Saturday, September 5, 2009


Time for a problem horse update.

As world famous horse trainer John Lyons says, "When you have horses, you keep having problems." So true. Of my three lovely boys, one is consistently more problematic than the others. I recently learned that much of the time, he truly can't help his behavior. This gives me much food for thought as I consider my fellow man and my own nature.

Some time ago I posted about Chance and our veterinary adventures. Chance was concerned about my "superfluous" spending money and decided to relieve me of this burden. So thoughtful of him; thanks, Pal. It took a mere $500 dollars this summer to assure us his lungs were in ship-shape; time to get back to exercise. I frequently remind Chance, Eli, and Tango that despite how it appears, they actually live here to work as riding horses.

One of the first excursions for Chance, after nearly two months off, was to a friend's outdoor arena. A place he's been many, many times. This means he knows what boogers exist on the property, the other horses that will be there, the routine we follow. I knew he'd be on the fresh side but felt he would soon settle into a, "been there, done that" frame of mind. When it appeared his little brain was still on vacation I told Haley to let me warm him up first. "First" quickly turned into, "I've got you Babe and you've got me until you quit acting like a fool." Haley rode Tango while I wrestled with 14 hands of foolishness. At least it appeared that way.

I'm sorry to say it did not take long to lose my temper. One of the things Chance decided to overreact to was a hose stretched across the lawn. After working him in the arena I worked him by the hose. Over and over again. Besides being worried and needy away from "the herd," he acted ridiculous about a simple hose, splaying his legs, jumping around, and spooking from the sight of it. Since he's had frequent baths and enjoys them more than any horse I've ever known, I found his behavior strange. And headshakingly stupid.

"You are an idiot," I told him, forcing him to stand with the hose between his legs. I'm pretty sure I said some other things involving his mother, breed, and short stature. After riding, I loaded him up and took him home in disgust. I'd worked so long and so hard with this animal. I tell you, I'd had the patience of Job (past tense)! He needed to knock it off and get over it. Change the ridiculous behavior and grow up horse.

Fast forward a few weeks: I come home one evening and see neighbors I do not know. They are parked in my driveway; they want to share their concern about watching "the spotted horse" fall in the pasture. Not fall while running around, fall while standing perfectly still with eyes open. After falling, they observed Chance for several seconds try to find his balance and get his feet under him. He, "looked drunk." I thanked them for taking the time to find me and share this concern. I was concerned, too. Later I paced in the house. Puzzling behaviors--things he's always had--came to my mind: His running into things, difficulty placing his legs, lack of coordination, stumbling, spooking at things he seems unable to see. Recently he'd also begun having trouble unloading from the horse trailer. While he is no longer afraid to load, he takes a long time to unload now, appearing as if he has to think hard how to back out. All these things, added together with his fall/seizure in the pasture add up to a neurological issue. Why didn't I take a serious look at his behaviors before now? Consider something was going on?

We are no longer riding Chance and do not know if he has a tumor, epilepsy, or some other sinister sounding ailment. DNA testing from UC Davis told us he is negative for the more rare neurological disorder, Cerebral Abiotrophy, though he displays nearly all the outward traits for this, including hypermetric action, lack of a blink response, falling/coordination problems, and obvious issues with judging distance and spatial relationships. Next step is blood testing and urinalysis. The future is uncertain.

I cried for a week after being confronted with this dilemma. My heart is heavily invested in this little horse; he has tested my faith from the beginning. Yes, I pray for and about my horses. If God sees a sparrow fall He sees a smallish pinto fall, too. If He cares for His creation to the detail of a sparrow's death I believe He cares now. There is a purpose in this situation; I am simply trying to remain open to whatever that is.

When I think back to that hot afternoon, wrestling with Chance and that dumb length of hose, I wonder now if he wasn't doing the best he could. If there is something hindering his ability to accurately process what his senses take in his behavior that day is no surprise. It actually makes perfect sense. A horse can operate only on the basis of what it knows and what it knows is not only the result of training--conditioned response--but it's natural ability to process that information. Or not.

This recent horse challenge reminds me of my attitude toward other people sometimes. I once was intensely critical of a person close to me and the way they repeatedly handled their life situations and interpersonal relationships. "You are an idiot," I'd say privately--change already and grow up! One night my husband shared with me the facts of this person's early life and inner demons. Things I did not know. Tears pricked my eyes as I thought of the hell this person had been through, the emotional handicaps that hindered their ability to react well to life challenges and maintain stability. Their behavior was a result of how well they could process information and situations. Period.

And so I thank God for grace; grace for all of His creatures in the midst of personal handicaps. Whatever they are. I believe Grace will shine through, somehow someway, in Chances life as it does in my own. May I have more grace for those who share my space in this life, for idiosyncrasies I am unable to understand.

1 comment:

Peggy Frezon said...

Prayers for your Chance, Catherine. I hope he'll get better.