Nube: More Dark Clouds and Questions With No Answers

The worst thing about remembering a horse in the past is that maybe there are options now that your horse only missed by a few years. For all that we don’t know about horses, for all the worry and grasping at symptoms, eventually it will be revealed. The stray symptoms, the unusual events, the chronic fear of not knowing will eventually tie itself up in a bow and become clear. There will be an answer, even if it’s too late. Or at some point, it hurts so much for both of you that it ceases to matter why. It just needs to stop.

I had scraped every square inch of what anyone knew. Vets, bodyworkers, specialist vets, farriers, and an eclectic equine dentist. I read all I could find online and spent every dollar and most of the credit limit on a card. Acupuncture, chiropractic, yet more specialists. There were so many varied explanations of what we don’t know that I became an expert on the topic. I know a lot about what we don’t know. It’s served me well with clients, it’s made me a better clinician. Maybe there are two kinds of trainers; those who tell you to sell your horse and get another, and those who work with the horses that got sold off. I am the latter, and we aren’t the rich ones.

It didn’t help that I knew Nube (nu-bay) probably had other conditions underneath the ulcers. I could make some very educated guesses now, not that it matters. It would all sound like excuses. I hear the same defensiveness in my clients, and I want to reassure them they did the very best possible for their horse. Words that hit the ground and roll like a tin can. Other horses manage to right themselves somehow and I feel I’ve failed Nube. I know miracles happen every day. Then a horrible space of dead air, waiting, aching, and trying to hope.

So, I tidied up my desperation and went to a lecture by Dr. Temple Grandin. The woman is a giant in a dozen ways. The auditorium was full and on that day, she was speaking about autism, not animals at all. She didn’t have a script, just a question session, as is her unique way. I asked her if horses could have autism. She stared at me a little too long. Maybe she was processing an answer, but she didn’t say a word. Then she took another question. This one was about depression in those with autism and partway through her answer, she looked back at me again.

Nube and I continued to ride lightly, as recommended. Now we were working with a new vet specialist who traveled through several states with his brand of acupuncture and chiropractic. We drove over an hour to see him at an elite show barn north of us. He’d given us some prescription Chinese herbs. Maybe I trusted him a little more because he was a cowboy from Louisiana with a great accent. His work went against type, it must have really hooked him. I imagined his father gave him the kind of looks mine gave me. Maybe the herbs would work.

I was riding at a trainer/friend’s barn. We’d finished, but one of my clients there had a question. I asked my friend to take Nube back to the barn, and I’d be right there. When I arrived, she had a quizzical look and Nube was eating some of her hay. She said they had stopped for a second, and Nube collapsed. He stumbled, I asked. No, he dropped to the ground in an instant. He got back to his feet a moment later. It was so odd that I had trouble visualizing it. Back to the internet with a new behavior that might be a symptom or a fluke. Weirdly, horses collapse for lots of reasons.

Two weeks later, on a warm afternoon with no wind, Nube and I were in our home arena. We had the music cranked up, we’d done some groundwork, a weird mimic game we played. Then a twenty-minute mounted warm-up with lots of transitions. He was perky and mentally engaged. Sometimes offering something better than I asked. Then, as we were cantering a large circle at the end of the arena, just as we returned to the rail, he collapsed again.

It happened so suddenly, so absolutely. Like a gunshot. I flew out of the arena, landed hard on my back, and skidded a few feet further, thanking my helmet. Nube had it worse. He must have somehow caught a leg in the arena fencing. There were grinding, crashing sounds as he tore out two posts and dragged a ten-foot gate into the arena before he broke free. I’m the sort who thinks arena fencing should give when something live hits it hard. Better to break the fence.

When I could get to my feet, I staggered into the arena. Nube was at the far end, his head low and he held his rear leg off the ground. I clucked once. It’s how I say hello. Was he okay? He lifted his head and tried to canter toward me. He moved like an eggbeater across the arena, faltered to a stop, and pressed his head to my shoulder. He was quivering. There was a large abrasion ran up the inside of his left leg, blood dripping, but it didn’t look like anything was broken. I took a deep breath for him, as deep as my ribs permitted. And the exhale came out of him.

It wasn’t pretty, the two of us making our way back to the barn. A cold hose for Nube and a dose of bute. I briefly considered some for myself.

