Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

The Winning Card

There are many PMU horses that crossed my path over the years. Some I bought, some were owned by friends or acquaintances, and some entered my life, quite by accident … happy accidents though. Ace was one of the accidental ones. I hadn’t gone looking for him, yet he still fell into my lap. He was owned by people who knew nothing about horses, weren’t prepared to purchase a horse, but who went ahead and bought one anyway, because their daughter wanted one. It wasn’t as if their daughter was old enough or prepared to own a horse. An only child, I’m pretty sure she got whatever she wanted. But there I go, getting ahead of myself again. I have to go back to the beginning, to how I came to know Ace.

Working at the huge Thoroughbred stable, I learned a good deal about horses in general. I had no choice but to learn. Even if I hadn’t been about as horse crazy as was humanly possible, I was so immersed in the everyday work that I learned something about everything. The farm was a racing stable, broodmare facility and veterinary clinic, complete with operating table as an added bonus. It was the best of all words for someone who soaked in horse knowledge like a sponge. From wound care to breeding and foaling, I got to learn it all. When the farriers came to trim horses, I caught and held the unruly horses as well as the good ones. Gosh, I can’t remember how many times I was practically carried the whole length of the barn by an unwilling horse. If a horse decided to go, there was often very little a person could to stop it. Keep in mind that they were race horses with very little training and no one worrying about their manners. Manners weren’t important, speed was. The theory was that if a race horse was too obedient, a jockey would be able to pull a horse in, instead of letting it win. All that mattered was that the horse ran down that track as fast as it could. After all, it is all about racing.

Though most of the horses on the farm belonged to Doc, the veterinarian, there were a few high-priced boarders as well. Expensive Thoroughbreds celebrities like Football and Hockey players owned. Some were racing, some were broodmares, but they were all worth a good deal of money. Funny thing was, the owners were rarely seen. The horses they owned were a means of showing off. They weren’t actually interested in the horses themselves, those horses were more of a status symbol than anything else. Every now and again, a new person would show up to see the horses, another person who knew nothing about horses, but figured they’d like to have a race horse. That’s how I met the couple who would lead me to Ace. The owner of several salons in Winnipeg, he had it in his head that he should have a race horse. That it would be fun to go and watch his horse run at the track on race day. Once he was quoted some prices for board, racing and trainer fees, he changed his mind, thank goodness, yet I suppose the idea of a horse didn’t leave his mind. I suppose I didn’t leave it either, as he asked if I could check in on their house while they were on vacation. I like to make a few extra dollars whenever I could, so of course I said yes.

As it turned out, they went away quite often, so I visited the house a lot. When he called to ask if I could check on the house again, I immediately said yes. Then he added that they had purchased a horse and it had been slightly injured. Could I take care of the horse as well? They were going to be gone, and it needed bandages on a leg changed. Would I be able to do that as well? Of course, I said yes. If there was one thing I could do, it was take care of wounds. Big and small, I’d seen and cared for them all. It was a side benefit of working for a large animal vet.

I went to check the house and take care of the horse. I’d been told that everything I needed was on site, so I didn’t have to bring anything along to care for the horse. As it turned out, it was darn lucky that I had my mom along. What we found when we got to the property that day, left me dumbfounded for a few moments. The young, bay gelding wasn’t slightly injured, he was seriously wounded. The back leg was swollen from hoof to hock. Half his poor face drooped like that of a person who suffered a heart attack. How did this happen, you might ask? Well, they weren’t prepared to have a horse. There was no shelter, no fences, none of the basic things one needs to properly care for a large animal like a horse, nothing. They tethered him with a long rope to a big tree, just like they’d seen many other people do with their horses. The problem is, long tying or tethering has to be taught. It’s not something every horse knows. In fact, a dragging rope is very snake-like and apt to create abject terror in a horse. When that snake follows no matter where you go, what you might do, that fear only increases to the point where the animal doesn’t think at all. I hadn’t seen this particular horse get tangled up, and I didn’t need to. I knew what had happened. He’d run to the end of the rope, it had probably flipped him, then he’d run some more, tangling, turning, fighting against the long snake that was squeezing ever tighter, the more he’d fought. Then there came a time when he was so tangled, he fell to the ground where he lay until someone found him and cut him free. It was such a horrible sight, and so unnecessary. If only they’d asked for a little advice, before they’d gone ahead and bought the poor horse, they could’ve saved themselves and the horse a lot of grief. I couldn’t believe that anyone could call the injury nothing serious, or that they’d go away without seeing to the horse.

So, there I was with a severely injured horse to tend to, and every intention of alleviating his pain. I was appalled by his condition, and that he was still tied out, but what was I to do? There wasn’t even the simplest pen, to put him into. So injured he wasn’t moving, he stood at the end of that rope and our hearts went out to him. He looked so pitiful, so injured and depressed. It was heartrending to say the least. I looked at mom and she had tears in her eyes. It was simply awful.

Well, there was nothing to do but get to work. My mother held his head, not that it needed holding, and I set about tending to the wound. It was one of the worst rope burns I’d ever seen. The flesh had been deeply cut into, and it was obvious that the rope had wrapped around the whole area between the fetlock and hoof several times. Thankfully, Ace didn’t protest at all, not one, little bit. Even when I lifted and set his leg, into a five gallon pail of very warm water with Epsom salts mixed into it. He was beyond caring. I could see it in his eyes. He looked like he was ready to give up and die.

The whole time I was working on Ace’s leg, mom was massaging his poor face. Ace shut his eyes and rested his head against her. Heaving a great sigh, he was willing to allow someone to be kind, to help him. There wasn’t much I could do about his face. Clearly, he’d suffered nerve damage from the rope. The poor horse couldn’t even close his lips to eat or drink. No problem, I held my hand under his muzzle to help him drink. I did a bit of a check, only to find that his gums were pale, and when I pressed a thumb to them, they did turn a bit whiter but took forever to come back again. I didn’t have a thermometer with me, but I could certainly tell that he was running a temperature. The poor horse was sweating even as he stood there. There was no way he was going to make it, if I didn’t do more. Mom stayed with Ace and I ran to the vet’s for supplies. I didn’t know which vet had come out to see him, but the horse needed antibiotics and electrolytes. I could get them from the vet I used to work for. I couldn’t stand by and allow Ace to get worse and die. I had to help him.

Over the next few days, I treated Ace three times a day. Mom and I tended to him together. She massaged and crooned all sorts of sweet things to him. He always rested his head against her, eyes shut as he listened, and we became determined to take him home with us. His owners weren’t prepared for a horse, never mind an injured one. He needed care for a long while yet, and I was sure they wouldn’t see to him like he needed. When his owners returned home, I made it known that Ace was more than they wanted to, or could handle. He needed to come home with me. That’s all there was to it. They saw the wisdom of my thinking. I paid a hundred dollars for him, and took him home.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB