I feel like there’s still so much I wanted to update y’all on in my long summer of no blogging what-so-ever. Of course, a lot of that involved horse show updates that seem too painful to write now, but I am feeling good enough about life to catch y’all up on some non-Simon related areas. Today we delve into the oh so fun topic of my knees.
For the past several years, I’ve had pain in both knees. If I do a squat, they crackle and pop audibly, but didn’t hurt at first. It felt like a general weakness there, but I figured it was because I was fat and out of shape. Riding in Texas didn’t hurt at all, so I kind of ignored the problem.
I went to Joshua Tree in December 2015, and realized that it hurt to go up the stairs at night after a day of hiking. Again, I blamed my fatness and general lack of physical fitness, but I started needed ibuprofen to get through days of high physical activity.
Joshua Tree National Park. Worth the pain.
When I went to Japan in May 2016, I noticed there was more general pain, but again it seemed like a dull weakness. I mean, who wouldn’t be sore and tired after walking 15+ miles a day when they’re used to a desk job?
About six months after my trip, I injured my right knee in a very old lady way—crossing my legs on the couch. I heard an audible “POP” and the thing pretty much immediately swelled to twice its normal size. Instead of going to a doctor, I chose to “walk it off” and hobbled with a bit of a limp for a week. Although it gradually got better, that knee never felt the same.
Flash forward to April 2018. My knees hurt every time I had to squat down or push up from a low chair. My right knee was still very unstable, and would buckle. Riding caused pain, and I realized it was time to finally go see a doctor.
After x-rays and an MRI, I was told that I have bad conformation. I’ll never pass a vet check. Essentially, I’m over at the knee. My hip and my ankle line up in a straight line, but my knee is offset to the inside. Because the knee isn’t underneath me, every step I’ve ever taken grinds my kneecap to the “correct” position. It’s been like that since I was born, but can only be corrected when people are young. So, I’m stuck with the problem.
It’s pretty common, but the doctor said my knees are terrible for someone my age with this condition. He usually sees women with my level of pain and arthritis in their 40’s and 50’s. But since I spent a solid 6+ years figure skating (including lots of slamming down on jumps on my right knee) and have been very active, I’m in bad shape.
He figured that when I heard my knee pop and it blew up the December before, I actually dislocated my knee cap. Whoops.
Day after surgery. June 2018
So in June, I had surgery on my right knee with a procedure to relieve some of the pressure and make the grinding hurt less. He refused to do both knees at the same time, although now I wished I had pushed harder on this issue. In it, the doctor repaired a meniscus tear (why my right knee felt so unstable) and realized the problem was way worse than the MRI showed.
I have stage 3 (of 4) arthritis in my right knee, and the damaged cartilage is tearing off the bone in chunks. My surgeon wanted to do a different procedure to micro-fracture the bone and inject with stem cells, but it required six weeks non-weight bearing (total dependence on crutches) and total six month recovery. After my surgery, I spent less than 48 hours on crutches and that was enough to put me near a nervous breakdown. I declined the second surgery.
3 weeks post surgery. Grooming for Simon at a horse show in July 2018.
Now, nine months later, my knees hurt every day. Usually it’s a dull pain that’s constant, and worse when I get up or sit down and of course when I ride. On the worst days, it’s bad enough that it’s hard to fall asleep and riding is close to excruciating.
I’m experimenting with different kinds of treatment. I take glucosamine, which does nothing. I ice after any exercise, which helps a little. I’ve tried ceramic fabrics, and more recently CBD products which helped more than anything else so far.
Basically, I’m looking forward to getting myself new knees for my 45th birthday. At 34, I’m too young for a replacement now. No doctor will give it to me because the parts will wear out too quickly.
These knees are great at pool sitting though.
Some days, this gets me really discouraged, but I refuse to give up riding. So I’m trying to make the best of things and learning pain management techniques to get me through.
When I feel like I’ve been robbed of something, I try to focus on the things to be thankful for. It sounds pious, but I assure you it’s not. Rather, I have to concentrate on the amazing experience that was Tim and Simon instead of feeling like I’ve had all my happiness ripped away from me. Because frankly, I feel like I’ve had all my happiness ripped away from me.
Yesterday was my local horse show organization’s year end banquet. It was, to say the least, an emotional day for me. One that I coped with by drinking more screwdrivers than I will admit to on this blog. But even as I collected my dead horse’s (probably… I’m waiting on TIP stuff but that’s a long shot) final year end awards, I couldn’t help but think about all the gifts Simon gave me.
My apartment looks like a 12 y/o girl lives here. I’m good with it.
He gave me piles of satin. It’s been over ten years since I’ve won a year-end ribbon, and I closed out our horse show chapter with my best year yet. Reserve Champion 2’0″ Rusty Stirrup (from one blue ribbon at one horse show… it’s clearly a small division), Reserve Champion 2’9″ Modified Hunters with my trainer, third in a very competitive 2’6″ Low/Child Adult Hunters (the ribbon I’m most proud of, and worked the hardest for), sixth in 2’6″ Low/Ch Adult Equitation (which would have been much higher if I didn’t make two bone-headed mistakes at our year end show… that’s on me buddy), and sixth in the 2’6″ Low Hunters with my trainer (essentially our schooling division). In the past, if I won a year end award it’s because I went to almost every single show and scraped the points away. This year, we were rewarded because we had moments of brilliance. It feels nice.
He gave me confidence. Simon was both the simplest and most complicated horse I’ve ever ridden, but even on our worst day he made me stand a little taller. That confidence extended far beyond the barn. Without my constant companion and friend, it’s taken a hit lately. But I’m trying to bounce back, to keep trying. Giving up feels disrespectful.
