At SmartPak, we are well known for being an office full of riders. We go to the barn after work together, talk about the latest color of Piper Breeches, and catch up on the latest news of our Team SmartPak riders. This is an amazing environment to be in because everyone understands how you feel when your horse has an abscess or when they finally poop after hours of walking through a colic episode. Even though we all go to the barn after work every day to see our horses, there is one thing that makes me a bit different from my co-workers: I don’t ride my horse.
Let me clarify: I used to ride my mare all the time. We never did anything fancy in terms of our riding, we were just best buddies and I always looked forward to her amazing little western jog after a long day. I didn’t stop riding her by choice, in March of 2013 she was diagnosed with DSLD, or Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis, a career-ending and painful condition that affects the soft tissue in the body. The most well-known characteristic of this disease is the dropping of the fetlock joint in either front or rear legs as the ligament itself stretches. Not too much is known about the origins of the disease and many horse owners and riders have never even heard of it – I hadn’t until my horse was affected. Typically, the prognosis for horses with this condition isn’t good, but in the right environment it can be managed for a time.
After Cocoa was diagnosed, there was never a question in my mind on what would happen to her next. This horse was my best friend of almost 11 years and our connection was so strong that I never considered sending her away to a retirement farm or even getting another horse to keep riding. I learned that I loved being a horse mommy to Cocoa more than I loved just riding. I did hop on a few horses a couple times, but the same joy I felt when I rode Cocoa just wasn’t there. So I decided that if I was going to spend my precious time at the barn, I would much rather spend it with her – even if that meant just sitting there watching her graze.
It’s been nearly 4 years since Cocoa was diagnosed, not only is she doing well but she is so happy! I spend even more time at the barn with her now than I did when I was actually riding her. We moved to a private backyard barn with tons of turnout and all the grass she can eat. A typical barn visit for us usually consists of giving her tons of treats and letting her roam around the fenced-in property off lead while I keep myself busy either cleaning her paddock (she lives outside 24/7), organizing her extremely long SmartPaks in the feed room (yes, supplements are still a vital part of her management program even though she is not being ridden) or working in the vegetable garden my barn manager let me put in.
Cocoa is extremely smart, so I definitely make sure to still keep her brain engaged. Here are some of the fun ‘alternate’ things that I do with her:
• Training her to come when called (still a work in progress)
• Teaching her tricks, including giving hugs, giving kisses, and smiling
• Ground work/obstacle courses
• Going for walks down the scary driveway
• Taste-testing SmartPak’s new supplements and treats (such a hard thing to ask of her, I know)
• Taking a ton of pictures and making funny videos
• Testing new products
• Blogging about her new adventure (both ups and downs)
• Visiting all her friends at the barn
• Playing hide & seek with treats (I hide the treats around the barn and she has to go find them…with a little help)
• Much more!
I definitely miss being able to jump on my horse and go for a trail ride or even to a local fun show, and many people were (and still are) baffled by the fact that I am willing to keep spending a ton of money on a horse that is not rideable. But I can honestly say I’m fine with it – my best friend is comfy and happy and I can still see her every day. That’s what matters to me. The excited look she gives me when she sees me walking across the barn yard and that excited nicker she gives me at the end of the day make it all worth it.
So, when asked what I do with my horse I can’t help but giggle and say “does competitive lawn mowing count?”