I had to say goodbye to my wonderful mare Bridget. It actually happened about a week ago, but I have not been able to talk, or type, about it. Most people who are close to me still don’t know about Bridget’s passing.
I’ve felt a lot of emotions in the period leading up to that day, and in the days since. Sadness, loss, regret, relief, turmoil, peace, emptiness, closure, and sometimes nothing at all. I guess I didn’t really know what to feel, or what to think.
Bridget in September 2008
I knew the day was coming, that I was going to need to make “the decision” at some point. Bridget was only 17 years old, and she had been retired for six years. Bridget had more than her share of soundness issues, and she had them pretty much from the day I bought her at four years old. Most of her problems were compensatory problems that stemmed from her feet. She also had some sort of metabolic condition that absolutely stumped every vet and farrier that every saw her.
Bridget hanging out in my arena in January a few years ago
The better and more lush the grass was, the better Bridget felt on her feet. As the grass would start to deteriorate every year, she would get more and more uncomfortable throughout winter. Then, when the spring grass came in, when most horses would be at their highest risk from grass, she would do a complete turnaround and feel better and better. She had every type of test for Insulin Resistance, Cushing’s, etc. over the years, in fact had many of them done more than once by different vets. She never came back positive for any type of condition and it frustrated and puzzled every vet that touched this horse. And LOTS of vets touched this horse, I even took her to Rood & Riddle in Lexington, KY TWICE.
Bridget on the left with her daughter Lexi in the middle; no family resemblance at all!
When I bought Bridget as a four year old I bought her out of a field. She had been backed at one point but had spent most of her life living out in a field getting little to no care. The only thing that reflected this was her feet. There were horrendous, giant toe cracks in both front feet, as well as significant dishes in both front feet, they were contracted, completely out of balance, had thin soles and walls, one front foot was clubbed . . . there was really nothing to recommend them at all. The vet who did her pre purchase exam said that I would obviously need to get her feet addressed, but he felt like a good farrier should be able to manage them.
Lexi, Bonnie and Bridget in June of this year
I wasn’t too worried about it since I was going to be working with THE farrier. The one that all of the expensive show barns used, the one that all the vets recommended, the one that I paid $300 per shoeing. I bought Bridget because she had a wonderful temperament even though she was very green. I didn’t have much money to spend as I had other financial priorities at the time, and I wasn’t looking for my next super fancy show horse. I knew I wasn’t shopping with that kind of budget and just wanted something fun. I had just sold my a/o jumper as I simply didn’t have time to keep her fit for that level of showing, nor was I riding enough to feel confident riding to the bigger jumps anyway.
Bridget packing a little girl around in the short stirrup division; she jumped even better over a real jump but unfortunately I don’t have any other jumping pictures on my computer
I had Bridget shod by THE farrier, and continued to have her shod by THE farrier for several years. Her feet never seemed to get any better. The cracks, the dishes, the club foot, the contraction . . . nothing ever improved. Everyone kept telling me I was so lucky to be working with him and to have him keeping my horse comfortable on those awful feet.
Bridget rearing while chewing on hay at the same time; food was always a priority
As far as her abilities, Bridget ended up being far more than I had ever thought she would be. Over the first winter I had her I took dressage lessons regularly, and with my h/j trainer we did nothing but gymnastic jumping exercises. Bridget went from having an average jump to a 10 jump in a few short months. She won everywhere, in all of the divisions we showed her in, at the A shows. She won in the professional divisions and the amateur divisions. She had absolutely no spook in her whatsoever, never looked twice at a jump, needed absolutely zero prep to go to the ring, and had a gorgeous jump to die for over every jump, every time.
Bridget and I hanging out at a horse show
I went happily on my way, enjoying my wonderful horse, and being glad that I had the farrier to patch her together. However after a couple of years the patches seemed to stop working. She would be slightly off, and of course we would see the vet. Over the next few years she had some brief lay-ups, had her stifles injected, had her hocks injected. Whenever she would seem sore, a specific injection seemed to take care of the problem, at least for awhile.
More hanging out a horse show
I would always ask about her feet, asking if they were contributing to the problems. No one ever seemed that worried about them, even at Rood & Riddle. I have come to the conclusion after my trials with Bridget and with running a retirement farm that messed up feet to a greater or lesser degree are just a part of life in the horse world. I think the vets are so used to seeing feet with problems they don’t address them as aggressively as they should. When I made the correlation between her soundness and the grass we started looking at various metabolic causes, but she did not fit any mold. She caused many vets to throw up their hands and shake their heads in frustration and disbelief. Over the years Bridget had every shoeing package known to man, various bar shoes, pads, wedge pads, glue on shoes . . . you name the shoe/pad combo and it was on my horse at some point. I started going through farriers like toilet paper. It was frustrating, it was expensive, and it was emotionally exhausting.