He gave me friends. Simon was a huge part of this blog, which means he was a huge part of all the amazing friends and connections I’ve made from it. I mean you, the reader. Every web hit, comment, “like” and friendship is a gift in itself. I’ve started the pile of thank you notes for Simon’s memorial gifts. It may take me the rest of the year, but it’s a privilege to write them for y’all.
He gave me some of the best moments of my life. Sometimes they were intertwined with Tim, sometimes it was just us. Right now, it hurts to go back to them. Every time I do I start to fall apart, and I have to shut the emotional gate closed again to keep going about my day. Someday it won’t though. Someday I’ll be able to smile.
While I push through to graduation and life outside of the MFA, I’m thinking about a lot of things. There are lots of moving parts. I’ll have some exciting things to share when the time is right, but until then I’m doing my best to celebrate the gifts.
There are a lot of things I want to express in this post, but I also know I don’t have a ton of mental energy to accurately do that. So, let me tell ya’ll this.
On Monday, I picked up a package from my mailbox that was both unexpected and large. In it was the most beautiful book of my horse beautiful horse, which I sobbed over. Like, I sobbed so hard it took me three times flipping through the book to actually see the pages. I didn’t even see the last page, with his name and dates and an excerpt from the Paul Simon song I picked his show name after, until the day after. I cried tears on the cover, and then briefly panicked because I didn’t want them to stain my beautiful book of my beautiful book (they didn’t).
A post shared by Lauren Mauldin (@lauren.u.mauldin) on Jan 29, 2019 at 5:55pm PST
But what was perfect about it wasn’t the physical thing, but the love that created it. The card explained that everyone joined together to try and make me feel better after his loss. Over 80 people. A list of names I knew from riding, from blogging, from life. There are names I don’t even recognize, that’s how deep this love runs.
The card explained the mystery of the painting (which thank god I’m so glad it was a group effort and not just one person because that’s too much money for one person!) and it said one special gift was still to come, which revealed itself today.
A memorial trophy in his name for my California barn’s show series, to be given to a deserving amateur who displays good sportsmanship and appreciation to the sport and their horse.
It’s so perfect. It’s all so perfect. There aren’t really words to express my gratitude, but know this. In the last month, things have been pretty dark for me. I have not been in a good place. At times, I have not wanted to be in a place at all, but I have known y’all are out there. Even before this gift, although it certainly burns brighter now. I have known y’all are out there and somehow need me to keep fighting. Keep writing about the struggle, whether it’s carbs or ponies or depression, and keep being around.
Truthfully, I don’t know why sometimes. I am quite average. My beloved nerd horse was quite average. Together, we were above average, maybe even a little bit special. I’m thankful for that, despite the pain. I’m thankful for y’all, despite having a hard time seeing why I get this much support at times. My friends, plentiful and absolutely the best; my family, not close in proximity but deep in love; my readers, whether strangers or faces I know well — everyone inspires me to be a better person. To get up every day and try to put out as much love into the world as I have been given.
The second thing I’ll say is this: I started therapy a few weeks ago. I know this will make at least a few readers sigh with relief, and I’m sure it’s long overdue. Until I lost Simon, I always felt confident in my ability to keep pushing, but lately I haven’t felt that as much so I made the appointment.
Much to my dismay, I wasn’t given a handout of mental exercises to fix me. I wasn’t given a timeline or training schedule or regimen. The first day, I wondered why people get paid to watch others sob for an hour straight? Because that’s certainly what I did.
“What brings you here today?”
“Well so I found my husband dead in 2015… and two months after his/my dog died… and then I uprooted my entire life to chase a dream in California that hasn’t exactly been what I expected… and then my first real dog died… and I did okay with that but then my fucking horse died and I haven’t even begun to tell you about all the other small losses and heartbreaks in-between all of that.”
Except that sentence took a full hour, because sobbing.
At the end of that session, the therapist told me I had a degree of toughness that many people don’t have. “You probably don’t like being called tough,” she added.
“But I recognize that you keep going despite a tremendous amount of pain, even though at times you probably would rather not.”
And as I wiped the probably excessive amounts of mascara dribbling down my face, I felt seen.
Because I tell a lot of people in my circle here that I’m a mess, or I’m barely holding on, and I’m not sure they believe me. They see this high functioning, type-A Capricorn that puts way too much on her plate most of the time and meets deadlines, does all the things. How could I be a mess? I work three jobs, own a house, pay taxes, (used to) show horses and have a lot of friends. I’m doing better than most.
That’s both true and untrue, like most things.
The last thing I’ll say is this: I am too stubborn to quit. I will keep going, but I am not convinced better things are ahead of me. Right now it pretty much looks like the best times of my life are all in the past. But I have a book to publish, a dog to take care of, a memorial trophy of the best horse ever to award. I know that I am loved, in large part thanks to y’all. For right now, that has to be enough.
I thought it would be terrible, I really did. I was supposed to go a week ago for the barn holiday party and yearly awards, but I couldn’t bring myself to face his empty stall when everyone was drinking and having a good time. So I sent my trainer my regrets, and put off going back until I felt like I couldn’t put it off anymore.
When Simon first died, things were pretty bleak for me. It felt as bad as losing Tim, although maybe let’s not tell Tim (or his family) that, okay? I think his death opened up a lot of wounds for me that are partially healed or quite frankly, are never going to heal. The day after he died I drove from Mississippi to Austin by myself, and cried the entire nine hours. That is not an exaggeration. I really scared a woman at Sonic in Mississippi when I rolled down the window to accept my breakfast sandwich, eyes swollen like a botched plastic surgery job and a continual stream of snot dripping down my face.
That drive was mentally super dark. I thought to myself at least once that I couldn’t run my car off the road, because I had Pascale with me. It seemed like all the best things of my life had already passed me by. People go their entire lives without finding their best friend and favorite person in a spouse. The same could be said for my partnership with Simon. I had the best husband, the best horse, and they were both ripped from me before I was 35 years old. It didn’t seem like there was much to live for, but I told myself that if nothing else I had to publish my damn book (because I have not worked this hard for it to live in my Macbook forever). Once I finally got into town, I fell into bed exhausted at 9:30pm hoping that the world would seem a little bit brighter when I woke up.
