A lot has happened to the Dragonfly family since I last blogged, so lemme catch you up – I have a tendency to waffle so this could take a while. There’s a short summary at the very end if you can’t be bothered to read it all.
So, as my last couple of posts detailed (way back in spring of 2015), we had decided to close Dragonfly Saddlery, and I had retired Scarlet from anything more than the occasional spin round the South Downs, due to the fact that she was behaving like a psychopath. I was working in London once more, and my horsey life took a backseat, much to my disappointment.
The shop had an amazing last couple of months, with a fantastic response to our closing down sale, and lots of lovely customers coming in to wish us well. Mum and Dad were really sad to close, having spent 30 years saddle fitting and running the shop in Sussex, but we all knew it was the right time to go. They were hankering for a quieter life down in the West Country, so the house was sold and all their worldly goods packed up and put into storage. The horses went with them of course – much as I knew I was going to miss them, I couldn’t make my salary stretch to livery in London!
They were lucky to find a cottage to rent on a farm in Cornwall which had a livery yard and riding school attached, so the horses were literally just a stone’s throw from their front door. Unfortunately the yard had absolutely no turn out available, except for a half hour stint in the outdoor school each morning. I was worried this would send Scarlet completely off her rocker, but in fact it was Comet who struggled the most with the limited turnout. The yard had a lot of kids in it, especially at the weekend, and of course they all wanted to give him lots of cuddles, being so tiny and adorable. Scarlet, however, who was desperately craning her head out of her stable to try and attract attention, was largely ignored – people could sense the crazy, I think. She coped reasonably well being stabled for 23 hours a day, but was always on high alert with so much activity on the yard every day.
A few weeks into this new set up, it was suggested that the daughter of the yard owners might start to exercise Scarlet for me, as I could only get down to Cornwall every 6 weeks or so. I was very anxious about this, as I know what a complete moron the horse can be. However, the girl seemed keen so I agreed. Initially things were going well. She hacked Scarlet out and schooled her on the flat, and started to jump her, too. It was almost slightly irksome that Scarlet seemed to be behaving so well, and I felt that it reflected badly on me as her rider that we had had so many problems. I definitely had a touch of the green eyed monster whenever Mum told me how nicely Scarlet was going, but deep down I was very pleased that she seemed to be settling well and hadn’t blotted her copybook. I learned to smile politely over Christmas when I went down there and listened to the girl’s dad telling me that Scarlet just needed a decent rider to sort her out – I knew he thought I was a total dipstick, and who could blame him? All of the naughtiness Scarlet had displayed with me hadn’t made an appearance with them.
A few weeks into this arrangement, Scarlet decided she’d had enough of behaving herself. She was being jumped in the school one evening, just popping over a few small jumps, nothing too exciting, and Scarlet was being good, if slightly deranged round the corners. Then, out of nowhere, they approached a fence that they’d already jumped several times, and BAM. Scarlet pulled out her favourite party trick and whipped round in front of the fence. The girl flew off over her shoulder, completely (and justifiably so) unprepared for such a dirty stop. Luckily she was fine, and she got back on, but didn’t jump again. Mum had been filming this for me, so she caught it on camera, and it was absolutely textbook Scarlet wickedness. There was absolutely no reason for her to stop at that fence, and it was exactly that sort of behaviour that made me decide to retire her to life as a happy hacker.
Then, a few weeks after this incident, I got a phone call from my mum at work, to tell me that Scarlet had had an accident while being schooled on the flat. Apparently she had reared up and gone over backwards, thankfully throwing her rider clear. However, Scarlet had obviously hit her head when she landed, and the bit had fractured her jaw. The vet had been and advised surgery to wire the fracture. Thankfully my amazing mum handled everything for me, and organised the endless vet visits, did dozens of dressing changes, handfed Scarlet sloppy sugar beet and purified carrots (as she couldn’t eat solid food for a while) and was basically a star. Meanwhile I tore my hair out at my desk and lamented to my very un-horsey colleagues about my poor, accident prone angel.
So Scarlet, poor lamb, went for her third operation in as many years (the first two being for her broken hock in 2013) and had her jaw wired. That was a few months ago now and she still has a huge lump under her chin, but the vet promises that it will eventually disappear. She has to have a year off work, so I won’t be able to ride her again until spring 2017. Scarlet has her faults, and plenty of them, but she has never reared (or bucked or napped, so really she’s practically perfect….), so I have no idea what made her object so strongly to her rider that she went over backwards.
A few months after this, I went down to Cornwall to horse-sit and dog-sit while my parents went for a short break to Spain. A friend came with me, and we had a lovely few days doing lots of countryside things. On the last full day there before my parents came back, I went out early to give the horses their breakfast as usual. Comet can see the front door from his stable, and usually started shouting his head off as soon as it opened, knowing his breakfast was due. However, he was quiet this time, which I thought was odd. I chucked Scarlet’s breakfast at her, who was being her usual greedy self and holding her foreleg up, begging for her breakfast (that’s her second favourite party trick), and then headed off to Comet. He was standing near the back of his box, head down. His bed was a mess, which is very unlike him, and his water bucket was full of shavings. My heart sank. He clearly wasn’t going to be interested in his breakfast, so I put his headcollar on and coaxed him out onto the yard so I could get a better look at him. His nostrils were pinched, and he didn’t want to walk more than a couple of steps. Normally when he’s taken out of his stable he’ll drag you off to the nearest patch of grass. He was sweating a bit, and generally looked utterly miserable. I took his temperature, which was on the low side of normal, counted his respiratory rate, which was about twice what it should have been, and called the emergency vet (because of course it was Sunday morning) to ask them to come out immediately to a suspected colic case.