It got to the point after a few years where she was off more than on, and every day when I would get on I would be holding my breath wondering if it would be a good or a bad day. One day I started thinking about how much money I had spent, and what I was putting my horse and myself through. I realized that I didn’t care if I could show anymore or not. I just wanted to enjoy my horse to whatever extent I could. I made the decision to basically retire her, although we still did a bit of trail riding sometimes. I pulled her shoes and started learning everything I could about feet.
Because of Bridget and what I learned through our trials I won’t make the same mistakes with another horse. I think I now own every farrier book and manual ever published. I will not ever attempt to patch a horse’s feet together again. I’m not saying there may not be bar shoes and pads in my future with one of my horses, but I will know exactly what the plan is for long term gain and IMPROVEMENT of the feet, not just putting a band-aid on a problem. If I had known when I bought Bridget what I know now, I could have managed her whole situation better. She would still have ended up retired far too young thanks to the mystery metabolic problem, but I could have managed the effects of it a lot better.
Because of the saga I went through with Bridget I ended up learning so much about managing a horse for long term gain instead of short term gain, and I will be forever grateful to her for that. If only I could have learned it all sooner. I liked it better back in the day when I thought vets and farriers were to be 100% trusted because they were the experts and I was not. However, I am now much more educated and able to be an advocate for my horses and not just a check writer. I am also, in my opinion (for what little it is worth!), more educated than the average horse owner about farrier work and now trust that I can do a much better job of both picking a farrier and knowing if they are doing a good job. I am so thankful to work with my amazing farrier, and we’ve worked together happily for over four years now.
Bridget started to get ouchy a lot earlier than usual this fall. I thought it would stabilize but it kept getting worse. I had made a promise to her and myself several years earlier that I wasn’t going to go down the ‘what if we try’ road anymore. I’d tried it all anyway. When she could no longer be reasonably comfortable as a pasture puff then I would make that hard decision. I felt like I had a weight hanging over my head for a few weeks. Jason had to listen to me endlessly wonder about if I needed to be thinking about this, if it was time. Finally one day he asked me what I would be telling one of our owners if it was their horse. That brought me up short. I thought about it from that perspective for a minute and tearfully answered that some major decisions would need to be made. I talked about it with my vet and farrier, and they both agreed that from a comfort perspective, Bridget was not comfortable and getting significantly worse every week.
I briefly went back on my promise to Bridget and started wondering about “what if we did X,Y and Z.” However I did manage to realize that all of those things would be only for my benefit, only because I did not want to make that decision. So I picked a gorgeous day, and gave her a whopping dose of Bute (a gram or two of bute did nothing for her). Jason didn’t really like that but I said I wanted her last day to be if not pain free, at least a lot more comfortable. I thought about pulling her out of the pasture and spending lots of extra time with her. But I didn’t. I was a sobbing, crying mess and Bridget was very happy out with her friends, having such an easy time getting around because of all the bute.
Shortly before the vet arrived I brought her in from the pasture and gave her a huge meal in her feedbag. She was always an easy keeper, and although she lived for grain she got very little. So on her last day her feet felt a lot better and she got to eat a lot. Then she passed very peacefully, and I was calm and composed until after she passed. I lost it at that point (again), but Bridget was not burdened by my feelings. She had a great day until her last moment, and now she is pain free, as she deserves to be. It was so much harder to make this decision with my own horse. I’ve been through this with a few residents, and it was always hard, but I could make objective decisions. Until Jason told me to step back and look at it from the perspective of someone else’s horse I was floundering around in indecision. Jason gently guided me to where I could see clearly.
Bridget lives on in her beautiful daughter Lexi, who looks so much like her mother. Bridget gave me so many amazing gifts during our 13 years together. I always hoped she would live to be a grand old dame with me, that I wouldn’t have to let go so soon. I still don’t know what to feel, right now I just feel sadness after reminiscing about some of our time together. I like it best when I either feel nothing or have moments of peace and closure. Bridget was an amazing horse, and I am a better person for having had her in my life. For the most part she did all of the giving and I the taking. I am glad I was able to give her a nice retirement. She loved being a show horse but she loved just being a horse even more. She was so content being a part of her group and grazing, napping, playing and grooming with her girls. She was definitely always a princess though. She hated to be dirty and never rolled in mud, only in clean shavings or grass. She was clean right up until the end. I miss her.