Real life

My horse's race career hangs by a tendon

Whichever bit of a horse you worry about going wrong, another bit goes wronger. As Darcy just reminded me

12 March 2016

9:00 AM

12 March 2016

9:00 AM

‘Racing is 99.9 per cent disappointment,’ said the trainer philosophically, as I sat in the yard sipping coffee, waiting for the vet. She arrived in her pick-up a few minutes later and wound down her window.

‘Am I in the right place?’

‘I don’t know,’ he said, still in sardonic mode. ‘It depends what you’re looking for.’

I leapt up and showed her the way to the far stable, where Darcy was standing on only three good legs. The foot that trod on the screw was now fine and she was sound on it. But then, during a short hack on the common, she had gone suddenly very lame in front.

Imagine a large high-performance car poised on an axle not designed for its weight and four capricious tyres apt to blow on every outing, and then you’re some way to understanding a thoroughbred horse.

The buggeration of it all was that I was about to bring her home for the summer. Darcy had been enjoying her first season in training. She was the happiest she has ever been in the routine of the point-to-point yard, going out every morning with a jockey on top, who was sometimes me, to hack round the woods then gallop a circuit of the all-weather track.

But the attitude of the horse is only one element. Their deceptively strong-looking and yet endlessly fragile bodies have to stand up to the work.

A few weeks ago, the trainer had felt something so slight in her left foreleg that it was undetectable to anyone but him. ‘Maybe I’m imagining it,’ he said.

We rested her just in case and then as she was coming back into work she trod on a screw. So we rested her again. And then, as she came sound, we walked her back out, and she went lame in front. On the foreleg where he had felt something.

‘Oh howl howl!’ was pretty much my response. ‘We were distracted by the back foot and it wasn’t the back foot it was the front one! Howl howl!’ Horses are like this. Whichever bit of them you worry about going wrong, another bit goes wronger.

I texted the vet. ‘Screw foot fine. Tendon in front not fine. Help!’

He was now busy all week so I had to book in with one of his juniors. She was the quiet sort, and got out her ultrasound scanning machine as soon as she arrived.

‘We don’t normally scan until ten days after the injury,’ she said, but she could see the expression on my face. It said, ‘Scan the leg now and tell me it’s not disastrous or I will have to be carted off in a straitjacket.’

She unpacked the scanner and I held Darcy still. She was an angel, as she always is, standing meekly as the vet ran the spongy end of the ultrasound up and down the back of the foreleg.

The black and white picture of the inside of Darcy’s leg came up on the screen and I started praying. ‘Come on, come on, please! Please god!’

They look like pictures of the womb, these scans, only where the baby should be the tendons are depicted in black. If you see any white bits or gaps, that could be where the tendon is torn or ruptured. ‘Oh, please god don’t let there be any gaps!’

The vet took ages scanning and saying nothing apart from ‘good girl’, and then she stopped scanning, looked up at me, still on her knees, and said, ‘Well, it’s not totally disrupted.’

‘Oh, thank god!’ I thought. The straitjacket could wait. ‘It looks like the injury is to the DDFT.’ Deep digital flexor tendon. Four words to strike terror into any thoroughbred owner. And yet the four words most of us hear most often from a vet.

‘I’m not sure about the SDFT.’ Superficial digital flexor tendon. ‘I can’t see properly because there’s a lot of fluid in there. We’ll have to scan again in ten days. Meantime, keep it bandaged and cool.’ And she gave me my instructions for cold water hosing or ice boot therapy and the exact technique required for the bandaging.

‘You’ve done everything right,’ she said, which was nice of her. ‘She’s young. You’ve got time.’

I know. I’ll bring her back to rest where the pony lives, in the little yard up the road. She can go in her old stable next to her beloved sister Gracie and as soon as she comes sound and the vet agrees, they can go out in the field together. The summer is coming. The weather will be fine. She may or may not return to the training yard next season as the prospective racehorse called Maid by Marien.

For now, Darcy is coming home.

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Show comments
  • johnhenry

    A gut-wrenching cliffhanger. Can hardly wait for episode 3.

  • Sanctimony

    A seminal article of earth-shattering significance seen only in the oldest weekly publication in Britain’s literary history….

    Builder’s bit on the side reveals heartache of her hack’s stiff leg while the nation awaits agog for the outcome of this saga from the suburbs of leafy Surrey…

    Episode 4: Darcy at the gates of the knacker’s yard….