By Cristina Lopez
I had always had a love for horses. I wrote reports on them in elementary school and my parents would take me on summer vacations where I could trail ride. In 1993 my best friend since I was 16, Michelle, bought me 10 lessons for my 30th birthday. Summer was a 5 or 6 year old, cheeky, red chestnut, thoroughbred, gelding. He was one of the lesson horses and both Michelle and I were matched up with him quite often. I took beginner lessons on a lunge line, no stirrups at times & no reins at times. It was all something my teenage trail rides could never compare to. Michelle had worked with horses before and is and has always been, the fearless one, with a love to jump, so she took jumping lessons.
Over the years we boarded at show barns, jumper barns, backyard barns, family farms and country clubs all over LA County. Sometimes we had trainers and took lessons, other times we did our own thing. Michelle showed him in Hunter Jumper and I rode him in the ring and on the trails. It was the perfect mix. We began leasing him with an option to buy and in July of 1997, we bought him!
At every facility, we galloped through trails and had both mishaps, (he liked to rear…straight up I might add) and beautiful adventures. I even jumped a few X’s and got to gallop him around a practice racetrack with our trainer directing me through a head set!
In September of 2000, we bought an 18 month old Mustang Bashkir Curly mix, Blue, as a possibility that our daughters could ride him. We found a beautiful ranch in the mountains of Malibu with a pasture for Blue to grow in and a nice stall for Summer. It was an almost 300 acre ranch and I imagine Summer and I must have explored a good percentage of it. Looking back I’d have to say these were our most magical years. Here we stopped at mountain peaks and let the wind blow in our hair. Summer had overnights in a pasture on a hill where the sunsets were spectacular and the star filled nights were so peaceful.
Michelle moved to another city and took Blue and Summer and I stayed in Malibu. I sold a condo and moved to be closer to him. Summer moved a few more times locally and we landed at a private home 5 minutes from my home, where Blue too had landed! Life was leisurely, some bareback easy rides and lots of turnouts.
Day 1 (Friday, April 10, 2020): after 3 days of solid rain I noticed Summers back right leg was swollen. It seemed sort of logical after 3 days of standing, sometimes in slippery mud, that he’d had simply gotten stocked up and would need to be wrapped and given bute. I walked him to the cross ties, but something didn’t feel right. I called a neighbor friend who just happens to also be a horse trainer and she came right away. She felt it was worthy to call the vet and we did. The on call vet arrived and it was decided, standing wraps and bute with a backup of antibiotics, should the swelling not be down by morning. A possibility of cellulitis was spoken of.
Day 2 (Saturday): the swelling was down by morning. I turned him out, hand walked him and he seemed ok. I texted my vet to let her know something wasn’t right and I wanted her to have a look.
Day 3 (Sunday): something wasn’t right, his back legs were moving weird and had gotten a bit caught up as he went down for a roll and he had a little trouble getting up. His head and front legs appeared normal. My vet made it out on her off day (I might add) and noticed some swelling at his right hind end. She thought perhaps he had fractured his Ischium bone. Stall rest, a princess bed, standing wraps and bute were the plan. My vet explained that this plan would cover many possibilities and if no improvement we could start on steroids.
Day 11 (Monday): the stumbling got a bit worse. My vet came out again and did a pelvic exam to make sure it wasn’t fractured and determined his condition to be Sidewinders. He was prescribed steroids that would taper down, Elevate (a vitamin E supplement), continued stall rest, a princess bed, daily bute and wrapping. I googled sidewinders & found myself depressed. Michelle found Anne’s blog and after reading it, so many things rang true and I found it very meaningful. A documented story that would now become my story, just different names & places. I took Anne’s lead and took photos and videos everyday. I installed a camera so I could check on him at all hours and could also take a snapshot or video, if he appeared to be moving more oddly than normal. It felt important to be able to compare each day and also to keep it real and not let my mind play tricks on me. I reached out to Anne who responded with compassion and openness, shared the view of the roller coaster I was now on. She said “he will have good days and bad ones” and this held true. She also told me, I would know when it was time. I didn’t like the responsibility that held and I wondered how it could possible be true. I felt under equipped in many ways for a lot of this. I texted my vet with my depressing findings and she said, “he’s not walking in circles, nor having to lean on his corral” “…some horses stabilize”. By trying this, I would know that I had tried everything medically, I possibly could.
It wasn’t quite enough for me, so I enrolled in an intro class online called Equine Partnered Bodywork and was introduced to Nancy Horne of Greater Good Ranch. (A side note: Nancy is in my cell phone as Equine Healer Guru). I finished her course, practiced the bodywork and reached out to her for any alternative suggestions she might have. She did, she said to “keep up the bodywork – hands on energy – get a diagram of the nervous system and circulation (blood flow) follow these with your hands, vision and intent all over his body.” She also pointed out that Sidewinders, “is a group of signs which may occur due to a variety of different causes, some of which are very treatable.” She gave me many resources, books like Renee Tucker’s; “Where does my horse hurt” and alternative healing modalities like Diana Thompson’s Equine Acupressure online course, to name a few. She even began to do remote healings from our first conversation, to our final days. She and I are both Reiki masters too and she gave me some hand positions and mindsets that she thought would be beneficial. She even began to do remote healings from our first conversation, to our final days. I practiced applying all that I learned as much as possible. My Reiki teacher even came out twice and we gave him Reiki together. I called on other healer friends to send good energy and to hold space for him, me, us.
