Thirteen years ago, my horse somersaulted and landed on me when we were cantering during a riding lesson. I don’t remember what happened exactly. We were canter down the long side at the end of the lesson and she felt magnificent: strong impulsion, light in my hands, and then something. The world spun and I slammed into the dirt face down between her legs. She kicked once with her back legs and hit my helmet on the temple. She looked around at me like “What are you doing there?” My right leg was underneath her body below the girth and still in the stirrup on the other side.
Isis’ canter had huge impulsion: every push-off with her back legs in a canter stride felt like someone shoving me. My core muscles would burn after riding that stride one time around the ring. It wasn’t a rocking chair, more like a rocket chair. All of her gaits were like that: splendid to look at but challenging to sit.
Except when she started tripping. She would fall to her knees sometimes, or other times it was like she couldn’t recover her movement and her legs wouldn’t cooperate. I never saw her trip because I was usually riding her when it happened. We would be trotting, and I’d feel her back leg give out like she had missed a step or her foot had landed in a hole. Dip, step, and keep moving.
After that accident, every ride on Isis was slightly terrifying. The once-desired feeling of cantering now posed a block, like a shut door locked by a traumatic event. Isis shifted her weight when I mounted, planting her feet to stabilize herself. We walked, her gait felt steady, until it wasn’t. The ground suddenly got closer as she fell to her knees then pulled herself back up and started walking again. Even footfalls most of the way around the ring, except in the back corner where one step on her back left missed a beat. My hips dipped to the right with her misstep and recovery. We resumed walking.
Do you ride a horse that trips? What if that horse has a metabolic disorder and has to be ridden or exercised in order to keep her medical issues under control? My hands shook after every ride. I was anxious before I would get on and anxious afterwards.
A friend of mine from work sent me a link to a Tumblr blog written by Horsebackwriter. Like me, she has a bay Arabian. Her mare, Khyssie, reminds me a lot of Isis in her antics and markings. I saw the pictures of Khyssie and immediately had flashbacks to Isis Bint Sirdar. And then I read a post from August 5th that said this:
The groundwork was coming along as scheduled. Everything was textbook. But I noticed something about Khyssie that I’d never seen in any other horse. She seemed to be stumbling and tripping more than any other horse I’d ever been around and at first I thought it was because she was a baby. No need to be concerned, I thought. She’ll grow out of it.
My heart sank. That was exactly how Isis started out with EPM. She tripped, I thought, because she was a clutz or just wasn’t aware of her feet. It started when she was five or six. She tripped with me on her the first time I asked her to canter. A few years later, she fell on me during that riding lesson.
Except it wasn’t her being a clutz. It wasn’t that at all. It was the EPM (neurological disease) coming up years before it flared into full episodes. If we had diagnosed and treated her earlier, life would have been so much easier on her and on me. Maybe she would still be around. (Not going there.)
I read horsebackwriter’s posts and had this sinking feeling. I didn’t see an easy way to contact her from the blog page, so I joined, hoping to leave a comment. No such luck. I tried to send “fan mail” except I hadn’t been following her blog long enough to send fan mail.
I’m writing this post hoping to get in touch with her. And hoping that her lovely girl was just having an off day and not the same thing that Isis had. I never want anyone to have to go through what I did with Isis.
If you know Horsebackwriter on Tumblr, please ask her to leave me a comment and let me know how her Khyssie is doing.
First time I had these two pictures side by side, I was struck by how similar my two Bay Wonder Mares(tm) looked from the back. Same expression of the ears: listening, attentive and relaxed. The bright copper bay ears and neck belong to Isis. I took this picture when we were out on a trail ride around the farm’s perimeter.
And then this picture, taken at the end of a ride on Kasane. Dark bay neck and ears plus the dark brown leather bridle with white stitching.
I feel so blessed to have had Isis in my life and now Kasane has taken over my world. Such a sweet little girl.
Where did October go? I suddenly blinked and it was gone and November is looming large. December isn’t too far behind, judging by the Christmas crap that’s appearing in the stores. (Christmas crap = the tacky decorations that get shoved on unwilling consumers to encourage them to buy buy buy during the ever-extending holiday season.)
I think I lost most of October partially due to shock. October 11 was a very hard day (one year anniversary of Isis’ passing). October 12 even worse (like a morning after hangover). I took the day off and stayed home.
I’ll catch up eventually. So many good things have happened, too, among the painful memories. Kasane is in dressage lessons and is doing great. (Okay, we’ve had one lesson, but it was a very good lesson.) Our riding has been improving and our communication too, most of the time. Although I find when I’m feeling ungrounded (not fully with her when we’re working), our communication tends to take a nose dive. I recognize it though, and refocus and things tend to improve. It’s a work in progress.
