The day was one of those unusually warm days we get in the middle of winter in Colorado. The temperature was a perfect fifty-five degrees, the sun was shining, there was a slight breeze. The mud around horse-boarding pens had thawed and dried. If someone had given me the task of creating the perfect day, this day would be my answer to that task. We felt lucky to be in the truck on a rather long drive to our next appointment on such a beautiful day. We were not familiar with our destination, a horse-boarding facility where we had never been. Our assignment was to vaccinate a horse we had not treated before, for people we did not know. Such calls were often a great experience, but sometimes, not so great; we soon would know which this call would be.
We obediently followed the prompts of our GPS as we approached our destination. As we received the warning our destination was one hundred feet on the left, we looked ahead to see a viaduct above us supporting the busy traffic of a major Interstate. This enormous highway was only a few hundred feet away and paralleled our destination. A narrow dirt drive wound its way through a collection of construction supplies until the drive opened to expose a menagerie of small horse pens with a variety of shelters in the individual pens. Hidden in plain sight before us was a lady holding a horse, the lady smiling to see us approach. This was our new client; she was holding our new patient
After introductions, we started our exam. The small mare was in her late teens and was slightly under weight. She had just been brought to town from a ranch in Nebraska, a family member’s place, and she had been selected for her gentleness. Our appointment was to administer vaccines and blood tests, all of which were required for all boarders at this facility. The owner, a lady I guessed to be somewhere in her sixties, offered that she and her husband, the man lunging a horse in the round-pen just behind us, had just purchased these two horses. In the past, the two of them had enjoyed riding horses; they hoped they could rekindle past pleasures with these two horses.
The small mare was a willing patient, so I was soon through with her injections. As I finished, the lady asked if I would be able to check a couple of things on the other horse, the one her husband had been lunging. This gelding was larger and also younger. Before purchasing this animal, they had hired another veterinarian to perform a pre-purchase exam on him. That vet had found the gelding to be slightly lame and had found one eye had a gray haze on the cornea, a haze that he believed would obstruct vision in that one eye. That veterinarian feared these two problems might interfere with the horse being suitable for trail riding, but did administer all required shots and blood tests. The couple was asking us for a second opinion regarding these two problems. They felt this horse was perfect in every other way for their needs.
The husband untied his gelding from the hitch rack and brought him over for our inspection. The horse was quiet as he walked up to us, and he was attentive to the man’s commands. The horse displayed absolutely no reaction to the loud traffic noise from the Interstate only yards away. The man and horse made a perfect team as if the two had known each other for many years, not for just a few days.
There was an abnormal white cloudiness present in the left eye. My best guess as to a cause was the chronic disease of the eye called periodic ophthalmia. That condition results in a recurrent cloudiness to the cornea. This disease can often be controlled with oral aspirin. I suggested they start aspirin and watch for effect. The condition could result in the loss of the eye, but more likely, might respond to treatment.
We next watched the gelding lunge in a round pen. He was mildly lame in one front leg. His feet suffered from past lack of care. I suggested the new owners improve his trimming and shoeing. I thought foot care could improve the lameness. Besides, the lameness was minimal, and the horse could probably do light trail riding even if he didn’t improve.
While I was examining the second horse, Kathi was talking to the wife. The husband had been diagnosed with cancer some months ago. He had a large mass removed from his abdomen, and had other tumors that could not be removed. He was now doing remarkably well for someone who had been given such bad news. Getting back into horses had been his idea to get his prognosis off his mind. As Kathi shared this information with me, I immediately realized the focus of my examination should drastically change. My conclusion regarding the gelding was the problems he had might need to be managed, but he should be suitable for light trail riding. More importantly, this man and this horse had already developed a relationship that guaranteed many pleasurable hours of just hanging out. If they could work in some trail riding, that would be a bonus. The man and the horse had connected.
We spent a bit of time with this couple adding all our encouragement for the battle they were sure to face. We drove away feeling good for the attitude these two had, how they were handling their situation. Life had served them lemons; they were making lemonade. On this perfect day, in a strange little horse boarding facility, we had met two great people and two great horses, and we had been reminded what is important in life! What a great opportunity to practice a wonderful occupation, two veterinary care providers living our lives. Kathi and I had made a connection. And it was good.