This isn’t the blog entry I wanted to write, and certainly not where I hoped our journey together would lead, but the fact of the matter is I have decided to retire Forrest. The further truth is that I simply cannot effectively rehab him.
After our last posting, when soundness was looking rosy indeed, Forrest, despite being sedated (and we’re talking nearly 3 ccs of ace, here) still managed two enormous explosions, venting his spring fever and frustration of nearly a year and a half of stall rest with only paddock turn out. I gave him bute for three days in a row, returned to walking only for two weeks, and when I picked up the trot again, with Paul filming, the left hind looked so stabby that both my head and my heart said, “Enough.”
The injured stifle, with the mild/moderate injury in the soft tissue from his racing days, not diagnosed until we had exhausted the traditional approach of X-rays, injections, chiropractic and acupuncture, before turning to state of the art ultrasound, was finally determined to be the reason for his slightly shorter step I had mistakenly put down to weakness. And even then the prognosis was “good.” However, I was unable to maintain Forrest’s behavior consistently during rehabilitation. He had been a star for the first three months, then there would be a huge leap or buck, setting us back a few weeks, then a series of violent, spinning spooks, a couple of rears despite a stud chain, and sedation both hand walking and under saddle.
We’re both weary of sticking a needle into his neck each morning. We’re both weary of carefully monitored paddock turn-out in a space in which he’s allowed to only walk. We’re both weary of his gazing longingly over the paddock fence at the field on the other side where the grass really is greener.
I called my farrier, Sean, and pulled his shoes.
And on a particularly warm May afternoon, following a last jab of ace, I took our usual precautions and booted him up...
...before leading him carefully out the front gate, his sensitive soles picking their way across the ground, and walked him out about a hundred feet before removing the halter and replacing it with his fly mask.
It was a bittersweet moment for me, however, Forrest knew nothing of that. He cropped the grass with abandon and with a nod towards the rich spring growth, I checked my watch to make sure that this first day he would be out for no more than an hour. He remained perfectly quiet the entire time.
When I informed Dr. Gillis of my decision, she echoed my own thoughts in the challenges of keeping a young Thoroughbred quiet and obedient through a lengthy lay-up, as well agreeing that a ‘green rehab’ is now really our only option. I know only too well that when you turn a horse out with an unhealed soft tissue injury, medical studies tell us that only 20% of them come back sound, and remain sound, in their first year back to work.
After a year and a half of rehab, Forrest remains unsound and continually re-injuring himself during his stall rest gives him, I would guess, a zero chance of ever being sound. Well...who knows? Maybe I’ll pull him out of the field in 6 months, or a year, and we’ll take a look at that stifle and see if ‘Dr. Greengrass’ has been beneficial. I know for a fact he’s been beneficial to Forrest’s happiness. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such contentment in my horse’s countenance as he wanders around the field.
A week later, I had again turned him out mid morning and after walking across half the length of the field, he turned and cantered—not galloped, just cantered—quietly back towards where I was hanging over the fence, watching, and expressed his joy with a buck, followed by three perfectly clean flying changes, which took me back to the very first one he offered under saddle, which was just as effortless. And as I gazed at the most beautiful pasture ornament there ever was, I felt enormously grateful for the exquisite rides that he had given me for as long as he could. I’m quite sure those memories will remain as green as these fields. Remember to smile, I thought, tears pricking as I turned to walk to the house, remember to smile.