Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gully Puts His Shoes Back On

Three months ago I said to my farrier (the man who shoes my horses), Tom: "Gully needs hind shoes again, and I need you to separate out the bill for his shoeing from the rest. He's being leased."

Tom stared. "Gully's being leased?"

Me: "Yep."

Tom: "Uhh--how's he feel about that?"

Me: "He's in heaven."

Tom stared harder. "You're kidding. That horse hates everyone."

Everyone but me. For years, everyone but me.

Gully, Gully, my lovely first event horse, my partner, my funny finicky very smart boy. I hardly knew how lucky I was. I wanted to learn to event, and I understood Connemara ponies (Gully is pony bred but just barely horse height; you can call him either) made awesome eventers, so I bought a barely-broke Western-started not-quite-four-year-old Connemara gelding unseen and untried from a thousand miles away. We learned to event together, and we were awesome, which is not what I deserved for being so ignorant. Gully and I had so much fun together that it took me a long time to believe it when something went fundamentally wrong with him--you look back over our last two years of competition and it's a string of withdrawals, he'd get through one or two phases and then go lame. I hauled him up to a very good equine lameness vet in Kentucky and got the devastating news that Gully would never be sound again.

We tried a few things anyhow. They didn't work. Gully was 16, young to be retired, but he limped. He  wanted to work, but he limped at anything faster than a walk, and it broke my heart to know I was hurting him. I could give him a good life on our farm, and I did. He hung out, his hind shoes off, his front shoes padded to give him all the protection I could. We were both sad.

I bought a new horse, Sarah. Gully hated her on principle and perhaps also for personal reasons. Gully is the herd leader, but he doesn't like many horses (he adored my dear departed Trapper) and he dislikes all people except me. He loves me.

Until his new girl.

What happened a year ago still doesn't make sense. I've explained the details to other vets, other farriers, and a wide variety of experienced horsepeople, and none of them understand. Basically, an abnormality of unknown origin, cause, whatever, grew out of Gully's front feet over the course of 2 1/2 years, and, suddenly, immediately, he was sound again. I didn't believe it, but I started riding him again, occasionally, very lightly--and he was sound. A bit more work--still sound.

I really don't have time to keep two horses in work. Also Gully is twenty years old now, and even if he stays sound I will not ask him to compete at the level we used to do. But I knew a girl who needed a horse to ride--inexperienced but a good rider, a quiet rider. She came out and tried him, and Gully talked to her, the way he talks to me, and she understood him. So she rode him a bit more. And then this summer she rode him at pony club camp, under the gimlet eye of the coach who taught Gully and me for years. "One bad step," I said, "one hint of lameness, we pull him."

After the first lesson we bumped Gully and his new girl up to the more advanced group. They jumped the snot out of everything on the farm--Gully with his old light in his eyes. They understood each other. It was an astonishing, beautiful, incredible thing.

"Keep it up, and you could compete at a recognized event this fall," I said. So Gully put his shoes back on, and they did. The look of joy on that horse's face when he realized he was back at the Kentucky Horse Park, where we competed so many times, is one I'll always remember. The photos of their jumping rounds are all over the girl's Facebook page now. My favorite is the one where both of them are smiling.

This week they're headed to eventing rally, at the Virginia Horse Park. It's hilly there, and Gully's new girl suggested he might want to wear studded shoes. I agreed; Gully always liked the security of studs.

"Hey, Tom," I said to the farrier, "Gully needs drilled shoes. He's back in business."

Tom grinned. "All right."