Goodbye my Scarlett, a horse in a million
Yesterday, the 10th February 2022 we said a sad goodbye to our lovely Scarlett, just a month before her 23rd birthday. Scarlett was a pure bred Andalusian horse. She was stunningly beautiful and she knew it!.
She originally came to us on livery, owned by a friend, but as she turned out to be too feisty for the friend to ride we were given the ultimatum – either we could keep her or she would be sold. We couldn’t bear to see her torn away from the herd so we agreed to keep her, even though she really wasn’t an ideal horse for us, not being suitable for clients to ride (and at times quite frightening for me to ride too!). We really thought she would be a field ornament for the rest of her life but we never give up on a horse here and will never re-home them so she was here to stay.
We didn’t know a lot about her past but she was very highly strung, wanting to do Spanish walk the minute you sat on her, bringing her front legs up and down , so stressed , she was like a ticking time bomb, ready to run at any moment. She was pigeon toed too, which we have heard is bred into horses to exaggerate the Spanish walk, who knows but the poor girl just didn’t know how to relax.
She had such natural elegance and grace though and the kindest nature, despite her behaviour everyone who met her loved her and wanted to ride her. I have lost count of the times children have said ‘I want to ride the princess horse’. Of course in those early years there was no chance of children riding her, but they could groom her and be with her, she was quite happy to have as much attention as we could give her.
Thank goodness for positive reinforcement
With the use of clicker training we were gradually able to improve her behaviour so that she could be ridden in walk at least, though anything faster and she would get much too excited.
In the spring of 2017 we took the decision to have her ovaries removed as she was becoming so hormonal she was very unhappy and stressed and constantly rubbing herself under her tail on anything she could find. Luckily for us we have a great vet , and once home from the operation Scarlett’s behaviour very quickly calmed down. She became so much happier and relaxed and seemed to have finally settled into herd life . One unexpected but very happy side effect of the operation was that she became much calmer when ridden, which was great timing as I had just lost my beloved lead horse Capri and desperately needed a new lead horse to fulfil the autumn bookings I had. (Not all horses like to lead and I was struggling to convince any of the herd that they could take on the job!).
With my heart in my mouth, I forced myself to start riding her (at my age I’m not as confident as I used to be!). Scarlett was really thrown in at the deep end with her new job but surprised us all with her confidence and enthusiastic attitude towards going out. She made me smile every day though, as I used to take a clicker and treats out with me on rides, to focus her if she got a bit excited. I had been phasing the clicker out gradually but it was so great to be able to ask her to lower her head to relax if she occasionally got stressed , or ask her to stand and wait for the others. (She was always in a hurry, until the day she died) . After all the years of clicker training in the arena, she really was spot on with voice cues but she was very intelligent and if I went too long without reinforcement (in her mind) , she would start to give me things without being asked – head down, halt, you could almost feel her brain ticking over thinking, what can I do to get a treat? . It was so cute, she really was the kindest, sweetest, most sensitive horse. I never thought I would see the day , but was so happy to be able to say that finally, at the age of 18, Scarlett grew up.
I am only human and I have had days when I didn’t feel like riding but with Scarlett every ride was a pleasure, even if she was being a bit lively, I felt such a bond with her and she never let me down or made me nervous. I have owned or still own 20 horses in my life and though I love them all, there are only 3 that I have felt really loved me back and Scarlett was one of them. I think , as with the other two it is battling adversity with them, helping them overcome problems that creates the strong bond. It makes it extra hard when you lose them.
After a few happy , healthy years following her operation things were going great. Scarlett had become the perfect lead horse and I even occasionally let other trusted clients ride her. If she wasn’t leading in front I found that she was calmer so I was even able to use her to take children out on lead rein rides, finally the Princess horse could be ridden and even better, she was very happy to be dressed as a unicorn, proudly posing in her horn for photos, she was every little girls dream. I could ride her with just a rope around her neck and she became a great teacher for clients wanting to learn how to ride in this way, she brought such joy to people’s lives.
It was around the beginning of the first lockdown in Spring 2020 that she started showing signs of irritation again , very similar to before she had her ovaries removed, rubbing herself under her tail and making herself bleed. After reading up on it, it seemed that she could still be suffering from hormonal problems despite the removal of her ovaries so I called the vet to see what could be done to help her. He blamed the flies, but I knew it wasn’t, we don’t even have too much of a problem here in the mountains and only have house flies, no mosquitoes. The flies around the area were a result of the rubbing, not the cause of it. Of course when she rubbed so much the area bled, then the flies were attracted and on a few occasions I had to deal with maggots, it really was really upsetting for her and for me. She was so amazingly kind and well behaved during any treatments which , considering I was having to stand right behind her back legs was very lucky. Over the following two years I lost count of the vet visits and treatments we tried, to help with the itching from cortisone creams and medication to fly repellents, we tried everything. She finally had a skin biopsy which came back as cancer. At least we knew what we were dealing with and I was happy in the knowledge that cancer is so common as to be almost normal in grey horses and that she would probably die of something else before the cancer caused any problems. Sadly that was not the case and in the last couple of months it seemed to speed up, eating away at her flesh. I was starting to realise that there was not going to be a good outcome and found it so upsetting watching her rubbing herself, and in the final few days struggling to poo. My problem was that in all other ways she was still a happy, lively, healthy horse, eating normally and not acting any differently but on occasions I could see that she was in pain. I called the vet again and he suggested that he could operate to remove all of the affected tissue, but considering it was in her anus and vagina I just couldn’t see that working for any length of time, for a start it was an impossible area to keep clean . I decided that it was time to make the decision to put her to sleep, to end her suffering, but thought it would be a few weeks yet, giving me time to spend quality time with her and say goodbye. Unfortunately , but maybe for the best really, Scarlett gave me the signal that it was time, just two days after the vet’s visit. She was fine when I went down to feed in the morning, calling to me as she always did, asking for her breakfast. When I went down to give them more hay midday, she was laying on the ground and looking very uncomfortable, trying to poo. Usually, when you put hay out, horses get up and go to the food but she just wasn’t interested which immediately rang alarm bells and I messaged the vet to say that today was the day. Of course just minutes after that she was up and eating as if nothing was wrong, but it had made me realise that I wanted her last day to be a good day, not involving an emergency call, so I stuck with the plan. I put Scarlett out on the grass to graze and gave her a lovely big feed of all the things she wasn’t usually allowed to eat, due to all her treatments causing a threat of laminitis. I gave her lots of cuddles and she had the perfect last day, in beautiful hot sunshine, it really couldn’t have been better. The vet arrived in the early evening and she died quickly and peacefully with no stress and within an hour was buried under the trees.
I know that it was the right time but it doesn’t ease the heartache, she was one of the most special horses and I will never forget her.