Mouse Reminds Me It's The Little Things

Jan 13, 2015 - 4:25 PM
Photo by Leslie Mintz

It’s been exactly a year since one of my favorite horses, Waitangi Notebook, better known as “Mouse,” suffered a serious pasture accident. She slipped and fell in her paddock running from the sound of gunshots in the woods.

When she got up, it was immediately apparent she sustained significant trauma to her left hind pastern, but the damage ended up being worse than we initially thought.

There were lacerations that communicated to both her fetlock and pastern joints, but the worst of it was in her coffin joint. We still can’t entirely figure out how she managed to do this, but through the large coronary band laceration and embedded in her coffin bone there was a significant amount of mud, grass and debris.

She underwent emergency surgery and the bone was flushed as much as it could be, but the coffin bone is not one smooth piece. Imagine trying to sterilize a small piece of coral reef that has been drug through the mud and gravel and grass while it’s stuck inside a hoof. The likelihood she would survive infection wasn’t looking good, but there was a small chance. That’s all she needed.

Even after fighting her way though the infection and reabsorbing the leftover debris, the resulting damage to the joints and foot was another battle ahead. She would likely develop significant arthritis as her ankle and pastern healed and lose a sizeable portion of her foot as it grew down. She never did.

One year has now come and gone, and she just made the trek down south to train for the winter with an entire barn of horses. We were once unsure she’d even be pasture-sound, and now she’s back in full work and even jumping. I have no idea if she’ll get back to the level she was at the time of her accident (she was a 7-year-old at the two-star level), but she’s taught me to never say never.

Photos by Leslie Mintz

Horses come in and out of our lives, and there is something to be learned from all of them. Some teach us how to be better riders, others teach us how to be better horsemen. And there are the special ones who teach us actual life lessons. Here are a few I’ve taken from Mouse in the last year…

1) You don’t always have to expect the worst:

This is something I admit I could be better at. I am always of the mindset to prepare for the worst, but secretly hope for the best. It is how I protect myself in case things don’t go how I’d like.

But while I was busy preparing for the worst after her accident, Mouse kept proving that it’s actually possible to hope for the best and not be disappointed. In a year filled with so many tragic accidents, Mouse is living proof that even if the odds seem completely stacked against you, you aren’t always destined for the worst possible outcome.

2) A smart horse with a good brain is so important:

Mouse has a really big fan club, but not because she is an obvious worldbeater. She’s not the most conformationally correct, she’s not the fanciest, and she’s not the most classic jumper in my barn.

But she is hands down the sweetest, safest, honest, kindest horse I’ve ever had, and her heart is irreplaceable. Those qualities are what make her one of my favorites to ride every day, what make her a great competitor, and what make her the barn favorite. They are what made her a successful event horse. They are definitely what helped save her life.

After her accident she became the hospital favorite as well. In addition to great care and a lot of luck, I attribute her quiet nature and intelligence to the fact she survived. She stayed still and quiet for months which allowed her leg to heal better than we could have hoped. I know I wouldn’t have had the same outcome if this had been any other horse in my barn.

3) Patience:

Playing the game with Mouse.

Mouse is a hungry girl with a very healthy appetite. While she loves her job, she also adores eating. She can look at food and get fat. Because of this she’s always been tricky to catch when she’s surrounded by a buffet of grass.

Catching Mouse has become a game over the years, and Mouse will win unless you are a very clever cat. On the day of her accident, it took me several minutes to catch her after her fall, even though she was heavily bleeding and non-weight bearing. When I approached her, she cantered away three-legged and I knew no amount of panicking would catch her.

So instead I took the time to play her game, and after several minutes of slow movement, carrots and carefully calculated body language, I got her.

Actually, the only way you can really “catch” Mouse is by her coming to you. This game got worse after her accident when she started getting grass turnout this fall. A few weeks ago on a warmer winter day, she went out in a lighter sheet with a hood. When it was time for dinner, Mouse wasn’t interested. At all. She stayed out for three consecutive days and nights in below freezing temps and 40mph winds.

Once again, I went back to playing Mouse’s game, as I didn’t want her to colic even though she seemed quite content outside. For an hour or two each day I would go out in her field and sit on the ground and wait for her to come up to me. It was “feels like 20 degrees” weather. I’m glad she chose the bitter winter to once again remind me of the necessity of patience.

4) Why we do horses, or at least me:

I’m a competitive person, but I don’t ride horses because I’m competitive. I compete because I’m competitive. Representing my country at the World Equestrian Games last year in Normandy was a reminder of why I compete—while I accomplished a huge goal of mine, not coming home with a medal for our country only made me hungrier to come back even better.

Similarly, Mouse’s story over the last year is a reminder of why I do horses—she may not ever make it to the WEG or Olympics, but she is a daily reminder of how lucky I am to have horses in my life, and even luckier that I get to do it as a profession.

Mouse at her last event, the Virginia Horse Trials fall CCI** in 2013, where she was sixth. 
Photo by Leslie Mintz

While they can be so incredibly heartbreaking (and money sucking!) they are incredibly rewarding. The lows are low, but the highs are also so high. This is true of competing AND horses, and while the two are closely related in my world, they are not the same. She makes me smile every day. She reminds me that the thousands of dollars I didn’t have to spend on her injury were worth something far more in the end. Even if she never gets back to the upper levels, I am reminded everyday that it’s not always about competing, it’s about the horses.

So thank you Mouse, for remaining in my life and reminding me about all the little things on a daily basis, even if I can’t catch you.

One of the Chronicle’s bloggers, eventer Lynn Symansky placed fifth at the 2013 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and 13th at the 2013 Pau CCI**** (France) with her Donner. They were also part of the U.S. team gold medal effort at the 2011 Pan American Games. Lynn and Donner competed on the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Lynn runs her Lynn Symansky Equestrian out of Middleburg, Va.

You can read all about Lynn and Donner in her previous blogs.

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