I left him tied up where he was, in the shade outside his stable, and quickly mucked his box out. I turned around to go and get him in and saw to my absolute horror that he was flat out on the concrete. My first assumption was that he had dropped dead, but then saw his sides were still moving. It was at this point that I burst into tears. Someone else had arrived on the yard by now, and she was lovely, giving me a hug and telling me he was going to be fine, he just had a bit of a tummy ache. We’ve owned Comet for 3 years now, as a companion for Scarlet when she was recovering from a broken hock, and in that time he has completely charmed us. He’s such a sweetheart, and so cheeky, that seeing him in so much pain was just awful.
I pulled myself together, and we encouraged him to his feet and back into his stable. I then flew to the cottage to grab my friend, who had just started to make breakfast and hauled her out into the yard. I had to muck Scarlet out, who was by this point calling to Comet, so I instructed her to ensure Comet didn’t roll. She isn’t even remotely horsey, and she stared at me, aghast.
Her: “What? You want me to… what?”
Me: “Make sure he doesn’t roll. He can lie down if he wants to, but if he tries to roll you’ll need to get between him and the ground.”
Her: “But he’s a horse! He could crush me!”
Me: “Don’t be ridiculous, he’s too small to do you any real damage. If he rolls he could twist his gut and that will kill him. And then I’ll kill you.”
So my sweet, city born and bred friend, knowing she had no choice, obediently went in with Comet and spent the next hour on her knees next to him, preventing him from rolling – which he tried to do multiple times. I tied Scarlet up next to Comet’s box while I mucked her out, and she kept poking her long nose into his stable, whickering to him, which was adorable and also heart-breaking.
Eventually the vet arrived, and looked slightly taken aback when he saw just how small his patient was. Comet was just lying on the floor of his stable, barely moving, and didn’t even flinch when the vet came in. I’m something of a fatalist so had already assumed that Comet’s number was up, but I was still desperately hoping that the vet would be upbeat about the severity of the colic. He took Comet’s temperature and respiratory rate, and listened to his gut. I couldn’t help but compare it to when Scarlet had colic, and she had thrashed around and poured with sweat, but at least she had been responsive, and aware of the vet. She even had to be sedated to have the dreaded tube threaded up her nose and into her gut, and somehow this gave me hope that she would be OK, as indeed she was. The vet explained that because Comet was so small he wasn’t able to perform a rectal exam to check for impaction (which is what Scarlet had), and therefore couldn’t diagnose the colic to be medical or surgical, ie. whether drugs would fix it or if he would need surgery. He also said Comet seemed very poorly indeed, at which point I did what any self-respecting adult does in times of crisis – I cried. Again.
You might not have been unlucky enough to see a colic treatment, but it’s kind of primitive: a bucket of water, a plastic jug and a long rubber tube is all you need. Oh, and a vet who can navigate through the oesophagus of a horse, of course. Our man warned us that sometimes horses have huge nose bleeds during the process and not to be alarmed, but thankfully Comet didn’t bleed. The vet threaded the tube in, and Comet barely moved – by comparison, Scarlet was bouncing off the walls when we did this to her, and she had to be sedated. We had tried to get him to stand for the process, but he wouldn’t budge. We pumped about 5 litres of water into him, and about 4 litres came back out, which suggested there was a blockage. The vet advised bringing Comet to the hospital for further treatment. I had managed to get hold of Mum by this point, because she would need to make the decisions in terms of his treatment. We agreed that we wouldn’t put him through surgery – at 25 we felt it would be too stressful for him – and that if he didn’t pull through with painkillers and anti-spasmodic drugs then we would have him put to sleep. We decided to give him a couple of hours, monitor him closely, and if he didn’t improve, to take him to hospital where they could scan him and at least confirm whether or not surgery would be required, and take it from there. Comet was very brave for his injections, and I eventually allowed the vet to leave, after nearly three hours.
I checked on Comet every 15 minutes or so for the next 2 hours, and thankfully, he began to perk up. I rang the vet to update him and he was very pleased to hear that. By the next morning, he was shouting for his breakfast once more, and I let him have a teeny tiny amount of sloppy chaff, and took him for regular nibbles of grass, before letting him have a haynet again. I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was that he was ok – we love that little guy so much! And now my non-horsey friend can tell people she played a crucial role in the treatment of colic! We both agreed that it had been a mistake to watch Black Beauty the night before, though.
Scarlet and Comet are both now happy and settled in their new home, (with 24 hour turnout!) after 7 months at the rented yard. The cows next door are pretty fascinated with them both, and Scarlet was initially alarmed by the ducks next to the stables, but other than that, things are very quiet and peaceful for them.
My mum, Sue the saddler, will be taking up the blogging mantle from me now, as I not only have almost no involvement with horses (other than paying for one very expensive Thoroughbred field ornament) but I am moving to Mozambique to work for a marine conservation charity for a few months! She’s been doing lots of courses recently, swotting up on things like biomechanics and how anatomy affects saddle fitting, so she has lots of interesting insights to share.
TL;DR? Dragonfly Saddlery closed and relocated to Devon, to focus only on saddle fitting; Scarlet broke her jaw; Comet had colic and lived to tell the tale; Sue the saddler will be updating this blog from now on as I’m moving to Africa for a few months.