I had been riding Lady a few times a week this summer. But she wasn't picking up from where we left off too well. When invited to trail ride with friends, I always took Velvet, since my time with Lady was still reinforcing some basics, and trying to get her cooperation. Not fun or easy to do on the trail. Don't miss read me here. We didn't do the same thing over and over. We took our work out of the round pen every time we worked, and did something different every time, but her comfort zone is very small. She likes some things, and hates everything else. Oh, how I can relate to that. As far as the kind of ride she's been capable of: She can be fine one minute, then go into her rodeo bronc impersonation. All these years, I was sure that with enough love, compassion, and training, she would come around.
It turns out, I was wrong.
I've had her isolated from the herd for nearly a month. She always rides better when she's been alone. She'd been showing me she was almost ready to go out on the trail from the work we'd been doing. Our rides were somewhat normal. No big shows of attitude yet this summer. I should have known something was up.
Last Saturday, I went to take her out. I wasn't planning on anything stressful, or even anything she didn't like. We were going to do some ground work, and ride a little in the round pen. Maybe walk over some ground poles before it was over with. Nothing she didn't excel at, and even enjoy. I had her in the crossties that I had used hundreds of times before with her. I used the same saddle and pad that I have used for the past year and a half. She stood for the pad, saddle, cinch, and breastcollar - none of which she ever was afraid of, and none of which we hadn't been using all summer. I took one step towards her with the headstall, and she blew up. I barely got out of the way. She threw herself backwards, full force, tossing her head as hard as she could, digging in with all 4 hooves, pulling for all she's worth. When that didn't work, she blasted forward (a new addition to a particularly nasty temper tantrum) through the cross ties in an effort to break them that way. When that didn't work, she twisted herself in the ties until I was sure the ropes, or her halter would break. She'd gotten cuts on her face - I'm still not sure from where. I could NOT get her to take one step forward to untie her. I had to cut her loose. I've never had a problem getting her to take a step, even on her worst day. I've never had to cut her loose from anything. Then, I had to calm her enough to get the other tie off. I walked her, and calmed her, then took off my tack - throwing it into the wheelbarrow. She was fine - as if nothing had happened. She could have broken something on herself, or killed me. Had one of the kids or one of my young riders been nearby she could have easily crushed or kicked them. Keep in mind, my older son is almost always around when I work the horses - he was in the round pen for this episode. What could have happened had he been by us? God forbid what could have happened if a rope had broken with him nearby.
I talked to some horsetrainer friends for advice. I called my vet for consultation - then I called a second vet just to see what was likely. When I didn't want to hear what they had to say, I called MSU, and 6 local/semilocal vets and had a phone consult with a vet at every office, giving them the lowdown, and relating what the other vets had assessed. It appears, by professional consultation that the most likely culprit for Lady's increasingly nasty disposition, and increasingly violent outbursts & unpredictability is a tumor in her brain. I thought it might be on her ovary, causing wild surges in hormones, but more likely is a tumor in her brain, the symptoms fit perfectly : Loss of training, banging or rubbing her head, rearing, sudden bolting under saddle for no reason, or throwing herself around, it may be putting pressure in the wrong places literally causing her to black out - and what visually related animal wouldn't freak out when it suddenly couldn't see? To sum it up: inoperable. And, if it were operable, unlikely to happen anyhow, and the costs of a hysterectomy is in the thousands, with a 50% chance of death due to complications anyhow. That would only do her good if it was an ovarian issue. Nothing could be done if it is a brain issue - which, as I said before was the more likely culprit. The decision was made for me even though by the time the vets had given me the bad news, I had made up my mind. She has to go.
As much as I hate the mere idea of it, I cannot have a horse like that around my children. I can't have a horse around that is a danger to itself, and everyone around it with it's wild unpredictability. I can't have a horse I can never train, or trust, or ride. I've tried the best trainers around - with limited results, long term, she slipped back to her comfortable groove, or physically could not retain the knowledge. I've done Join-Up, used every natural horsemanship method under the sun, and some I've concocted myself. All with limited results. But at least now, I can understand WHY it never stuck very well with her.
Bottom line - I know now, after 5 years of work, unconditional love, and training, attention, and trust - there is nothing else I can do. There is nothing I could have done differently that would have helped her. There is no training method in the world that can counteract a tumor. I've pointed the finger everywhere but where I should have.
If I just hold her here, I endanger not only myself, and my kids, but also the young horses that I hope to train. As I train them, she will train them too - or she could injure or kill them while she was playing alpha mare. That coupled with the fact that I cannot afford a pasture ornament, has forced this issue. I am broken, depressed, and hurting as badly as I ever have. It's the same to my heart as if it were a family member that has died, or an ill fated romance gone sour. She brought me back to horsemanship, and it kills me that I cannot see her through to be an old worn out nag.
It's heartbreaking, but it's also a needed thing. I can't trust her, so I can't have a relationship with her anymore. I'm sorry, but in a way, I'm not. I know I did all that I could, and I know that I have kept trying with her long after most horsemen would have given up. I have explored every avenue, looked into everything possible,and there is nothing I can do. I love her, but I don't anymore. No, that's not true. I will always love her. I just can't have her. I'm sorry my lovely Lady, but it seems like it just wasn't meant to be. I tried. I really tried. We were not meant for each other after all. So I will spend our last bit of time together, loving you as I always have, waiting in dread for the day to come when I give you one last kiss goodbye, and snuggle the velvety nose you have so often nuzzled me with. I will miss you until my last breath, but I hope we will meet up again and ride through heaven, or nirvana or whatever you may call eternity together.