My daughter Ashley is a groom to thoroughbred racehorses at the Hastings Park racetrack in Vancouver, BC. She has been doing this for over 23 years now, since she was a teenager and loves every minute she spends in the barn with every horse she interacts with. She grooms the horses in her care, takes them out to the paddock on race days, and picks them up again after the race to walk them and cool them down before preparing them for the night. She’s never once not picked up a horse after a race. Until Friday, August. 24th.
The horse she groomed that night was Ceder Chines, a beautiful Bay gelding. It was the 4th race with a field of 6 and everyone got off to a good start. Cedar Chines was running in 3rd place as they were coming off the far turn and heading towards the backstretch when he suddenly stumbled in distress. The jockey, David Lopez quickly pulled him up and out of the race and held him steady until the horse could be taken by wagon off the track – it appeared that a knee injury had occurred and Ashley was unable to walk her horse off the track that night. X-rays were done and it showed that the knee was literally shattered. After discussion with the owners and trainer, Cedar Chines was humanely put down the next morning, as there was no way to recover from such a devastating injury.
Ashley was inconsolable. She’s never lost a horse before and even though these aren’t horses she owns, she treats every horse she grooms like they belong to her. She loves them all with the deepest love in her heart and gives 100% of her best self to them when she’s taking care of them. The thing was, she couldn’t just give in to her grief, as she still had another horse to prepare for the paddock for the ninth race. Can you imagine what that’s like, knowing one horse you love has broken down and yet still having to send another horse out on the track to race. All you want them to do is come home safe – at that point, you don’t even care if they win.
Living with chronic pain is similar in a lot of ways to horse racing. Waking up every day is a gamble as you don’t know what the day is going to bring. You can start out feeling pretty good, and then all of a sudden “wham!”…you’re in the middle of a Fibromyalgia flare-up, or suddenly it’s a Migraine starting, or your Trigeminal Neuralgia triggers, or your MS relapses. You simply have no way of knowing when any of these events are going to happen. Or, maybe you wake up feeling kinda crummy, but as the day goes by, you start to feel better as you take care of yourself. With the proper grooming – a good breakfast, a shower that doesn’t hurt for a change, clothing that feels good on the skin, a walk that doesn’t exhaust you – and suddenly, you’re feeling like a winner!!
At the end of the day, you just want to come home safe. Whether you ‘re still working while living with Chronic Pain, or you’ve had to give up work and other activities, the ultimate goal is to live as pain-free as possible. You resort to your comfort measures and other tricks like meditation music to help bring down stress levels, you do what you can to get a good sleep and you just hope and pray you wake up in the morning feeling good. Less pain, refreshed and ready to face the world, like a champion racehorse might feel.
And like a racehorse needs a good groom to take care of them, we have our support systems too. Sometimes it’s a spouse, sometimes it’s a hired caregiver – whoever it is, we depend on them for a little or a lot of our care. If a groom is sloppy with a horse, for example, not wrapping the ankle bandages properly, then the horse has no chance of winning. If we or our caregivers aren’t doing the right things for our health (proper nutrition, exercise, etc), then we have no chance of improving in the larger sense with our pain management.
I wish that it was easier to live with Chronic Pain. I wish I could wake up, eat some breakfast and go for a walk and all would be well, but it’s just not that easy. Life as a race horse sounds much easier in many ways, but when you see how fragile the ending can be, you realize that the horses have it just as tough as we do. I think I’ll stick to being human, and deal with my issues one day at a time, just as I always have.
There is always hope.