When life gives you lemons

DSC_9059Taking a hiatus after your first blog post isn’t exactly the usual way to keep readers interested but sometimes life gets in the way!

Life gave me lemons. A whole orchard of lemons.

I moved out to Norfolk with a grand plan – take up my job at two equestrian magazines, start competing my horse (Jak) regularly and really make the most of life; joining sports clubs, the local gym and be a proper adult. But I hit a big speed-bump – Jak ‘broke’. In the days after moving, I took him out for a few light hacks, which he was very happy to do, but as soon as I moved into trot I could feel something wrong behind. He had developed a solid lump on a hind leg, just above the fetlock and although he didn’t present any noticeable lameness (as an ex-National Hunt horse, I fully know he probably isn’t 100% sound, but has never shown any discomfort or lameness before), or seem in pain as the lump was touched – I was worried. Lumps aren’t normal!

I gave him rest and a week off work, followed by an anti inflammatory injection from the vet, with more time off. I had high hopes this was bringing down the size of the lump and I think I convinced myself it was, so when I got the vet out to scan the area, the diagnosis hit me like a tonne of bricks.

Jak had substantial damage in his lower leg. A touch of tendonitis, a damaged annular ligament and a verdict that putting him to sleep may have to be considered, but if he does come back into work, it’ll only ever be as a light hack.

For the last four years, Jak had been my entire universe. He always came first and the thought of life without him, well honestly, I didn’t think I could handle it. I had just moved out, was working out how to live alone, get all my chores done and fit in a full time job. Not having Jak as my rock was, put lightly, crap!

As he was 18 and a stressy Thoroughbred, I decided the treatment of endless box rest and painkillers (which had no guarantee of working) would be a terrible way for him to spend what could have been his last few months. Instead, the owner of the yard I had him on came to me like a ray of sunshine. She offered me a field and companions he could be turned out with until the end of Summer. At that point, I could see if his leg had improved at all, and make ‘the decision‘ after giving time for nature to take its course.

It was June when all this happened, and quite frankly, a Summer without a horse was a terrible prospect! I have, at times, struggled with low mood and I was blue as can be during the next few weeks. I considered buying a new horse, another Thoroughbred, but I stopped myself – I missed Jak, he was my best friend and I didn’t want to try to replace that. Instead I tried to look on the bright side and be thankful for what I had.

That said, the low mood continued and I had too much free time on my hands. I didn’t want to get out of the house, screw the prospect of joining clubs or the gym – I didn’t want to know! Then I got fed up. I hate feeling low and put my foot down. I had to find a new way to spend my time, a new project, a new hobby. Que the idea of getting a dog.

I have always had dogs when living with my parents and not having the trusty Doberman Gracie to come home to, was very odd indeed! But it wasn’t plain sailing – I had to get the OK from my landlord as well as my boss, as I would have to work out a strategy during working hours! Luckily the landlord was happy with the idea as long as I deep cleaned the house on leaving, and my boss actually offered me a stable next to the office to keep a puppy in during the day – my luck had turned some may say!

Before this turns into a story about how I came to own Pippin, I’ll go back to Jak.

The Summer ended and the lump was still there. I had agreed with the yard owner she could have the stable back when I turned him out, so now I needed to find somewhere else to put him. I took to Facebook, looking for retirement or grass livery – as I want to keep Jak moving – and an old friend got in touch.

I had worked alongside her as a groom a few years ago, and it just so happened she had a space on her property for a new addition to her herd! To say I was relieved was an understatement – not only could I trust this friend, it also mean’t Jak moved back to my hometown, about ten minutes from my parents house. While I knew he would be well taken care of and my Mum would supply him with a constant stream of carrots, it would mean my best friend was over an hour and half from me – bittersweet to say the least!

Moving day came and I wrestled Jak onto a horsebox (turns out the grass is greener in Norfolk!), and he travelled back down south. I followed behind in my car and arriving at the new yard, I knew I had done the right thing! Jak was happily standing in his box, no weaving or box walking in sight – I think he knew he was home.

I’m happy to say that in the months that followed, Jak found his place within his little herd of cobs (he’s the boss, I think he played the height card) and is now spending the winter as any old man should – with all the hay he can eat and a full, fluffy coat to keep him snug. His leg seems to be improving but I know we’ll never be back doing cross-country or hunting – he will be a happy hacker through and through, but I think that’s what he deserves after a life of hard work.

Although I don’t get to visit Jak as much as I would like, the events of the last few months have taught me a few things. For one, for big animals, horses are awfully delicate. Two, no amount of crying will make you feel better if you let yourself wallow in self-pity. Three, fate works in mysterious ways.

Jak breaking gave me time – time I hadn’t had for years. I use to spend my weekdays mucking out before university, then returning to the yard in the afternoon to bring in and ride. Weekends were spent at the yard and I loved it. But once I had free time (and stopped being so down in the dumps), I realised how much freedom I had. I could see friends, spend weekends away, and before long I found myself in a happy relationship.

I have become a big believer in fate. Jak came into my life when my anxiety issues were at a peak. He saw me though A Levels and university. He kept me on an even keel and helped me secure my first real job. He was with me when I moved out and needed a friendly face. While I wish he had never ‘broken’, I wish it more than anything, Jak seemed to ‘hold on’ until I found my feet. He seemed to know I would be able to cope and could move on to the next chapter of my life.

If Jak recovers I will slowly bring him back into work, if not, I will keep him with me always, as a fancy lawn mower. While distance may separate us, I have never felt closer to anything or anyone else. Jak has had a profound effect on my life and will continue to do so for many more years I am sure.

Above all else, this experience has hammered home the saying: ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade‘.  Optimism will get you through even the darkest of times.




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