Some days I could walk him around his corral for a few laps and sometimes we could only get a few steps without him looking tipsy. He was eating and pooping and otherwise seeming “normal”, which at first felt hopeful and then confusing. He allowed me to do the light touch bodywork on his Bladder Meridian, Reiki with 1 hand on the inside top of his thigh and one on the outside and then switch sides to help with circulation, along with other hand positions to help balance and align the 2 sides. I was even able to find all the Acupressure points I was learning from part 1 of Diana’s course.
Day 36: I reached out to Anne and we had a beautiful conversation that ended on “how do you know when it’s time?”. Anne shared her story with me and we cried together over the phone. Two people in different states, complete strangers, our one commonality, the love for a horse.
Day 44: Summer had a hard time getting up. I decided to walk him to check further and we were able to make it around his corral a few times without any major tipsy-ness. Because he walked ok, I decided to focus on that.
Day 48: Michelle happened to see him struggle quite a few times to get up, ultimately having to use one of the poles holding his shelter as leverage to get up and texted me. I went later to do his wraps and evening supplements. I tried to walk him and we could only get about 2-3 steps before I knew we couldn’t go further.
Day 49: The next morning, I changed his wraps and gave him his morning supplements. I went to do some Acupressure & he turned his head to me with pinned ears, not happy. I recalled it had been like that the last few days and I guess I just kept putting it out of my mind.
I came home and began to clear stuff off of the passenger seat of my car. I thought I saw a shiny piece of something that could’ve been the corner of a candy wrapper or snack bar. But, it wasn’t, it was the teeniest little silver angel you could ever imagine. Seriously, minuet! (The angel is a little story all in itself.) I immediately began to cry. I knew it was a sign, one I didn’t want to know and one that reminded me that some thing otherworldly was watching over me. I texted a photo of it to Michelle and she called while on her way to work. She described in detail again what she had seen and thought perhaps he had just laid down in the wrong spot and that that was why he couldn’t get up. Because I had seen the difficulty he had Saturday, I felt differently. I reached out to Nancy who as always, gave me information, things to try and again, mindsets. Her final question in one of her emails was, had I ever had to do this before? I picked up the phone and called her immediately. We talked about everything. We too, cried together, two people in different states, complete strangers, our one commonality, the love for a horse.
Some of Nancy’s suggestions were to give him his favorite foods, to sit with him and to make it like a going away party, bring other horses by to say goodbye and friends too. All of this so hard to hear, and yet so meaningfully powerful.
My vet was not on call this day and since we weren’t completely clear with the final decision, I decided to book her for the following day, if anything, for a check up. Michelle left work early and we vacillated on possibilities, options and scenarios. A couple of neighbor friends came to check on me and in retrospect, it was somehow as if the farewell party was underway. My vet offered to come right then as she didn’t want him to end in a crisis. We needed some time to think. We opted to walk him to the arena for logistical reasons and I was uncertain we could make it there. If he was going to stay in the arena overnight, I was not leaving him. So, we decided to stay the night in the back of Michelle’s hatchback and watch over him. As I walked him both Michelle & her husband validated the tipsy ness as they followed us to the area. I let his halter go and he immediately went to his favorite corner to roll and got up pretty well, he went to a different spot rolled again and also got up ok. I think he might’ve even rolled again and at one point even got a little cheeky with a gallop and an attempt at a buck. He settled down and rolled again, had a few bites of his dinner, wandered and investigated what seems like every inch of the arena. Blue’s corral is right next to the arena, so he entertained us all with his funny antics. Michelle and I recalled memories of all these years and the adventures we all had together. I ended up sideways in the back of Michelle’s hatchback and her in the front seat. I watched him through the night wander and stand so beautifully regal, looking out, as if into the wild blue yonder.
Day 50: In the morning another neighbor stopped by with a doggy friend and Summer and the pup touched noses at the arena gate. The anxiety of knowing the vet would be arriving and the responsibility and commitment I made to the care of this magnificent being all flooded my mind. The possibility of him not being able to get up, to injure himself and/or worst case scenario panic himself into crisis, was not the route that seemed in the best interests of this soul connection we created, for the last 26 years. We watched him move, sometimes tipsy and noticed, not for the first time that he looked uncomfortable pooping and peeing, another visual that he was uncomfortable. He is a thoroughbred and it was made clear that it is engrained in him to be stoic when needed and to keep pushing himself.
