Barn Stories Ep. 20: Saving Frankie

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Frankie could have ended up in a dicey situation, but thanks to a caring owner, he got a heartwarming ending.

Frankie could have ended up in a dicey situation, but thanks to a caring owner, he got a heartwarming ending.

What options do you have when your horse is unsound and then unrideable by you? In this episode of Barn Stories, a woman faces that difficult situation and finds the perfect solution for everyone involved.

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This episode of Barn Stories is brought to you by SmartPak.

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[Christine] What options do you have when your new horse is unsound, and then unrideable by you? In this episode of Barn Stories, a woman faces that difficult situation and finds the perfect solution for everyone involved.

[Laurie]
Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I'm Laurie Prinz, editor EQUUS magazine.

[Christine] And I'm managing editor, Christine Barakat.

[Laurie] This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.

[Christine] We've searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you're new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.

[Christine] At first this story may seem familiar: A mature but inexperienced rider finds what she thinks is the perfect horse. She makes a few mistakes, listens to her heart instead of her head and winds up with a horse that is far from perfect for her. If you’ve been around horses long enough, you know someone who has traveled that difficult path, or you’ve even been down it yourself.

[Laurie] What sets this story apart, though—and why we chose to feature it—it what happens next. The horse, Frankie, could have ended up in a dicey situation, sold to another owner quickly to mitigate the financial losses or forgotten in a field as the owner gave up on her dreams of riding. But neither of those things happened. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I will say that the ending will warm your heart and put a smile on your face.

[Christine] This is a feel-good story we could all use right now, so let’s listen to “Saving Frankie” written by Joan Denton and read by Taylor Autumn.

[soft music]

[Taylor Autumn, story reader] When I first saw Frankie, he was tied to a rail. I spoke quietly to him as I approached his right shoulder. He turned toward me a bit fearfully, but then his look softened, and he began licking and chewing as I talked to him. He was receptive to my touch, and I was certain his eyes were saying, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

That look was all it took to make me want to buy him. And so began my yearlong odyssey filled with many pitfalls that more seasoned horsepeople might have avoided. Yet I don’t regret my decision.

I began riding in my 60s, and I’d had about three years of experience when we began searching for my “perfect” horse---a quiet one who could be patient with a beginner. We weren’t having much luck, until Frankie popped up on the Internet. Advertised as quiet, safe and healthy, he was a big, beautiful, 7-year-old Paint Horse living in a sale barn in Arizona. The photos were beautiful, and given that he appeared to fit the bill and we’d learned that good horses sell fast, I flew out alone for a two-day visit.

Although I was charmed by that first look, good sense required that I ride Frankie and get a prepurchase exam. The trial ride went well. The barn trainer gave me a lesson on him in the round pen. She showed me different tricks he could do, and I walked, trotted and cantered him. He was nothing but quiet and well-mannered.

The prepurchase exam didn’t go quite as smoothly. I hadn’t noticed any problems while I was riding, but the veterinarian turned up some lameness after flexing Frankie’s right hock. The x-rays weren’t encouraging---the veterinarian who took them thought they raised cause for concern, and we sent the images to my veterinarian at home, who advised me not to buy the horse.

A more experienced horseperson probably would have stopped right there---but I wasn’t in that category. No, I was convinced this was the horse for me, and I naively figured we could fix anything. So I bought him.

[soft music]

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[Taylor Autumn] After I got Frankie home, a more thorough veterinary examination turned up even more problems. In addition to the unexplained lameness, his teeth hadn’t been floated, he exhibited the telltale signs of gastric ulcers, and he had vertical cracks up his front hooves. I was in shock.

With the help of my veterinarian, farrier and trainer, Frankie’s issues were addressed. I had his teeth floated, he was properly shod, and we put him on the necessary medications and supplements. But the biggest issue was still that unexplained lameness. When nothing definitive showed up on x-rays, we ran through test after test seeking the source of the problem---but everything kept turning up negative.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t able to ride. As his right hock. To their credit, my horse friends did rally to help me provide the months of stall rest and hand-walking Frankie would need to heal. And, gradually, as he began to feel better, Frankie regained all the energy and playfulness of a healthy young horse.