I didn’t realize until today why I have been listening so much to a song by Bat for Lashes called “Horse and I.” It’s because it feels like a song for Isis and I — and fits in with a short story I’m writing about her.
Got woken in the night
By a mystic golden light
My head soaked in river water
I had been dressed in a coat of armor
They called a horse out of the woodland
Take her there through the desert shores
They sang to me, this is yours to wear
You’re the chosen one, there’s no turning back now
The smell of redwood giants
The banquet for the shadows
Horse and I, we’re dancers in the dark
Came upon the headdress
It was gilded, dark and golden
The children sang,
I was so afraid I took it to my head and prayed
They sang to me, this is yours to wear
You’re the chosen one, there’s no turning back
They sang to me, this is yours to wear
You’re the chosen one, there’s no turning back
There is no turning back
There is no turn
There is no turning back
There is no turn
There is no turning back
There is no turn
The quality of the light is different as summer fades into fall. The humidity haze burns away and is replaced by a golden glow at dusk.
I couldn’t wait to get out to the barn on Tuesday. It was perfect riding weather. I would only have enough time to do a little with Kasane besides treating the scratches (rain-rot like scabs) on her legs. Not enough time to ride, but enough time to have some fun. We walked around the perimeter of the farm with one of my friends who was working with her four year old gelding. He was perfectly behaved. Kasane was up and snorting when her pasture mates trotted by. She ignored where I was. We walked, whoa-ed, turned around, repeated. Brought her back to focus on me. And we continued. When we got back to the barn, she walked all over me when I asked her to whoa.
Underneath all of it, I was frustrated. I felt like my relationship with her wasn’t as strong, wasn’t as focused as it has been in the past. I was frustrated at feeling like she wasn’t paying attention and that she was being stupid and doing things she knew better than to do. When she stepped into my space and ignored my usual queue to move away from me (raising my hand next to her neck), I tapped her neck with the back of my hand. No effect. So I had to use some force with my hand and she moved over but still didn’t pay attention to me. She was more interested in the horses in the other pasture. I had an impulse to really get after her, and didn’t.
I stopped myself and asked what am I doing that is causing this? Was it that my focus wasn’t with her? Why was I feeling frustrated with her and why did it seem like she’d rather not be there with me? (Later on, I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to be there with me.)
We went into the round pen and worked on getting her to focus on me. I focused myself, tried to let go of the frustration, and focus on her. To be there with her instead of scattered some place else. After a few minutes, she did, and we followed each other around the round pen. Relationship repaired for the evening, but not back to where we should be. That will take more work. More back to basics and giving her fun things to do instead of boring stuff. (That’s a topic for another post.)
I cleaned her legs off and treated the scratches with ointment. We walked back out to the field and I stayed with her while she started to graze. A few times she walked away from me and my heart sank. (Yes, I know, applying human emotions onto a situation that didn’t warrant it since other horses higher in the herd order came over to see if the human had treats.)
Kasane used to canter up to me when I came out to the field. She used to yell for me. She doesn’t now. She doesn’t greet me at the gate. Some times she lifts her head when I walk out to the pasture to get her. She at least doesn’t walk away. Still. It speaks to me of things to work on so she is interested in what we are doing. It’s work, but good work, to be aware of and to correct.
I stood out with her until the sun set and I was the only one left at the barn. The light was so different than it had been even a few weeks ago. I kept thinking about how Kasane was with me now and how we had been together. Mulled it over, tried to figure out what had changed.
I walked back to the barn. The barn aisle was dark except for the light from the tack room. The air smelt of dust, apples, and leather plus a chill crispness. Sitting in the tack room chair, I realized the last time I had felt that chill in the air while taking off my paddock boots was almost a year prior on a night I said goodbye to Isis. I had sat in that exact chair, changing my shoes when her body was pulled by the tractor from the paddock to the front of the barn.
Some times the quality of the light triggers memories that aren’t about the time of day or the mare standing next to me. It’s the memory of the thousand-pound hole in my life left by Isis who died last year on October 11.
I am trying to remember the good times. Trying to remember how she was back to herself for her last week. Most of the time I’m okay. I get through work, but being out at the barn with Kasane is different. She senses that difference. She isn’t with me when we’re walking because I’m not really there either. Part of my mind is grieving still.
The sadness is buried underneath the joy of riding, the delight in my favorite time of year to ride… but then I walk outside and see the clear light at sunset. Light best appreciated from the back of a horse. It was the quality of the light reflecting off of a copper bay coat. The yell every time I walked into the barn and Isis poked her head out.
