“I’ve never seen that before!” Kristen, my vet, is standing in front of the hay, one hand on her hip, the other with her pointer finger tapping her top lip, a habit she has when she’s thinking. Propped on the hay is her lap top. On the screen is an X-ray of Velvet’s right hock, the brown one, not the white one.
We had trotted Velvet on a circle, flexion tested her, compression tested her and pulled fluid out of the swelling (a hematoma/bruise). The swelling had gone away twice and come back twice, the second time being cause for the vet call. In the wet weather, the horses are fed in the stalls. As is common under these circumstances, Velvet got cornered in a stall and got her hock banged up in the ensuing scuffle, but the swelling should have been gone by now.
“You see that?” Kristen pointed to a thin, dark line above the talus bone. “That’s the joint space of the upper hock joint. It’s collapsed. See when hock joints degenerate, it’s usually only the lower joint. There are four moving surfaces in the hock joint, three on the bottom,” here she points to the lower part of the joint with it’s collection of small building block like bones, “and one on top. When hock joints degenerated and fuse, it’s usually only the bottom three, but that doesn’t matter because the horse can still walk, trot and canter with the lower joint fused. But that upper joint always has to move no matter what.” What this means is that Velvet, every time she takes a step, is experiencing bone on bone pain. Nothing can be done to relieve this pain. As Kristin said, no wonder she was having trouble lifting her leg for the farrier.
The most likely culprit in this situation is Bella. Not that it matters. Bella is an alpha and that’s what alphas do. Karen had been begging me to lease Bella for months. Chavali’s fracture was taking a long time to heal. She needed a break. Problem was, Bella didn’t end up replacing Chavali. She and Velvet occupied the same spot. I could take one out or the other, but not both so Bella had to go. I decided to help Karen find a new owner for Bella.
Dorothy used to breed Morgans, but that was years ago or so she told me as she meticulously scraped mud off Bella’s backside. She’d owned a couple of quarter horses, but they were a little on the boring side for her. She was so excited about the possibility of getting a Morgan. A horse with a little pep. But did Bella have a nice, gentle lope? What she loved most was a nice, gently lope. That’s kind of like saying I want my sports car to also be a camper van.
Nicole lived on Morgan horse breeding ranch as a teenager. She was in her sixties now. She’d owned a six year-old warm blood who would “get the bit in his mouth, pin his ears back and take off bucking around the arena! He finally threw me and I fractured three vertebrae. The trainer I gave him to said he was the most dangerous horse he’d ever encountered!” No kidding. The horse she owns now is a quarter horse with so many physical problems she can’t be ridden. “She’ll probably end up being a brood mare.” “And how tall did you say Bella is?” She asked this towards the end of our conversation. “Fifteen hands.” Actually, Bella is fourteen two, but I didn’t know that at the time. Not that it mattered to Nicole. She said, “Fifteen hands? That’s not tall enough for me. I don’t look good on a horse that is smaller than fifteen two.” I asked her how tall she was. “Five seven.” I’m five six and I think Bella is the perfect size.
Then there was Sheila. “How do you think she’ll do in endurance?” I think Bella would love to ride in an endurance race. Sheila had a property of her own. “I need an alpha mare to keep my uppity gelding in line. Would she do that?” I definitely think she would. Sheila was sounding more promising by the second. She was the first inquiry who I felt confident could actually ride Bella. Then she said, “I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted a black Morgan!” I said, “Bella is dark bay.” What followed next was a long silence and an “Oh.” And that was the last I heard from Sheila.
I posted horse for sale signs in Woodside and Portola Valley and at Webb Ranch. I hadn’t been to Webb in maybe ten years? The center of the sprawling “facility” is a huge, old, wooden barn. It is now surrounded by chain link fencing with “Danger!” and “Peligro!” signs all around it. The covered lesson arena no longer has a cover. Just eight, twenty foot high posts holding up the air. Like most local horse facilities, Webb is on Stanford land. Always on edge about when the five thousand pound gorilla with start stomping around, Webb is hesitant to make any improvements. They do their best, but it’s hard to not think of Webb as a tenement for horses.
I also posted signs at Indian Hills. They have a really nice covered arena, with cover still on. But that’s about it. The “pastures” are knee deep mud interspersed with tenacious weeds. They used to have back road access to the nearby county park. Turned out, that access was a private road and the new owners don’t want horses on it.To get to the trails, you have to ride your horse down Calaveras Blvd., a narrow, two lane country road with traffic going 35mph and one section, about thirty feet, with no shoulder, riding directly into oncoming traffic.
Portola Pastures actually does have nearby trail access, and good trails to boot. Unfortunately, in an effort to keep costs down, they buy the cheapest hay possible, hay that has killed at least one horse with botulism. Also on Stanford land, they don’t want to put money into maintenance. The arena maintenance is so poor that a horse broke it’s leg being worked in one. The trainer at Portola Pastures was seriously interested in Bella. She’s a good woman and Bella would have a stable home. But to earn her keep she’d have to jump 3′ regularly. Even 3’6″.
Whispering Creek has good trail access also. Unlike Portola Pastures, they buy good hay. But WC has no electricity. Kristen, the vet, told me about how when she has to take an Xray they have to trailer the horse to the nearest gas station as ask to use their electricity. There isn’t anyone at Whispering Creek who wants Bella so I guess it doesn’t make sense to mention them other than the fact that after visiting all those stables, I’m flummoxed that getting people to move their horses to LAH is a hard sell.
The selling of Bella is now entering it’s third month. From this experience, I’ve concluded that the world of horse people consists of kids taking lessons, trainers (who generally know what they are doing) and loopy adults with materialistic priorities. Not great prospects for the long haul of a horses life.
Towards the end of the vet exam, the Jensen’s, who own the Campo Vista barn, came down to chat with me about another matter. In talking with Kristin, I mentioned the fact that kidslovehorses never makes enough to cover expenses; how I’m always out of pocket for something. The Jensen’s looked alarmed. I said, “What I’m doing is about saving horses primarily so that’s just to be expected.” Then I told them the statistics: 170,000 unwanted horses a year in the US. My horses are all wanted horses. Velvet is a wanted horse. I had to leave in a hurry, so I didn’t fully confirm the prognosis, but from what I could tell, it sure seems like Velvet probably shouldn’t be ridden anymore and even if we continue riding her, it shouldn’t be for very much longer. So, it seems, Bella may not be for sale any more. As heartbreaking as the situation with Velvet is, it seems that because of it, Bella will now have a home with KLH.