We are a hardy bunch us Knackered Riders Club members (pictured above l-r: me on Apache, Ailsa on Jeanie and Jonathan on Nobby, just back from a ride). Determined to keep riding for as long as possible, we often prop ourselves up with a range of pills and potions to make sure our old bones and joints stand up to the rigours of a couple of hours in the saddle. Before getting on, back supports are strapped on, like those used by burly weight lifters, our knees are bandaged like old racehorses and some of us even take the pain killers in a pre-emptive strike. The smell of that awful fiery muscle rub often pervades the air at the yard as we lather it on anywhere that seems to have set rigid or died. It is supposed to soothe aching muscles. I actually think it makes them so hot that you can’t actually feel whether they hurt or not.
Preparations done, we then assemble at the mounting block. I’m definitely the worst and it’s often like craning Henry the Eighth onto his charger as poor Apache stands ready to take the strain as I get on board, as gently as possible. Laughable or not, we still manage to get on every week, come hail, rain or shine, and head off to the hills. It is our weekly horsey fix and no amount of dodgy joints or old injuries is going to stop us anytime soon. No, the problem we have now is that the horses seem to be forming their own club, the Knackered Horses Club.
The horses at Tarden where we ride are fine, but my own horse Painter is coming out in sympathy with me. He retired with an injured leg six years ago, but seems to have been moving strangely well ever since, and now has a wonky ear. It started when he wouldn’t let me get near his ear with the strap of his head collar. He is a grumpy old man anyway but the thought of a field full of grass normally soothes his agitated temperament. On this occasion, he threw his head up and down like he was doing his own version of the hokey cokey. In the end I managed to slip the strap wide of his ear and get him out of his stable. To be honest I thought no more of it until later in the week when his ear flopped to the side at a strange angle. The vet was duly called, something that is usually avoided, and after sedation and an examination, he was declared a phenomenon. Mystified, I asked for clarification. Apparently he has shaken his head so much, a habit that he has never shown any evidence of in the 20 years I have owned him, and burst a blood vessel. This has caused an aural haematoma, something that the vet has only seen in dogs, never in a horse before. After copious sachets of bute and three weeks of recuperation, it is certainly less sore but has been left flopped down at a jaunty angle, and bulging like a rugby player’s cauliflower ear.
That should be enough for now but he’s loading the problems all at once. The dentist has just visited and has also declared him a phenomenon. Typical of him to be different, he’s never been a normal horse. Apparently he has worn his top teeth right down into the gum, despite having never been a crib biter, and the dentist said he had never seen anything like it before. For a fleeting moment, I worried that he may struggle to eat but Painter is literally indestructible. He is still managing to eat anything and everything put before him but at least he can’t bite anyone any more. He is, however, cutting quite a dash on the yard with his floppy ear and worn-down set of teeth.
Diane and her fellow club members have been discussing the possibility of a new face
Musing these strange problems, my mind drifted back to my childhood when horses seemed to be trouble-free. Perhaps I was only young and not thinking too deeply. But it does seem to be a trend. Friends tell me about their horses’ bad backs, problem teeth and array of allergies including grass, hay and dust, factors which are all omnipresent in stables and fields everywhere. I wonder whether horses are really getting more illnesses and ailments or are we just more careful with the way we look after them? Either way, I can guarantee horse owners, myself included, are happy to spend more time and money on their equine friends than they ever would on their own health niggles. And as they live longer, it is a lovely thought that they will be walking by our sides, the Knackered Riders and Knackered Horses together, as ageing companions into the fading sunset of life. Friends forever.
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