It didn’t, but I went day drinking with one of my best friends (because there isn’t a situation I’ve found that tequila won’t marginally improve). A little day drunk, I was still crushed, mad, and feeling hopeless… but I realized I would miss her. There’s so much about my life I’d miss if I wasn’t here.
Now, about ten days after he died, all those scary moments are behind me. I’m still crushed, of course I am, but there are little glimmers of hope here and there. This quarter at school I’m teaching my own workshop, which means the class is entirely mine to do whatever I want with. My students are a pleasure. An eager bunch who care a lot about what I have to teach them. Writing is still very difficult for me, but I am still trying to make big things happen with my work.
And of course, there’s all of you. I know I did a piss poor job of responding to every comment, text, and email but please know they meant the world for me. They were hard for me to look at initially, but I can honestly say that I never realized how many strangers cared about me or Simon. For a pretty plain, Texas bred Thoroughbred that never won awards on a big platform, he was loved far more than many horses ever are. And it was exactly the amount of love he deserved, because he was the best.
A post shared by Lauren Mauldin (@lauren.u.mauldin) on Jan 7, 2019 at 9:38pm PST
I’m still shocked (and hopeful they will come forward so I can thank them personally) that someone bought the Jen Brandon Studio painting of Simon for me. If you’re reading this, please know how touched I am. How thankful, and how this is a gift I will never forget. I hope that one day I can return the favor to someone else when they’re hurting and the world seems hard.
So today, I went to the barn. I cried a little driving up. I cried a little talking to my trainer, but mostly I walked around the place as familiar to me as my own apartment. They were very considerate of Simon’s things, and everything at his stall was just like it was when he left it. I tossed the battered fly mask, the dusty salt lick he hated, put his blankets in the pile for the school horses to use. I took apart his bridles, cleaned my tack, organized my trunk. Folded the Medal Finals cooler he won me, and took it home because I don’t ever want another horse to wear it.
It’s folded now on top of the urn containing his cremains, which is almost comically huge. Y’all – if you cremate a horse maybe realize that you’re cremating a horse. His box is the size of an end table. If I kept it as is, I’d have to asks guests to use a coaster before resting their drinks on him. Right now it sits at the foot of my bed, but before too long I’ll start breaking the ashes down into more manageable chunks. Some I’ll spread at the barn on the hill we used to do gallop sets on. Some will go back to Texas for the pasture he shared with his best friend, Orsini. Some I’ll plant with a tree in my backyard in Austin. The rest will stay with me forever in a box made of barnwood.
My trainer was worried I’d quit riding. At first I was worried about that too, but it passed quickly. Horses are part of me. I’ve learned too much to quit now. The knowledge feels like it’s just getting started. I’ve set a pretty strict budget for myself, which allows for a group lesson a week at my barn, but I’m also going to treat Fridays like a little mini-working student gig for my trainer. I think getting out of the house and academia will be good for me, and I have so much I want to learn while I’m still in California.
When I’m bored or can’t sleep, I window shop horses on Facebook. I don’t expect to replace him. Simon was irreplaceable, but I know I’ll want to own my own again. It will be a while before the real search for #notSimon starts, but for now seeing what’s out there gives me a little glimmer of hope that I might have another great horse one day.
It won’t be like him, but it will touch my heart in a different way. Maybe if I’m lucky, it’ll have an easy lead change. Who knows. The future is an unpredictable, murky place.
I wanted to live my entire life and never have to write this post, but the best horse I’ve ever had died on early in the morning on December 20th.
While I was 2,000 miles away visiting family in Mississippi, he started colicing. When he didn’t come around quickly at the barn, my trainer and I agreed he should go to the clinic. There the original prognosis was good, and I want to bed at midnight my time concerned but knowing he was in the best care possible. Two hours later, the vet called me back and said he took a turn for the worse. He was trembling, sweating and it was time to go into surgery to figure out what exactly was happening.
I, of course, agreed and waited for hours for the call.
When it came, the first words out of his mouth were the stomach had ruptured. When I teach creative writing, I always put red slashes through clichés like my heart was beating out of my chest, but that’s exactly what my did. When he said ruptured, I felt it grow twice its size and thud as the vet kept went on to describe the large impaction behind the stomach.
I knew what ruptured meant, but I also didn’t. I pressed my palm down under my heart and kept listening for the phrase that was going to save this nightmare, but it didn’t come and I finally squeaked, “So you had to euthanize him?”
“Not yet, but there’s nothing we can do.”
He said he was sorry. I thanked him, hung up the phone and fell apart.
I’ve only had Simon for six and a half years, but I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. I’ll be honest — life without nerd horse seems a little impossible right now. Since Tim died, he’s been the brightest and most reliable thing in my life.
I have great friends, I know on paper my life looks like I’m living the dream. This becomes extra clear to me when people (often well meaning blog readers) suggest I shouldn’t be sad, because I have so many great things in my life. And it’s true, I have a lot to be thankful for, but that doesn’t begin to fix the giant, weeping holes in my heart.
Simon was more than a horse to me. He was my partner, my friend. He was the personification of every equestrian dream I ever had as a kid, or really even as an adult. In our last show together, which I started to blog about, we got 3rd in a hunter derby field of almost 3rd and we won our 2’6″ medal finals. I promise y’all I didn’t win because of my exceptional riding talents. I won because I had a teammate who loved to show more than I did, covered up my mistakes and was proud of his extremely mediocre mother. It’s not even been 24 hours, and I already miss the feel of cantering him up to an oxer. If I had my leg on and my hands up, Simon would have done anything for me.
