It was the end of January, just after the Gulf Coast Circuit in Tampa Florida. We had officially owned Im N Outsider for two years, and we had just completed one of the most successful shows we have had together, accumulating ninety-nine points in just one week. We had worked hard and I felt like we were at the top of our game at that show and it only made me more excited for the season ahead of us. It was going to be our year.
I pulled Gunner out of his stall and tacked him. Nothing seemed unusual until I took him out to the arena to longe; he was three-legged lame on his left front leg. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before and I wasn’t worried. I knew quickly it was probably an abscess and nothing to worry about because he had been completely fine the day before. I took him to the wash rack to soak his hoof in epsom salt and didn’t give it another thought.
Our farrier, Dave Gosnell was able to travel to our barn the very next day to take a look at Gunner. It was in the morning and we hadn’t been in his stall to check on him yet. My mom and trainer, Melissa Shetler and I approached Gunner’s stall to take a look at his abscess. We opened the door and noticed significant swelling in his knee.
We decided to have a vet take a look at it, and he took X-Rays of the knee. There were a couple of tiny bone fragments surrounding the knee, and he suggested that we take him to a clinic to have them removed. “It’s a little more serious than just an abscess”, I thought, but told myself we just had to take him to the clinic, get the fragments removed, and he would be back in no time.
After we got to the clinic, I still wasn’t worried. Even though the smell of it all reminded me of my Congress Champion showmanship mare that went there for surgery and never came back. The same smell that clings to our beloved horses’ sheets for weeks even after they get to come home.
We were quickly told that he needed surgery for not only the fragments in his knee, but also a suspected tear in his ligament. We headed back home and awaited the results of his surgery. The news we received was not anything we had been expecting. We were told he had a “left middle carpal joint-intercarpal ligament tear, full-thickness cartilage loss on the weight bearing surface of the distal radial carpal joint approximately the size of a nickel.”
We were told that his prognosis for soundness was poor and that he would never show again. We were also told that it was unknown if he’d ever be able to live comfortably in a pasture. They said euthanasia may be a result, and if not now, then it would be in the near future.
I remember breaking down in my living room and not knowing what to do; my mom and I were both in shock. I felt guilty. Guilty for not wanting to put him out of his misery and guilty for even thinking about it. I wanted him to live, even if it was in our fields forever, but it didn’t even feel like that was possible. My mom was also at a crossroads. She wanted to give him a chance, but didn’t want to cause him pain, so she called a vet she has used and trusted for many years, Dr. Mike Bowman. He looked over the report and told us to get him home as soon as we could and give him a chance.
To our surprise, as we walked him out of the clinic, he was completely sound. We began treating him with IRAP injections, started him on Equinox and 100x Osteo Max, gave him Adequan, and had his knee Magnawaved twice a week for a month by Heather Tatalovic of Top Notch Performance Therapy. His recovery was not always easy because he’s a horse that loves to move, and he was also used to regular turnout.
In February, we decided to start looking for another horse to lease. At this point, we were still thinking Gunner would never return to the show pen again and I still had two years left in the youth division. I entered the process open-minded, knowing we wouldn’t be able to find a horse the same caliber as Gunner. I just wanted to have fun enjoying what I love to do. Until we found Grace Kelly. She exceeded every expectation that had been shattered up to that point for the year. She has every bit of grit and talent at only five years old. She stepped up for me at a time I needed her, and I will forever be grateful to Jamie Radenbaugh for this amazing opportunity to learn and love her as well as Troy Lehn for being so helpful throughout the whole process. Of course, I’d be remiss for not thanking my mom alongside Jamie and Troy for making the entire thing happen.
I may not have done every class with Grace, but in the classes where Gunner struggled, she excelled. I was able to show the showmanship and trail like I hadn’t been able to in a long time. She is also quick and handy, which makes her an excellent horsemanship horse.
After the world show with Grace, it had been six months since Gunner’s surgery. Under the guidance of Dr. Bowman and our local vet, Dr. Rachel Davis, we began working him again. Up until this point, he had only been walking and trotting in small amounts under the saddle and mostly by hand. We had also slightly sedated him since the day we brought him home to ensure he didn’t cause any more damage to his knee, so going back to work was definitely an adjustment.
By the end of August, he was ready to slowly make his way back to the show pen. I went into the first show fully prepared to only ride him around, but he is a horse that loves to work and that’s exactly what he did. It wasn’t perfect, but it was more than I could have ever expected from him. He handled it like a champ, even winning the equitation under two judges. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was just so happy that he was there.
Times like these really put things into perspective. There seems to always be a need to grind, to work harder and to never stop because someone is always better and always working harder. But at that show, I was just happy to be there with my horse. We went from running for the year end youth all-around, to a complete stop. It makes you appreciate the little moments and victories, like Gunner continuously coming out without a lame stride, him popping his head out of his stall to greet us each morning because he’s still here and able to, and each show we get to continue to compete at. Winning is great of course, but in the end, trophies collect dust. It’s truly the connection between our horses and ourselves and others like us that keeps us going, that makes all the late nights and hard work worth it.