Team Half-Ass and a Farewell to Iris

We said goodbye to Iris on Tuesday. The story has played out over Facebook but I haven’t written about it here, so this will be a very long one. If you already know what happened you can scroll through to the end to see some photos and video of Iris in better days.

The initial accident

Say a prayer for the cowboy
His mare’s run away
And he’ll walk til he finds her
His darling, his stray
But the river’s in flood
And the roads are awash
And the bridges break up
In the panic of loss.

Three months ago we had a friend visit us to learn more about mules and gain experience handling them. She did a couple of walks with Marty, and on her last day she rode Xato and then rode Iris as well, as Iris was a better schoolmistress than Xato! We noticed that Iris was slightly lame behind, but only when on the left rein in trot. We didn’t think much of it and decided to give her the rest of the weekend off, see how she was the following week, and then get the vet to come out and check her if needed.

On Monday morning I got up and glanced out the bedroom window as usual. The boys were grazing and Iris was just standing towards the edge of the field, apparently dozing. When I went down to the yard to make breakfasts, Cash and Xato came in but Iris stayed where she was which meant Marty stayed out as well.

Now, at that point it wasn’t unusual for Iris to be a pain in the bum about coming in, so Ben went out to fetch her only to discover that we actually had a serious problem on our hands. She was weight-bearing but could barely walk – although it hadn’t been obvious from the house, up close we could see that she appeared to have a puncture wound to her knee. She was leaking synovial fluid which, as every equine owner knows, is a really bad sign.

Long story short it turned out that she had apparently run into the electric fence that I had put up along that edge of the field, as there was a gap in the hedge and the actual boundary fencing in that section was quite rickety, so I had wanted to preserve it by keeping the herd away. It was just meant as an extra visual barrier to stop them being tempted to rub on it. Despite having the entire wide open space of a five acre field to run in, she had managed to run straight into this electric fence along the very edge of the field, plough headfirst into the ditch between it and the actual boundary fence, and shatter one of the plastic electric fence posts beneath her. I have literally never seen a post in so many splintered pieces. It was presumably a shard of this which had pierced her knee.

She was rushed into surgery where they operated on the leg and removed a lot of bone shards from the joint. The operation was a success, we had got it done within the very short time frame that joint injuries allow, and after a few days in hospital on antibiotics she came home.

Cellulitis

And there’s nothing to follow
There’s nowhere to go
She’s gone like the summer
Gone like the snow
And the crickets are breaking
His heart with their song
As the day caves in
And the night is all wrong

On her second morning home, I found her completely non weight-bearing on that damaged leg. Her bed was all rucked up in one corner so we assumed she’d rolled and maybe hit herself on the wall.

She had x-rays taken which showed some slight arthritic changes but no damage fortunately, and the next day went back to hospital. By this stage she was only about 4/10ths lame, but it was also clear that something wasn’t right behind. Unfortunately the hind lameness couldn’t be properly assessed until she was sound up front, and after a few days observation she came home again.

Our next problem was cellulitis, brought on by whatever had happened in the stable, and which caused her knee to swell up. She was put on more antibiotics – which she hated, we had to syringe them down her twice a day – and was prescribed as much walking as possible to try and get the inflammation down. As such she was allowed free range of the stable yard and we hand-walked her several times a day.

The weeks dragged by and there was no real change in the size of her knee. Eventually we were given the all clear to turn her out again, which we were glad to do as we hoped she’d get even more movement walking around out there. Unfortunately, her digital pulses went through the roof so we took her off the grass asap.

Lymphangitis and laminitis

Did he dream, was it she
Who went galloping past
And bent down the fern
Broke open the grass
And printed the mud with
The iron and the gold
That he nailed to her feet
When he was the lord

A couple of weeks later she took a very bad turn and, despite having been off grass and on soaked hay ever since the scare with the pulses, appeared to come down with laminitis – her pulses were raised again and she was hobbling, though didn’t have the typical laminitic stance. The vet was reluctant to boxrest her because of the knee, so she was confined to the soft footing of the round pen. The diagnosis for the knee was now suspected to be lymphangitis, but unfortunately treatment for that involves steroids which is a big no-no for a laminitic horse.

She came through the laminitis attack (if that was what it was) and was put on a different course of antibiotics, which initially seemed to help. We started walking her out in hand again but she was very sore so we stopped taking her out and walked her in the round pen instead. She wasn’t getting field turnout as we couldn’t risk another lami attack, but she did have free access of the yard and round pen.

The first fall

And although she goes grazing
A minute away
He tracks her all night
He tracks her all day
Oh blind to her presence
Except to compare
His injury here
With her punishment there

Around this time the herd had their feet done, and our EP noted that Iris had bruises on her hind frogs where the breakover point was. To help her out, she had boots with special support pads fitted to the back feet and there was an immediate improvement. She was only supposed to wear the boots for a maximum of eight hours a day, so I usually put them on in the morning and took them off when I fed in the evening.

