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A Beautiful, yet tragic story

The most beautiful tragic story

This story still puts a lump in my throat every time I tell it. It’s the story of a little colt with a big heart, whose personality will never be forgotten. 

His name was Stetson. 

Stetson was half brother to my horse Bandit, and I agreed to buy him from the breeder at just four weeks old and brought him home at seven months. 

I talk a lot in my clinics about encouraging try in my horses, and I always did everything I could to encourage Stetson to try in every endeavour we ever undertook. Stetson was tragically injured in the field in his three year old year, and the story of his final hours is the one that pains me so. 

At the time, I was renting a field in Doncaster, South Yorkshire for the two boys, I arrived one evening as I always did to find Stetson laid down in the field. This in itself was not unusual. What was strange was that he didn’t get up when I got out of my car and come running like he always did. 

I jumped over the fence and got him up, it was immediately apparent that something was wrong. He couldn’t put any weight on his off side fore leg (front right). We gave him pain relief and poulticed his leg. It was January time and very wet, so our first thought was abscess. We left him over night but it was apparent the next morning that there was no change so we called the Vet. The vet couldn’t come immediately so we waited. I was a little late arriving and as I pulled in, I saw the vet wrestling with a hurting colt. As soon as I slammed my car door Stetson stopped and stood still with his leg in the air. Confused, the vet looked round, laughed, and said, you can tell who his dad is! 

The vet gave me two choices as she had two theories. Neither were good! It was either take him to rainbow, the nearest equine hospital and get an X-ray for a potential fracture, or box rest him for a week for a suspected bone infection. I didn’t want to chance it so we splinted his leg and got him to the vets. This is where he started breaking my heart. 

Despite the pain he must have been in, he stood and let us splint his leg with bandage after bandage, he limped behind me onto the trailer like he did it every day and he travelled like a professional. When we arrived at rainbow after what felt like an age, I unloaded him. Stetson wasn’t a seasoned demo or show horse. He was a colt that hadn’t travelled much, but when I asked him to walk down the brightly lit, narrow corridor he didn’t even hesitate. Limp, limp, limp. The little champion never stopped following me. Finally we made it to the X-ray room and he got some more pain relief. 

It felt like forever that we had to wait in the little waiting room, but they finally called us back in to show us the X-rays. They hadn’t said anything up to that point, so I was full of hope. That was, until I saw the mixture of dark and light lines all across his knee. He’d shattered it. The vets could not tell whether it was a kick, or if he had slipped and gone down on it. But the choice was clear. It was possible to fit a metal plate in his leg. He would never be able to canter, and trot would be a struggle. He wouldn’t ever be ridden and restricted turnout was advised. He had tried so hard for me that day, and always, that I couldn’t let him live like that. 

He followed me again, tired now from the travelling and the drugs, perhaps the adrenaline was wearing off too. He followed me into the padded room that makes a gentler landing. The vets gave him the injection and he took his last breath with his head in my arms. I had some time there to sit and reflect. 

All the pain, and loss of mobility and he never once told me no, he never said it was too much or too difficult. That was the hardest bit. 

He was immortalised by a good friend of ours, and his portrait is alongside Buddy’s ready for me to say hello to every morning. The pain never goes away, but the hoof prints stay in your heart forever.

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