And I have to let her go again by letting the grief go. I have been in tears writing this. I know what I have to do to let go of the grief. It’s not something I have wanted to face again. It’s like knowing you have a pain that touches so many areas and you can only ignore it for so long. It bubbles to the surface and interfere so I can’t run. I have to work through it. And let her truly go so the grief is transformed to happy smile remembering her antics and the joy she brought to my life.
And the clear light this fall can shine on her memory… and on the darker brilliant bay coat of Kasane.
I have found a lot of information on IR in the Equine Cushings yahoo group (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/EquineCushings/). Look in the files section in the Getting Started folder for an introduction to concepts and how to begin managing a horse with IR. The mailing list is high traffic with about 10k members. Searching the message archive is also a good source. The files section has information on what you can and can not feed an IR horse for commercially available feeds and supplements.
I hate to say it, but it is such a relief to not have to worry about a horse with insulin resistance. Isis was the most amazing horse I’ve ever had, but there were so many things we couldn’t do because of limitations from her condition. Some days it was so frustrating and made me so sad for her. We had what time we had and we did as much as we could do. I learned so much with her.
I miss her so much, my little 15 hand mare who was built like a warmblood and moved like a cloud across the ground.
The characters are playing. Specifically: one story, Ride Softly, is pounding to be written. I’m seven pages in, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider it’s the most fiction I’ve written in a year (much less in two sittings).
It’s Isis’ story, with a twist. When I write her scenes, I have my eyes closed and the tears stream down my face. There are two scenes that were the hardest: when she died and when her body was pulled from the paddock to the front of the barn by the tractor. The one person who has read both scenes was in tears too while reading it. My other friend who started to read it, stopped before the first scene with Isis, handed the story back to me, and said “I can’t.”
This is one of those stories that will be written, set aside, reviewed, and maybe never sent off any where. When I’ve dealt with death before, I’ve always expressed my feelings by writing eulogies or other poems. I must have four or five poems from Dad’s death and funeral. Basette has a poem, so does Ambush. Stella has a catalog of pictures and videos. Isis is the only one who has a short story. It’s like the act of writing transforms her loss into a full expression where I don’t have to explain what it was like. I can say “Read this.”
The funny thing I’m discovering is that the writing is coming back, full force. Definitely no technical writer voice in this story. I’m getting my style back with the voice of the character and finding humor in her outlook. All of these horrible things have happened to her, and she still finds humor in her friends trying to help her feel better.
This story is a pouring forth onto paper of a single event that is nearly the emotional equivalent to the horrible 18 months with 8 funerals (including a funeral on my birthday) so many years ago.
I had to put my writing on hold since last Thursday (yay sinus-migraine!). No reading, writing, or staring at computer screens except at work. The headache finally cleared up enough to consider writing last night after writer’s group.
Pausing the writing process made me feel emotionally bottled — literally like I had hit a pause button. My connection with Kasane was harder to reach for when I worked with her on Saturday and Sunday. That connection is how I sense and work with my mares. When it isn’t present, then things get wonky. It took over 30 minutes of grooming to reestablish it. (Normally that connection is immediately there.) She let me know, too. She had a PTSD flashback to Bad Trainer days and reacted in a way she hasn’t in three years because I was trotting alongside her on a road instead of trotting next to her like we were lunging (in a straight line). We worked through that successfully and she calmed down.
That episode made me realize how important getting this story on paper is.
Patterns can be comforting routines. You fall into them like a comfortable bed, with a few sharp pokey bits that you know to avoid. Lately, I go to the barn, love on a mare, take her for a walk to help rebuild strength, give her a hug, and turn her back out to her paddock. Which mare am I talking about? Kasane or Isis?
Tuesday I took Kasane for her walk with another boarder riding in the ring. Amy and Juno, her lovely gray Thoroughbred mare, have shared quite a few riding lessons with Isis and I, and a few with me on Kasane. Amy and I chatted while she cooled Juno down and I walked Kasane for 20 minutes. We talked about Isis a little, laughed about her antics. I half expected to see Isis walking next to me.And then it struck me: the steps for Kasane’s recovery are very similar to what I did with Isis in September and October. Walking in hand over gradually increasing times and up and down hills. Rejoicing in seeing her improving.
The past two months have felt like a flashback. Different horse, same routine. Kasane has been in Isis’ paddock at night. I’ve been grooming her in Isis’ old stall. Habits and patterns: I come to the barn, bring Kasane in from the paddock and put her in the first stall where Isis used to be. I did that with Isis for years. And now the bay mare poking her cute head over the stall door is adored and loved too. But some times she isn’t the mare I expect to see there. I still expect to hear Isis call me when I get to the barn.