Life isn’t fair. Horses doubly so. I think my beloved nerd horse was more sensitive and fragile than I ever realized. The worst part of this grieving is that I wasn’t with him at the clinic before he went under. Three weeks ago, I put my hand through the bars of his stall and scratched under his chin a little. I told him I was going on a long trip. Told him to be a good boy and listen to his trainers, which I know he did. Quickly tapped my hand on his shoulder as he turned to eat his hay, said I loved him and I’d see him in a month.
Although I wasn’t at the clinic, I know exactly what he looked like when he was sick and trembling before surgery. I’ve seen it. It breaks my heart that I wasn’t there to tell him everything he meant to me.
After everything I’ve lost, I don’t believe in much anymore. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. There is no master plan. I don’t believe in heaven. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t believe I’ll ever swing a leg over him again or lean on his broad shoulder for a quiet moment. Humans and animals are organic bodies filled with energy. I think that energy sticks around. With Tim, I was lucky enough to acutely hold it some after he died. Now almost four years later, it feels farther away. Not gone, but not as with me as before.
Simon was a quirky horse. He had a bit of a spook at the strangest things. If I had to guess, his energy is terrified of where I’m sitting right now. It probably wouldn’t make it past the driveway, but I hope I feel him again some day. Probably in an empty ring full of jumps, because that was his favorite place.
After Tim died, I felt like I had to tell everyone I was okay. I’m really not okay right now. I’m taking small steps to get there, but I will tell you about one more thing.
At the last horse show when I realized we were getting called back for the handy round at the hunter derby, I got back on Simon to wait for our turn. It was at least the fourth or fifth time me or the trainer climbed on him that day, and I know he was tired. It was dark, with just a few street lights shining down outside the arena. The temperature dropped, and I draped the fleece cooler Tim got me for Christmas over his haunches and my legs. While we waited, I stared down on his braids and scratched his withers where he was always itchy. The cooler warmed us up as we walked slow circles around the parking lot, and I was flooded by this warmth. Tim would have been so proud of us, zipping around all the high options confidently and getting called back for the handy. I was proud of us too, but mostly I was incredibly thankful to be competing at a night class at a finals horse show with the best horse I would probably ever have. Anything else was a bonus.
Because really, that’s how it was with Simon. He was the first horse who ever truly loved me. Everything else was a bonus.
Simon. Something So Right, JC “Williebered”
March 14th, 2006 – December 30th, 2018
When I first moved to my beloved California barn last year, I heard a lot of rumblings about a big horse show coming up. We’ll be at year end. Everyone’s getting ready for year end. They were referring to the IEHJA, our local circuit, year end show. No stranger to local horse show finales, I figured I knew what it’d be like. Maybe a nicer facility, a few special classes here and there.
All year, everyone gushed about how great the year end show was. I agreed to go, but I didn’t have any stellar expectations. It wasn’t until I got the prize list that I realized that this wasn’t the same kind of local finale that I was used to. It ran three days instead of two, the classes were more expensive (but also had nicer prizes) and there were all kinds of special events and recognitions: a $1,000 “Jump Scoot & Bounce” costume relay race, $500 2’6″ – 3’0″ Hunter Derby, stall decorating contest, junior and amateur scholarship essay contest, all the regular divisions and of course — medal finals.
I signed Simon and I up for all of the things, and told my competitive nature to shove it. I knew that if I came into the big horse show with expectations, I would ride like an idiot and disappoint myself. Our lessons at home had been going really, really well… but I told myself it wasn’t likely to all come together in the show ring. Our lead changes at home were spotty, and I couldn’t expect magic to happen overnight. We would do the best we could.
The first day, Friday, was all jumpers. Instead, we schooled and Simon was his usual rockstar self… except he hated this giant hill that you had to walk up to get to the big ring. I swear, my flatland Texas Thoroughbred has never experienced an overlook in his entire life. The fact that he could walk up the hill and look down at the rest of the horse show blew his mind. Aside from that, he schooled great.
THERE ARE LITTLE HORSES DOWN THERE!
The first class we actually showed in was the Jump, Scoot & Bounce. Luckily I got to jump for our team, because my knees cannot handle scooting around on a bouncy ball. The best part about this class was our costume. I recycled my rainbow Dalmatian Lisa Frank Halloween costume, and made Simon my unicorn!
The actual competition was pretty much won and lost on the bouncy ball. One team had this young boy who FLEW up in the air. It was an impressive athletic feat, and nobody could touch their time for the rest of the 30 some groups. My team did really well, but I missed the first inside turn with Simon because it caught me off guard. For the rest of our little course he channeled his inner Ricky Bobby and we flew through it like jumperland, much to my trainer’s delight.
Saturday was our first day of actual hunter classes. Since Friday night was a late one, I opted to splurge and pay a braider instead of doing it myself so I could sleep for a few extra hours. This was an excellent choice since I was already driving an hour each way versus staying at a hotel closer by, and when I warmed up Simon on Saturday I was taken aback at how much he looked like a proper hunter. My boy has really grown up this year!
Trainer took him in a 2’6″ class as a warmup to re-install the brain (aka fix wild Simon that I created from the jumper classes the night before). We expected him to be a little bit wild, but he immediately settled in and did the job without any issues.
Next she had the pro 2’9″ division with him. He put in nice rounds, although it’s obvious he’s not an easy change compared to some of the other horses. Still, he jumped around with a smile on his face and because she’s not an amateur brain like me, trainer doesn’t miss and gets all her leads.
He got some 3rd’s and 4th’s in a competitive class, which was good because points and it was mostly to school him for me anyway.
Later that afternoon, I went in for my 2’6″ Low Ch/AA classes. Somehow, and I wish I could tell you how because I’m usually a nervous wreck, I managed to swallow any nerves and just went in there to do the best I could with my horse. Our first hunter round wasn’t super remarkable. Fine, but nothing to write home about.
