Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sad

by Laura Crum

I’m very sad today. My horse partner made the decision yesterday (with my agreement) to put down our two pasture pets who have been going downhill for the past year. ET was 31 and Rebby was 27. Despite our best efforts at feed and care these two would not maintain their weight—ET could not see or hear much any more. With the winter storms coming and both Wally and I completely maxed out on the expense and time involved in trying to keep these horses in borderline OK shape, he finally decided it was time. We both felt terrible, but I couldn’t really argue with him. He very kindly agreed to hold them while they were euthanised—I don’t think I could have done it. I took care of these horses for over ten years and tried very hard to give them a good quality of life in the pasture. Neither was ever my personal horse, but I did train Reb (who belonged to Wally). It is so hard to draw an arbitrary line like this. Neither horse had an acute failure going on. They were just skinny old horses who were slowly failing, despite the fact that we were putting out about $500 a month in supplemental feed to try to help them. ET had a constant mildly snotty nose. Both horses looked pretty rough. Nothing was going to get any better. I don't think we were wrong. It's just very sad.

35 comments:

Linda said...

I'm sorry, Laura, but I completely understand. Winter is very hard on the old ones who struggle to keep weight and navigate around ice and snow. Sometimes, if you don't act early, they suffer debilitating injuries and end up in pain. I have a 31 year old who is also getting very rough, so I know exactly what you mean. I'm glad you have a good horse partner to help you out.

Anonymous said...

:( I'm so sorry that you had to let your old guys go.. It's such a horrible thing to do, but at the same time, the kindest thing you could have done for them.

If only all horses could be as lucky to have someone who would care for them like you have.

Jamie

Deanna said...

I fully agree with your decision. I'm sure it was very hard though. Blessings on you ~

Kate said...

I am so sorry - it's never an easy decision no matter how old the horse is. I was there last year with my Noble - he wasn't on his absolute last legs but I didn't want him to get to that point. I think the decision was a wise and kind one, and you gave them a gift of a pain-free and not too late end. Glad your horse partner was there to help.

Alison said...

I am boohooing with you, Laura.
Pass the Kleenex.

Thank you for sharing--I hoped it helped!

Mikey said...

Oh Laura, I'm so sorry. It's so hard, but you made the right call. Sending hugs your way girl. :(

Laura Crum said...

You know, the hard part is that no matter how I justify it--and I know all the reasons--it still doesn't feel really right. Every other horse I put down clearly needed to be put down. Too lame to be comfortable, severely colicked and not a candidate for surgery, dying of cancer, had a stroke...etc. These two horses had been looking rough all fall and our efforts at helping them showed very little effect. But you know, they were just as they had been for awhile, still bright eyed and eager for breakfast despite their appearance, yesterday morning. They weren't suffering or in pain. Nothing was any different than it had been for several months. Just our knowledge that winter storms would be here soon. It still seemed pretty arbitrary. I had a really hard time with that part.

Alison said...

You continue to visualize their bright eyes, which makes it harder. Now visualize them fallen on ice or stuck in deep snow and you are unable to get there in time to help. That image will help you understand that sometimes the right decision is necessary yet VERY difficult.

AareneX said...

Laura, I know what you mean about the timing seeming "arbitrary", but here's how I see it: the horses don't know that winter snow and ice are coming. They can't anticipate that the pasture will die back (if it hasn't already), and that the bad weather is just beginning. Because you are a caring, thinking human person who can anticipate what's coming (cold, wind, snow, ice), you want to spare these horses the crisis that might come if you wait too long. I think that's perfectly fine. Waiting until the horses are in a state of emergency is no kindness at all--your way is better. But, sad.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I totally appreciate what you're saying. We don't actually get snow here, but we can have long cold rainy windy spells that are very hard on horses. I pictured them down in the cold mud, unable to get up, yes. It was part of our choice. And the other part, which perhaps is making me feel guilty, is that we were just overwhelmed. I still have three pasture pets...besides the four horses at home. But the three pasture pets remaining are in decent shape. So in a way we did this for ourselves as well as the horses. To get it down to something that seemed manageable. And not to keep looking at these poor rough old horses, wondering if we were doing them a favor or a disservice, trying to keep them going. It was a tough choice.

jenj said...

I'm so sorry to hear that you had to make a decision like this. It's always easier when they are clearly ready to go. However, better that they go now when they are doing well than something catastrophic happen. You made the right decision for them, even though it's so hard to do. The boys are lucky to have such loving, caring owners looking out for them.

Lots of hugs to you.

Funder said...

Hugs. Knowing it's the right thing doesn't make it any easier. :(

Terri Rocovich said...

