iSpyHorses --  Wed, 13-May-2020

In January 2019, I had my worst fall off my horse at a show.  I entered Louie in the pleasure ring, and he took off jumping into a canter, leaping upwards and finishing with a huge buck on landing.  We parted ways quite spectacularly.  After a year of more downs than ups with Louie, this was not a knock to my confidence I needed.  But that fall has probably saved my life.

A week or so later I went to the doctor to get a sign off for a slight concussion. I had checked for other injuries before I went and found a large lump on my left breast.  I presumed it was from the fall.  My doctor wanted scans done as she thought it was a large cyst that needed draining.  After the ultrasounds and mammograms, I was referred for a biopsy.

My biopsy came back as breast cancer.  It was a huge shock.  When I met with my oncologist, I found out I have a rare and aggressive cancer called ‘Metaplastic Breast Cancer’.  It is known to be fast growing and chemo is not always successful.  If I had not had my fall from Louie, I would have waited to go and get checked, and I’m not sure what would have happened.  It is so scary to think about.  My tumour was already almost 4cm when I found it and growing fast.  Within a week of my first meeting with oncology, I was in for tests, port surgery, and meetings.  Then I started 6 months of awful chemo, then my reconstruction surgery, and then radiation.

Louie was my escape. I was so lucky he was living with a friend who looked after him for me when I could not.  Being able to go out when I could and spend time with him, try and help do the horse jobs with my friends, and have some time pretending to be normal was the best part of my weeks.  Sometimes I couldn’t go out.  I was too tired or sick, and I was always more upset I couldn’t go and see Louie than I was about being ill.  He was my happy place.

Of course, life is not fair, and it was not always amazing with Louie.  He was not always the best horse to be around.  He could be spooky over stupid things.  He had silly tantrums and was not great when food was around.  As I enjoyed a bareback plod one night, he spooked at nothing and off I came, watching his buck and his back legs aimed right at my face. I spent ages in the car crying, and decided he was too much for me and I should consider selling him.  I was already a mess from chemo and couldn’t deal with this too.  It was a rough time.

Thankfully, no one wanted to buy my little idiot horse, and then one of my wonderful horsey friends did some fundraising for me to go toward my happy place.  This got Louie some lessons with our instructor, who started back from the ground with him.  She believed in him and she believed in us.  A lot of people didn’t and I am so grateful for her.  She would ask him to walk backwards and he would rear.  He would get so caught up in things and not listen, try and spin around, and kick out.  But she was so patient and amazing and went slow enough for Louie, and slow enough that my chemo brain and broken body could keep up.  I loved seeing his progress, and even though I only hopped on occasionally when my instructor knew he was listening enough for me to be safe, it was more than enough to please me.  His lesson days were my absolute favourite and watching him learn and change was wonderful.

After I had my big surgery, Louie was not doing well on the new grass.  He kicked one of my friends and would refuse to be caught.  I was so upset about having to move him away, and I was still a complete mess from chemo and surgery.  But his new grazing was much closer to home, and much better grass for him.  He started to settle in, and I was so happy.  

Unfortunately, we had another set -back when he fell down a track and ripped open both his knees and his nose.  One knee wound was so deep his joint capsule was showing.  Every morning I went out to give him medicine and check his bandages.  Then I would go and do work at home, head out to the hospital for radiation, then go and check on Louie again.  It was so insanely exhausting but in a strange way it was a routine needed for us to bond again.

We have taken this new journey together step by step. Louie adores his new grazing and his paddock mates. My instructor is completely wonderful with us going super slow and is helping me gain confidence so I can pass this on to Louie.  My body still tires so easily, I forget a lot of things, and I still have a lot of problems with my nerves.  But I can now take Louie to the arena by myself and we pop over jumps.  We go on hacks with friends.  We can even go on hacks alone!  I can canter him up hills and I'll have a huge smile on my face.

2019 was the hardest year of my life.  Some days were actual hell, and I would never wish anyone else go through that.  A lot of the time I put a brave face on when I was not okay.  But still, even when Louie and I were not seeing eye to eye, I loved him so much and he was the distraction I needed the most. I would feel so disgusting after chemo, and he would always make me smile again.  I’m not sure what my future would have looked like if I didn’t have that fall.  I’m so lucky I have this little horse in my life.  In 5 years time, if all my scans are clear, I am allowed to say I don’t have cancer. I can’t wait for that day when I can take Louie for a big celebratory ride and give him all the carrots he could ever want, to thank him for saving my life.  He is a little horse with the biggest personality, and I am so insanely thankful for him every day for getting me through.