by Laura Crum
Those of you who have read my posts for awhile know that I once used to compete on my horses—a lot. For fifteen years I hauled somewhere, pretty much every weekend. First to compete at cutting, and later, at team roping. I hauled to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to go on horse camping trips—dozens of times. I logged a lot of miles pulling a trailer full of horses. Down major freeways thick with traffic, and down one lane dirt roads in the mountains. I hauled my horse Gunner to Nevada, Arizona and Washington over the years, all in the interests of some competition or other. And I never had one serious problem.
Yes, there was the occasional vehicle breakdown or flat tire, and though it was no fun at the time, we got through it unscathed. The worst that ever happened to any horse during my many years of hauling was a scratch or scrape. I do not put this down to my skill, by the way—just luck.
Somehow or other, over the years, hauling got harder for me. You would think that after fifteen years of going just about everywhere, it would be, if not easier, at least routine. But the truth is that, at a certain point, I was over it. Just like I was over competition. Over the stress, over the worry, over the intensity of hauling my beloved horses down a four lane freeway of seething traffic. No, nothing truly bad ever happened to me, but I was all too aware of what could happen. So when I got pregnant at 42 years of age, I just quit.
I quit competing and I quit hauling. Oh, I will still haul my horses around when I need to, but I avoid it when I can. And I find it a great relief not to haul any more.
But my friend/boarder, Wally (who keeps his horses with me and has been my partner on several horses) still hauls pretty much every weekend. And for a while, he was hauling a horse we were partners on (Flanigan) and my own horse, Plumber, as his two team roping competition mounts. And I worried.
Every weekend I worried that I’d get “that” phone call. That my horses had been hurt, or colicked, or that Wally had gotten in a wreck. Those of you who have done a lot of hauling will know that my fears were not unrealistic. Hauling to events is stressful for horses. Their chances of colicking, getting hurt…etc are much higher than when they are leading their “normal” lives. I could tell endless stories of horses that died due to colic/injury/illness sustained while hauling/competing. It’s just a fact of life.
But for many years this did not happen to us. Until the day that I DID get the phone call. Wally was at a weekend roping in Paso Robles. And, just as he arrived in town, someone in a jacked up pick-up ran a red light, going fast, and T-boned the horse trailer. Fortunately they hit the tack box and the horses walked off, apparently uninjured. The trailer was a total loss. And the hit and run driver was nowhere to be found.
It seemed that we were lucky. We bought another horse trailer that Wally and I now share. But a couple of years later our good horse, Flanigan, developed a diaphragmatic hernia, and a year after that he colicked and died, probably due to complications from that hernia. He was 21 years old and the best horse either Wally or I ever rode. And I recently learned that the probable cause of his hernia was that horse trailer wreck.
(For those who have never heard of a diaphragmatic hernia—and I was in this camp before Flanigan got diagnosed—basically the wall between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity is ruptured, and the intestines get mixed up with the lungs. Flanigan’s chief symptom was labored breathing—our vet first treated him for heaves, then for allergies, then for a possible lung infection. When nothing worked he suspected a tumor. We were just discussing sending the horse to the closest equine hospital—Davis—when I mentioned that Flanigan had very loud gut sounds, abnormally loud or so it seemed to me. And the vet got this funny look on his face and said, “He could have a diaphragmatic hernia.” And, after a fancy ultra-sound at Davis, it was clear that this was the problem.)
My current vet (not the one who had worked with Flanigan) and I were discussing colics and their outcomes, and I mentioned Flanigan and that he had not been a candidate for colic surgery because of the diaphragmatic hernia. And my vet asked me. “Was he ever in a trailer wreck?”
Startled, I said, “Yes. But that was years before he developed the hernia.”
And my vet said, “They did a study on it. Most horses that have a diaphragmatic hernia have either been in a trailer wreck or they are chronic cribbers. And yes, it does sometimes show up years after the wreck.”
That was when I realized that maybe we hadn’t been as lucky when it came to that wreck as we had imagined at the time.
Trailer wrecks remain a nightmare of mine, so you can be sure that when Wally left for Arizona with our friend Mark last week, bound for a fun few days of team roping competition, I crossed my fingers that they would have a safe trip. It’s a twelve hour drive—no small thing. And when I didn’t hear from them for a couple of days, I was a little concerned.
And then I got the call. I could tell by Wally’s voice that something was wrong. “Are you OK?” I asked.
“We’re OK, but Mark’s trailer isn’t,” he said. And then proceeded to tell me that someone had rear-ended them and the trailer was totaled.
“The horses,” I said, barely able to get the words out. “How are the horses?”
“Oh they’re fine,” Wally said. “They weren’t in the trailer.”
“They weren’t?” I parroted in confusion. I could not imagine a scenario in which they’d been hauling the trailer without the horses.
“No, we were taking the trailer to town to fix a flat tire. The horses were back in their corrals. Kind of a miracle, really.”
I let out a deep breath. Yep, kind of a miracle.
And yes, I am so grateful. But I will admit, my paranoia about the dangers of hauling has only increased, if anything.
So I will end this blog post on a realistic note. Hauling horses has a downside. But so does most everything. Driving to town on the freeway has a downside. And I’m not about to give up driving to town. The positives outweigh the possible negatives for me. With hauling, the downside got bigger than the positives for me. And this was, of course, because I had burned out on competing and didn’t really enjoy it any more. So the stress of hauling my horses to get to those competitions just wasn’t worth it to me. But there were many years (a solid twenty years) when it was worth it—and I totally understand why it is worth it to others who are still very interested in competitions (or rides or other events). I can absolutely remember the days when my determination to get to a certain cutting (or roping or pack trip destination) completely outweighed the daunting miles of hauling that lay between me and the goal. And I am glad that I felt that way, because I have very happy memories of many great pack trips and roping competitions, and cuttings. And who knows…I may yet be in that mental space again.
But…folks, be careful. Shit happens. It really does. May we all be as lucky as Wally was last week. And also remember not to take our horses for granted—ever. Because things can change in the blink of an eye.