April 6, 2015
The week before last at our house was not a very happy one.
That Monday we had to put one of our old dogs to sleep. Whooki was 15 years old and was my stepdaughter’s original rescue dog. Whooki had gone down hill rather quickly the last couple of months so I knew that day was coming. The last few days which was on a weekend, she’d stopped eating and only wanted to go in one direction. I knew what had to be done and my husband took her to the vet first thing after work and was quietly put to sleep in the back of our dually pickup.
Having had a hard week, by the time Friday rolled around I was ready for the weekend. Only that Friday morning didn’t go anywhere near as planned.
I got up and proceeded to do my barn chores, which usually takes about an hour. After the stalls were picked and the feed was dumped I went to bring the four geldings in from their nightly turnout. When I went to the gate I immediately saw my old 25-year-old gelding, named Bluff, was in serious trouble.
He was standing in the middle of the paddock and he could only spin around in circles – he couldn’t walk forward. He was agitated by the fact that it was feeding time and he wasn’t first at the gate as usual, so he was trying his best to quickly get to the gate any way he could.
I quickly took one of the other geldings in to the barn to get him out of the way. By the time I got back he’d somehow managed to circle his way to gate and had fallen and gotten and gotten back up in the process. Now that he was close to the fence, I was scared that he was going to fall into it and he wouldn’t stay still.
I was by myself and I needed to get the other two geldings in the barn. My phone was in the house so I couldn’t call for help. Somehow, I managed to steer him towards the middle of the paddock where I figured it would take him at least a few minutes to get to the gate. I ran and grabbed my phone.
When I got back to the paddock, Bluff had fallen again but this time he wasn’t getting up as quickly as he did the last time. I took advantage of his stillness and quickly gathered the other two geldings while I called my husband and told him I needed a vet ASAP. Then I called my neighbor and friend for help, who immediately came in her pajamas.
After a few moments rest, Bluff somehow managed to get back on his feet and tried once again to make it to the gate. Fortunately, I had figured out how to keep his feet directed so that we at least stayed in the middle of the paddock. He went down two more times and neither time wanted to stay down even though I tried to keep him calm.
About an hour later, my friend’s husband showed up and my husband. Shortly after that another dear friend, Nancy came as well. Nancy’s husband trains horses and they usually keep around thirty head on their place. They have had to put quite a few horses down through the years so she knew exactly what I was going through.
I’ve owned Bluff since he was 3 years old. He was fresh off of a break from starting on the racetrack and he was the biggest horse I’d ever owned up until that point. I’d purchased him as a barrel prospect but the truth was there was no way in the world I had the guts to run something that big and that hot! I figured if I could get him re-trained for hunter initially he might be sane enough for barrels. I wound up having so much fun showing hunter and eventually even western pleasure that barrel racing was put on the back burner for a lot of years.
Shortly after I finally started him on barrels as a teenager, he started having soundness issues. Eventually, I figured he’d earned his keep and decided to retire him to the position of pasture ornament. Although he was the oldest and not completely sound, he was a terror to all the younger horses and ruled the roost.
The last year or so, even though he still would give the younger geldings a hard time, I noticed that he was getting weaker in his hind end. When he would get up, it would take him a little longer. Sometimes he was unsteady when he’d rear up while playing.
I suspected that Bluff might not last another year but I didn’t remotely expect that Friday morning that I would find him in the condition I found him in. He’d just been running around the day before.
When the vet arrived, Bluff was laying down but immediately after giving the initial sedative he decided to stand against all of our best efforts. His strong will didn’t make any of this easier and made me question the decision to have him euthanized.
Fortunately, the sedative worked fairly quickly and we were able to lay him back down. As the vet gave him the final shot, my friend Nancy and my husband put their arms around me. I noticed that my vet also wiped a tear from his face. We stood there with silent tears as we watched as my beautiful, strong-willed gelding that had taught me so much for the last 22 years took his last breaths.
What was heart-wrenching was knowing that he wasn’t ready to go, but I didn’t have a choice. He was a danger to himself and to us because of the fact that he couldn’t control his hind end. The vet suspected that he’d probably had a stroke, or maybe an injury. While it was much harder on me, the consolation was knowing that he didn’t suffer and that he was incapacitated for a short period of time. It’s a catch-22 either way. In the end, I know I did the right thing. I still miss him every single day and even though I know these things happen and it’s part of having large animals, saying goodbye is just never easy.
Have you ever had to say goodbye to an old friend? How did you handle it?