Hello, friends. It has been a minute.
Our last blog update feels like forever ago. To recap, my young Thoroughbred, Sig, and I moved to the United Kingdom from Kentucky last summer. Sig settled into his new English life well and won over everyone at our new yard. He’s become an expert at hacking on English roads, was doing well in our dressage schooling, and we were on track to really start testing his scope in the jumper ring.
… And then the other shoe hit the floor.
The Winter Of Woe
At the end of September, I had a fall in a jump lesson and was sidelined shortly with a mild concussion. (Get MIPS helmets, ya’ll! They help! Another pro tip: Don’t miss to big oxers.) A week or so later, Sig had a serious colic that sent him to the Newmarket Equine Hospital. They were able to correct his right-side displacement medically, and I was so relieved to avoid surgery. He came home a couple of days later, and we watched him carefully. He’d had a minor gas colic several weeks before that, and now with reoccurring colic I was starting to feel a bit worried. The next several weeks were a rollercoaster.
Sig had another minor gas colic, treated at the yard, and then two weeks later was back at Newmarket with another gas colic. As my longtime readers know, I lost my last horse, Soon, to colic after a long string of complications from colic surgery in 2017. It was a horribly traumatic experience that unfortunately still haunts me today. I lost my first horse, Triple, to nephrosplenic entrapment back in 2007, after she had been through two successful colic surgeries herself a few years apart. Any sign of colic in Sig now sends me into full anxiety tailspin.
While Sig seemed to improve upon arrival to Newmarket, I asked that he stay over for diagnostics and specifically requested a scope. He had grade 3-4 ulcers. We started omeprazole treatment immediately, he came home and went in immediate 24/7 grass turnout. Thankfully, the ulcers healed well. The colics stopped. He had dropped weight and lost topline condition due to the ulcers and the on/off training. Many thanks to the staff at Newmarket and our yard staff for their quick and compassionate care over the course of Sig’s colics.
By the end of November, we had gotten Sig’s ulcers under control and he was doing well living outside. Unfortunately, I was sick for two weeks (not COVID!). Immediately afterward, I had to work an active duty mortuary case—a suicide.
I have lost several colleagues to suicide, and supporting the family during this time was extremely challenging and emotional. No matter what is happening on base, everything stops for me and my team when we have a case. The days and weeks are long. We drop everything and are available 24/7 for the family, both locally and stateside, as we work to get their loved one home and laid to rest. Moments like that are why I needed Sig with me on this journey—even when I could not make it out to the yard for several days, just being around him always put a smile on my face and made me feel at peace. Mortuary duty is an important part of my job, and horses have always been a critical support system for me. I am so grateful for Sig.
Once most of the mortuary case had been completed, I was ready to get back to training. Sig went back to Newmarket Equine Hospital and got a follow-up scope, where the vets were very pleased with how well the ulcers had healed. He continued to be colic-free and was extremely happy living out. This felt like a good jumping-off point for a comeback. But two days after he returned from his scope and gotten the all-clear, he came in with a huge, white hot left front and mild lameness. It looked like a check ligament. Vets said two weeks stall rest and then scan and make decisions from there. Stall rest?! The thought of it made me internally panic. It was the exact opposite of the delicate balance we had struck for Sig, and I worried about colic and the ulcers returning.
It was right about then that I asked the universe what exactly it wanted from me. Our first three months in the U.K. together were so idyllic. We were both thriving, I was happier than I had been in some time, and it seemed like bringing Sig over was the right decision. But since October, it felt like one setback after another. I began seriously second-guessing my decision, even feeling exceptionally guilty for all the things that had been going wrong for Sig. I even debated sending him back to Kentucky. (Logic is not something that comes easily when a person is in such a negative headspace.)
Sig lived on omeprazole during his stall rest and, thankfully, tolerated it well. Our wonderful friends at Newmarket Equine Hospital came back out to scan his leg and didn’t see any damage to the tendons or ligaments. He probably just got kicked and had some hematoma junk hanging around. The swelling and heat came down and he was looking sound. He was cleared to start tack walking and working slowly back up to full ridden work in the following weeks. Yay.
But then (oh yes, this all really happened), he had an abscess in his left hind. We treated it, it looked good, he went back outside after a few days, and then came back in three days later with it full-blown raging again. The negative thoughts about me making the wrong decision, or somehow causing this suffering for Sig came back. The abscess eventually blew out the coronary band. After a few more days stall rest and lots of cleaning and sugardine, he was sound and happy.
