Tao’s Tale

Some horses take you on a journey – one you weren’t expecting.

Meet Tao – my daughter’s horse who we bought for the price of a pair of curtains a few years ago. Amber trained her while studying for a degree which meant it was a bit stop, start but we got there in the end. The horse eventually became rideable.

Lessons from Tao

Lessons from Tao

Tao has taught me a lot. I could go on Mastermind and be quizzed on proud flesh, infected tendon sheath, tendon injury, intolerance to sugar and now bereavement in horses. She’s an accident prone little mare who’s been ‘under the vet’ more than even the vet would like.

A few posts ago I promised I would tell you about the worst day in my horse keeping career. So here goes. It was one day last year. We had to have Amber’s elderly, nearly blind pony Cloud put to sleep. She was 28 and it was time to say goodbye. Caring for her meant I probably hadn’t seen to the needs of the others sufficiently. Tao had an injury at the back of her pastern and I was dutifully poulticing it daily. I should have called the vet.

The vet came the same day that Cloud died. The vet didn’t have good news.

‘I needed to see this within hours of it happening,’ she said. ‘The prognosis is not good.’

She looked at me warily. I sensed she was holding onto bad news. Really bad news. I saw her face and started to feel tears welling.

The cut was relatively small – about an inch or so. It was a bit infected but the leg wasn’t badly swollen. To be honest, if you had it yourself, you’d probably still leap about on the dance floor. I clung onto my disbelief. But not for long.

‘Her tendon sheath is infected,’ the vet, declared. ‘It would be best if we got her to one of the best veterinary hospitals and operated immediately. She will need careful nursing afterwards. Even with that there’s very little chance she will ever be sound enough to be ridden. If we can save her, she might only be a garden ornament.’

Now I really was crying. Nasty, guilty tears. I had ruined the horse my daughter had trained from unbroken.

I had to challenge the vet. The cut was so small. Surely it wasn’t so bad. Surely, it wasn’t enough to ruin a horse.


Its position, rather than size, was the crux as it had infected something called the tendon sheath. They are very hard to clear of infection; they don’t respond well. The vet phoned a colleague. I could hear them conferring and agreeing that the case stood little chance. When she came off the phone she asked if we were insured. We weren’t. The operation and after care would cost thousands of pounds. We weren’t convinced it was worth putting the horse through so much to become a garden gnome.

‘Antibiotics?’ I suggested.

The vet nodded sadly but later relented. ‘OK, how about we keep her at home. We’ll throw everything we’ve got at it.’

It was a straw but I clutched it gratefully. The field shelter was quickly turned into a stable. Tao’s field mate, Carrie, was given the run of the yard so that the patient had a friend nearby. Tao was given a support bandage that looked like a plaster cast and she was put onto antibiotics. I threw homeopathic remedies into the equation, the vet even gave her acupuncture. I had to ignore internet reports which reminded me that we had little chance of saving this horse. I felt depressed enough as it was.

The vet returned every few days. I learnt how to reapply the pressure bandage and we made progress. It soon became clear that Tao would live without an operation. She was allowed onto the yard to potter about and Carrie was kept nearby on part of the field. I kept up pressure on the vet to allow Tao more space and movement. She was only stabled for a few days and gradually we increased her turnout.

Well, she defied the odds and got better. The vet was delighted. No, she was amazed. Within a few weeks she said Tao could be ridden. The vet took photographs! She even agreed that Tao’s barefoot, natural lifestyle had helped in her recovery. Wow…

Skipping over some of the other things this mare has taught me I must bring you up to the present day. This little chestnut, the cover girl for my book The First Vet, is suffering once more. There are two possible causes – the grass is too high in sugars for her delicate system or she is suffering from bereavement.

Problems with the grass we’ve had before. It makes her go nuts and throw her back legs in the air. This time, though, her nervousness had a different expression. She didn’t want to leave the yard and putting pressure on her made her aggressive. I couldn’t think what could be wrong and wasn’t convinced the grass alone would tip her over. I went for a ride on Carrie and the chestnut didn’t bother to call out when she was left on her own. She looked sad and depressed when we returned, her head lowered.

A few weeks before this we had lost Casha, an elderly horse belonging to my friend. Our herd was now only two horses strong. Was Tao upset? Did she miss her field companion? Or was I dragging human emotions where they didn’t belong?

I asked my favourite Facebook group – The Barefoot Horse Owners Group – for an opinion. So many people agreed that bereavement might be a cause. Grass was giving other riders a few problems, even in November, but many warned that we ignored bereavement in equines at our peril.

I needed to get Tao some help.

The story will continue…

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BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from Amber

A man who could cure horses

A woman who couldn’t walk without them

And the brother who stood between them

The most romantic novel since The Horse Whisperer set against the turbulent early years of the Veterinary College. One reviewer said it was ‘brave, witty and romantic’.

Who can name the horse on the front cover?