When I was a kid my family and I would pass a field of three grazing horses on our way to church every Sunday: a chestnut, a bay, and a grey. As we drove by I daydreamed about having my own horse and pictured myself galloping down that field. My well-meaning parents would say, “when you’re old enough and have your own job, you can get any horse you want".
In 2016, when I was in fact an adult with my own job, I decided to make my childhood dream a reality and that meant riding lessons. I quickly realized when you pick up riding for the first time as an adult, you tend to carry a lot more fear and insecurity than your average student. Surrounded by other adults who have been riding since before they could walk there was a level of intimidation, and the horses themselves seemed stronger and scarier. 16.2 hands felt like a much farther way down than my preteen brain remembers. I tried out a few different barns and had my share of spills along the way from riding warmbloods that were maybe just a little too forward for a timid rider like me (which unfortunately, only made me more timid).
After awhile, I felt that it would be good for me to start looking for my own horse to bond, grow and learn with. One that was kind, consistent, and maybe a little lazy. I wanted a solid citizen that I could hack out on, that had some training for lower level dressage, and had the athleticism to (one day) teach me how to jump. About 3 months into my search for this perfect horse, I found him -- my Rudy.
When I met Rudy he was 15 years old. He was handsome, athletic and looked exactly like Secretariat, which I loved! Rudy was honest yet occasionally spooky and quirky (a horse that doesn't like peppermints... what?). He wasn’t the “lazy” horse I was envisioning, but he was kind and I sensed that right away. Even if I may be over-horsed for a time, I knew he would take care of me.
Within just a couple years together he taught me how to jump over cross rails. We traveled to shows all around the southeast, galloped on the beach, and won ourselves some blue ribbons along the way. Rudy taught me how to release my tension, grab some mane and trust. He gave me the gift of confidence both in riding and in life, and became the inspiration behind launching my own business, Cavali Club.
In 2019 when I was pregnant with my
son, I decided to take a year off from riding. This was such a personal choice and one that I didn’t take lightly. That time away from the saddle was so important to me, my body, and my precious little boy, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t kill me every time I saw a Facebook post of my barn at a show, or an Instagram story of a peaceful trail ride. Rudy was there, but I wasn’t the one riding him and that was difficult for me to see.
In spring of this year, I finally felt physically and mentally ready to start going to the barn again. We started with light walks on the trails and eventually progressed to consistent arena work. In no time I was back right where I left off. It really was like riding a bike, and Rudy was so patient and perfect while I built up my strength.
At about 6 weeks back in the saddle, I received that dreaded call from the barn manager. “Rudy came in lame from the field -- we should call the vet.” I was shocked, and in denial. Rudy never gets hurt. He never takes a bad step. This will definitely be nothing.
I was wrong. The general vet diagnosed it as a tendon sheath injury. That meant steroid injections and stall rest for a couple weeks. A month went by, and Rudy was still just as lame so we did it all over again: injection, stall rest, another 6 weeks. No progress. That's when I made the decision to seek a specialist because we were clearly missing something.
At this point I was both angry and sad. I was angry that there had been no progress or prognosis. I was angry that my time with Rudy was suddenly cut short, and sad for him. I was sad that he had spent the last 3 months stuck in a stall. I was sad that I could see his expression becoming more and more checked out, and sad that I was starting to see more of the grey on his face and his eyes as he stood stagnant.
The specialist saw the issue right away: a suspensory ligament injury that he considered significant, especially for Rudy’s age (now 18). I was told that if I wanted to ride him again, it would be another 90 days of stall rest and if he’s improving, it will be another 90 days of rehabilitation. I added up the calendar in my head... that meant 180 days of no turnout in addition to the 90 days he’s already done! I knew I could not do that to him.
I asked the doctor if there was another option. Rudy had done so much for me, I couldn't bear to put him through that. The doctor explained that if I turned him out, the ligament would eventually heal through Rudy's movement and develop scar tissue. “You’d be leaving his healing in his hands -- that’s up to you.”, he said. Rudy would get to roam and graze freely, but riding would be out of the question. To me, that was the obvious choice. I'd let him heal himself in a field just being a horse. His well-being and happiness comes before the sport and my selfish riding goals. I decided I was going to give Rudy the retirement he deserved.
I was lucky to find a nice small farm for Rudy just down the road from where I board. He grazes peacefully all day in a beautiful green field adorned by 200 year old oak trees and has made some new friends - a herd of donkeys and some goats. I visit him often, and the barn manager frequently texts me pictures of him lounging under the shade of the trees.
Although I am heartbroken that our time was cut short, I am so grateful for this horse and all that he has taught me. He was patient with me when I was nervous, and brave for me when I wanted to fly. He was fun, and he taught me how to have fun in a sport that (sometimes) people take too seriously. The confidence he has given me is something I carry to every new horse partner I meet on my riding journey. I am so grateful he was my first horse, and that I can truly appreciate the lessons he has taught me through adult eyes.
Carly Prosser & Rudy
[this post is not sponsored by Cavali Club]