Our second round was the handy hunter, and I pretty much live for anything handy because Simon is so good at those. The course included a gallop jump, which I was so pumped about. I asked my trainer if I could really gallop, and she said I needed to have a noticeable change in pace but then maintain that pace. So I went in with that plan.
And. It. Was. Awesome.
2018 IEHJA Fall Finale Low Ch/AA 2’6” Handy Hunters - YouTube
We did the trot jump! We did the gallop jump! We landed on every lead! I have never had such a good course in my life, and I didn’t need to see trainer’s face to know she was proud when I walked out of the ring.
This is why I love horse showing. Going out in the ring by yourself on your heart horse and being able to put it all together is the best feeling in the world. It’s something I haven’t been able to replicate in any other aspect of my life.
I found out a bit later that we won that handy out of a big class of 9 horses, and got 3rd’s in our other two Low Ch/AA classes that day. After my handy, I knew that everything else for the rest of the horse show would be icing on the cake. Spoiler alert – my cake ended up having a lot of icing, but that’s a story for another day!
I didn’t plan on horse showing much, if at all, when I moved Simon to California. That seemed like a luxury far beyond my grad school life, but I keep re-learning two simple truths with riding: I’m competitive as all get out, and I like to have goals.
Luckily, my barn has its own four show series that awards year-end awards as well as counts for my local circuit points. At home shows in my barn? That was too good to pass up. We missed the first one in March because Simon simply wasn’t quite ready to go. We were still getting him good to go health wise, and an abscess two weeks before rendered me unable to get enough lesson time to competently get around the ring with my trusty OTTB hunter.
You heard that right — hunter.
See, when I took my first lesson with my new trainer, she asked what my showing goals were. I told her that in a perfect world, Simon would be a three ring horse. He already kind of was… but not if you count actually winning in all three rings. I admitted to her that I loved the hunters, but that he hadn’t been able to be successful in the hunter ring. Maybe my trainer loves a challenge, or maybe she saw something in him that others hadn’t, but she started hunterizing Simon and we’ve stayed away from the jumpers all year.
I couldn’t be happier. My brain does not love the jumper ring, but was it a successful transition?
May Showcase Series Show
The May show was the second of the series, and I signed up without feeling completely ready. Truth is, I rarely feel ready for a horse show, but this time was especially bad. I hadn’t been jumping many courses, and it’d been over a year since my last show (the hunter derby in Austin).
To boost my confidence, we entered in the 2′ adult division instead of my normal 2’6″ stuff. Additionally, I had the trainer ride him in the 2’3″ Thoroughbred Hunters, because I always love to support a TB only division.
Because I’m me (aka a total spazz and nervous wreck), I went off course in my first 2′ hunter round… even though it was probably the simplest course in the world. After I screwed my head back on straight, we went in for the 2′ equitation and won the class. That put a big smile on my face, and I decided to scratch the under saddles for that division since we were out of point contention from going off course.
Instead, I saved my energy and rallied to compete in the 2’3″ IEHJA medal class, which is one of the local circuit’s qualifying classes for their medal finals. Truthfully I don’t remember a ton about how the class went, but it must have been average. We pulled 3rd, middle of the pack, and I handed the reins over to the assistant trainer for the rest of the show.
He gathered an assortment of middle range ribbons in the Thoroughbred hunters, but I was most excited about the flat class. Historically, Simon is not a flatting kind of horse. Let me remind you what this has looked like for us in the past:
Yeah, super huntery right?
However at the May show, he settled down and did the job for a 2nd in the flat! With me riding! Like a real hunter! This is when I decided my horse would stay in training forever, and had a glimmer of hope as a hunter.
July Showcase Show
The July show was the only horse show Simon’s competed in where I didn’t actually ride. I was still less than 30 days out from my knee surgery (still need to blog about that), and wasn’t back in the saddle yet. My trainer took him in the 2’3″ Thoroughbred Hunters and the 2’6″ Low Hunter division.
It was a very mediocre day. He did the job, wasn’t the judge’s favorite and got middle ribbons in small groups. The highlight was a 1st place in an under saddle class, but truthfully I think all the other horses just kind of exploded or something. It was a default kind of blue ribbon, but hey – counts!
August Parkside Horse Show
By the time I got back to riding after my knee surgery, I was dying to go horse show. Simon got better and better, and I had an itch to get him out in front of a judge to really test how it was all coming together. So I pulled money out of my ass and put him on the list to go show in Norco over a weekend at one of our local circuit’s shows.
Around now, I was feeling more confident in the saddle and didn’t feel right staying in the 2′ division. So I abandoned my goals of getting great year-end prizes (changing divisions mid-year is generally frowned upon when it comes to giant ribbons), and moved back to the 2’6″. For the show, I signed Simon up with the trainer for the pro 2’6″ and 2’6″ Thoroughbred divisions and me with the 2’6″ Low Ch/AA hunters, equitation and the 2’6″ IEHJA medal (versus the 2’3″).
Saturday was one of those magic kind of days where everything clicked. Trainer took him in first, and did all the schooling she needed to for changes and obedience. It wasn’t beautiful, but he did the job and got several 3 out of 3 ribbons. Which was disappointing to watch, but amazing to feel when I took him in for my rounds.
Though Simon was not, is not and may never be an auto change kind of hunter, he is doing his changes now. For day one of the show, trainer prepped him so well that he got full, clean changes in one corner for me several times. That plus staying on course gave us one beautiful round which earned a blue in a competitive Low Ch/AA hunter class.
Guys, horse showing is always fun, but who knew it was so much more fun when you win?
Also on Saturday I did the 2’6″ IEHJA medal, and we got 2nd… out of more than two! It was the first time in my life that I trotted into the ring and though, if I do the job correctly, I have a chance of winning.