He never finished his dinner from the night before and I continued to offer him fresh bowls of goodness, apples and all. I recalled how he would stop eating his main meal when I would arrive and he’d wait for me to bring him my concoction and eat it first. The funny thing is my concoction was exactly what was in his main meal (sometimes with supps mixed in of course) it seems he just preferred to eat the one that came from me.
The vet arrived and we talked it out. At some point in the conversation, I noticed Michelle and myself were responding both in body language and words, in the same way and at the same time. Not shocking necessarily, it was just the way everything stopped for a moment so I could see and feel that we were one in this now. My vet recalled having just started her practice when we became clients, 20 years ago, oh how the time had flown. She explained the logistics, similar to the preparation Nancy had given me. As my vet walked into the arena, Summer walked from her aways and stopped. My vet offered me his halter to fetch him and bring him back. Ugh… I approached slowly and spoke to him softly, put his halter on him and walked him back. The rest of the details seem unimportant, it was instantaneous really. We talked to him and told him how much we loved him and how we would ride together again one day. Oh how I have dreamt of that day every day since.
I call on memories now, like how I would put my hands up and stand strong and he would rub his eyes and head against my hands to get all those spots that the corral bars, a good roll or places on the fence couldn’t get. I will cherish that and all the memories we made forever.Summer taught me so much, about boundaries, trust, commitment, timing, connection, parenting, to not give up, to try again, the power and fullness of love and on and on. Nancy reminded me that, when you ask for help, I want to add, truly ask for help, it will come. The outpouring of love and validation of our love from those who watched us from afar has given us a little more peace each day. Loving a horse, is a big love and worth every second.
Elder care – by Nancy Horne
Cristina did an amazing job with her horse Summer during this time – she researched, consulted many sources, checked in with friends. Cristina contacted me on May 12th and I started working with her on the 13th. Due to incredible training, I study with Renee Tucker as a grad – TBT Master Practitioner. I am able to do remote healings – I’ve studied with animal communicators Anna Twinney – she came to my house and we put on clinics 3 years in a row, Trust technique – James French, Bodywork courses MMCP Masterson Method, CEMP, at WMSEM, etc. The first session I did with Summer was a full TBT session, 2nd session refined what I felt was a primary issue.
Based on photos and videos, I offered the following over a 2 week period. Info from 2 phone calls are not included:
“You can do some controlled walking in the corral. Couple steps forward, couple steps back. Leaning forward leaning back – even if an inch or 2 engages muscle. Clicker training connection play if you ever did any of that. slow deliberate fun stuff – or just carrot slices. Stay fully present with him – focus on the current moment – your relationship – just talk to him. Show him your heartfelt authentic happy self. But you must do some work first to be authentic from the depths of your soul. He will know if you are faking it or are deeply worried. I guess what I’m saying is find peace with where everything is at in the world between you both. No apologies, no “I could have done better”… Sheer gratitude for him in your life, your connection is eternal.”
“First and foremost – keep your spirits up. Elder care is as tough as it gets, and as rewarding as it gets… Summer is older and not able to bounce back quickly – a lot of changes have been made that happen on a cellular level, you won’t see it – he is looking better to me. My thought is whatever happened was a trigger for what was going on internally before. Do you have pictures of him a month or so before this happened?
“He needs to know his existence doesn’t depend on being as good as he once was… He is doing the best he can, and that needs to be enough…” You are doing an amazing job with him.
” I trust you and Summer will decide together what is best. Listen to his timeline, not the logic of anything, or anyone else. Sometimes just ‘talking’ about options is enough- If he knows you will take care of him and you have a plan – perhaps he can simply get well. Sometimes all we have to do is prepare, and the energy shifts. It is a true luxury for the divine timing to play out. Never stop asking questions.
All the best to you.
You can ask “Do you believe/want to get well?” “are you feeling better?” “What would you like me to do for you” “How can I help” ….. Get yourself out of the way, be open to what pops into your mind – vision, words, feeling… and see what comes to you. check in and make sure it came from him.
Does he have a best horse friend? Can you bring his friend into the arena – on halter and lead?
Try to get a sense of his ‘try’. A sparkle in his eye or a dull sense of drudgery.
Our conversations on the phone included more information, but everyone was consulted, What everyone saw, thought and felt was considered, in the end, it was clear that overall weakness and not being able to get up was an issue that was undeniable and a real problem at the age of 32.
Summer felt loved, was able to see friends and had the pleasure of play.
Sometimes elder care turns into end of life care. This is the most important time in a being’s life… It is extremely important to fully support all the lifelong members – say final words, look into ones eyes again, remember how lives merged, fun times, cement the bond. A life is a life – no matter the body form. Some lives are highly evolved, and we seek each other out – because we will meet again.
Cheers to Summer and Cristina. A worthy life together – well spent, well lived, extreme gratitude to the memories. It was my pleasure to be with you both for just over 2 weeks, I’ll remember you always.