On Duty and Insurance

Today I’d like to talk about something that I feel strongly about, and forgive me if I get a little passionate. I almost wrote “It’s something that the sport needs to hear”, but actually, the sport is generally quite good about this. This is something that the average rider needs to hear. The one-horse rider, perhaps on a bit of a budget, perhaps just having two ponies on a plot somewhere, perhaps the parent watching their kid pop around at SANESA – the ordinary, average horse owner that makes up the vast and overwhelming majority of horse owners in South Africa today.

The something is this: your horse should be insured.

It expands into this: your retired horse should also be insured.

 

This is Magic. Say hi, Magic.

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Magic is 11. Magic is also retired. There’s nothing really wrong with him physically, except ordinary OTTB stuff – his feet are a little flat and he’s got a bit of KS going on. We showjumped a bit, and for about four out of five shows he would be amazing and perfect. But that one out of five, he would do one of two things: he would fly backwards across the arena gasping in abject and genuine panic for half an hour, or he would get home and colic. It wasn’t fair on him anymore, so now he decorates the lawn, and has done so for two years.

In short, Magic is worth approximately R0.00. More accurately, he’s worth about -R1500 every month, conservatively, and only because we live on the farm and have grazing.

Magic also has a five-figure vet bill sitting on my desk.

Magic’s vet bill will be paid. Because you just can’t put a price tag on some things, and the horse you retired is one of them. You see, Magic never won any real ribbons and never really got me anywhere when it came to riding. He left me with a collection of bad habits and frayed nerves and two big fat RFs on my record – at the same show. But Magic gets the best of everything. He is a shiny, round, happy 7.5/10 on the condition scale year-round; his teeth are done, his feet are done, and he has all of his shots every year. I don’t spend as much time with him as I would like because at some point I do have to work in order to keep providing him with his happy, lazy existence, but every morning he gets a carrot and a hug and I like to think he still knows that I care about him.

It’s not really about what he thinks of me, though. I don’t take care of him because I’m a warm and fuzzy person. I do it because I honestly owe it to him to give him the best and happiest life he possibly could have and even if I succeed for many years then I will still forever be in his debt.

Magic never shaped me as a rider. He shaped me as a human being.

Magic never won ribbons, but he won my heart. He didn’t teach me very much about showjumping, but he taught me about life, during a tempestuous time as I struggled with the insurmountable challenge that is adolescence. He taught me to forgive myself for scars, for pain, for being a broken piece of humanity in a broken world. He taught me to breathe deep and slow. He taught me that there’s so much more to life than success and so much more to the sport than winning. And so much more to horses than competing.

He didn’t give me all that much pleasure in the saddle or any great pride or victory or prestige. He gave me so much more. He gave me hope. He gave me forgiveness. He gave me tenderness. He gave me the power to understand my own rattled and anxious soul.

He’s not just a horse or a fine companion or even a best friend. He’s an instrument of God.

Magic gave me a part of who I am, a good and loving and compassionate part.

A thousand vet bills will never, ever be enough to pay him back.

 

Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t actually matter how lyrical I can wax about how much I love my priceless retiree or what he’s done for me. Of course I wanted to save him when he colicked this week. The fact remains that if he hadn’t been insured, all the wanting in the world wouldn’t have done a thing. Even what I have done was almost not enough; he needed a surgery that I couldn’t have paid for – to be fair, these surgeries extend into six figures – and it’s only by God’s grace that he’s still with us.

I didn’t have him insured for that kind of money. But I had him insured for something; enough that he could be in hospital on a drip and receiving professional, round-the-clock care by someone who wasn’t emotional, drained, and ultimately out of their depth. This time, it was enough. You better believe he’s getting better insurance in case there is a next time.

This is the real value of insurance. Not something to protect your financial investment, but something to save the horses that financially aren’t really worth saving; the horses that gave you everything and now stand in a field somewhere, hopefully with you, a bit old and ugly and broken. They gave you their hearts. Now it’s your turn.

I’m talking to you, average rider on your average horse. You the lady doing Prelim or EV60 on a Boerperd or an OTTB or a nondescript little bay horse of uncertain ancestry and deep, gentle eyes. You the daddy paying for your kid to ride. You the doting horse mom with two Shetlands in your backyard, piggy-fat and eating carrots and thriving. You all feed your horse enough and make sure he’s dry in the rain, but are you ready for a colic surgery? Are you ready for a night at the vet hospital? Are you ready for diagnostics, treatments, drips?

Medical aid starts as cheaply as R160 per month. If you can compete in one single training show class or eat out once a month, you can afford this.

I shouldn’t really be asking you if you’re ready to pay to save your horse. Rather, I should ask you this: Are you ready to watch your horse die because you can’t?

 

Adventures of Champagne and Sunè

So, we’ve had a busy two days with various adventurings. It started on Tuesday night when Champagne managed to hurt herself in the field and get a puncture wound in her side. It gave all of us something of a fright, not least Champagne, but mercifully does not appear to be serious. And for once her timing was good: she had a vet appointment the following day to have a check-up and X-rays in case her behaviour issues could be pain related.