Of course on Sunday, both the horse and I were tired and things fell apart a little bit. The lead changes disappeared, and I chased him down the lines. So it wasn’t as pretty, and I begged my trainer to let me scratch my flat classes because I didn’t think I could make my horse behave enough to hack… but we still squeaked out a reserve champion for both the 2’6″ Low Ch/AA hunter and equitation divisions.
September Showcase Show
I felt super confident before our final home show. One might even say cocky, which is a recipe for disaster. We switched divisions again, and kept me in the 2’6″ Low Ch/AA Equitation with trainer doing him in the 2’9″ Modified Hunters. It was a good plan, however it put all my divisions before my trainer’s.
And that’s when we realized Simon needs a pro to do his first rounds at the show.
I rode poorly. I fought with him, yanked and didn’t release when I needed to. He ignored my attempts at aids, refused to give any semblance of a change (when we usually get several clean ones in our lessons) and ran around chipping flat to every fence. It was fugly. I got last in both of our equitation over fences rounds… and rightfully so.
Coming out of the ring, I was almost in tears because I was so frustrated with myself. I said I should hand him over to assistant trainer so I wouldn’t mess him up any more. She came on to do a schooling round, but both trainers encouraged me to pull myself together and brush off the bad rounds. My trainer is really good at identifying how complicated my brain is, and she encourages me to take every fence one at a time.
So I let him chill, and did the flat medal class — getting 3rd out of 6. Then I came back for the 2’6″ medal that I was working to qualify at finals for, and actually rode my horse properly. After testing, we ended up 2nd which gave us enough points to qualify for finals. I got off feeling much better, finally doing right by my horse.
The 2’9″ pro division that day was whacky. The best, pretty much unbeatable horse had an off day, and the judge liked Simon. He won both over fences rounds, and when I got on to hack him (trainer hacked the other horse) for the under saddle he ended up winning that too. So let me go on the record and say that Simon did a clean sweep of a hunter division against Warmbloods. This will probably never happen again, but we sure did enjoy our tri-color!
That show also awarded the show series year end prizes. Since the 2′ adult division is low attended, we managed to hold onto 2nd place from our 1st blue ribbon in April — which got him a fancy reserve ribbon and a key fob. He also racked up enough points from his stellar day in the 2’9″ pro division that he ended up reserve in that as well.
With those four shows under my belt, I decided to splurge (and again pull money out of my ass) and put him on the list for the big local circuit Fall Finale horse show… but that will have to be its own post!
Last week, I said goodbye to my perfect spaniel. After I wrote the post outlining the details of his cancer, I was flooded with messages of support and love. Those notes gave me so much comfort. Both in knowing that I’m not alone with the immense struggle that is deciding when to release a beloved pet, but also that because everyone echoed that I’d know when it was time… and that it was probably not too soon.
I was completely devastated when I lost BT. Part of that was timing. I had to put her down two months after Tim died, and my bank of emotional energy was completely empty. Having to make a life or death choice for a living thing, especially Tim’s beloved pet, put me in a headspace I hope I never return to. The day she died, I couldn’t do anything but lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. I had never felt more hopeless. It was the only time in my life that I didn’t see the point to living anymore, but Eliot and Pascale got me through to get up and tackle another day.
Watching Eliot decline the last few weeks, I remembered how completely bottomed out I felt with BT. I worried that letting him go would destroy me, especially right now. Fall and the holidays used to be my favorite time of the year, but since losing Tim I slip into a depression every October like clockwork. It doesn’t let up until January, and I push through the holidays with a mix of over the top planned activities (aka wine) and lots and lots of naps. I’ve been feeling low for months, and didn’t know how I was going to say goodbye to my best friend on top of everything else.
After I wrote that post, I started looking at Eliot. Really looking at him. Every week that passed, he had more fits of anxiety/pain than the weeks before. The pain medication I had for him calmed him down most of the time, but not always. Then it started taking two doses, and I realized that our good days were mostly marked by him sleeping quietly in his bed. He wouldn’t greet me at the door when I came home. At first, I excused this because he was a deaf, old dog that slept soundly. He couldn’t hear me come in, and I had been used to the habit of finding him asleep and slowly waking him up with cuddles when I came home.
But he started waking up slower, and if he was awake when I came home he could only slowly waddle up to me. His happy, rolling yodels were gone. He stopped rolling in the grass after his afternoon walks (a favorite tradition) weeks ago. He got pickier about the treats he would take. He withdrew, and spent most of his time on his bed instead of in the living room with me and Pascale. He could see us from the corner, but he didn’t come up to engage as much as he used to. Toys were no longer fun or interesting. Walks seemed like a struggle. I knew we were getting there, so I made an appointment with an at-home euthanasia service for right before Thanksgiving.
The day after I made the appointment, he had a terrible morning. The next morning, he had another. No amount of pain medication calmed him down. He kept trying to climb into the bathtub (a place of comfort for him), but his hind legs didn’t work well enough and he’d get stuck halfway over the tub. I had to go pick him up, only for him to try it immediately again. Pascale ran to me whining every time he tried, because she knew something was wrong. It got to the point that I had to close the door off to the bathroom, and then he just walked up to me and cried.
He needed me to make him feel better, and I couldn’t. I called the service, and had them come much sooner.
His last day was a good one. The night before, I couldn’t sleep. Really, I couldn’t sleep for that entire week because I was so worried about him. Every sound woke me up, because I thought he might be in pain. Around midnight, I moved my pillows to the floor and laid next to him on his bed. Pascale jumped down with me, and the three of us slept in a chain. Me with my hand draped over his forearm, fingers mixed with his long, white feathers. Pascale with her head rested over the crook of my knee.
I made him an egg scramble for his last breakfast with bacon, cheese and ham. Throughout his life, I would sometimes think about what Eliot’s perfect last day would be like — what final gift I could give to him. I always thought the beach or some kind of swimming, but when it came time for that actual day he was too sick to enjoy anything.
