My resident Stable Boy calls my horse Ping and I Barn Warriors. When I first heard myself so described, I thought he was saying Barn Worrier (something not too far off the mark come to think of it). But, he really meant warrior. Stable Boy says Ping and I are entitled to this honorary title because both my trusty steed and myself are just a couple of walking wounded, both lame on the same leg - plus one.
Ping (a.k.a. Pool Boy), my little New Zealand Thoroughbred, has been a rather gimpy throughout our brief association. Together, we have battled several trim-happy farriers, abscesses, a colic, upward fixations of the patella, sore stifles, touchy bruised soles, a half gainer over a pasture fence, and more recently, the absence of rather large portions of the hoof wall of his left hind foot! I estimate that in the 15 months since I received this gift, he has been sound for approximately six months give or take a month or two (mostly give - at least when it comes to money changing hands).
Anyway, I figure I have spent just about the last nine months nursing, soaking, doctoring, painting with all manner of smelly concoctions, weaving hoof patches (I have invested heavily in the corporation that manufactures Duck-tape!), wrapping, packing, and fretting over one equine appendage or another. And, this horse has yet to be in competition, at least with me.
I can’t imagine the frustration of trying to compete this fellow. You know the story – spending all that money on entry fees, tack, transportation, Coggins test, USEA membership, USEF registration, not to mention hotel and meals – only to have the horse turn up lame just before you enter the dressage ring. I might just as well send the organizer a check for their grandchild’s college fund and fly to Bermuda for the weekend.
Recently, during one of those rare occasions when his soundness and beautiful weather converged, we took a trail ride. Hopping to the ground, I noticed a burning sensation near the Achilles tendon of my right foot. I chose to ignore this feeling, preferring to pretend that I am still in my late 20’s (how deluded can one person be, I ask you?). Rather than seeking the opinion of a qualified medical professional, I chose to walk it off, being sure that it would go away shortly. I mentally repeated the mantra of my middle age – “Ice, ice, ice and Advil® will fix this problem.”
When this slicing, burning sensation persisted, I asked the advice of my most trusted confidant and a pretty smart fellow – Stable Boy. My husband is a physicist by education and is in no way affiliated with the allied medical professions. When he observed the swelling growing on my tendon, he remarked, “Honey,” (he is allowed to call me this as he pays the bills and cleans my stall) “I think you’ve bowed a tendon!”
I decided to mooch some free medical advice from my best friend who just happens to be a Licensed Physical Therapist in a nearby state (if you knew my orthopedic history, you would understand why I cling to this valuable association tooth and nail, although this is not the only reason. She, upon hearing my symptoms, insisted that this was nothing to mess around with and I should seek the attention of a qualified Sports Medicine Physician. I demurred. You see, I am already under the care of another Licensed Physical Therapist who is working on my acute tennis elbow of the right arm caused by one too many years of jerking up an eight-pound camera 800 times a weekend at horse trials. Local PT, upon seeing my swelling tendon, also suggested in the strongest possible terms that I see a Sports Medicine Physician ASAP because if that tendon ruptured, I could lose the use of my foot and require major surgery and extensive rehabilitative therapy. I demurred no longer.
In the midst of all this medical professional grousing, Ping’s farrier came out to the barn to trim, reset, and apply the latest version of hoof in a tube and Mylar® to his left hind foot. He then proceeded to pare Ping’s right sole a little too thin, tearing through it. This misfortune prompted a call to a my qualified Veterinary Medical Professional who said the foot required a soak in Epsom salts, a thorough application of Betadine, sheet cotton, and that all important commodity, Duck tape (I checked the label this evening and it really is spelled DUCK tape), all to be encased in yet another hoof boot (I should buy more stock!) With visions of multiple applications of Venice Turpentine dancing in my head I realized that my poor little guy now had matching diagonal feet enclosed in black neoprene hoof boots! The real tragedy, besides the obvious discomfort my horse was suffering, was that the mud lot had finally dried out enough for Ping to go out with his buddies. He’d been out only one day before this latest calamity befell. Now he’d be stuck in his stall for another couple of weeks.
Over the past several months I have invested in a fair number of equine hoof boots of various designs, with prices ranging anywhere from $30 to $80. All made of that nice black neoprene, black foam cloth, and black rubber. All have a strap, wire, or Velcro closure, and all have a hard black rubber sole. All have had varying useful lives depending on whether they were lost in the mud lot, requiring a futile search by flashlight followed by a quick replacement, or managed to meet their inevitable demise due to normal wear and tear.
When I finally visited the Sports Doc he smiled at the “bowed tendon” description telling me that indeed, that was exactly what I had done to myself. My Achilles tendon was tearing and it would have to be immobilized for six weeks! The good doctor informed me that I wouldn’t be able to ride for the duration of my recovery and I would have to wear a boot to keep my foot immobilized and protected from any further injury. But the good news is that just like a horse, the tendon should “set” and I should be fine in the long run. No more emergency dismounts and posting for a while (In all fairness, part of this problem could have been the result of that course of Ballroom Dancing Lessons that Stable Boy decided we should take to break up the winter doldrums …I just couldn’t resist the idea of doing the Tango with my blond barn cleaner), but all in all I should make a full recovery.
The nurse brings in my boot. It looks vaguely familiar - black neoprene, foam, hard rubber sole, and Velcro closures. I mind reels with Déjà vu. The only difference between this two-footed version (it resembles Darth Vader’s ski boots) and the more familiar four-footed boot is the price - $500 – mercifully covered by my insurance. Maybe those $50 boots of Ping’s weren’t such a bad deal after all.
And so, Pool Boy and I have bonded in yet another way. We are veterans of the Barn Wars, members of the Walking Wounded – a couple of old Warriors biding our time as we limp along in tandem, hand grazing through life in our coordinated black neoprene footwear. Patiently we wait for that elusive something called soundness because with only three good legs between us – we can’t afford any more trouble!