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The diary of the home-made livery yard: a baptism of fire

It’s been a couple of months since I last wrote. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you!

Since I last checked in, I have been working on my new career in small-scale, equestrian centre crisis management.

I had my first incidence of an infectious disease on the yard at the beginning of this month and, more recently, the coronavirus lockdown has turned the world upside down, on its head. It’s been a baptism of fire. And, now I have successfully acquired these new skills and added them to my C.V., I would be quite happy to not ever need to use them again, thank you very much.

Everything was ticking along quite nicely. New year training plans were going well. Everybody had their competition diaries planned, goals were set and we were all making fantastic progress.

We welcomed a new livery client and a new horse into the South Woolley family, which is always exciting. It was all going very smoothly and the horse was settling well. Until one morning, I walked out onto the yard and found a lump on the underside of his jaw. Yes… Shock! Horror! Strangles.

Katy Malone

William, our strangles patient

Sheer panic and terror were my immediate reactions. The urge to run around in circles, hysterically shrieking, “Strangles! Strangles! Everybody, run! Save yourselves!” had to be resisted. Thankfully, logic and reason kicked in pretty fast and I contacted the yard the horse had come from, worried for them, as well as us. When the lady who runs it told me they also had symptoms and swellings on their horses that morning, it became almost undeniable that we were dealing with an outbreak.

This is where I give deserved credit to the BHS exam system. Biosecurity, infectious diseases and quarantining all feature heavily on the stable management exam syllabi at all levels. And, while it can all seem a bit tedious at the time of studying, it does mean that you can handle a real-life disaster with a little more ease, if the worst happens.

With a combination of fast and stringent action, fabulous veterinary support, excellent biosecurity, unfaltering cooperation from liveries and a bit of sheer luck, we managed to successfully contain the strangles infection to just the one horse. All of a sudden, we were all able to justify the obscene numbers of coats and gloves that us equestrians seem to gather, as we all changed outer layers several times throughout the day, to prevent the spread of the infection. I used so much disinfectant over those weeks that I could no longer smell it, even if I put my nose right in the bottle.

On that note, I had a rather embarrassing shopping trip. I bought huge numbers of disinfectant bottles from the supermarket at the same time that coronavirus media reporting caused shoppers to panic buy all the loo roll and soap in Britain. I wheeled my trolley round, getting knowing looks and amused glances from the staff and customers. I stopped trying to explain myself by the time I got to aisle 13 and resigned myself to being thought of as a common hoarder. But a very clean one, at least.

Katy Malone

Visiting Chunky at his new home

Our poorly, quarantined horse has now recovered fully and all the other South Woolley horses are officially clear and free from strangles. We were celebrating this — and simultaneously mourning all the competitions, training and qualifications everybody had lost out on over the duration of the strangles lock down — and were just about to resume some sort of normality, when the Prime Minister put the whole country on lockdown.

Coronavirus… It’s like living in a sci-fi movie! At the time of writing this, the UK is on the sixth day of the lockdown imposed by the government. I would be lying if I said it hasn’t felt like an eternity already (possibly because we took the kids out of school a week early, due to everyone of them having the sniffles and semi-isolated). And I have it so easy. I have an 11 acre property for my family to isolate in, with horses, garden and house projects, running and maintenance jobs to keep me busy. The weather is beautiful and I have three gorgeous children, who all help to entertain each other. It really shouldn’t be that tough. And yet, I am finding that it is.

I admire all the people on social media who are keeping everyone’s spirits up with humour and silliness. It is so needed right now. Usually, I would be the first person to join in. But, if I’m totally honest, the coronavirus lock down has hit me hard, mentally. I was struck by a really heavy, dark depression this week and I struggled to even reply to messages from my closest friends. But, as dark stormy clouds can muscle in, they always move on. So, what moved my dark clouds on this week?

I’ll tell you what… a (necessary) trip out to Lidl! I kid you not. It was the most thrilling, exciting experience ever. On day six of lockdown, an outing to the supermarket felt like a trip to Las Vegas!

Katy Malone

Having a word with Chunky, post-fall

One of the most gutting aspects of the lockdown for me is that I had all sorts of hard-won and long-awaited health appointments due to happen around this time. One of the most crucial was cancelled as I pulled up into the hospital car park (a 45 minute drive away), the week before last, and there is no knowing when these sorts of services will start up again.

On a similar vein, seeing as I am unlikely to set foot in a GP practice for the foreseeable future, I am considering putting my low-grade medical questions to the general masses on the internet. For example, last summer, I fell down the front steps to our house. Very, very painful. A trip to a minor injuries unit some weeks later, to be fondled by a male nurse, who was doing his heroic very best not to giggle, diagnosed a “big, juicy haematoma sitting on the sciatic nerve” on my buttock. I was told it would take ages to heal, which it did (take ages, I mean — it never quite healed fully).

A few months later I still had lots of tingling and shooting pains. Then, without any further damage to the area, the original injury site started turning black. It was slightly alarming, but I assumed I must have acquired a UDI (if you are unsure of the term, please google it in the esteemed, Urban Dictionary).

What would have happened next, I don’t know, because I took a fall off a horse (yes, that was you, Chunky!) and re-injured the same buttock. Now the buttock is completely concave when viewed from the side, there is a huge, hard lump in it and the nerve pain can be agonising. Certain things, like riding a quad bike (quite a substantial part of my job) are not okay. Really, really NOT okay!

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In these unprecedented times (if I hear or see the word, ‘unprecedented’ one more time, I might scream), all I want to know is what is happening to my off-side arse cheek?! So, answers on a postcard, please. I don’t want to burden the NHS right now, so I am accepting medical opinion from anyone with sufficient experience. Which currently includes, ‘once played the popular family game of ‘Operation’’, or, ‘my skills include putting on a plaster.’ Thank you in advance.

I hope everyone is keeping well and surviving (or hopefully thriving!) as life changes for us all for a while. I, for one, am consoling myself by looking forward to drinking Champagne for a week on the extra earnings in riding and coaching I am fantasising about coming my way when this is all over and I have to help my clients bring all these roughed off horses back in to work.

Katy x

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