Just two months ago, the world lost a world caliber show horse, a friendly nosey Quarter Horse, and one of my best friends. I know, I know, that’s what EVERYBODY else says too, but my relationship with my horse wasn’t a simple tack-ride-treat-repeat. I told Caleb things that I would never tell anyone else or talked about the future with him as we walked around and around for 40+ minutes after his first surgery, I’d braid his hair even if I had 1,000 other things to get done, and he was my shoulder to cry on when I had to leave my friends and baby mustang behind.
Caleb was particularly special to me despite only being with him for 8 months. When he was put up for sale, he was listed with his numerous awards and accomplishments- but only for $5,000. (Which is cheap… for a horse anyways.) We were told he had shivers, a neurological disease that causes the muscles to tremble from time to time, but we asked our vet about it and he said it wasn’t a serious issue. In all his videos, he looked amazing, so we were willing to go that tiny bit over our budget to buy him. When he showed up, it was almost a surprise that it was the same horse as in the videos. He came to us skinny, under muscled, mangy, and mean. I was bummed, but I lounged him all the time, and watched my trainer as she pushed him through the ride. He eventually got bigger, but it cost a lot of money to keep him fat. His stall manners weren’t great either. He’d lunge at the bars when people walked by, and he’d bare his teeth if you walked in while he was eating. I don’t know why, but I think Caleb felt I was his safe zone, because I was the only one he didn’t feel threatened by. Yeah, he’d pin his ears, but he never ever bit at me, only if other people tried to touch him. But of course, as anything goes, Caleb started to get lame more and more the more often we worked him, and his right hind seemed inflamed. We had our vet look at it, and he said it looked like there was something in it. We took some x-rays, and sure enough, there were three floating bone fragments in his hock. Right away, we had him sent off to have the surgery to fix it. We had him insured, but it still cost us a lot of money… money we would need but wouldn’t have for Caleb’s last night. We had the surgery done, which Caleb took like a champ, and began our long recovery process.
Every single day I was at the barn, walking 5 minutes, to 10, to 45 minutes twice a day, as well as putting cream on it, stretching it, and doing the other barn work I had to do and the other horses I had to ride. Previous to his surgery, I had only been allowed by my trainer to ride once, and on that one ride my trainer had me end the ride early. Eventually, we moved barns to focus on Caleb’s rehab. Finally, my boy was getting the weight he needed, and was gaining more and more muscle. I began hand trotting, and he was able to be turned out in a medical pen, which he absolutely loved. We hired a Equine Masseuse to look at him and to make sure he was gaining muscles in the right places- he was tight, but he was doing good! We had our vet check in, and he said in a couple weeks I would be able to start riding him again, and boy was I excited. I thought I’d FINALLY be able to ride my own horse again.
Three days before the vet would come, the barn owner called us saying Caleb was lying down and seemed uncomfortable, and that while he was probably fine, she just wanted to make sure so she had called the vet. I had walked him no more than 2 hours previous and he seemed normal, so it was a shock, but my mother and I raced down to the barn to see him. After much walking, lots of drugs, and three check-overs, he still seemed to be in a lot of pain, and the vet made the executive decision to send him to the hospital - and god was it hard not to cry. I was told that Caleb would likely be fine, that colic surgeries now had a 90% success rate. As Caleb headed on his way in the trailer, I prayed he wouldn’t fall down, because the vet said if he fell down he had to just keep driving, and we wouldn’t be able to help him. It was horrible to think about, that my big boy was hardly even going to get to the hospital, let alone through the night.
The on-site vets checked him over once we got there, and made the decision to go through with the surgery as planned, telling us once again that they thought he’d be fine. They put him in one of their stalls to wait and figure out their battle plan. Caleb looked awful - he was drenched in sweat from the drugs and the pain, and his eyes were glazed over like a zombie. It was hard to look at him. He laid down while he was in the stall, and my trainer had to run and get the vets because we weren’t sure if we were allowed to touch him or not. That’s when I knew he wouldn’t make it. It was irrational at the time to believe so, but I knew that he wasn’t waking up the next morning.
The vets at the hospital told us they’d start the surgery in two hours, which is was 9:00pm at the time, so they advised us to go home and they would let us know how he did in the morning, and they’d call us right away if anything went wrong. So we did. We went home, and I stayed up and waited and waited. It was around 2 am that I felt hopeful again. I thought that the surgery had started and finished by that time, and if the vets hadn’t called now, they wouldn’t. I had even smiled - and that’s when I heard my mom’s phone ring. My chest tightened immediately, and my whole body strained to hear what she was saying. The ringing stopped, and there was silence for a while. I heard a quiet thunk… and then my mom started screaming and wailing. Caleb, Hot Moms Invited, my friend… was gone. He had a hole in one of his intestines, and had 17 feet of other intestine was going through it. It suddenly moved the wrong way, causing him great pain, and there was no choice but to put him down. We would never see him again, and Caleb and I would never see a blue ribbon together, and I'd never hear, “IN FIRST PLACE, HOT MOMS INVITED AND CAELYN WAITE!” across the intercom at AQHA Congress. I'd never ride him more than once, we would never be able to prove anybody wrong, that yes, I can ride this horse, I'm good enough for this horse.
I'm lucky to have the friends and family that I do, because honestly, I don't think I would've gotten to see the rest of my freshman year and meet the cool people that I did. I probably would have given up too, just like Caleb did on September 21st. But that doesn't mean that loss doesn't eat away at my heart every time I step into the barn.
My mom put all of our savings into purchasing Caleb, diagnosing his leg issue and when the bill came for the final colic related surgery, insurance had run out due to his prior leg surgery and didn’t cover it all. Unfortunately, it also didn’t cover his passing, or his burial. I don’t like asking for money - I know I’m only 14, but I know the value of money and that it doesn’t grow on trees. Ask my mom, I don’t ever ask her for anything much… so I hate to ask now. But anything you could help us with - even if it is just a little, it would mean a lot to me. I just want to settle out the debt that we now have from trying to save Caleb, and start saving towards finding a new equine partner. Despite all that’s happened, or maybe because of what’s happened, I still want to get to the AQHA Congress and hopefully get a scholarship towards college.
Once again, I’m not asking for a lot, because even the littlest bit would mean everything to me. Thank you for reading my story, and hopefully supporting my future dream.
- Linda Creswell Filippone
- Trevor Levasseur
- Jenn Vail
- Julie Newman
- Dan C
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