The Ups and Downs, and Ups Again / by Marian Michalson



    It was love at first sight.  I was in Germany with a group of like minded friends graciously carting me around while I shopped for a new horse.  We were on our way to an International Student Rider Nations Cup when we stopped in at a training barn I had visited in the past.  Out came a little 4yo mare. She was a rose grey at the bright pink stage with a lot of presence and spirit.  After watching her jump, quick off the ground, tight and careful, tail swishing and a bit fiesty, I hopped on.  She felt like she could easily jump a big track one day and passed the liver pool test (yay, she jumps liverpools!). I was sold, she was sold, she would be my Grand Prix prospect. A horse I would keep for myself this time around.

      Coretta's career in the States, unfortunately, started off rocky. I could tell she always wanted to be good, I could feel it in her. She was a little spooky at home but always ready to work. Away from home was another story. The sounds, sights, and high energy sent her into a panic. She would buck, bolt, freeze, rear, and spook at everything. We became "that" person in the schooling ring. I was lucky if we could make it through the start line in the show ring, and chances were slim we'd make it around the course cleanly (though the jumps themselves didn't bother her).  

     We spent the next year going to local shows, and entering in 2' or 2'6 hunter classes, feeding her treats in the ring every time we made it in. She calmed down a bit, but it was still always difficult. If she could walk and trot both ways around the ring before jumping, she was better. Then she had a panic episode at home.  She jumped sideways, reared up, spun me off, then remained out of control when I got back on.  I knew we were at the breaking point where I could ruin her forever, and needed to figure out how to fix things. I took her to a highly respected team of trainers in Florida who start horses under saddle, fix "problem" horses, and teach and train hunter/jumpers (Colts & Company). This is when we really learned how to communicate and trust each other. We both gained a lot of confidence from the experience. Things were improving but there continued to be a lot of tension and nerves.  

     In the early fall of 2015, Coretta had an episode of Uvitis in her right eye. While treating it, I started thinking about all of the times her eyes were a little watery, or she squinted in the sun. I had shrugged it off as allergies, and plain sensitivity to the bright sun (I mean I squint too). She frequently wore a fly mask, and I had tried to keep her out of bright, dusty conditions.  It had never occurred to me she might have something seriously wrong.  A couple of months after that I noticed a color change in her eye and took her in to be seen.  The diagnoses was end stage moon blindness due to Equine Recurant Uvitis leaving her 99% blind in her right eye.  This was an incredibly scary diagnosis for me to hear. I felt like I had let her down.  She had been trying to tell me for so long! And I missed it! And what did this mean for her future? Was it over?


     At least I had an answer and could start to understand her behavior.  It really helped moving forward and we trusted each other more and more.  It didn't take long, however, for the vision problems to start affecting her jumping.  We were no longer on the same page picking a distance. She started having problems seeing be back rail of the oxers and judging the width.  She began backing off and hesitating at the jumps, and I no longer felt safe to jump her.  That's when a friend suggested I cover her eye.  We did, and immediately jumped 100% better.  She also seemed to be getting headaches, or just uncomfortable all the time.  I called Mid Rivers that week to schedule an enucleation.  Instead, they recommended injecting the eye with a toxic dose of gentamicin, essentially killing the nerves and taking away any slight vision she may have still had.  The next day she was bright eyed, happy, and much less spooky! I felt we were finally on the right track.  


    About 6 weeks after injecting her right eye, I walked out to the the barn to find her having a uvitis episode in her other eye.  Panicked, I took her back to the vet.  They confirmed the worst.  She in fact has Equine Recurant Uvitis in her left eye.  While there were some lesions visible on the retina, she seemes to have full vision.  We decided her best chance of staying visual was surgery. 

      On March 14, 2016, Coretta was in the capable hands of the Mid Rivers Equine veterinary team while I was at work, quietly freaking out that she was being put under General Anesthesia. They had flown in an opthomology specialist to assist in implanting a slow release cyclosporine disc into her left eye.  The disc delivers the medication for 3-5 years to prevent the eye from attacking itself.  The procedure was sucessful and a giant sigh of relief. Shortly after her surgery, I ended up having surgery on my hip.  Since I was going to be out for awhile, we went ahead and bred her.  

     On March 11, almost a full year after her surgery, she gave birth to her colt Masterpiece.  She handled being a mother with one blind eye really well.  Masterpiece learned to stay on her left side...until his independent streak took over.  I waited not so patiently for Coretta to raise her foal so I could ride her again and test out her eyes.  


   In August 2017 Coretta weaned her colt and started back under saddle after about a year and a half hiatus.  She was relieved. I was relieved by how well she was coping and how ridable she was.  She was soft on the flat, and schooling confidently over fences. She was a whole new horse!  I took her to a show in November, and to my amazement, she walked right in and jumped around! I might have cried. On March 10th and 11th 2018, almost two years exactly from her surgery and one year exactly from foaling, I took Coretta to another show.  Again, she warmed up incredibly relaxed and soft, walked in the ring she hadn't jumped in in 4 years, and through the weekend won 3 out of 4 classes.  She offered all of the inside turns, sliced jumpes, and never had a rail.  It might not have been a Grand Prix, but it might as well have been as proud as I was of her.  Onward and upward!


All I could think of was how amazing it feels that she is so willing to jump around for me and how much we have been through to get here (I didn't even mention the new career starting during this time).  I started thinking about all of the people who have been instrumental in helping us get through all of the downs to reach this high! And I'm excited about what is yet to come. 

Thanks especially to all of the Coulters for the training, her eye vet Dr. Ellis, her repro vets at Equine Medical, Jeannine keeping me positive, Daniella for helping us through the hardest part of her ERU to date, and of course my parents for the support and making sure Coretta gets everything she needs.