Well, maybe not all of them… (Also, if you haven’t watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix you definitely should – provided you love a good romcom).
Honestly, going through this rehab process with B has had me thinking back a lot to what I went through with Des, and because he pre-dates me starting this blog, I thought it might be nice to dedicate one to him.
November 8th will mean it is two years since I had to say goodbye, and even now when I think of him I can barely hold back the tears. Missing him hurts me every day.
The day he arrived
“Disaster” came into my life on the 27th of November 2013.
He was a 7 year old Thoroughbred by Fastnet Rock out of a Zabeel Mare. This is code for, he was a f*^$ing expensive horse by racing standards. He was raced as Disaster, due to his unfortunate back story. Born a bit sick, he required many dollars to stay alive. When they went to geld him, it turned out he was a cryptorchid and they had to spend even more dollars retrieving that pesky testicle. At some point, it all became too expensive for the owners and he was basically gifted to a vet nurse willing to take on his medical bills (who also trained race horses). This was who I eventually purchased him off.
I bought him from a friend of a friend, as I was selling my other horse Charlie before returning to University. Charlie was big and complicated and required a lot of management for such a young thing. I didn’t think he would cope with the half day stabling and my lack of funds when I once more became a full time student.
I needed something easier to manage and required less work.
Shannon had Des, who she hadn’t raced until late thanks to all his issues as a young horse, only to have him come somewhere between last and dead last. She didn’t mind too much and instead rode him around herself.
I arrived at the property to meet his owner for the first time, and saw 3 horses. I remember thinking to myself “I hope it’s not that one” because he was a solid bay with no markings and the others were quite blingy #superficial.
Des when he was racing. He’s actually gorgeous but my first impression was lacklustre
I felt uneasy when I noticed he was rugged but was already wearing jump boots – had they worked him down before I arrived?
Shannon actually told me she had jumped on that morning because he hadn’t been ridden in a year, and instead was just playing babysitter to her young racehorses. I brushed it off and decided to go ahead and ride him anyway, with mild scepticism. She told me about how he was tested as a police horse, but his flat education was a bit too lacking for his age (6 when he was tested, 7 when I bought him) but he had coped really well with the tests.
I then did another stupid thing and rode him straight up without watching her ride him. I never do that. But this time I did. And sitting on him felt like coming home. So I took him home for the measly price of $800.
Apparently home felt like a stiff plank of wood with no bend, but hey. Home is home.
I was quick to spoil him with new rugs and treats. The grand ol’ days of when I worked at a saddlery that let me put things on an account.
I gave him a few days to settle in (not that he needed it) and could barely contain myself to ride him.
I ended up giving in to the struggle on what was probably the most inopportune of days. My sister had organised a work Christmas party at my Mothers property. This consisted of erecting a marquis over half the arena and putting in fun porta-potties around the edges.
The winds were all but gale force, so the tent was flapping around and I thought to myself “what the hell”.
Don’t ask me what my hands are doing here, because I don’t even know
The ride really was not fair on him. One of the porta-potties actually blew over whilst I was trotting past it and he didn’t blink.
In January I decided to take him to a local show for some led classes. Gotta see how reacts to that exposure, you know?
He was too skinny and I hadn’t plaited a horse since 2009 but off we went.
It took me three hours and they were on the wrong side
A friend who is a brilliant show rider did our make up for us (thank the heavens, I had literally never done anything like that), and he actually looked gorgeous.
Can’t believe I ever thought he was plain looking.
We came third in our handler class, and of course the only other led class we were eligible for ran at the exact same time, so it was about 9.00am and our day was already over.
He stood in the yard for a few hours before becoming antsy, so I ducked home to drop him off and then returned to spend the rest of the day with friends.
His trend of being easy continued. He was perfect to float and easy to take anywhere. A friend and I left work at the saddlery one afternoon at 4.30pm where I quickly rushed home to throw him on the float and meet him at my friends house. We tacked up and headed out into the bush behind his house.
The bush was filled with kangaroos (not a great favorite of many horses) but he was an angel. We cantered around and I think my heart almost burst from the joy of having such an easy horse again (Charlie couldn’t even manage a walk around the property).
We moved back to New South Wales the next month and he was installed on campus at the University. We started trying to knuckle down on our dressage and jumping so we could get competing again for real.
We did our first dressage competition and came away with a fourth
And not long after we entered our first ever Horse Trials and came tenth!
Not everything stayed so easy. Des had this quirk of hanging his tongue out the right hand side of his mouth due to some significant trauma from a tongue tie when he raced. It would come out at any given time, in the paddock or under saddle and always after having liquorice.
It meant we were sometimes unpopular in the dressage ring, but I didn’t care.
He also had separation anxiety issues, and one foggy morning he had no one in his paddock, so he attempted to jump out. Probably would have made it, had his rug not caught a star picket and flipped him through the wires.
Some lacerations on two legs that required stitches, but otherwise ok.
He had to be boxed for a few months and he accepted this treatment most graciously.
Time was mostly passed by snoozling
Snoozling and getting abscesses
But, the bandages came off and we got back to it.
It was like no time had passed at all.
We went back to have a crack at showing, but this time under saddle.
We brought home a first, second and third in the Hunter Classes
And we kept training for eventing. By this point he was starting to play with Elementary level flat moves like walk to canters, and I was hoping to start playing with changes.
Jumping was also going well, he was far more adjustable and 90cm was easy, we were starting to dabble in the 1m+ fences.
But I had to head back to WA for Christmas, which meant leaving him for a few weeks. While I was gone he was kicked in the leg by another horse and broke his splint bone.
On the way out to the paddock after being sedated. He kept falling asleep while we walked out.
The vet thought our chances of recovery were good though, and advised some time off to let it heal. I took him 20 minutes out of town to a friends place, making sure to visit as often as I could.
He always ran up to see me.
I always made sure to bring him his favourite treats. It was our pact.
I had to move back to Victoria for some health reasons, so I took 6 months off University and went home. By then he was ready to come back into work.
However, he never really came good again. His balance seemed really off and he wasn’t happy like he had been before, I thought perhaps it was weakness due to the injuries but 6 months on and it wasn’t getting better.
Further vet testing had them concluding the damage hadn’t just been done to his leg, and he was likely to have been kicked somewhere that was affecting his balance.
Riding was no longer a possibility.
I took him back to my Mother’s property so he could retire with our two old TBs, and look after the broodmares. I had hoped for him to become the nanny horse for the little ones once they were weaned but it became obvious that his weakness and balance problems were degenerating far faster than we had thought they would.
Sometimes he would fall down just from trying to canter his paddock end to end.
The two older TBs hadn’t got through winter easily, so I was faced with having to lose them all.
At the same time.
The day before he was put to sleep, we spent the whole day together, just being around each other. My heart was breaking and I felt like I had failed him. He just kept putting his head into my hands and closing his eyes.
Sunglasses always to hide the tears
I’d always thought losing my old mare Tai would be the hardest moment of my life, but when horses are older and they’ve lived their full life there’s a sense of peace that came with the grief of loss.
I did not have this luxury with Des, and when he died, a piece of me did too.
I’m not sure if I have ever got it back, and I don’t think I ever will.