I had been feeling down whenever I came back from the barn. I couldn’t figure it out. Kasane looked great. She’s been improving and has been full of herself. Silly girl has been bouncy and feeling good (and eventually remembers that just because she’s being lead on a trail doesn’t mean she can get away with things). I had every reason to be pleased and happy. Except we’re six weeks into Kasane’s diagnosis and recovery. That’s right where we were when Isis passed.
Kasane isn’t Isis. I know that. Kasane is recovering beautifully. With Isis, we were always vigilant of the next thing that would impact her (because there was always the next thing, poor girl). This pattern of settling in to grooming and leading and documenting progress…and hearing the shadow of my old girl’s nicker. Isis passed October 11th, which seems a long time and no time at all. I don’t see Isis struggling to stand and falling sideways into the fence every time I think about her and close my eyes. Some days it feels like she is just off at another farm.
When I was last riding Kasane before her stifle injury, I was really missing Isis’ training level. So I rode Kasane as if she were Isis: sat back and rode like she was a rear-wheel drive, with light pick-up-the-front-and-turn steering. Kasane grokked what I was asking immediately. We rode lightly and rounded, not consistently but glimpses of what will be there as she learns more. Maybe that makes Isis Kasane’s spiritual god-mother-rider. Or something.
A dear friend of mine commented that Isis’ passing for me was the same as someone else losing their child. I understand that Isis is gone, but fully letting her go takes a while. I process, grieve, run away from it. Start again when the carefully tucked away feelings resurface. And it hurts. Oh my god does it hurt.
I see the ghost of my mare when we walk
the dark bay with a star beside me
overlaid with a glimpse of a copper bay with a blaze
We walk past the scary puddle
where both mares had skittered and shied at muddy water
The dark bay skips aside, dances, slips:
Desert-breds do not step in water.
She nips at my jacket — treatses?
Playful glint in her eyes
a mirror of the copper bay’s mischief
A hoofstep in the water, disrupting the reflection
When Isis was diagnosed with Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, one site provided answers and informative discussion about this disease, current treatment options, and tests: EPM Horse.org.
One of the keys to successfully treating EPM successfully is early detection. The more people know about EPM, the better chance they will have of recognizing the disease and treating it sooner. Fudge’s Mom, the owner/writer of EPM Horse.org, is taking an unconventional approach to promoting awareness by asking people to nominate the EPM Horse Blog for an Equine Social Media Award on Facebook:
I’m asking you to take one minute, go to Equestrian Social Media Awards, nominate app on the left, Category 13 Most Informative, put in http://epmhorse.org/WordPress/ and write one sentence about us. Please pass the link to your friends, it may save their horse. Nominations are accepted through 12/24/2011. Facebook and Chrome links are needed.
I’ve nominated this worthwhile site for an award. The information helped increase Isis’ quality of life during her last few weeks.
This post is the 1000th entry on Y Ceffyl Du. It’s only taken seven years to get here. I’ve blogged the tales and tribulations of four cats, five horses, and major events in my life. Here’s to Isis, Basette, Stella, and Ambush, who have passed and are missed. Their antics and memories are chronicled here.
Here’s to Rajiyyah, Logan, Kasane, and Prize, two still in my life and two with other people who love them dearly. And Kiesha, the only furrball left of the original four.
It’s amazing to think that I’ve stuck with this blog enough time to last seven years and 1000 posts.
I have a glass book case at home in my bedroom. I cleared one of the shelves for pictures of Isis and for all of the cards I received for her. The sculpture is one Mom gave me a while ago. It always reminded me of how I felt giving Isis a hug.
Kasane knew when Isis had passed. All of the horses had come running up to the front of the pastures and watched her. I had felt Isis pass the torch to Kasane over the summer. It’s hard to describe what that is like, sensing your older mare watch you and be less affectionate and then have the youngster suddenly demand attention.
Once Isis passed, Kasane started calling to me when I went out to the barn. She yells at me now if I don’t come to see her and she hears my voice. She comes running up to the pasture to meet me. “You’re mine now,” she says, “and the center of the universe is here, where you should be. Worship me.”
Because I saw her pictures, on the ground, with her legs out and the memories came flooding back. Remembering with a slow-motion clarity like watching a deer crashing into a car with a kamikaze-certainty. The vet telling me to stand back because being near Isis could be dangerous because of her lack of coordination. Isis nickering as the vet came near and inserted the needle with the final dose of good-bye meds. Isis nickering and then falling, falling sideways. Landing on the muddy ground with a squish, slide. Stillness. Putting my hand on her neck and feeling the fading spirit fly to another pasture.