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A Tribute to Surzarah BT, My Partner

March 12, 2013


I sat with her and brushed her and just enjoyed her presence.  I kept telling her she had to heal.  That I needed her.  That we had big plans.

About a month ago, February 9th, she managed to get her left hind cannon bone caught in my polywire high-tensile fence.  I’ve loved this fencing because it’s been so safe.  It breaks very easily – there’s no metal, just vinyl rope.  I’m forever fixing it, but horses don’t get caught in it.  They just break it if they put a hoof through it.  Except this time…

Zarah had gotten just one loop around her cannon bone.  She stood that way all night.  When I found her in the morning, she called to me and then nickered as if to say, “I’m so glad you’re here!  I’m in a pickle.”  She was shivering, hungry and thirsty. Her left hind looked like sausage links.  Huge swollen limb with a belt cinched up in the middle.  She had stood in a tourniquet for probably I’m 6-12 hours.

There was only a small, unimpressive wound, but she was lame.  There was a bizarre locking that happened in her fetlock joint (the joint just above the hoof).  I hauled her into the vet, who explained that we wouldn’t really know the extent of the damage for 3-6 weeks.  The lack of blood supply would be the major issue and only time would tell the story.  541404_10151292601811937_1605921051_n

The wound looked worse every day, but the vet advised me to expect that.  About 18 days in, the necrotic tissue was finishing it’s shedding and I was left with a wound that covered about 50% of the cannon bone, covering the full circumference of the leg.  It looked good and was healing well.  Horses have amazing healing powers and I expected that one day the wound would be completely healed and mostly vanished.  However, something was wrong with the function at the fetlock joint.

I was worried that she needed more movement to get blood flowing and healing all the tendons, ligaments, nerves, muscles…  I started taking her for short walks.  She perked up to be going somewhere but within 20 feet of walking, she would need a break.  See, the use of the leg was worse each day and by day 18 she held it up nearly all the time.  The muscle in the left hip was starting to atrophy and I noticed her showing less ability to bring the toe forward with each day.

I was getting support from 2 vets through emails and we suspected an abscessed hoof might explain her inability to weight bear around day 14.  Another 4 day penicillin program had no impact by day 18.  I was starting to really worry.  I tried a magnetic insert in a hoof boot and an IR technology wrap around the fetlock.  No change.

At day 25, it was time to take her to the vet and see if we could cast it.  We were suspecting that the extensor tendon (in front of the fetlock, controlling the toe) was severed or dying.  A cast would allow that tendon to reattach and stop the opposing tendon from pulling the hoof backwards.  Unfortunately, as soon as the vet saw her, he knew.  There was no good way out of the situation.  The damage from the lack of blood supply nearly 4 weeks earlier was too severe.  A cast wouldn’t get the job done.  Perhaps a series of casts over a years time, fighting the pull from the healthy tendon, would allow her to heal enough to walk on 4 legs instead of the 3-legged situation she was managing.  However, she’d never be ride-able   She’d possibly be sound enough to carry a foal, but that would be her best outcome.

I immediately knew what I had to do.  There was simply no way I’d put my best horse through months of agonizing casting, vulnerability from an inability to move like the wind to keep herself safe, wound management under a cast, all to keep her here with me.  I could not commit an act of such selfishness.  Her body was simply not going to allow her to stay with me any longer.

I had so many thoughts in the moments that followed my visit with the vet.  First, my time with Zarah was over.  This mare that had been my best partner for years, helped me achieve great things and go great places, was going to have to move on.  She must have other things to take care of now.  She must have taught me all I was to learn from her.  She knew I had other horses that I needed to develop and learn from, who also needed to learn the things that Zarah had taught me.

I scheduled the vet for the very next day, wanting to alleviate her suffering as quickly as possible.  She went peacefully, finally able to rest her hoof to the ground and then to take the weight off the other 3 legs in a vision of complete release. I was glad to give this to her.  She had suffered long enough.  Horses are meant to run and Zarah knew how to run like no other horse I’ve known.  She needed to get back to running.  357_48115341936_5396_n

I bought Zarah when she was 5.  I wanted a great endurance mare.  She was Anglo-Arab, Thoroughbred and Arab crossed.  Two of the hottest and fastest breeds in one extraordinary mare.  When I test rode her, she showed me how she could reach those legs out so far in a trot that I’d feel like we were at galloping speeds.  I fell in love with her sensitivity, her desire to move, and her sweet nature.  I instantly knew she was my horse.

She had only a few rides when I bought her, so we had lots of development ahead of us.  I developed her on  the ground and in the saddle.  I completed Level 3 in the Parelli program fairly quickly with her.  We were actively working on Level 4 when she got hurt.

She turned out to be an amazing endurance horse.  We were starting to get experience with 50’s, but had done many 25 and 30 mile rides.  She loved to lead the pack, making her a top 10 horse at most of our events.  She was just a great trail horse, with a walk that many horses had to trot to keep up with.  Her trot was the speed of many trail horses’ canter.  She wasn’t spooky and she was happy to ride with me alone or with other horses.  We did competitive trail riding for a while, too.  An excellent trail partner in all ways, whether for pleasure or the win. I took her to so many clinics through the years.  She never failed to make us look good.  In the earlier years, I sometimes had to just canter her around until she could stand and focus on learning.  But as she matured, she became more centered and ready to partner the moment we stepped into the arena.  She went with me to the Parelli ISC twice, teaching me with her great finesse all the while.  She went with me to California to study with the great Dave Ellis, where we moved cattle together every day.  887172_4783049250986_1679809994_o

Once in a while, I would use her to help me teach a student.  She was the softest, most responsive horse I owned and sometimes I needed a student to feel my horse.  My horse seemed to read their minds and complete their ask before they finished asking for it.  She made students smile with her easy way and immense partnership.  She’d give them an idea of how they’d need to develop to get their own horses that good, that soft, that partnered.

She helped me start colts.  Horses that hadn’t learned to release at the poll, or who needed a wise horse to follow when wearing the saddle for the first time.  I was doing some liberty with 2 or 3 horses at a time, developing my ability to manage multiple horses offline at once.  Zarah was always the one doing exactly what I wanted.

She was amazing and 8 years with her wasn’t nearly enough.  I’m grateful for the time we had and all that she taught me.  I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for her.  What a special and fantastic mare.

Thank you, Zarah.   Oh, how you will be forever missed.


  1. Alice permalink

    Ah Tia, thank you for sharing your journey with Zarah. I’m so very sorry that she had to leave you so soon. I hope that you can continue to not just cry because it’s over (and it is healthy to grieve) but more often smile because it happened.

    • Thank you, Alice! Nice to see your comments on my new blog, too. Look for more articles and interesting topics here in the very near future. 🙂

  2. Tia, what an awesome tribute to that wonderful Spirit that came to this earth in the body of a beautiful and wise horse! Tears in my eyes, lump in my throat as I was reading and now as I am remembering her. I was blessed to know her and to have been out on the trail with her! Thank you for the gift of this tribute!

  3. Thank you, Vi – and now I’ll be focused on bringing one or two of the others to Zarah’s level and maybe even beyond. Change can be good.

  4. Loved your kind tribute to Zarah. She will continue to live through you.

    • Thank you! She is in my thoughts daily and her teachings guide me with every horse/human encounter.

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