting at random moments and then some out of character head flinging.
The first few times, I thought she had simply muddled her legs up, but when she started following it up with some impressive bucks and then slamming the anchors on and refusing to move, this horrible feeling started to creep in. I’d been here before.
Physical checks all over her back and body showed nothing, and she appeared to be sound. I started to wonder whether it was me, or the saddle, but then she continued to do it on the lunge with no saddle on.
She also started to rest her hind legs. Really rest them. With a hock problem already at the back of my mind, I called the vet.
She showed a very slight positive response to flexion, but nothing majorly to write home about all things considered.
Lungeing her for the vet was a bit of a nightmare because it was a rather windy day and Polly decided that leaping in the air and showing us all the underside of her belly was far more entertaining than showing us her canter problems.
The vet agreed there was something not quite right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. So we sent her to hospital.
As expected, the Prima Donna emerged in all her glory and refused to let anyone touch her. Then she refused to walk into her box and had to be chased in by people flapping things. It was going to be a long couple of days.
After an initial examination that involved Polly trying to squash people, we took her out and trotted her up several times. Then she had a session on the lunge.
She was rigid through her back, but nothing major was standing out other than she just didn’t seem to be moving properly. When she didn’t respond to the belly lift pressure point, the words kissing spines were thrown about. Great.
We decided to go for a gamma scan to find out which areas we needed to look at and she was booked in for the next day. Hot spots were found in the underside of her thoracic and very mildly in both hocks, so we now had areas to focus on.
Polly spent 48 hours in isolation due to needing the radioactive substance she had been injected with (this is expelled as urine) and then it was the weekend, so she enjoyed her stay in a very costly hotel until her X-rays on the Monday.
The X-rays showed mild bony changes in her lower hock joints but nothing at this stage in her back.
The vet decided that we wouldn’t panic about her back just yet, there could well be some changes starting to occur here that weren’t developed enough to show on X-ray, but he felt that the issue we were dealing with regards the canter was coming from the hocks.
If the back is developing arthritis and it starts to become an issue, he said, she’s sensitive enough that I’m positive she’ll tell you.
Which, if you know Polly, roughly translates as “you’ll be flung into orbit”.
Not the best Christmas
On the Monday afternoon, she had both hocks medicated and we collected her on the Tuesday evening where she returned home to a 12-week rehab plan.
It was less than a week after losing Tobi and I now had a seven year old with DJD of her hocks and possibly her back and a nine-year-old cob with a windpipe about as useful as a McDonalds straw is for drinking one of their milkshakes.
You can probably see why I disappeared off the radar for a while!
The Diva had an unscheduled holiday in December as I just didn’t have anything left in me by that point and then I came down with that dreadful cold and decided to give the rest of 2017 up as a bad job!
Polly’s rehab has taken a bit of a backseat with Christmas, but we'll be back to it now the festivities (and much drinking of Baileys!) are over.
Regardless of her long-term outcome, Polly has been worth her weight in gold as a companion to the Diva, who obviously has quite strict needs in terms of the type of horse she can be paired up with, so from that side of things she's absolutely priceless to me and, despite the absolute heartbreak of the last few weeks, I have absolutely no regrets about buying her.
I like to think that my horses find me for a reason and Polly is no different. She'll get absolutely everything she needs and if we can continue our original dressage plan then it’s a huge bonus, if not, well, she will live the life of absolute riley regardless.
Whatever happens, I think that the 2018 blog could be an interesting read!
Happy New Year to you all,