A week or so later I did the evening feeds but didn’t take Iris’ boots off. It was an annoying task as she didn’t like to make it easy for me, I was feeling grumpy, and I figured that Ben could take them off when he came home. Where was the harm?

Anyway, later that evening I was about to take our new strimmer down to the round pen to cut down the grass around it; Iris had taken to sticking her head through the fence and had already pulled down two of the boards, which I’d had to nail back on. We tested it up by the house first and when I went down to the yard, I found that Iris was out in the field with the boys and the yard gate to the round pen was open.

I went to fetch her – it seemed a bit weird that she was just standing there – and quickly realised we had a problem (again). The back of her swollen knee was sliced open, the already stretched skin was sagging down the leg, and she was bleeding.

This was after hours and the vet on call had just been called to a colic right on the other side of the county, about as far away as she could possibly be. She advised us to get Iris to the hospital if we could, as it was closer to where she was and would save time on being seen. While we were waiting for transport to arrive we saw two sets of black skid marks on the yard and deduced that she had spooked – presumably at the strimming – and slid because of the boots. She went to hospital, we got home around midnight, and she stayed in hospital for a few days so that the vets could consult with a specialist about what to do with her swollen knee. We assumed the fall had been because she was wearing boots, so I never put them on her again.

The second fall

Then at home on a branch
In the highest tree
A songbird sings out
So suddenly
Ah the sun is warm
And the soft winds ride
On the willow trees
By the river side

The wound looked worse than it was (she had managed to inflict maximum non-fatal damage) but obviously couldn’t be stitched, so she came home with a bandage on.

The following week, she fell again. The bandage wasn’t allowed to get wet, and as we were in the middle of a heat wave I didn’t really have to worry about it until one drizzly afternoon. I checked the forecast and put her in the stable as it was only to to be wet for a few hours.

Later that afternoon I looked out the bedroom window and saw that Iris was out on the yard. I joked to Ben that “she’s probably hurt herself again…!” and went trooping out there only to find that yes, she had hurt herself. It looked like she’d slipped when she came out the stable – how she got out I don’t know, as the top was definitely bolted but I couldn’t remember if I’d put the kick bolt over. Iris wasn’t one for fiddling with door bolts so all I can think is that Xato opened it for her.

Fortunately, this time she just had a few scrapes but she was also pretty lame and sorry for herself. The vet came out again and took more x-rays, which showed that the arthritis was getting a lot worse. I queried why she’d suddenly started falling over – the movement of her back end looked wrong again to me – and we discussed possibly neurological causes, but as with the hind end lameness, we couldn’t do a proper work up until that front leg was better. We did a basic test where the horse is asked to perform a tight turn on the hindquarters, and she passed.

Although she had never been sound since the initial accident, the next day she was moving much better and seemed a lot more cheerful.

The third fall

Oh the world is sweet
The world is wide
And she’s there where
The light and the darkness divide
And the steam’s coming off her
She’s huge and she’s shy
And she steps on the moon
When she paws at the sky

Exactly a week later, she went very lame again. We think she fell as there was a scuff on her right knee and left forelock that we didn’t remember being there before, but honestly, at this point she had a lot of scrapes so we don’t know for certain. She was very, very miserable this time.

The vet came back and took more x-rays which showed osteophytes – sharp, bony projections caused by her increasingly aggressive arthritis – were now growing directly into her joint capsule.

This happened on a Friday. Unlike the last fall, she didn’t get better. She limped all weekend, even with a daily double dose of painkillers, and by Monday could barely walk. There was no guarantee that surgery to remove the osteophytes would make any difference, and indeed the risk was very high that it would just make it worse. Whatever was going on in her back end was still present, and getting worse. I was watching her walk on the morning we let her go and it looked to me as though she didn’t know where her hind feet were. 

Saying goodbye

And she comes to his hand
But she’s not really tame
She longs to be lost
He longs for the same
And she’ll bolt and she’ll plunge
Through the first open pass
To roll and to feed
In the sweet mountain grass

I put Xato and Cash in the stables before the vet came as they were liable to get in the way, but left Marty out as he is polite and can be directed easily if needed. We had put fresh clean straw down round the corner on the muddy patch where they like to stand with bums against the barn, so that she could be put down there and the boys could all say their goodbyes to her in their own time.

I didn’t let Marty see her go down, but he came with me when I walked over afterwards and he started touching her all over. He then turned his back on her, rested a hindleg, and stood “on guard”; looking out across the valley as though she was just sleeping and he had to keep watch.

When Ben let the other two out Xato was very frightened, and did a big stop-start circuit of the yard perimeter, snorting his worry. That broke my heart a little bit. Once he had seen her from a distance and from all angles he came and stood behind us, then both he and Marty advanced and together they carefully touched her nose and mouth with theirs several times. For once, they didn’t bicker.

Cash Pony was oblivious as usual, and had to be brought down the yard to see her as he’d decided to park up and eat an abandoned haynet instead. He looked a little surprised when he saw her, then the thought – as usual – slid from his head and he found another haynet to eat. As he’s lived with Iris the longest I had wondered how he’d react, and his completely blasé attitude was strangely funny in that moment.

