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Tucker's Story

When I was growing up, all I ever wanted was a horse. My collection of "My Little Ponies" was just not going to cut it.

I began riding at the age of eight, taking lessons once a week. Soon after came riding camp and horse shows. Taking lessons once a week only made me want a horse more, so I continued to beg and plead with my parents, and anyone who would listen.

Finally, at the age of 18, my sister and I were given a horse. Tucker was 10 years old and "off the track" as they say in horse-lingo. He was a very well-trained thoroughbred who obviously had excelled in the hunter ring after his racing career flopped. He was now close to that delicate age we humans call "the golden years." Unsure of just how delicate he was, and all too trusting of my trainer, we purchased him. Soon after, I became privy to the trials and tribulations of horse ownership.

Tucker had a sore back when we bought him and we knew it. So, we purchased a properly fitting saddle, called in the chiropractor, and were careful not to push him too hard. One thing Tucker did quite often was grind his teeth. My trainer assured me that this was because he didn't like the bit we were using. When we changed bits and he continued to grind his teeth, I decided to call the vet. We found out that Tucker was experiencing arthritis in his hocks (part of his hind leg, equivalent to the human ankle), for which he compensated by using his back more, which in turn became sore. With the advice of my trainer and vet, we decided to have his hocks injected with a drug to ease the pain as well as increase the synovial fluid and lubrication between the joints. Meanwhile, I kept riding him and jumping with him, unaware of the true amount of pain he was experiencing.

Soon after, Tucker tore his eyelid on a board in his stall. The entire eyelid was hanging by a thread. We called the vet, who stitched it back on. A few weeks later, we discovered that his eyelashes were growing down, against his cornea. After several attempts to ease the eyelid up and off of the eye, we decided to have the vet come in periodically and remove newly grown hairs. We also asked the owner of the barn to replace the board in his stall. When she refused, we left the farm.

Tucker seemed much happier at his new home. Gone were the days of a trainer who insisted on showing every weekend and jumping three feet. One morning as I led Tucker from his stall, I noticed he was lame; dead lame -- no heat, no swelling, no cuts. This is a horse owner's worst nightmare. Without the presence of heat or swelling, one possibility is a broken bone, which is exactly what we faced.

Tucker had fractured a bone in his foot. To be exact, it was the third phalanx, better known as the coffin bone, the major bone in the hoof. He had developed a cyst, which had decreased the blood supply to the bone, which resulted in a fracture. Unfortunately, we had no way to discover his cyst earlier.

The prognosis was not good: Six months' stall rest, drugs, corrective shoeing, no turn out, and the possibility of never riding him again. I was devastated he was only 13. At this point, I hoped that one day I would be able to ride him again.

A few days later, because he was placing so much pressure on his other front leg, an old tendon injury from his racing days began acting up. The tendon re-bowed. This injury alone is cause for a horse to rest for six months and for the owner to cold hose, poultice, and wrap the leg for several weeks. Despite much pain for both Tucker and myself, we continued.

Six months passed and the fracture and bowed tendon were healing well. It was time for Tucker to return to daily turnout.

A few days after he was released from stall confinement, I arrived at the barn one evening to find Tucker's hind leg looking like a balloon. I immediately ran to the telephone. The vet came quickly, took x-rays, and reported very bad news the next day. Tucker had torn his suspensory ligament and fractured his sesamoid bone, probably by playing in the pasture. His muscles had atrophied a great deal during the past six months, so that just one buck or kick could have caused this injury. Now he had only one good leg left.

At this point, I was a wreck. I truly loved this animal and did not want to lose him. As you may know, in most situations veterinarians will not tell you whether or not to end an animal's life. It is the owner's decision to make. Our vet basically said that this was the straw that broke the camel's back for Tucker, and he was right. Unfortunately, as those of us who own animals know, it is extremely difficult to make that final decision for them not to mention my own selfishness in not wanting to lose a beloved pet. It only took two days for us to make the decision, and Tucker was put to rest.

It took quite some time for me to come to terms with what had happened. I often blame myself for not knowing the pain I had caused him while riding him with arthritis and back pain. Of course, I swore to never own another horse. Then I realized that had I not purchased Tucker, he most likely would have ended up dead. At least we had given him three years of love and, in turn, he gave me what I had always wanted.

Tucker taught me a great deal about responsibility and commitment. Most importantly, I have developed the philosophy that horses are not meant to be "thrown away" just because they no longer meet your needs. I truly feel that as a horse owner (or owner of any animal), I am responsible for that animal's well being. If he can no longer jump three feet, then I should either sell him to someone trustworthy who I know will take proper care of him, or keep him and change my riding habits. To me, what is most important is the health of my animal, not how many blue ribbons or championships we win.

So you ask, "Did this nut get another horse?" The answer is yes. In fact, I have two one 29-year-old (older than me) and one four-year-old "baby" AND, a very patient and understanding husband!


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