This should really be titled The Story of My Bear and Charlie, but I guess because Bear and I bonded and Charlie ended up with Lisa, it’s become the story of My Bear.
The time finally came to find a race for Bear. I elected to run him for $25,000 maiden claiming on the turf. Bear had never raced on the turf but was bred that way and I was excited along with lots of other people at Bowie to see how he’d do. The starting gate crew were ready to place their bets. $25K is tough and in theory I could have raced him for much less since he was a six year old maiden, but I wanted to protect him.
I entered him and when the form came out he was the favorite. I hadn’t counted on that. This changed everything. There was a good chance he’d be claimed. I scratched him and took him home. I decided to retire him from racing. I didn’t want to risk losing him or an injury to him. It was my job to protect him. This horse was starting to allow himself to trust me and I was very bonded to him by this time. I was bonded to both of them for that matter.
It was clear that neither of them would earn money from racing to cover the expense of saving them. I didn’t feel any regret. I still feel this is one of the best things I have ever done. I’d do it again without hesitation. I believe I got more from this than they did. That’s huge when you consider they got their lives.
Both were now on the farm and Lisa started asking about Charlie. I knew I was going to give him to her, but I was having the toughest time letting go. It took me four months to actually let Lisa have him. Now I had to figure out what to do with Bear. I decided I would sell him, but in the meantime I would begin his retraining. We started out with longeing and hacking about the farm. Then we gradually started basic dressage/flat work. I put him on the market for $5,000 and decided I would take not one penny less.
It wasn’t long before someone in my neighborhood became interested. I really liked her and she started coming over and riding Bear. I told her she could come any time she liked. It wasn’t for her, it was so I could see if she was the right human for Bear. It was going to take a lot more than $5,000 for me to let that horse off my farm. I hadn’t gone through all the expense and work to put either of them in the wrong hands. Incidentally, Charlie was thriving at the racetrack as a pony by now.
After a couple months the girl decided she wanted to take Bear home. She arranged for a vet to do a pre-purchase exam on him. I was green at the time when it came to these things and really didn’t have a clue how it should go. This vet arrives and within five minutes she’s taken over my farm. The next thing I know she’s driven her truck into my barn. My barn is an eight stall center aisle barn and she’s now parked in the middle of it. To say I was ready to blow a gasket is an understatement. I struggled to keep my cool.
This vet spent 47 minutes doing flexion tests on Bear. I timed it. I’d been at the track for 20+ years at that time and I’ve seen many, many flexion tests, but I’ve never seen someone twist a horse’s legs the way this woman did. Bear stood for it all and was very good. She was there for around three hours and at the end of the ppe Bear had failed and the girl was crying. This was not what I had expected. The horse had not taken a bad step since I had gotten him. The verdict was that he was crippled and had chips in his knee. I was astounded, I had not seen them take any radiographs or digitals. Well, they hadn’t, apparantly this vet had x-ray vision. The vet had pointed to a scar on Bear’s knee and concluded he had chips in that knee.
You’ve got to be kidding. This is a horse that had been stuck in a field for two years without shelter. He was almost starved to death and this rocket scientist was going to get chips in the knee from a scar. I put that bad boy on my horse trailer and took him straight to Bowie Training Center. My vet did a digital on both knees. Guess what? Clean knees for sure. Now what do I do? The girl rode Bear for around two months and could show up any time she wanted. If she didn’t know he was sound, she didn’t deserve to have him. By this time I was feeling even more protective of him anyway. I decided I should keep him.
Winter was coming and I thought it would be nice to board him somewhere with an indoor. I wanted to work on my riding. I started to look around my neighborhood. There were a couple of facilities nearby. One was only three miles from me. I went over with my husband to check the place out. It had a big indoor and the people were very nice. My husband was very impressed. He asked me when I was moving Bear there. I said the people are nice, but they don’t know what they are doing. It was close though and I could easily go over every day. It took me a month to talk myself into taking Bear there. It’s not easy to board a horse when you are used to having them outside of your door.
It was working out great. Bear was progressing nicely and everyone there was very friendly. I took a picture of him when he was starving and showed it to them. I explained that I might be overprotective at times, but it was because of what he’d been through.
He was there all winter and in the spring I had to have surgery. It was an in and out procedure. I sent someone over to check on him the day of the surgery. The next day by mid afternoon, I decided to go over and check on my boy. They were surprised to see me walk in the barn. I felt uneasy, like something was wrong. Bear was down at the other end. He stuck his head out and I said Hello. I walked him up the shedrow to the grooming stalls and decided I’d put him on the longe. After a good grooming, we headed into the indoor. He was dead lame.
I put him back in the stall and told them to give him bute in his grain. I’ve seen a lot of lameness and there’s lame and then there’s “this is bad” lame. I knew this was bad, but there’s always a chance you are wrong. I couldn’t find any real heat or swelling, but I knew it was behind. I told them not to turn him out until I came there and checked on him the next day after I was finished at the track.
The new regimen was going to be I would come after the track and check on him and if I found him to be sound, I’d turn him out on a little ace. He was still sore after four days, but steadily improving, so I kept him on stall rest. On Sunday I walked into the end of the barn and looked down the shedrow as I walked in the barn. No Bear head poked out of the stall. As I walked down the aisle I got madder with each step. I knew he was out and I knew what that meant.
He was out. They had turned him out after six days stall rest on no ace. I went out to the field and he was three legged lame. I got him, put him in the stall, drove over to my farm, got my horse trailer, came back and loaded him and my stuff onto it. They asked me where I was going. I told them to the racetrack where they have the knowledge and technology to take care of horses. I never went back to that farm.
Sean, one of my vets, felt that Bear had hit his stifle on something and that was the cause of the lameness. He prescribed stall rest and NSAIDS to start. After a week we injected it to see if it made a difference. Bear became completely sound so we knew we had the cause of the lameness defined. Now what to do about it? Send him to a hospital to define it through radiographs and spending tons of $$ I didn’t have? Carol, my practical, conservative vet put it in perspective for me. She said he likely has chips or torn cartilage in there and surgery to take them out at this point would probably not help that much. At his age, I was basically going to have a horse with a stifle problem either way. I accepted this because deep down I knew it was true and because economically, I couldn’t afford the surgery anyway.
I failed Bear. He made it through starvation and abuse only to suffer a serious injury because I put him at a barn with people that I knew were not qualified to care for horses properly. They were really nice and I told myself that going there every day would be enough. A horse can get hurt anywhere no matter how much precaution you take, but I had put him in a vulnerable position. I’ll always regret that decision, especially since that injury will likely be what gets him in the end.