This meant shipping her off to the clinic in Midrand, a prospect I viewed with not inconsiderable trepidation, considering that the last time she was boxed she had been sedated within the first five minutes and ran through fences on arrival at our yard. I didn’t want a repeat performance, thanks. I shoved her full of Good as Gold, which is a magnesium supplement and a very good calming remedy for stressed-out horse owners/trainers, and took the precaution of hiring a two-berth and bringing Stardust along for the ride.

Champagne boxed better than Stardust. I held my breath all the way to Midrand, but she was a model traveller. She spent the entire trip eating hay and trying to steal from Dusty’s net, and was calm and relaxed on arrival. I had gloves on and made sure all the gates were closed before unloading her, but I needn’t have bothered. She got off the box, looked around, felt a little tense and then began to eat some grass.

After hanging out in the stable for a bit, the vet appeared and his groom led her out for the lameness exam. This involved being led away from all the other horses, but she trotted up and down on a loose lead like an old hand and stood perfectly still for the flexion tests. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Then she went into the scary crush and had X-rays raken of all four her feet, for which she behaved perfectly. This from the horse that arrived sedated at my place because it was insane. I couldn’t really be happier.

The news from the exam is good, too. The wound is not serious as far as we can see; the vets cleaned it nicely and sent us home with antibiotics and NSAIDs and instructions. The lameness exam came up with nothing, but her feet are dreadful. She has very, very underrun heels and long toes, with a badly broken back hoof-pastern axis. This much I knew; what I didn’t know was that our farrier could be doing a whole lot more to sort it out. So we will be looking for a special farrier for the special creature. There are no bony changes showing on the X-rays yet, but her pedal bone needs to change its angle by about 13 degrees. It was fascinating to see exactly how the internal structures of the foot are so closely related to its external shape. I will be paying much closer attention to the feet in future.

The good news, though, is that nothing is causing her pain right now. I’m free to go on and deal with all the psychological problems, safe in the knowledge that there are no physical triggers right now.

Today a horse of an entirely different colour went on an entirely different adventure. The Arab stud down the road – home to Bahroe and Sevita, whom I schooled briefly – is under new management and has lovely trails now. The trouble is that none of the horses have really gone hacking before, so they needed a confident lead.

Enter Sunè and I. I wanted to take the dragon, but I wasn’t happy about riding down the gravel with her feets. I also wanted to take Ash but I worried for her tendon, and Lulu and Stardust aren’t super sound, and Trooper is young (and requires fsr too much leg), and Thunny and Jamaica aren’t totally trustworthy. So I took Sunè. I haven’t been on her in months, and she hasn’t been on a hack alone in months, but she’s fit and sound.

It’s about 3km down the road from us and we covered most of it at a smart trot. Sunè was eager for an adventure and carried me boldly forward. She hadn’t even broken a sweat when we arrived to find the new yard manager, who can’t be much older than me, tacking up Bahroe himself. It was so nice to see him looking relaxed.

Having dealt happily with trucks, culverts, ditches and water on the way there, Sunè promptly spooked at a lavender bush and a loopy Arab, then refused to drink from their lovely fancy fountain and settled to munching grass in their gorgeous stableyard.

Once Bahroe was ready, we set off; one fat little Nooitie and one wide-eyed grey Arab.

And two very chuffed yard managers. I haven’t been on a proper long hack in months, if not years. I think the last time I hacked off-property was last year when Arwen was still eventing.

We headed up the hill and through the woods, Sunè leading most of the way. She was on a loose rein and totally chilled. I like riding ponies that belong to eight-year-olds. She tried half-heartedly to nap a few times but quickly realised that that wasn’t going to fly with me.

The view from the top of the hill was incredible. Then sings my soul, O Saviour God, to Thee!

We got a little lost heading back down, but quickly figured out our mistake and found the right road. Bahroe was being absolutely amazing. At this point he started to take the lead a few times.

Then we headed back down along the teff field, finishing the loop back along the road to the gate. Sunè and I escorted Bahroe safely back to the gate – I think he would have been fine, but I didn’t want to abandon them on the road. My own escort turned up in my bakkie around this time, impeccably timed to follow me back home with the hazards on. The trucks are ridiculous on our road.

Sunè was still bouncy and cantered much of the way home. We only had one little incident when I looked down at the road and suddenly there was a cobra in it. Gotta love Africa. I don’t think Sunè even saw it; I spun her to the side away from it just as it sat up and began to flare its hood, and it shot off into a culvert, almost as unnerved as I was.

Sunè is pretty flattened now, but I think our ride was a hilly 10-12km more or less, so I’m pretty impressed with the fat little schoolie. She was impeccably behaved and I had a blast. And she gets the next three days off. And I get a bubble bath because I still had three horses to ride after that and my feet are killing me.

How great is our God. Glory to the King.