Instead, I sat on the floor with him a lot. I rubbed the inside of his ears, his favorite, stroked my finger down the groove between his eyes to his forehead. I told him I was sorry he was sick, and that I would do anything to make him feel better. That he was my best boy, even though he was kind of an asshole his whole life and stubborn as all get out till the end. Told him that even with all the dogs I’ll have for the rest of my life, there will never be another one like him. I thanked him for loving me, because despite everything, he loved me more than a person deserves.
When the vet came, it was peaceful. He walked around a little bit while the pain medication and sedative kicked in. I could see him falling under its spell, because his eyes got a little wide. He waddled over to me, and I helped him go softly down. I held his head up in my palms, his fuzzy jowls folding over the sides of my hand, and rubbed his ears while he shut his eyes. Held his face and tried not to cry until he was completely under.
Pascale laid next to us while he slipped away. I bent over him, completely lost it, and sobbed. It wasn’t a hopeless feeling. More like I couldn’t hold on to all of that love anymore, and it just spilled out of me. I stroked his head until I felt the warmth start to leave. Pascale bent down over his face, closer than I’ve ever seen her dare get to him, and directly sniffed his nose a few times. When she realized he wasn’t breathing, she licked him once on the nose and then laid down next to him with her paws draped over his. And he was gone.
I don’t feel hopeless like I did when I lost BT. Before the sun set that day, I felt confident it was the right decision. He didn’t have any bad episodes on his last day. He even sniffed out a I’m sorry your brother died stuffed dog toy I had gotten Pascale, and played with it for a few minutes because he was spoiled until the end.
Of course I cried, a lot. I still do when I think about how much I loved him, how much I miss him. He was my first real love. The one who taught me what it’s like to love someone as much as your own skin. Eliot softened me, taught me what hard choices are and what they feel like. I have a thousand good memories of him, and just as many pictures.
Saying goodbye to him felt like saying goodbye to the innocent person I used to be. The one that didn’t know how hard life was, or how much it hurts to lose. I miss her almost as much as I miss my spaniel.
But I’m okay, and Pascale is too. He was a terribly complicated dog, but we both loved him. He loved me more than anything in the world, and I can still feel it. That kind of bond never fully goes away.
My last update sharing Eliot’s cancer and my fears about letting him go was a bit of a downer. In case you’re worried, let me get to the punchline early: Simon is doing fabulous.
But it wasn’t easy getting here.
Earlier this year, I wrote a tounge-in-cheek post about Simon’s off again, on again’ness. Although that was a fairly accurate portrayal about how things went for us last winter, the truth was a little bit more serious than that. Historically a pretty gastrically sound horse, he kept showing tummy problems. Nothing major, but a series of mild gas colic that usually resolved with banamine but needed tubing at least once.
Now I don’t think I have to explain to anyone the kind of emotional attachment I have to this horse. During these few months, I was an absolute wreck. I worried constantly about his health, and kept imagining scenarios where I lost him to colic. The horse was a giant source of stress, which is the exact opposite of what a horse should be.
So I did what any rational, super broke graduate student equestrian would do — I threw money at the problem.
I got him insured, so I didn’t have to worry about the “can I afford colic surgery?” question. When his weight dipped, I put him on not one but two high end feeds. First we tried Ranitidine to treat his ulcers. After we doubled the dosage and still saw symptoms, I went balls to the wall and used my insurance to get a huge round of GastroGard. That was the turning point, and I finally started to see a happier, more relaxed Simon. Lesson learned – go straight to the real deal if you’re seriously concerned about ulcers. Do not try and pinch pennies. Do not pass go. Just give pharma your $200 (many sets of it) and enjoy a healthier horse.
Now, many months later, we’ve finally found the optimal situation for Simon. He needs orchard hay, no alfalfa (my vet said it can make ulcery horses worse… an unpopular opinion for some but I’m a believer). To bulk his weight up, I fed stabilized rice bran and Total Equine, which is a mix of alfalfa, rice bran and oil. Once we finished the ulcer treatment and his weight stabilized, I took him off of the rice bran and just do hefty amounts of Total. It gives him enough nutrients without adding sugar. I’ve also bit the bullet and started him on Smart GI Ultra, which is not cheap, but does offer ColicCare insurance and provide gastric support while preventing ulcers from re-growing. Any time he steps foot off the property or is in any way stressed, I give him a GastroGard the day before, during, and after the event. Basically, I treat his stomach like it’s super precarious and in return he’s finally glowing with health.
The other big change for me this year is that I’ve become one of those amateurs that has complete and total faith in training rides. Since January, Simon has been in partial training which means two days a week he gets worked by the trainers, and one day I get a private. Lately, I’ve switched to full training because the difference in him is absolutely outstanding.
Honestly, it feels like I went and bought a nicer horse. I know that seems absurd, but it’s true. While he’s never going to win the hack at an AA show, his trot is so much nicer than it was before. He pushes from the hind end, flicks his toes and relaxes his back. He’s straight and forward, and I can actually feel power in his canter when I ride properly. Turns out, jumping is a lot less scary when your horse feels like a powerhouse underneath you.
Long time readers will know that lead changes have been our achilles heel. It’s why we turned to the jumper ring in the first place. However through training magic, he’s getting his changes. He gets them almost all the time with the pro (because mad skills), and it’s starting to happen more often with me. Turns out, if I ask right… he usually does them for me.
^ this lady rides much better than I do, but that’s okay
Things aren’t perfect, and lord knows I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve never felt so pleased with our progress as a whole. I have loved all of the trainers I’ve ever worked with, and learned something from each of them. That will never change, but this is the first time I’ve been at a barn that treats me and my horse like serious competitors who can win.
They don’t look at Simon like the free Thoroughbred who’s sweet to his flabby amateur mom. They look at him like a talented horse they can improve.
