The old adage, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, comes to mind every time I lay my eyes on Spring.
Not spring the season – although after surviving this past winter, perhaps that too. The Spring I am referring to, is a miniature horse who became part of my equine family in the summer of 2017. She shows me every day that struggle and pain don’t have to hold us back. Instead, she embodies a joy for life and a deep sense of humour despite, or possibly because of, the suffering she has experienced.
When Spring was born, she was a healthy, vibrant foal. I knew her in the first two months of her life as I was her farrier. I remember her feisty nature as I picked up her feet for the first time, and giggled as she rested her tiny head on my shoulder when she realized she was safe. Her owners decided to cut costs by hiring a different hoof care provider, and I didn’t see or hear of Spring for the next three years.
When the call came that Spring was having major hoof problems, my business partner and I decided to go back and see if we could help. We arranged an appointment time, and drove the familiar road back to that barn.
Even expecting the worst, we were shocked.
Not only were her hooves in terrible condition – curling up, overgrown and with serious long-term internal damage – the rest of her body was, to put it bluntly, decrepit.
We found out that at three months of age, Spring was kicked by an adult mini with both back feet simultaneously. A full-grown miniature may not be big to us, but to a mini only a few months old, she would be massively strong. The blows made contact at Spring’s shoulders, and they broke.
This injury led to many subsequent health issues. The initial pain and stress caused her body to go into a state of shock, causing laminitis, a serious hoof condition. Unable to stand with broken shoulders and feet, she lay in her stall for months. Months turned into years. Without proper movement and activity, her tendons and ligaments also had severe dysfunction as all this took place during a crucial time in her physical development.
When we saw Spring that first day back, she would stand for only about an hour a day. After perhaps the longest mini-trim in history, she gained significant comfort and began to stand and walk around a few hours a day.
Over the next several months, we continued correctively trimming her, and each time she would get a little better. The problem was, it really was just a little. She needed more support in the form of special glue on shoes that could prevent her tendons from hyper-flexing, and stabilize her hooves. Her owners, feeling terribly about her state but also financially stretched, decided the best thing would be to put her down.
This was hard for me to swallow. As a farrier, I am witness to many sad stories, but something about this one I simply couldn’t let go. Knowing I had the skills to give her a chance, and a mare who would love her company at home, I rolled my eyes at myself as I realized I had just adopted a mini.
Her recovery has not been a straight road, and there are parts of her that will never fully heal. She will likely need strange looking and somewhat awkward shoes for the rest of her life, and she will have to deal with low to mid-level chronic pain. How do I know it is worth it? Spring tells me so.
The sullen and forlorn tiny horse that I brought home with me that summer’s eve has become bright eyed, mischievous, opinionated and downright bossy. She seeks attention and affection every chance she gets, and is a good friend to all the horses in the barn – true giants compared to her. She stands the whole day outside with her herd, and breaks out into the occasional trot and canter with vigour.
When the day comes that Spring says enough, when she no longer engages in life with courageous spunk, I will know it is time to say goodbye. Until then, I celebrate being alive alongside her.
Many people live with injuries, chronic pain, illness and disabilities. May Spring’s grit, resilience and wholehearted openness to finding joy, be contagious to all.
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