I was told over the course of my life and my career with equines I would meet a lot of horses, but one of those horses would be special. A horse that wouldn’t necessarily be the most talented, or the best mover, one who may have quirks or even come with a warning label. This special horse would be one I would see something in that no one else would, and unlock parts of myself I didn’t even know existed. A horse who would change my life by simply being in it. Many people in our industry are familiar with the term “heart horse.” God may only grace you with an animal this special once in your lifetime. I was graced with mine when I was 14 years old; he was a gangly, clumsy long yearling who wasn’t making the strides in the cutting pen and reaching the bar that was set for him. He was quirky, broncy and constantly getting into trouble. He was as plain as the day is long; sorrel with a blaze and a small white sock. There wasn’t a damn thing that was flashy about him, hell he didn’t even fit into his legs. I didn’t even pick him… he picked me. He stepped up to the plate when my good mare was injured and quickly picked up the pattern a few short years later. This sorrel carried me on to accomplish every goal I set for us from local races to pro rodeos. He filled our permit at the first rodeo he was ever entered in and went on to earn over $68,000, multiple arena records, a dozen plus buckles, 8 saddles and a lifetime of memories and gratitude.
Here’s something I learned, you either say how you feel and mess something up or you say nothing and let it mess you up instead. I want to share Cinch’s story despite the hesitation of my own heart and recommendation of authorities. This selfless animal never recognized the winner he was, he didn’t know he was running at the top or winning anything. He doesn’t have a concept of what a dollar is worth, or the miles down the road, or the time being a competitor took, but he does possess the consciousness of what having heart is. He didn’t comprehend we were racing the clock, or competing against others the horse just loved his job with every ounce of being that made him whole. He has always been a “yes ma’am” horse, a get the job done at the very best of my ability despite the odds or despite the limitations. Cinch literally thrives off defying all odds in every sense of any challenge he was ever presented with. He was diagnosed with kissing spine, asthma and he’s even allergic to his own sweat. He never let any of those challenges stop him from clocking at the top.
Our biggest challenge we faced together was no different. On March 5th 2022 I woke up to feed after running the previous night at a race and found Cinch in the worst condition I had ever seen an animal in. He appeared to have been colicky through the night and was rapidly deteriorating into a neurological state. We medicated him and had an on-site vet evaluate him. It was determined he needed immediate emergency surgery but we were 3 hours from the nearest surgery center. We were also in well over a foot of snow that was continuing to fall. Cinch quickly became unable to stand on his own legs and even tried to hang himself on the panels. We had no choice but to sedate him and a group of friends banded together and carried him to the trailer. The vet warned us to drive careful and not to be alarmed if we felt him fall. I couldn’t breathe and the tears wouldn’t stop as we made our way to the surgery center praying he didn’t leave this world as we made our way through the storm. As we pulled into the clinic I held my breath opening the trailer door. He was still standing. He had held into the trailer bars with his teeth the entire ride knowing if he went down, he was not going to get up. As they took him into surgery I was warned he would likely not make it past the first few minutes of sedation or to the first cut. I agreed to still proceed knowing that he wouldn’t be in pain any longer if that were the case. Four and a half hours later we were notified he was still here with us and that the surgery indicated foul play and not colic. His battle was only starting as he began to wake from sedation he had completely tipped the scales and began battling a white blood cell count of 76,000 (yes that extra zero is correct) and a completely neurological state. He tested negative for everything we tested him for – West Nile, EPM, etc. He was then given a 3% chance to live – not recover. At one point on the surgery floor I was told to go in and say my goodbyes. As I went in to do so, my best friend was cold and lying on the floor with no fight left. I pulled his head into my lap and told him it was okay and that he could go join Bull, another incredible gelding I had the pleasure of having in my barn, and I thanked him for everything he had done for me. This is when this horse’s heart comes into play – that whole defying all odds he seems to love so much. He stood up. He couldn’t feel his legs, he was literally being held up by pulleys from two incredible vet techs. Cinch stood up to tell us he wasn’t finished here and he wasn’t going anywhere. The incredible surgeon asked if he could ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at him and that he had never met one who refused to give up like him. He spent 11 days in ICU, had a trachea tube placed as he could not breathe on his own and all we could do was hold our breath, pray and watch the vets work magic. When I was told he could come home I had never felt so much gratitude in my heart. His future was uncertain but he was able to recover out of his neurological state and come home. That was all that mattered. My best friend was coming home.
Nearly 500 days have passed since that dark day, and two surgeries in total, this incredible animal isn’t a winner. He’s a warrior. He has recovered beyond any expectation and has been released to be back under saddle. He can only walk for 20 minutes a day but that’s 20 minutes a day I never thought we would see again and every minute is a gift. We can only hope his continued recovery is just as bright, I wouldn’t put it past his determination to enter the rodeo arena again. This horse did not come into my life and become so incredibly special because he won. It was his heart, his patience and encouragement to get through dark times in my life, and to let me ride the high of the best days of my life. “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul has been left unawakened.” He awakened my soul and is the greatest friend a girl could ask him for. He has always given me 110% and a dear friend told me, “you don’t ever have to explain yourself, there are just some horses you’ll go to the ends of the earth for and Cinch is that horse for you.” With that being said Cinch, thank you for everything you’ve given me, taught me and let me reach for the stars. You taught me to always love the horse first, and for that I owe you the world. We aren’t done with our adventures yet.
“A warrior learns something from every battle that is fought.
They are here to show the world that you can be both light and dark, gentle and fierce, warrior and a healer.
That balance is essential and it is powerful.
Warriors are here to show us courage.
With each battle they are reborn with more divine wisdom and strength.
With each battle they learn to honor the dark, yet embrace the light.
Their light then shines bright enough to help others.
And inspire others out of their darkness.”
To plan your dream session of the animals you love most in this world, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Sue Halliburton- Sierra Elegance Equine Photography 775.745.0445 firstname.lastname@example.org