Life sometimes imitates art. Judith Viorst wrote a children’s book titled Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I can relate! Mine wasn’t just a day, however. I had almost nine months of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things.
It began in January of 2014, when I spent 15 days in the hospital for a small-bowel obstruction. Though it resolved without surgery, it meant being hooked up to as many as three IV lines simultaneously. Try turning over in bed with that many anchors.
Left Leg, Right Foot
When I came home from the hospital, the ordeal continued. Severe low-back pain plus sciatic-nerve jolts down my left leg made riding impossible. When rehabilitative therapy failed to provide relief, my orthopedist ordered an MRI.
Before I could even learn the results of that test, however, I rolled my right foot over and broke the fifth metatarsal. Now in a walking boot, I couldn’t drive. No trips to the barn to check on my horses, no jaunts to fabric shops for quilting goodies. Just a lot of sitting at home, frustrated.
Then, a month into my confinement, the friend I board my horses with called. Lightning, my beloved senior gelding, was ouchy all around. I called the vet and she confirmed my worst fears: laminitis.
‘Struck’ by Lightning
I thought back over how Lightning had entered my life. I took my first ride ever, on a friend’s trail horse, when I was 55 years old. Hooked, I began searching for a horse of my own. A farrier recommended a 15-year-old Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred-cross gelding, saying he’d be ideal even though he had some signs of navicular issues. Leery, I hesitated, not wanting to deal with that chronic condition. But the farrier persisted, and finally I went to see Lightning. He stood 16.2 hands, and I’m 5 foot, 2 inches. How could I even mount this horse?
Still, a barn friend was so sold on him that he bought Lightning for me and brought him home. Reluctantly, I agreed to get him vet-checked; X-rays showed no signs of navicular. I took him home from the vet’s, grabbed a mounting block, and climbed aboard. From there, it was a done deal. I bought him from my friend.
Despite his size, I felt safe and secure on Lightning’s back. Nothing we encountered on the trail fazed him. Darting deer? He’d nod and keep moving. Noise, wind, other horses? No worries. In short, he was the perfect mount for this aged, novice rider.
As he aged, however, he did begin to show signs of navicular. He also developed Cushing’s disease, requiring large doses of medication to stay comfortable. I retired him at 22 and began the search for a new horse.
I found Maggie, an 8-year-old Quarter Horse mare. Each of us had reservations about the other. Hers stemmed from prior abuse; she came to me skinny and covered in rain rot. Mine? My heart still belonged to Lightning. As weeks went by and I spent time with her, though—treating her rain rot and trying to gain her trust—I began to feel affection for her. Still, it couldn’t compare to the level of trust I had with Lightning.
Hardest of All
That’s why his laminitis diagnosis devastated me. We brought him home from the vet’s and stalled him to keep him off grass and as quiet as possible over the weekend. By Sunday, however, he was only getting worse. I talked to my vet again, then made that traumatic decision—to put him down, for his own good.
On the day after Mother’s Day, my big-hearted guy was put to sleep. Even as I write this, my eyes fill with tears as I remember his slow, painful walk across the pasture to his burial site.
That was the hardest. Yet the awful, no-good months weren’t over even then. In June, with my broken right foot refusing to heal properly, I underwent surgery to insert a screw and graft some bone. I spent the next six weeks off the foot completely. Once back on my feet, I endured a few more medical issues I won’t even go into.
But then, at long last, the terrible, horrible streak ended. I’m now back to riding Maggie and rebuilding our bond. She has some big hoof prints to fill, but she’s becoming a darn good trail horse. And I know she’ll be there for me when and if another no-good, very bad stretch comes my way.
Peggy Poe lives in Granite Falls, North Carolina. A retired high-school media coordinator, she loves horses and making quilts. She recently completed one in memory of Lightning.