After an unexpected right hind suspensory diagnosis, Azul is solidly aboard the rehab train. She’s getting the best possible treatment, and for the next four to six months, she’s boarding at a vet-recommended layup facility about two hours north of me. While it means that I only get to see her about once a week, this place does nothing but rehabilitate soft tissue injuries, so being there will give her the best chance of making a full recovery. On that note, she has a 70% chance of making said full recovery, and could be back into normal work by the end of next year.
The horse community has supported me thus far in a tremendous way. Friends, both local and virtual, have stepped up to offer words of wisdom and stories of their own journeys down this path. I’ve had a surprising (in a good way) number of folks reach out via social media to do the same. I’ve also had wonderful horsemen offer up their own lovely steeds for me to ride in the meantime. I have a supportive husband who is fully on board with the monetary consequences of her injury, and is only worried about her health and my happiness.
So why do I still feel so terrible?
Grief in the horse world is a dicey topic. Oftentimes, it centers around the loss of a horse, which is one of the most devastating events we can imagine. But there are other kinds of loss involved with horses.
For me, all I can think about is the loss of the future I imagined with my lovely girl. Yes, there is a good chance she’ll make a full recovery, but there will never be a future without worry. We still have no idea how she injured herself in the first place. The vet’s best guess was a slip in the field, given the sudden onset of her resistance, which can’t be prevented. How can you possibly guard against a horse being a horse?
I am also terrified that any future chipped distance or slip in the corner will cascade into reinjury, and that I won’t catch it if it happens—just like I didn’t this time. I am already a pretty worried horse owner, the kind who will cold-hose and DMSO any slight bump for days at a time regardless of how much it doesn’t seem to bother the horse at all. The fact that this injury slipped through my radar for so long has shaken my confidence.
When my Paint mare Callie broke her splint bone, I settled into her rehab knowing that bones heal, and that the injury occurred during a witnessed freak accident. I have no such comfort with Azul’s situation. I have nothing but sadness and questions, and nothing but time to live with both, because I have no second horse to refocus my attention.
The grief of the loss of an imagined future isn’t one we discuss as much as the loss of a horse’s life, but it’s one that’s extremely common. When we purchase our horses, we have a set of dreams and hopes for them and for our relationship with them. When those dreams are derailed due to external circumstances, the hurt we feel is deep. The new futures become filled with painful unknowns and no easy answers.
I know that with all wounds, time is the best medicine. This is no exception. A year from now, I hope to be blogging about the distant memory of her injury and how Azul and I are back to our bright future together. In the meantime, though, I want to be as honest as I can be about the current moment, which to put it succinctly, monumentally sucks. If you’re also in this place right now, just know that it’s a valid place to be.
Some days, you can be grateful. Other days, you can just be sad. Both are normal when it comes to horses.
Sophie Coffey grew up riding by the seat of her pants in Virginia hunt country, and she took a flying leap into the top levels of the sport through sheer will and luck after a cold call landed her a job at Hunterdon, Inc. She continued freelancing as a jack-of-all-trades through her 20s for some of the top names in the industry, getting the best education possible in horsemanship and larger life lessons. After leaving the sport to pursue a career in marketing, she returned in 2018 as an adult amateur and is currently teaching her baby warmblood mare Azul the ropes. She resides in Richmond, Virginia, with her fully indoctrinated horsey husband and several kitties. Follow her adventures on Instagram @coffeyinthesaddle.