Life in the Balance

Storm to Pass stood tall and proud in her stall before the race, her chestnut coat shining and her strawberry blonde mane beautifully combed. She stood regal and proud, curiously looking me over with kind, gentle eyes. She carried herself to the paddock and the racetrack with elegance and grace. I was in awe of her beauty and impressed by how she carried herself. I was also a bundle of nerves. Not because Storm to Pass was running, but because my horse, Sizzle Factor, a stablemate of Storm to Pass, was entered to run in the race following hers, and I was starting to get nervous.  

It was pouring rain in Tulsa, Oklahoma that night. Not long before the races began, the skies opened up and the rain started. The track was sealed for safety, but the horses would still be splashing home in the water and mud. The rain continued to get heavier and heavier. It was a steady downpour when the gates opened and Storm to Pass ran her race. She made a valiant effort, finishing fourth in her race. The jockey was slowing her down and easing her up when the unthinkable happened; Storm to Pass slipped a little and took a bad step. Immediately sensing something was amiss, her jockey got her stopped and issued the call for help. Storm to Pass was vanned off the track and taken back to her stall.

A flurry of activity ensued. My trainer was upset because he didn’t know what exactly had happened to Storm to Pass and he wasn’t allowed to go with her when she was being vanned to the barn. He did know that the injury was serious and x-rays would be required to truly assess things. My heart sank. It didn’t sound good.

After a victorious run from Sizzle Factor, who won a photo finish, I found myself back at the barn. I wanted to celebrate and be happy my horse had won, but the only thing I could focus on was Storm to Pass. She was standing in her stall again, still looking regal and proud, although she was not putting weight on one of her front legs and swelling was visible in the knee area and the ankle was showing some swelling as well. An x-ray revealed that a substantial part of the knee bone was out of place. I asked my trainer what was going to happen next. My heart sank when he said her owner had made the decision to put her down.

Before I knew it, I heard myself crying out. “No!!! Please! You can’t just put her down. No!!!” I was looking my trainer in the eyes, trying to hold back tears. I could hear my voice shaking as I told him, “You have to give her a chance. Isn’t there something that can be done? Please. If she can be saved, I’m willing to do it.”

He knew I was serious. I could tell he was thinking things through in his mind, knowing it would take some doing to make arrangements and get her to a surgeon. There was no guarantee she would survive the surgery or even be a good candidate for surgery. She was also high risk for developing founder or laminitis.  It was a few moments before he responded. “Let me talk to her owner and see if he’s agreeable to that.”

A few moments later, I had my answer. And a new horse to love and care for.  My trainer did his best to make Storm to Pass comfortable in terms of pain and then went about the tedious process of getting the wheels in motion to get her to a surgeon. We were very blessed to have one of the best equine surgeons in Oklahoma agree to take her case.

In the meantime, there was no lack of opinions and criticism from many people in the barn area. Several people made it known that they thought Storm to Pass should be put down. My trainer took a lot of criticism for standing by my decision to try to save her. Two women I have never seen before nor since walked down our shed row when my trainer wasn’t around, pointed at Storm to Pass, and said it was a disgrace that she was still standing there and that the right thing had not been done in putting her down. I started to approach them and say something, but stopped myself because I was almost in tears. Instead, I waited for them to leave and entered the stall with Storm to Pass. As I wrapped my arms around her neck and started to pet her, she laid her head on my shoulder and sighed. We stood quietly together for a long time.  I knew in that moment I had made the right decision.

Storm to Pass underwent knee surgery and made it through with flying colors. She came out of the anesthesia very quietly, which is wonderful. Apparently, a horse can do a lot of damage if it thrashes about upon awakening. She now has three screws in her knee and has made it through the first two weeks post-surgery, which is a very critical time.  Her weight distribution is good and the surgical incision has healed. With time and a substantial amount of stall rest, she should be able to get around well enough to enjoy grazing and have a new career as a mother and pasture companion to other horses.   

I am always amazed and touched by the life lessons that can be gained through these beautiful beings. Horses can be intimidating because of their size and strength. And yet, I am reminded by Storm to Pass that like people, they can also be fragile and the slightest accident can have a life hanging in the balance. Storm to Pass is not completely out of the woods yet, but I am assured the worst is over. It is going to take a lot of time, healing, and patience in the months ahead. I am inspired by her strength and her will power. She is a tough, amazing horse with an incredible will to go on. It is my hope that she will enjoy her new life and home in Colorado once she can travel here. I feel very blessed and grateful to be able to welcome her here and be part of her healing process. When you stop and think about it, we are all healing from something.

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2 thoughts on “Life in the Balance

  1. Wonderfully written piece! I don’t condone horse racing, for this very reason, but it sounds like you made the right decision to fight for Storm to Pass, so glad to hear that she is on the road to recovery!

    1. Thank you, Tiffany. There is a great quote from the movie Seabiscuit. “You don’t throw a whole life away because it’s banged up a little.” I kept thinking about that as I was standing in the stall with her. She’s well worth fighting for. 🙂

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