Laura, I am so sorry for you loss. I know how hard it is to say goodbye to an old friend. I am facing that decision soon with my nearly 33 year old mare. It is never easy and I know you did not make the decision lightly. But it is our final gift to the animals we love, to help them not suffer a slow decline and to help them leave this world with dignity.

Your horses enjoy a quality of life and a natural life that far to few other horses do. Take comfort in the fact that you are a great mom to both horse and human and that you did right by them. How is your son handling the loss, I am sure it is not easy for him either.

I am sending happy thoughts and a cyber hug.

kel said...

Laura think about all the wonderful years they had and the times they were out romping around the pasture. Try to remember them when they were young, muscular, and full of life. It won't make the decision any easier but it might bring a smile to your face.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, everybody. It really helps to hear the kind words.

My son is a little sad, but because the two horses did not live at our place, but rather at a pasture a few miles from here, the loss is not so in-your-face. Also, neither horse was ever my personal riding horse, which makes it a little easier. I was very fond of both of them, though. Rebby was Wally's horse--he crippled up at 9 years old due to EPM or a strained sacroiliac joint--we never knew which diagnosis to believe. He was pain free but moved awkwardly--obviously not right. Most people would have put him down when he was ten--knowing he had no future as a riding horse. We kept him as a pasture pet these 17 years, so he had a good long run. Its just hard. Both horses were very sweet.

cowgirl said...

Laura,I'm so sorry.You did the right thing.You have good memories of them&know they didn't suffer.It would have been terrible to have gone out one morning & found one of them stuck to the ground&have that as your memory.I've held 3 of my horses as they were put down&its the hardest thing I've ever done.But in a way I felt like it was an honor to do the rigt thing.Thats what wally& you did.I love your books and blog by the way.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, cowgirl. I've held all my other horses when they were put down...but I felt very clear in my mind with them that it was the only right thing to do and I wanted to be with them. This was a little different, in that ET was a rescue horse I took to save him from the kill pen and Rebby was Wally's horse, so I felt OK letting Wally be with them. Also, I'm not sure I could have gone through with it...as I said, the ones I put down clearly needed it. With these two it was probably the right choice, but I would have rationalized waiting a little longer...which I had been doing for several months.

Francesca Prescott said...

Lots of love Laura, I've got tears in my eyes after reading your post. I know how hard it is, and totally understand the way you are feeling. You did the right thing. Giant blanket hugs to you.

yatima said...

Thank you for making hard choices, choices that cost you. This is what being a forever home means.

Gayle Carline said...

Laura - I'm so sorry you and Wally had to make this decision. I agree with the others, that it was the best and most correct thing to do, if that makes any difference. The alternative, of waiting to see if they could last through the winter, seems cruel.

And yet, their bright natures still haunt you. Think of it as their contentment with whatever you did for them, including their trust in you to do what was right.

I'm having this conversation with my hubby now, about his dad's old dog. The dog is living in our garage, limping, senile, with bad teeth. My husband can't stand to have the dog put down - his dad died suddenly and this dog has come to mean more to him than just a dog, I think. But it's not a decision I can force him to look at. Every day, I go to the garage and talk to King about letting us know when he's done. Now, when I go out there, he follows me around. I don't know whether he's just following my sounds, or whether he's trying to tell me something. I just wish he'd pass away on his own so my hubby wouldn't have to choose for him.

Stilllearning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stilllearning said...

I'm also sorry that you've had to make this tough decision. It is harder when it's not a crisis situation, but I agree that you made the right choice. It's better to be a little early then to wait too long--I've done this both ways and waiting too long is harder on the animal.

hugs.

redhorse said...

I'm so sorry, and I know how you feel. Even when you know there is no other choice, it isn't an easy one. I've had to make the choice a couple of times, and I was glad I had a friend to be there. I couldn't do it either.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you for your comments. It does help to feel I'm not alone. I will admit that along with the sadness, which keeps arising, is a measure of relief that I'm not constantly wondering what we should do about those two old horses.

My remaining very old horse, who is also 31, is Gunner, who has been my horse since he was three. Since he no longer has ET in the field next to him for a companion, and I don't want him standing out in the winter storms alone (even with his blanket), I am bringing him home so he'll have a shed to shelter in, and plenty of company. I kept him turned out in the pasture for years because I thought it was best for him, but I really want him home again for his remaining time, so I can be with him. Fortunately, he still looks pretty good for 31. The vet did not believe he was an old horse. I'm hoping Gunner will enjoy the change. He won't be turned out in pasture 24/7, but he'll have a big corral where he can run and move freely, a shed for shelter, and turn out on my property from time to time, just like my other horses. I'm crossing my fingers it will work for him.

Powers Family said...

Hugs.

joycemocha said...

So sorry, Laura. That's a hard choice to make, but sounds like the right one.

We've got a 38-year-old Morab at the barn and I wonder if this is going to be her last winter. OTOH, I've wondered that for the past five years. She's still going strong, though...opinionated old lady that she is.

