Dr Strangles Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Riding Alone
Merri Melde's story about taking care of horses with Strangles got me thinking about my own experience with this nasty affliction. Like most every thing with horses (and life in general), destiny comes via the most unlikely circumstances.
For those of you who grew up in the saddle and have no fear of riding, you probably can't relate to this story. But for those of you who took up riding as an adult, read away. There is something about taking up a sport as an adult. It's like your brain is not wired for it and you have to think about everything that you do. Though I'd never want to be anywhere other than on the back of a horse, I took up riding as an adult and my brain is just not wired for it. I have to think about everything I do and I think about all the bad things that can happen on a horse. I worry too
Part of the reason I like this sport is because I like to yak with my horsey friends. I have to make it a point to shut up sometimes because I just know I must annoy the crap out of people. I can almost hear people thinking: "OMG here comes that lady who will not shut the hell up! Ride faster/slower!"
In July of 2006 I was alone on a conditioning ride and had a pretty serious fall. It was one of those I-could-have-been-killed falls. Nothing really serious happened besides landing on my face and people giving my husband dirty looks at the grocery store. But landing on my face really rattled me. I could have easily snapped my neck. I vowed never to ride alone again (like having someone around would magically keep gravity from being so unkind). I am lucky because I am blessed with living around other riders so riding with someone is about as difficult as picking up the phone.
The season of 2007, PJ Blondshine and I religiously conditioned together and things were proceeding as planned. Then I noticed that green goopy discharge on my year-old colt. If it wasn't for the fact that I handled him daily I would have never even known he had strangles. About the only other symptom that he had was a minor malaise. Instead of charging around the pasture at a full gallop for four laps, he'd gallop just two laps. My mare Agnes had a runny nose and was now considered a "shedder." I had become public enemy number one and would remain that way for the next six weeks.
With several rides left to go late in the season I decided that I was just going to have to ride alone again. So I started giving my husband detailed maps where I was going and with fear and trepidation, headed up to the hills armed with a cell phone and a hunter orange vest. I stayed on the roads and kept to the route I had told my husband (this was the hardest part).
Because there was nobody to talk to I really started to see things and think about my horse in a whole new light. I started seeing all sorts of birds and wildlife. I started to think about stories to write and new places to explore. Because there was nobody to talk to we were a lot stealthier. I found that I liked just being out alone on my mare. The fear of riding alone was gone. If it hadn't been for Strangles I'd still be dependent on riding with other riders. Now at least, I know I can do it alone.
I know that something could always go wrong. I could come face to face with a cougar or Agnes could stumble at a walk and I could end up with a broken femur. I could also end up with cancer in a year or have to spend a couple years taking care of a sick relative and not ride at all. Horses teach us to live in the moment because that is where they always are. Horses force us to relax because they don't do well with uptight people. They teach us how enjoy a sunny day and appreciate all the things and people in our lives, and they teach us how to overcome worrying. Kind of surreal, really.