Leasing a horse was the perfect way to invest myself in my own life. After taking a few months to decompress after my last year in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, it was time to find a horse to fill my equine void. Fortunately, I was taking lessons on the perfect candidate.

Charlie, my favorite thoroughbred cross, was promptly thrown into a program where we could get him in shape for regular work. Things were coming together quickly! It was surprising at first, because he wanted to pull towards the jumps and what do you know, I didn’t want him to. Lots of lessons went into slowing him down, helping him carry himself better, and calming both of us to a peaceful partnership.

I’ve found Connemaras are particularly sturdy horses, especially Charlie. Rarely was it he took an off step. Even if he was uncomfortable, he always wanted to work. Like all afternoons after work, I went straight to the barn. Charlie was already in the aisle where someone was cleaning up a wound on his leg. Obviously, I was horrified but his ears pricked forward to greet me as I was brought up to speed by my trainer. He’d been kicked in the paddock when he was playing with his friends, but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant a vet visit.

Well, Charlie trucked along while the wound healed and he was back to normal very quickly. Bonus! Except, every so often he’d take an off step. That wasn’t normal for him, no. With some stall rest, we though perhaps he’d feel better. He started taking more off steps, so we concluded stall rest was what he needed.

When nothing changed after two weeks of stall rest, it was decided Charlie should head to a vet and be examined. Do you think the vet found anything? Have you ever been so sure you’d find an answer that it feels like you’re cranking your rollercoaster up a hill, so you’re excited? Except, instead of speeding along towards the bottom for fun, the coaster stops. And you’re stuck without direction. Without knowing what’s going on.

Perhaps it was an abscess, working its way up through his foot. Perhaps he needed time off, perhaps… The “perhaps” began to grow, especially because we couldn’t find an answer. We were stuck sitting at the top of the rollercoaster, waiting for the electricity to turn back on.

Charlie had a grand vacation through December and January, filled with carrots, long hand-walks up the driveway, and spa sessions that lasted for hours. Instead of walking him by hand for an hour or more, it was finally safe to jump on his back and walk him bareback, instead. My partnership with Charlie was growing, thanks to the quiet moments spent with him during his recovery. Except, we still had no answer.

Would we find one?

The equine dentist was scheduled to come soon, as he usually did once or twice a year. We were happy to get Charlie’s teeth done. He would often cock his head a little during our rides.

That afternoon, I went to the farm just like every other day after work. I wasn’t expecting to see Charlie in the round pen outside the arena, but he nickered just the same as usual when he saw me. And just like I wasn’t expecting him to be outside, I wasn’t expecting the news I got after talking to the barn owner and my trainer.

“The dentist found an ulcer,” they told me. “Far behind his teeth, though. Except… it’s was on his left side.”

His left side? Could he have been avoiding feeling the ulcer by cocking his head? With off steps? Could the abscess we believed he might have… be something different?

Fast forward several weeks later, and it seemed as if he’d never taken an off step in his life. Turns out Charlie’s mysterious abscess wasn’t an abscess after all.

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