Fingers crossed, that was the last setback we had, and it was back in March. I meant to write several times over the course of the winter, but every time things were starting to feel good, and I was starting to get excited again, something else happened and suddenly I couldn’t muster the energy to write. It just felt like none of this was meant to be.
Springing Forward, Not Looking Back
It’s now early May. I just returned from my first actual holiday away since moving to the U.K. I spent the week in The Cotswolds and attended the Badminton Horse Trials on Friday. It was so nice to be out and about with the massive, enthusiastic crowds. I also enjoyed the shopping. Thoroughly. Not sure my bank account did though.
Back home, Sig is looking and feeling fantastic! I switched his feed back in February, which he is thriving on. His weight, topline and shine are all back. I built him back up slowly under saddle, with lots of walking for the first several weeks to lay a baseline of fitness. He’s getting so strong now under saddle—his lateral work is getting so light and easy for him, and his balance in the canter is coming back nicely. He’s just now getting fit enough for real work, and I’m excited to start back with dressage lessons this week. We’ve had two jump schools thus far, and he’s been super keen to be back to jumping for the first time in about six months. We’re sticking to grids for the first few weeks, as thus far he is overjumping like crazy. Once we’re out of the “fire-breathing dragon” phase and back to my soft, quiet hunter, we’ll worry about courses.
This part of England has had some lovely weather recently, and we hack out every weekend. Sig is a professional hacker now—he crosses the busy split highway bridge quietly by himself, we wander around the local fields for an hour or two, he babysits the less confident hackers like a champ. I love a good hack for building fitness and to get out of the ring. Right now, things are good. He continues to live out with his harem of mares and is enjoying all that spring grass.
For so long since Soon died, life has been hard and been riddled with personal losses and challenges. Up until recently I had been in some very dark, sad places for long stretches. Sig has been the one good constant in the last four years. The setbacks and health issues we faced over this past winter were such a struggle, and I found myself again sinking into that negative mindset where I was afraid to look forward. I was afraid to even make goals, let alone be excited for them. It was as if trying to make plans was somehow daring the universe to inflict more pain. I just couldn’t bear it.
Life is hard sometimes. For many of us, the most difficult part is giving ourselves some grace and being kind to ourselves. This is something I struggle with daily. When something goes wrong, that internal voice that was put in my head as a child tells me that it’s my fault. I did something wrong. Sig is struggling? Well it’s because I don’t deserve him and made the wrong, selfish choice to bring him to the U.K. Soon got sick and died? Well I must not be a very nice person and don’t deserve happiness. The personal losses that later followed seemed to only support that negative self-talk.
I’m not alone in this struggle. I’ve had some wonderfully supportive friends and family back in Kentucky and elsewhere that remind me I’m worth it. They remind me that I deserve good things, and that the unfortunate few months Sig and I had were not my fault. They encouraged me to get help and to keep going. I love you all for that, you know who you are.
I’ve been challenged to allow myself to be excited for things and to not allow the expectation of negative events to take over. I must embrace the positive, allow myself to make plans, and be excited for those plans. So, as part of our spring makeover, I’m trying to embrace the excitement. Do I want to compete? Sure, for the swanky photos, maybe for a couple foreign ribbons (rosettes) that I can hang in my office. I allowed myself to update my show jacket and helmet (which sounds like such a chore, I know!). I’m allowing myself to schedule lessons and look at the summer schedule with the intent of signing up for some jumper classes, maybe a dressage show. We’ll see.
That said, competition is not my focus. I show up to the yard every day to spend time with Sig. I just want to learn and grow as a rider and a horseman while I’m here, to keep improving with him, and experience new things together. I want to continue writing this incredible story with this perfect, generous, kind horse who is my reason for waking up every morning. As things have improved for both of us lately, I find myself again in awe of just being in the U.K. with my horse, and how lucky we are to be on this journey together. Good and bad alike, this is a once in a lifetime experience that I will never take for granted.
Onward and upward, friends!
Lindsey Colburn is an active duty United States Air Force officer and former professional horseman, with experience in the hunter, jumper, equitation, eventing, and dressage arenas, as well as fox hunting. She moved to the United Kingdom with her young jumper, Sibelius MB (“Sig”) in June 2021. Read all of Lindsey’s COTH blogs or keep up with her adventures on Instagram.