This is what I do know. In one moment, we were cantering, his stride had a high and long roll. A canter with hang time, that instant when gravity releases you and the rhythm is all that holds you. Weightless between the one, and the two-three in the count of a canter. One, levitate, two-three. Our equine waltz starts in one pelvic bone and rolls out to my head and toes. It pulls the blood from my brain and sweet air swells in my chest. Surrendered to the sway, I let him canter me. The sand arena becomes a beach open to the horizon. He tosses me up and catches me again and again, his strength effortless. His canter is as buoyant and free as the cloud he was named for. There was a feeling that he surrounded me, that I didn’t ride on him, but within him.

And then he disappeared. He simply ceased.

(This is the eleventh post in a series, Nube’s Story.)

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25 thoughts on “Nube: More Dark Clouds and Questions With No Answers”

  1. I can imagine and almost even feel that feeling you describe when on him. What a wonderful thing you and he had together. For that, you both are forever fortunate. Strangely, this was in my inbox this morning: Shakespeare beautifully captured the essence of the equestrian spirit with these words: “When I bestride him, I soar. I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.” Long live our love for horses, and the continuing evolution of our understanding of them and our ability to help. As with all those we love who pass, we always wish we could have done more. Sometimes you just can’t.

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  2. I always look forward to reading your words. Such poetic insight to all things Horse. Your description of cantering Nube rang so beautifully clear to me. I no longer ride. My gelding passed on just a year ago and I am pretty sure that I am done. But oh, when you wrote of the sheer magic of being on your best horse, moving in such a graceful way, I once again lived those moments!

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    • I wasn’t thinking when I put his face on all my meme’s, book covers, and promotional materials. Like I needed to be reminded. Bittersweet, the prefect word for us and our horses. Thanks Peggy

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  3. OMG Anna. Your words take me there with you both. I’m practicing breathing.
    Saw that happen with a mare of mine may years ago. Blood curdlingly-heartstoppingly sudden.

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  4. After a seizure of 30 horses, I helped as a volunteer to feed the rescues. I fell in love with a little black mare. She followed me wherever I walked, looked into my heart. After months of rehab, she came home with me. She was about 16. Six months later, she began doing what you have described Nube as doing, just collapse, get up, shake off, and stand, a little bewildered for a few minutes. Yes, vets of all kinds. In the end, it was a brain tumor. I lost her, but once we met, she was never alone, I shall cherish the all-too-short time we had.

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  5. Anna yours words do sing, just like those magical canters that are everything…when we are thinking, “it doesn”t get any better than this”, and years later we can still feel that ride in our every cell.

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  6. This reflection of you and Nube awakened a similar feeling I experienced with my first horse, Hershey, a little Morgan whose canter fooled me into thinking what a great horsewoman I was; and then later with Sherlock, a Palomino Quarter Horse who fooled me again. Lucky twice, I was. Thanks ever so, Anna, for your eyes.

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  7. The absolute delight on your face in that picture & the sweet expression on his just says it all, Anna. Then the description of the feeling he gave you? Maybe we are as good as THEY let us be.
    No matter how many years go by.

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  8. This article beautifully captures the intense bond between a horse and its owner. From the desperate search for answers to the heartbreaking moment of seeing Nube collapse in the arena, every emotion is palpable.

    Amidst the pain, there’s a poignant description of riding together, feeling the rhythm of Nube’s canter, and being completely in sync. It’s a powerful reminder of the deep connection we share with our animal companions and the lengths we’ll go to for their well-being.

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  9. A lot of the time, I felt like I had all the time in the world with my opinionated, incredible, bossy, sweet, smart, Hudson. And the time was too short. It’s always too short…Even if horses had a longer life span, I suspect it would still feel too short. Horses with issues we can’t find or treat are heart breaking. I smiled when you said you went to see Dr. Grandin, and hear her speak. I did the same with a challenged horse I loved, I went to two of her lectures. Her ability to comprehend how animals think and experience is an amazing gift. My guy was an emotional savant, and severely intellectually challenged. I hadn’t realized horses could be on that spectrum, to that degree. It probably doesn’t feel like it, but you did an amazing job with Nube. It’s hard to feel helpless when we’re in the position of caretaker.

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