As a horse owner living in Central Kentucky, I recognize I am fortunate. It’s a 7-mile drive to the Kentucky Horse Park from my house (I can even get there via dedicated bicycle lanes and paths in 9!), and there are world-class veterinarians based five minutes from the farm where I board. There are horse trial venues and places to cross-country school all overÑit’s an eventer’s heaven. I also board at a barn with a lovely indoor arena, so I can keep training through the winter. The farm has even hosted a winter jumping schooling show series, so I haven’t had to leave the farm to compete.

My drive to the barn is one of the prettiest ones in this region, lined with stone fences and cupola-topped barns.

I say all this not as any sort of brag. I say it to remind myself to feel gratitude when I’m tempted to throw up my hands about my current horse-related frustrations. It gives me perspective. 

And I’ve been reminding myself about all these blessings a lot this week.

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I’m three months into my third year with my off-Track Thoroughbred, Happy, and our partnership has really taken off in the past five months. Our dressage work has improved significantly; he’s now game to jump anything (after some initial skepticism about his new job); and we’ve been having tons of fun. We exited the winter fit, sound, enthusiastic, and ready to move up a level and complete our first U.S. Eventing Association (USEA) recognized horse trial this weekendÑHappy’s first-ever, and my first since the association’s name change from USCTA in 2001, which really dates me but gives you an idea of how big this was for both of us.

I’ve done all the horse health preventive care preparations: Consistent, correct training and riding combined with plenty of long hacks? Check. Coggins test, CVI, and dental? Check. Spring vaccines? Check. Chiropractic exam/adjustment? Check.

We were primed and ready for our first true eventing season.

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But then after a cold, windy afternoon dressage school that started a little fussy but ended ridiculously nice É something went awry. My horse came up back sore the next day. My vet and I both expected his hocks were the problem, but Happy flexed sound and she commented on how amazing he looked for a horse who had 51 starts over his six-year racing career. But he had pulled something, she thought, and his developing topline meant his custom saddle no longer fit. So, we scratched our first combined test of the year and scheduled a saddle fit in time to get a few tune-up rides in before the big (to us) show.

Things were right on schedule, and then last Friday afternoon, as I was editing an article about either wounds or bandagesÑI can’t remember whichÑI got a text: Happy had a small laceration over his fetlock joint and was favoring the limb.

Happy gets a dose of intravenous antibiotics in the wake of his injury.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

The on-call veterinarian made it to the barn in less than 30 minutes (again, thank you, Lexington). Happy had clearly banged his fetlock on something, because the skin had split and the wound was deep, though thankfully the joint didn’t appear punctured. Happy walked sound. But the wound’s location over the medial sesamoid had the vet concernedÑhe recommended antibiotics, stall rest, temperature checks, and bandaging. He thought a friend’s suggestion of laser therapy as something else to do in the meantime was a good idea, so my friend came out three days in a row to laser both his fetlock and his back. It was funny to see Happy anticipate the daily treatments as he watched my friend set up the machine and get to work.

Happy seemed to enjoy his laser treatments, which helped bring the inflammation down in his injured fetlock.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

Long story short, on our third daily recheck, the inflammation had subsided quite a bit, he seemed sounder at the walk, and the veterinarian and I were both feeling very optimistic that this was bruising. But when he took radiographs, the images showed Happy had knocked off the edge of that sesamoid bone.

I don’t know if it’s culture or tradition, but the word “fracture” is scary one to hear as a horse owner. Thankfully, by all accounts this displaced sliver of bone is in an ideal location and should heal well with four to six weeks of stall rest and hand-walking, and then pasture turnout. We’ll check for soft tissue involvement tomorrow on ultrasound, and carry on, day by day, until my horse is healed.

We’re lucky. This could have been a lot worse, and I could’ve faced harder and more expensive decisions than, “How do I make sure he’s hand-grazed when I have to travel?” But I’m not going to minimize my disappointment, either, about how our spring won’t look like how I hoped it would. As one of my friends put it last week in a text, “Horses can be so unfair sometimes.”

I’m giving myself permission to be ticked off and disappointed for a day or two. But I’m also considering how this season might also help me become a better horse owner: I’ll have more hands-on time with Happy than I’ve had before, and I’m working with him on the ground more than I ever have. (For instance, this morning it was raining sideways and the wind was blowing, so we made a very peaceful unspoken compromise about how the grazing opportunity came with the caveat that I would be holding a scary yellow umbrella.)

I’ll get a chance to apply more (yes, even more) of what I learn in my job daily, even though the sheer amount of life application can sometimes feel ridiculous. I will once again perfect my standing bandages using sheet cotton and stretchy wraps.

Neither Happy nor I will have any (admittedly self-created) pressure to perform this spring, and I can see how there’s some freedom in that, too. I can slow down a little and pay more attention to the gorgeous redbuds, the playful fox cubs in the front pastures, and the unexplainable contentment that can come with listening to the cadence of a happily grazing horse.

When was a time you experienced a setback despite good horse care? How did you cope and what did you learn?

Happy during an hourlong hand-grazing session the other night. 

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/