Every accident that happens to a horse is a freak accident. Rule number one. Once you grasp that as a horse-owner you are on your way to understanding the nature of the bind you are in.
When Gracie went suddenly lame on a routine hack a few years ago, you may remember, it turned out she had trodden on a piece of old animal bone, which pierced the soft part of her foot. The bone fragment travelled upwards, turned right and sliced into her flexor tendon. The head surgeon at Liphook equine hospital emerged from his operating theatre that night to declare that the chance of an injury like that was ‘many hundreds of millions to one’. Holding the two-inch-long piece of bone fragment in a test tube, he declared himself well and truly impressed.
Seven weeks and many thousands of pounds later she was almost completely better, and a miracle was declared by the experts. Rule number 2: all recoveries are miracles. As such, no reassurance whatsoever may be given about a horse’s condition by any expert until the moment that the animal is completely and demonstrably better, by which point you don’t need any reassurance.
Almost as soon as I brought home Darcy, the thoroughbred yearling, she staged her first freak accident by deciding to climb a very high fence out of her field. She became stuck, all but impaled herself on a post and was barely able to walk for days. But after a haematoma the size of a watermelon on her chest subsided, she was back to normal. ‘Behold! It’s a miracle!’ everyone declared.
Aside from a runny nose and a cough that mimicked strangles but wasn’t strangles — rule number 3, subsection 2: all horse illnesses are never quite any definable illness in particular, but bear a vague resemblance to a condition the vet sort of thinks it might have, although it really isn’t like any form of it he has ever seen before — she has been no trouble for pretty much three years.
Until I started riding her. ‘What, you mean you were actually proposing to ride your thoroughbred?’ I hear fellow owners cry. ‘What were you thinking?’ I know. I know. Rule number 15, part iii: if you do insist on using your horse in any way, especially if it is warm-blooded, prepare to be amazed at how utterly unsuited to any kind of gainful activity it is.
Foolishly, I took Darcy for a hack just before Christmas. We had crossed the footbridge over the A3 to Wisley woods and as I had decided to get off and lead her over to be on the safe side — idiot! Rule number 55c: all precautionary measures taken to ensure the safety of your horse will lead to far worse mishaps — I needed to get back on when we reached the other side. But, of course, the concrete mounting block had been installed the wrong way round. So I couldn’t line her up facing the way we were going. I had to try to get her round the wrong side of the block. So she pranced about thinking, ‘I don’t want to go that way.’ So her left back leg banged ever so slightly against the corner of the block.
I checked her over before I got on and there was absolutely no sign of any kind of skin break on the leg. Not even a mark. But when I got back to the yard and washed her down, an inch-long cut had opened up on the inside of the thigh.
‘Here we go,’ I thought. I washed the cut and it looked very clean and very small indeed. She wasn’t at all lame, either. ‘Oh dear,’ I thought. Rule number 17d: the more innocuous-looking the injury the worse it will turn out. If you can barely see it, prepare for unmitigated disaster.
The next morning the leg was swollen and the call was made to the vet. Antibiotics, Hibi-scrubbing and cold-hosing were prescribed and lavish amounts of Sudocrem.
‘I wish I had bought shares in Sudocrem,’ said the vet philosophically, as she worked away.
‘I wish I had bought shares in you,’ I said. A few days later, the swelling was down. But it was Christmas Eve. Rule number 506(ii)c: an injury will not heal if it is the weekend or a public holiday, so as to maximise call-out charges.
By Christmas day the cut leg was swollen back up. And a day after Boxing Day the other leg was swollen too. The vet came throughout the festive season, blasting her with more antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Blissed out on phenylbutazone, Darcy started to pick up and became quite perky. ‘I need some bute,’ I told her, as I walked her up and down to ease the swelling.