Monday, February 27, 2012

When to say when

This is going to be one of my shorter posts because today, frankly, has been the day from hell which is only matched by last week and the horse show from hell. The details of how crappy my horse show was last week on Uiver would take far more energy to describe than I currently have at the moment. Lets just say that, anyone who has shown knows, there are just shows that are jinxed from the start and only get worse and then bad show management, a mediocre facility and discrepancies and inconsistencies in judging combine to make in nearly unbareable. That was my show last week and yes I am ranting a bit.

But I digress from bad to worse. My day started with a confrontation (which has been needing to happen for a long time) with my barn help over taking a very lackadaisical approach to her work. She has been doing less and less over the past several months and constantly complaining about too much work and one feigned pain or illness after another. After I laid down the law on the issue because, oh yes I am her boss and I pay her, she proceeded to quit. So anyone looking for a job in California? It seems that asking someone to actually do the job they are being paid for is far too much to ask. Go figure.

Then to just put more icing and such a lovely cake of a day, my beloved 30 year old lesson pony Tahoe, either collapsed or cast himself in his stall. After getting him up he was very ataxic and clearly disoriented and then collapsed a second time, almost as if he was fainting. When my vet got here she listened to his heart and told me that his heart murmur, which has been mild and we have been monitoring for years, was very pronounced. So did he have a heart attack, or a stroke, or a seizure of some kind?? She could not say for sure but after DMSO and fluids, he did stabilize and tonight seems to be better although a little weak.

So that brings to my title question - When to say when? Tahoe has been in very light work (only a few days a week) and ridden by a 7 year old girl in pony club. Sadly for her Tahoe's Pony Club days are over and he is now completely retired. For me, Tahoe's case is a clear decision, what happened today tells me it would not be fair to him or safe for him to be ridden again. But for other older horse's when do you say when?? I know I will be asking myself that question relatively soon with Pete who is now 23. Pete is sound and appears to enjoy his job as a schoolmaster, but he is so giving and so stoic of a horse I am not sure he will tell me when he should be retired unless something obvious like a lameness or illness happens.

A week ago yesterday, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a wonderful, 27 year old schoolmaster of a mare fall on a jump and fracture her stifle. Needless to say she had to be euthanized and both the young lady riding her and her owners were devastated. Before her tragic death, this mare was sound, spunky and happy to be working. Should she have been retired sooner? She did at least die doing the thing she loved the most in the world - jump, but how do you know when to make that decision. Some horses are so giving, and want to please so badly, I think it must be our responsibility to make that decision for them.

What do you all think?? Thanks for letting me vent, it has made me feel better. I look forward to your comments.


Dreaming said...

Oh...that's a tough call to make. I've not had to face it with a horse, but we have had so many dogs and cats in our lives and only one chose to go on his own. I try to assess quality of life. If my dog/cat (horse) isn't hurting and enjoys eating and greeting each day, then far be it for me to interfere. But, when there is pain that can't be controlled or when medical intervention that is distasteful or distressful to the animal is required, with only a slim hope of a return to normalcy, that's when we say 'when'.

Laura Crum said...

Oh Terri--I am so sorry. I know you will make good choices--I know you well enough to say that. I think it must be on an individual basis. I retired my horse, Plumber, at twenty because he seemed like he didn't want to go any more, though he is still technically sound, just a little stiff. We are still using Henry for regular riding at 23 because he seems to move freely and enjoy it. We don't push him to lope many circles any more though. His work is mostly walk trot and trail rides of less than two hours--the most he does is crack a light sweat. I would be uncomfortable jumping a 27 year old horse, both for rider safety as well as the horse's sake. Its the same basic reason we retired Plumber from team roping at twenty.

My horse Burt died of a massive stroke such as you describe at 35 years. He had had several smaller ones first but we were able to get him up and they seemed to resolve. (He'd been retired since his early twenties.) The day he had his final stroke was a sunny morning and I was on my way out to feed him in the pasture where he lived. The pasture owner called me on my cell to report that Burt had been trotting around and had slipped and gone down. I got there ten minutes later to find him on the ground and out of it. In twenty minutes I had determined I couldn't get him up (even with help) and called the vet. She was there in half an hour and we put him down. It wasn't the worst way to go. He was happy and trotting in the sunshine an hour before he died. I will always be grateful.

I don't know if any of these random thoughts are any help to you, but just know that I feel for you and certainly share your emotions when it comes to struggling over how to make good choices for our older horses.

I'm so sorry you had such a bad day. Hopefully better ones will come along soon.

Alison said...

Terri, your email brought on the tears. I am SO sorry to hear about the horse show from hell and then having to fire your help (who reminds me of too many of my students who would get much more done if they spent less time whining and avoiding.) And then to have a beloved pony get so sick. I hope you are coping and glad you were able to vent as well as bring up the euthanizing dilemma, which we have discussed a lot on the blog, but which never ceases to be tricky, emotional, personal and difficult.

As Laura said, you will make a good choice because you are humane and wise (based on your firing of said help) but it will still be difficult and you will do much crying (as I did with our Lab, Dozer, who clearly needed to be put to sleep.) I hope tomorrow is better!

jenj said...

Every horse and every situation is different, and it's not always clear when enough is enough. Sometimes it's little things that let you know, and you have to really be paying attention or you might miss it. Sometimes they never tell us, and we have to make the decision for them. I am sure that you will make the right one when the time comes for each of your animals, although it's never easy.

I'm sorry you had such a bad day, between the show, your help, and the pony. Hopefully this week is much improved!

Devonsangel said...

I am dealing with a similar decision right now. I have been working with a 23yo OTTB at the starter eventing level. We slowly developed his topline and strength over the past four years and he loves his work! The past two months he has been lame in one leg and the only thing we can figure out is rear suspensory. He is grouchy because he isn't getting ridden anymore although he does get daily turnout with friends and I do take short hacks (walk only). I really don't see us competing anymore even if the suspensory heals. I won't risk further injury. I am talking with the owner about having him be used as a lesson horse. It's been a really tough decision because of the bond we have. I still waver, but know what the actual answer will always be.

Anonymous said...

Terri -

That's such a hard call to make, especially when our critters tend to go up and down for a while, which lulls us into a neverending 'I've made the decision but wait - he perked up!" . . . . "Why oh why have I let it drag out so long?" . . ."Oh, he's perked up!" loop from heck. My mother is famous for that, and drives the rest of us utterly batty at the end of our dogs' lives.

RE: your barn staff. it's a bit unorthodox, but I would get in touch with Joe Shelton from He has a network of approximately two million hardworking, horse-loving girls of all ages (including, ahem, older "girls") all over California that he could refer you to, and any of Joe's "kids" take horse care and ownership VERY seriously.

TBFriends has a Facebook page that we've been using to create an archive of Joe's web posts. If you read through them, you will see that there are many, many kids that would work very hard to be able to support their horse, or earn money toward getting their own horse, or just to support Joe and his efforts.

Good luck!

Jenne :)

Terri Rocovich said...

Sorry for the late reply but thank you so much everyone, for your comments, encouragment and words of advice. Boy do I love everyone on this blog. Tahoe is doing better but his heart murmur is still very pronounced and we do think he had a small stroke, perhaps Laura, a lot like your horse. So no more riding for Tahoe. He will live out whatever time he has left, eating, and being Pete's pasture buddy. My week had gotten better until today when my dog retore his acl. When it rains is pours. I will survive.