Dear Iris. She and I didn’t always see eye to eye – her tendency to do daft, inexplicable things and then suffer for them frustrated me – but she was the gentlest horse I’ve ever met. She was a firm favourite with the vets because no matter how sore she was, no matter how much prodding and poking and manipulating of the leg she endured in the past three months, she never once offered to bite or kick or even turn her ears back.

We didn’t have an autopsy done so we’ll never know what was happening in her hind end, or why she ran into that fence in the first place. If you’re a long term follower you will know that this isn’t the first time she’s run into fencing, but there had been a two year gap between her last fence injury and this final, fatal one. On a hunch, I’d stopped her running into fences then by double stranding rather than single – whether it was a coincidence or what I don’t know, but she didn’t have another incident after that. It didn’t occur to me to do the same when I put the fence up here. It wasn’t trying to contain her, after all. It was just an extra barrier in front of three barriers that already existed, a very short run of fence at the edge of a goddamn five acre field, and after two years of no incidents I got careless. There wasn’t even a clear run beyond it – there was the electric fence, the ditch, the boundary fence, a narrow track, and then a seven foot impenetrable hedge on the other side. She was a in a peaceful herd who don’t bully each other, so they wouldn’t have chased her through.

It’s fruitless to wonder why at this point, of course. We’ll never know why on earth she did it.

I hope you’re in a great big meadow somewhere now, mare. Preferably a level, flat one with no fences so you can run as much as you like and never have to worry about stopping.

Or she’ll make a break
For the high plateau
Where there’s nothing above
And there’s nothing below
And it’s time for the burden
It’s time for the whip
Will she walk through the flame
Can he shoot from the hip
So he binds himself
To the galloping mare
And she binds herself
To the rider there
And there is no space
But there’s left and right
And there is no time
But there’s day and night

Early Days

During the first few weeks of her arrival. She was such a spooky horse, couldn’t focus on you, didn’t think that people were worth focusing on … she always retained some anxiety about life, but it was amazing how quickly she settled and found peace. She’d bucked her previous rider off and broken his arm, but she never ever tried to throw Ben. The only time he fell off her was because he’d forgotten to tighten his cinch! She became really solid and dependable and we had a lot of our friends ride her because we knew she was safe.

Hilarious irony

Oki, not exactly a happy time, but a pretty funny one when I think back on it. This was when she broke my foot! The reason it’s funny is because it was three days after we got her, and the only reason I was handling her was because our EP was coming out to remove her shoes. While I was trying to halter her (remember I said she was really uptight and bothered, and did not care about people’s personal space at all) she spooked at something, leapt straight into the air, and landed on me. If she’d waited to do that until AFTER her shoes were taken off, the injury might not have been as bad!!

Fooling around with swords

Because I’ve always wanted to do horseback combat. This was a fun afternoon where Ben and I just dicked around and dear Iris humoured us.

Best photo #1

Potentially the greatest photo ever taken.

Best photo #2

…Although this one is also a pretty strong contender.

Riding with Joe Wolter

There’s no real story to this photo (although she only just managed to attend this clinic, as she’d run through a fence some weeks earlier and ripped the front of her fetlock open … then burst the stitches … then developed a bunch of proud flesh … yeh). I just really like the photo. Also, given that she was really bred to do normal Warmblood stuff like live in a stable and wear shoes and be clipped and do dressage, I get a perverse pleasure from seeing her little woolly face in a bosal and her unpulled mane.

Noble wanderer

Another favourite photo of mine. I’ve used this one a lot in stock images, just because I can.

The perfect profile

Until I started going through photos, I didn’t realise quite how many headshots I had of her. She was just a very good headshot subject. This was taken last year.

And he leans on her neck
And he whispers low
“Whither thou goest
I will go”
And they turn as one
And they head for the plain
No need for the whip
Ah, no need for the rein

I couldn’t put all my favourite photos into the post so I made a video of them. I am missing a lot of pictures from after we moved, because I have mostly been using my phone camera and I just didn’t want to go through all those pictures trying to find ones to use. It was more fun to look at older pictures, anyway.

The song is “Ballad Of The Absent Mare” by Leonard Cohen.

Now the clasp of this union
Who fastens it tight?
Who snaps it asunder
The very next night
Some say the rider
Some say the mare
Or that love’s like the smoke
Beyond all repair
But my darling says
“Leonard, just let it go by
That old silhouette
On the great western sky”
So I pick out a tune
And they move right along
And they’re gone like the smoke
And they’re gone like this song

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Mulographer Sari

Sari was raised by cats which accounts for her solitary nature, occasional mania, and attraction to shiny objects. After riding and being around horses for 22 years, she discovered that she was, in fact, a mule girl and fell hopelessly in love with these extraordinary creatures. She lives in England and is married to Ben, who is potentially the best Ben who ever Benned.

1 Response

  1. Sending love to you all, the video made me cry, it’s the end of an era, run free Iris beautiful one xxxxxxxxx

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