But that led to my next big problem. Although he was a sweet horse most of the time, now that he was feeling good Frankie was becoming more difficult for me to handle. After a few close calls, my trainer told me Frankie was too much horse for me and advised me not to ride him. Now I faced an even more painful dilemma: What was I going to do with a healthy young horse I couldn’t ride?

Fortunately, the answer to that question arose out of the blue, when I got an unexpected phone call from Frankie’s first owner, who had raised him and now was trying to track him down after he’d been sold. I learned a lot about his history, including how he ended up at the sale barn in Arizona.

So it was that a year after I brought Frankie home, I sent him back to his first owner. It was the perfect solution. Now he was healthy and living with someone who not only loved him dearly but also had the skills and experience to handle him. The three of us couldn’t be happier.

In hindsight, I realize that Frankie’s first look at the barn that day didn’t mean, “I’m your forever horse.” Rather, it was, “Please help me.” Still, I don’t regret buying him. On the contrary, I would have regretted not buying him, because I would forever have wondered if I had passed up on the right horse for me.

This story is a good reminder that the horse we think we’re buying may not be the horse we get---but things can still turn out OK. Despite all our difficulties, I learned a boatload from Frankie, I returned him to full health, and I gave him to an owner who loves him. In the end, what’s not to like?

Although he was a sweet horse most of the time, now that he was feeling good Frankie was becoming more difficult for me to handle. the months passed, I blamed myself for making such a poor choice. It was hard to hide my pain when well-intentioned friends asked, “What were you thinking buying this horse?” As the veterinary bills mounted, and I was beginning to realize just how expensive this venture might turn out to be, one friend remarked, “Might as well throw good money after bad!”

I just couldn’t verbalize that I bought him because of the way Frankie looked at me at that dusty sale barn. I feared it would only have confirmed to them what I thought of myself: I was an idiot.

Finally, after so many negative test results, a bone scan provided the answer to the lameness issue: Frankie had a fracture in one of the bones of his right hock. To their credit, my horse friends did rally to help me provide the months of stall rest and hand-walking Frankie would need to heal. And, gradually, as he began to feel better, Frankie regained all the energy and playfulness of a healthy young horse.

But that led to my next big problem. Although he was a sweet horse most of the time, now that he was feeling good Frankie was becoming more difficult for me to handle. After a few close calls, my trainer told me Frankie was too much horse for me and advised me not to ride him. Now I faced an even more painful dilemma: What was I going to do with a healthy young horse I couldn’t ride?

Fortunately, the answer to that question arose out of the blue, when I got an unexpected phone call from Frankie’s first owner, who had raised him and now was trying to track him down after he’d been sold. I learned a lot about his history, including how he ended up at the sale barn in Arizona.

So it was that a year after I brought Frankie home, I sent him back to his first owner. It was the perfect solution. Now he was healthy and living with someone who not only loved him dearly but also had the skills and experience to handle him. The three of us couldn’t be happier.

In hindsight, I realize that Frankie’s first look at the barn that day didn’t mean, “I’m your forever horse.” Rather, it was, “Please help me.” Still, I don’t regret buying him. On the contrary, I would have regretted not buying him, because I would forever have wondered if I had passed up on the right horse for me.

This story is a good reminder that the horse we think we’re buying may not be the horse we get---but things can still turn out OK. Despite all our difficulties, I learned a boatload from Frankie, I returned him to full health, and I gave him to an owner who loves him. In the end, what’s not to like?

[Christine] Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you'd like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at EQUUSBarnStories@gmail.com.

Did you enjoy this episode of Barn Stories? Head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate and leave us a review. Thanks for listening.

The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network.

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