Winter Horse Ownership Story

JHL turnout winter must haves
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I recently wrote this short story in a writing competition. But now that the results have been announced and it wasn’t a winning one, I wanted to share it with you all. I’m pretty sure you will be able to see where I got my inspiration from. Enjoy.

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She could just about hear the mud squelch beneath her feet over the sound of the pouring rain hitting the soaked ground. Perhaps she shouldn’t have turned out after all, especially now she had to negotiate the slip and slide of a field in the dark. She hadn’t managed to get away from work early as she had planned, getting caught on yet another Zoom meeting. But she knew that despite the monsoon like weather, her boy was perfectly happy outside enjoying the mud, even if she wasn’t. 

He had always been like that. It didn’t matter the weather, he would always much rather be out in the field than stuck in the stable all day. In fact on days where she did decide the weather was too horrid to turn out in, he would look pointedly at the way to the field, trying to tell her he didn’t mind a bit of rain or snow. He was incredibly hardy for a thoroughbred. The cold, rain and mud didn’t bother him. She didn’t even have to worry about him dropping weight over winter. He always looked incredibly well. It was this what made her think that he would cope well living out next winter now he was retiring. 

Their time together had been incredible. He was her first experience of horse ownership and that is something no horse could ever live up to. He gave her so many firsts, good and bad. First dressage test, first cross country schooling, first camp. But also first hard fall, first rehab and first retirement. She had never really believed people when they said “heart horse.” But she couldn’t think of a better thing to call him. 

She had had such big dreams for the two of them. She still believed he could have made a great event horse. Despite not being a bravest horse in the world, he could have taken her round her first ODE. He might not have been a champion, but he had nice enough movement and enough scope to have done well in any discipline she wanted to try. Being such a gentleman she always thought he would have given the judge a lovely ride in RoR classes. But these were all just what ifs now. 

The past few years of rehab had been hard mentally and physically. There had been ups and downs and during the Summer when he was looking great and coming back into work there was so much hope. But now Winter was well and truly here and after yet another setback she had come to the realisation that it was time to make that hard decision. He probably wasn’t going to be able to cope with regular work and every set back was just getting harder and harder to swallow.  

She reached the gate to the field and lifted her phone, trying to light the gloom enough to spot her best friend. The light reflected off an eye and she heard him splashing over to her. He appeared beside her, gently putting his nose to her face and breathing out. She couldn’t help but smile and blow lightly back into his nose. She slowly led him back to the yard, one hand on his withers to try and stop herself slipping over in the mud. 

Back on the yard all the other horses were already clean, dry and tucking into their haynets. She couldn’t help but feel a little pang of envy for all the rewards their owners would still get for their hard work that winter. All the great rides, the competitions, the lessons. She didn’t know when she would next get to experience those things. But she pushed those feelings away and turned her focus back to her boy. 

It wasn’t his fault he couldn’t do those things anymore. Despite his injury he would happily continue to do those things if she asked him to. And while it seemed far too soon for him to be retiring, he had done more than his share of work. He started his life as a national hunt horse before coming to her and winning plenty of rosettes in a variety of disciplines. He certainly didn’t owe anyone anything. But she still found it hard to accept and felt guilty for wanting more of that time with him. 

She hosed his legs off, revealing the bright chestnut below, before wrapping him up in magnetic boots and stable wraps, her last-ditch attempt to encourage more healing. The vet believed he would be able to hack occasionally if they were careful. She was clinging on to that hope for the Spring. But in the gloom of Winter, even that felt unattainable and out of reach.  

It was hard to stay positive now it was Winter. Without the reward of riding or having the motivation from working towards their goals, the increased costs of owning a horse in Winter hit harder. She regularly found herself wishing he lived out and then feeling guilty for wanting to save costs just because he couldn’t do the same things he always had. Feeling selfish for wanting a horse to work towards her goals with. 

She watched him as he tucked into his dinner with added joint supplement, once again in the hope of any extra help to keep him comfortable. He was happy and healthy and while he would never hold up to regular work, he was sound most of the time. It could be much worse, she could be having to make the horrible decision to say goodbye. She knew deep down she was lucky. Lucky to have this fantastic horse in her life and lucky that he would be with her for the rest of his life. Yes she was having to put her dreams on hold, but from a little girl he had always been her dream. So she knew she would always do what was best for him. 

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