She was a Thoroughbred, never raced, who came to me when she was 10 years old. I had decided to buy a horse to show in the hunters, since my daughters, who were then 10 and 11, were spending a lot of time at horse shows, and I had started riding and jumping again myself. I already had Noble, who was my first horse when I came back to riding as an adult, but he was 20 and did basic dressage and was no show horse. Promise had been doing the 4'6" jumpers before I got her, so anything I would ask her to do was a piece of cake. She had lovely gaits and a nice jump, and if I rode her well (which basically meant staying out of her way), she often won her classes. I don't believe she ever refused a fence in the entire time I rode her. Here she is, jumping rather lazily, and with what we called "airplane ears", over what for her was a pretty small fence (please ignore my equitation - I've never won an equitation class in my life):
She was a glossy, rich bay, with lots of dapples, a perfectly symmetrical star and two matching hind half socks. She was a mare of strong opinions, most of which were correct, and she had a wonderful habit of greeting me with a nicker that was completely silent - her nostrils moved - we called it "doing nostrils". She was a big mare, 16.2, and robustly built - she looked more like a warmblood than a Thoroughbred. She was a horse that I could get on and ride, even at a strange horse show, without any lunging and without worry - she was always very forward but controllable. She never bucked, spooked or did anything else unseemly in the entire time I had her. She was the perfect amateur owner hunter and was a wonderful horse in every way.
In our 2001 show season, we won the divisional championships in Limit Hunter and Novice Adult Hunter, and came 3rd overall in Non-Pro Hunter. I hurt my back just before finals, and my older daughter, who was 12 at the time, rode her in Limit that day, and won her huge flat class. A young amateur at our barn finished out her Non-Pro season and also came 2nd on her in Medal finals. Before finals, she and I had been working towards out next show season, when we would be doing the 3'3" to 3'6" divisions.
After finals in October 2001, we noticed that she didn't seem quite right. She was a little bit off - not dreadfully lame but not sound either. It was hard to pinpoint what was wrong - there was no obvious swelling or heat, so we gave her some time off - only working at the walk and hand-walking rather than turnout - we were at a show barn where horses got at most 2 hours of turnout by themselves a day. She stayed her usual calm, relaxed self. At the end of October, my older daughter rode her at the barn's Halloween party dressed in full knightly regalia - borrowed from a friend who used to work at Medieval Times - and won the costume class - my only pictures of that have gone missing.
Towards the middle of November, she seemed to be improving and the vet cleared her to resume turnout, but we kept to a walk under saddle. Then we came to November 18, 2001. It was a Sunday - the barn didn't do turnout on Sunday - so I went to turn our horses out for a bit. It was unusually warm, almost sultry, and there was some wind. After putting on her Sports Medicine Boots, I led Promise out - all the small turnouts had horse in them so I turned her out in the main outdoor arena. That's when everything went wrong. Although she had led out calmly, she bolted from the gate and ran, faster than I had ever seen a horse run in my life, screaming as she went. As she rounded the end of the arena and headed back down the long side, I heard a loud crack, and suddenly she was running on three legs. She kept going to the end of the arena next to the barn, and stopped and stood there on three legs, holding her right front off the ground. She stood there, head high, and I went to look. There was no blood, but she wouldn't put any weight on her leg at all - she would only, and with great effort, hop three-legged. I sent a passerby to find one of the trainers, who came out and got on the phone to the vet. We slowly got her to hop to her stall, which fortunately was very close.
The vet came, took x-rays and stabilized her leg in a tall PVC cast with a plate at the bottom, so at least she could rest it on the ground and take some of the weight off her other front leg, and gave her Banamine. The only good sign was that there was still no significant swelling. The vet called as soon as the x-rays were developed and the news wasn't good - she had fractured her large pastern (P-1) bone. He recommended that we trailer her to the clinic and have them evaluate her. We did that - she managed to load and unload. Although at this point it was late Sunday night, the vets met us and immediately did x-rays. It was worse than we thought - although the pieces of bone were not separated, she had multiple slab fractures and her P-1 was in 9 pieces. I saw the x-rays, and it looked as though someone had marked Xs in various dimensions across the bone. Neither joint was directly damaged, however, and since the bones fragments were not separated, the vet wanted to think about it overnight - we were hoping to save her at least as a pasture pet or for breeding.
Early the next morning, I talked to the vet by phone. The bone was so badly fractured and it so many small pieces that it was going to be very hard to surgically repair it - she was insured and they would have paid for it - and the only option would have been to cast the whole leg from the knee down - probably for at least 6 months - with no guarantee that she would make it through - the risk of laminitis in the other front foot was high - and in the end she wouldn't have even been pasture sound - she would never have been able to run again, or even walk well, and probably couldn't have been safely turned out with other horses. I made the decision to euthanize her, and was there that morning to say goodbye and see it done. It was one of the worst days of my life and I was very depressed for months afterward - it was so hard to have her there and then the next minute she was gone.
With the benefit of hindsight, could things have gone differently? I felt an enormous amount of guilt over what had happened. Although she was deceptively calm leading out, I suspect that she might not have been added back to the turnout list, and just went crazy from the lack of turnout - I never tried to verify this since I wasn't looking to cast blame. Should I have checked before I turned her out, or lunged her to see how she was? Was it the weird weather? Should I have even turned her out in the large arena? - which had an area that was uneven and with not good footing just where she put a foot wrong. Was that odd lameness in October a sign that something more serious was wrong? - we never had x-rays. Should I have had her euthanized immediately that evening rather than subjecting her to the trip to the clinic and the overnight wait? We had also seen on her x-rays from when we got her that she had a bone chip in her right knee, that had healed completely. I've since learned that in studies of racehorses, horses with prior bone chips have a much higher chance of incurring subsequent catastrophic fractures - apparently the bone chip is a warning sign that there may be structural weakness in the bones. Promise's full sister, who was 2 years younger, also had to be euthanized the next year when she fractured her shoulder standing up after surgery for a hoof abscess. So there may have been some genetic component leading to bone weakness.
I'll never know for sure - all I know is that I lost a fine horse in the prime of her life, and hope to never have that sort of thing happen again. It was years before my daughters or I could watch horses run in turnout with being afraid for them. But with horses there is always risk - be sure to enjoy your horse on every day you have him or her. I will always remember her with gratitude and joy for the brief time we had together.