We’ve both improved, and it’s really exciting. After years of thinking I knew how to ride okay, I feel like someone just turned on the lights. It’s (ever so slowly) translating to the show ring too, but that will have to be a different post.
A lot happened in my blogging absence this summer. Some of it was fantastic, but a lot of it was not. I promise to update on happier things soon, but something that’s especially been weighing on my mind this week is Eliot’s health.
I got Eliot, the most beautiful dog I’ll ever known, for my 21st birthday. All of my other dogs have been rescues, but Eliot is the embodiment of my deep rooted love for purebred dogs. In his prime, people routinely asked me if he was a show dog. Even in his old age, we’ll go on walks and folks will gasp and tell me how pretty he is. He knows it too. The dog is not humble.
Almost ten years ago
Last Christmas when I was home in Austin, I took Eliot to my Texas vet. He had been dragging his feet more often, and I noticed some unusual wear on the two center nails on his hind feet. My vet told me it was most likely arthritis, and that I shouldn’t worry too much since he could easily go up and down stairs. For a twelve year old dog, he was in fantastic shape.
Over the next few, the dragging started getting worse. Eliot began slowly losing control of his bowel function. He couldn’t tell if he was pooping or not until said poo actually began to drop. Never a dog to have accidents, I had to start keeping a very strict schedule to keep him from defecating in the house in the mornings. Stuck in California without a vet that I really liked, I took to the internet… which is always, always a bad choice. I convinced myself that my beloved old dog had Canine Degenerative Myelopathy, even though it rarely (if ever) occurs in spaniels. I got into this routine where I cried over him for days, convinced this neurological degeneration would kill him, and then realized that his health wasn’t that bad. CDM paralyzes dogs in 3-6 months total. Eliot had symptoms for well over six, so I tried to stop being so neurotic.
Still, the dragging continued. He was happy going for long walks, but I noticed the wear on his claws getting worse and worse. In June, I finally broke down and took him to a new vet in California. They also thought the problem was skeletal, even though I was convinced it was a neurological issue. We took X-rays of his spine, which revealed some minor arthritis but nothing major. The new vet suggested a package of cold laser therapy treatment, but the real discovery of that visit was a dark mass on his spleen. An incidental finding, but something she said we needed to investigate.
So I brought him back to the vet two weeks later for an ultrasound, only to find out that the first vet I saw was no longer with the practice. With another new vet, we went over everything again and this time she agreed with me that he looked neurological. By this point in early July, his balance was way off. If you rubbed his butt in a certain way, he flexed his tail or his back legs in some kind of automatic response. He did not appear to be in pain, but he wasn’t right either.
He likes to sleep directly on my pillows
The ultrasound revealed that the dark spot was most likely some kind of tumor. There was a 2/3rd chance that it was a tumor, and if it was a tumor there was a 2/3rd chance it was cancerous. Since it was located in his spleen, my vet said she thought it was a matter of when, not if, that his spleen ruptured. And a ruptured spleen means a dead dog. We still had no idea what was causing the neurological issues, but I couldn’t sleep knowing that I could come home at any time to find Eliot unconscious and in terrible pain from a ruptured spleen. So I made an appointment to have a splenectomy, and figure out exactly what this tumor was.
We did the surgery in mid-July, and it was a huge success. They poked around inside him, and didn’t see evidence of any other cancer. The first 24 hours were rough for Eliot, but by day three he was acting like his old self and didn’t seem to be in any pain. I waited for the biopsy results, but my vet and I felt cautiously optimistic. It was a really, really good sign that there wasn’t cancer in his liver or surrounding organs.
Close to the end of August, I got the call I had been waiting for but the news wasn’t what I hoped. The tumor was a Stromal Sarcoma, a rare and aggressive kind of cancer. My vet told me that with chemo, he could get six, maybe nine months if we were super lucky. Without chemo, two months was the life expectancy.
I stared at my dog, curled up in the pillows on my bed in a deep sleep. He hates vets. Even going in for his cold laser therapy treatments (which did nothing for the mobility issues) put him into a panic twice a week. After surgery, his quality of life was good. He ate, enjoyed chewies, and went for short walks. Plus, he was almost thirteen. I didn’t feel right pursuing chemo, so I made the decision to help him live out his days peacefully.
That was three months ago. By the vet’s timeline, Eliot should have been gone by the end of September. Instead, we celebrated his 13th birthday in true California style with In-N-Out. Realistically, I’m not sure how much time he has left.
The neurological issues have gotten worse. My vet said sometimes this kind of cancer starts in the nerve sheath, and that may be what’s causing his mobility issues. He falls over sometimes if he loses his balance, but is quick to get up. He still enjoys his walks, but they are slower and it’s pretty clear to me that he’s most comfortable at home in my small apartment. I’ve started making a log of his “bad” days, and a list of the things that he no longer does.
He can still jump on the bed, but he no longer goes through the trash (one of his favorite activities). He likes some chew bones, but only bully sticks or small rawhides wrapped in jerky. He doesn’t care for toys anymore. He doesn’t want to roll in the grass after his walks. Occasionally he yodels and jumps around when I come home, excited to greet me, but more often he takes a long time to get going from a deep sleep. It’s not hard for me to see where this is all trending.
Right now I’m in that gray area that I hate the most. I want nothing more than to do right by my pet, but I don’t know the right timeline. Everyone says, he’ll tell you when, but he’s a stubborn old bastard. He clings to life, and me, like the whole world depends on it. For him, I guess it does.
I’m waiting around, and watching him. Trying to determine when it’s the right time to let him go. I say that I’m ready, that I’ve been mourning him for months, but I’m not. He’s the dog I’ve had for my entire adulthood. The only one that’s been around before, and after, Tim. He trusts me implicitly, and loves me more than he does anything else. I hope I can tell when it’s time.