Mrs Mom said...

So Sorry Laura. Thoughts are with you, Wally, and the rest of the herd 2 legged and 4.

Martha Seaman McKee said...

This is a hard one, but everyone else's comments have been right on the money. It's a blessing to relieve the old ones of their last crisis. That said, it's sad to be left behind when our companions move on - so final.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you so much everybody. Its true, joycemocha, I wondered last year if ET should be put down in the fall, but I blanketed him in winter storms and fed him all the senior feed he would eat and he hung in there. But I was doubtful about his quality of life back then--I remember writing about it on the blog. And Reb had been underweight ever since last winter--up until then he maintained his weight just fine.

I am bringing Gunner home today. I hope all goes well.

Once Upon an Equine said...

I'm very sorry for your sadness and loss. You gave them a good, long retirement and a humane passing. I hope my 8 year old mare and I both live long enough so I can do the same for her some day.

Laura Crum said...

Once Upon--I'm still dealing with the feeling that we didn't HAVE to do it right then. Its a struggle. But my healthy old guy, Gunner, is home and doing OK so far and I am appreciating every moment with him. I know Gunner probably doesn't have too many years left--though my oldest horse, Burt, made it to 36 looking pretty darn good, and died of a massive stroke an hour after he had been trotting briskly around. Everyone's path is different, I guess. I hope I don't have too many old horses where I must draw that seemingly arbitrary line that they are just not doing well enough--though I've had to do that with old cats and dogs, too. Its just very sad.

joycemocha said...

Laura, if it's any consolation, one of my horsey friends had a QH mare go up to 38 years before she died from a heart attack. Madam had stopped being used for jumping about three years before her death but Eileen had ridden her just the day before she died.

Glad to read that Gunner is settling in okay. I bet both you and he will have a happy winter together!

The Morab mare--Shekina--has started many kids on horseback, including G's grandkids and my own son. She came out of retirement this summer to work with one of G's more timid college students, and I almost didn't recognize her when the student led her out to participate in the college class--head high, tail high, she KNEW she was getting to go back to work and was happy about it! And she provided a calm, steady and quiet ride for that timid rider, though from her head carriage you could tell she was remembering younger days when she was quite the pistol (Shekina was responsible for G getting together with his wife, she wouldn't whoa and G trained her...and the rest is history).

Heck, I remember Shekina carrying a novice quietly and calmly, then hopping up on her myself--and riding an entirely different horse! One of those rare schoolies capable of adjusting performance based on her perception of rider ability.

It's easier to let the critters go when there's something obviously wrong. But the gradual decline is harder to call. Still, this was better than waiting for them to be down and in agony. I had one pony put down where the vet didn't want to do it (she had foundered badly). His rationale was that she was still fairly young.

But her pasture companion was an evil bitch toward her, the pony had something else major wrong with her (she had seizures), and I discovered her shivering out in the pasture where the big mare had chased her, in a cold November rain, barely able to walk. It was also close to when I had lost my first, much-loved pony to the complications of founder so I knew darn good and well what the rehab options were, and really, due to her history, she wasn't a good candidate for treatment (it would have been different if the big mare liked her but she hated the pony mare's guts). She'd had a hard history (accidentally bred as a yearling) but we'd given her a decent life. I just couldn't live with the thought of trying to rehab her and then having her either go the way of the first pony, or having the big mare ruin her rehab. And, given the seizures, I didn't know what other complications could strike during rehab. So we put her down. A sad choice, but ultimately probably the best. She wasn't a good pet prospect as she was only good for experienced riders...not a good thing for a Shetland.

Laura Crum said...

joyce--Yes, its very specific how we make these choices. For the two we euthanised, ET had really come to the end of the road--he was 31, too thin despite a deluxe diet (he was always a very hard keeper) and mostly deaf and blind and didn't quite seem to know what was going on any more. It was time. Reb was younger, and we might have kept him going, but he had several genetic abnormalities, including an extreme parrot mouth, that made him a poor candidate for the long haul. This on top of the fact that he had a strange waddling uncoordinated gait, caused by EPM or a strained sacroiliac. We just felt he wasn't the right horse to coax into extreme old age. My Gunner, on the other hand, looks OK at 31 and maybe has some good years left. They're all different, aren't they?

cowgirl said...

I know the holidays can be sad after the death of an animal/part of the family.You did the right thing.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks again, all. I brought my 31 year old Gunner home on Thanksgiving and the joy my son and I have felt at having him at home again has helped balance the sorrow of knowing that ET and Rebby are gone. There is always much to be thankful for. As kel said, I know we gave those two a good life. And as Aarene pointed out, we saved them from going through any real suffering. I am still sad, but I feel OK about it now.