We awoke to several inches of new snow. As the snow accumulated on sheets of ice left by previous January snows, we were pretty certain our schedule for the day would change. On such days routine appointments were usually cancelled, and any calls were usually emergencies. I wasn’t surprised when the phone rang and it was a client calling for help with an old horse that could not get up.
The thirty-something gelding was at a ranch some forty-five minutes away on this snowy day. A couple that had been both long-time clients and friends managed the ranch. Their daughter and four-year-old granddaughter also lived on the ranch. This old gelding was the granddaughter’s favorite horse, the one she had ridden all last summer and the one who had taught her to be confident on horseback. Needless to say, this horse was very important to the entire family.
The gelding had been out with several other horses in a large hay meadow. The footing was perfect as was the short meadow grass that had come up after the meadow had been cut for hay that summer. The falling snow coated the surrounding trees and gave us a view as fine as a winter mountain scene on the front page of a travel magazine. Only one thing ruined the mood. About a quarter-mile away there was a horse on its side surrounded by people.
The Work Up
As we drove up we saw the horse was covered with blankets and surrounded with bales of hay. Large snowflakes continued to fall as we stepped out of the truck. It was a sudden shock to step out of the warm truck and I was acutely aware of the stress this animal must be enduring since he had been down for some time. We immediately administered painkillers and proceeded to examine the patient for signs of severe injuries that would physically prevent him from getting up. None were found. We attempted to roust him up while assisting his effort by lifting his tail. He would give us a good effort with both front legs, but we saw absolutely no movement from either hind leg. We next used straps lifted by a tractor to get him up on his back legs. He appeared unable to use the back legs. We were out of options.
Our four-year-old cowgirl arrived to try to help her old friend. I had the un-enviable duty of telling this little girl we could not do anything to get him up. And if we just left him in this condition he would suffer greatly. The only choice we had to keep him from hurting was to put him to sleep. After a few minutes of wet hugs and kisses given to this poor snow- covered old gelding, we all agreed to the inevitable, to put him to sleep.
Many times owners wish to be with their animals as they go. Well, this brave little four-year-old wanted to be there for this special friend. I felt a great responsibility as I explained to her the process she would see. So with great trepidation I proceeded with the injection with her only a few feet away. We were blessed with a smooth procedure. We all cried and hugged. We got in the truck. Kathi and I were silent as we drove off.
There is a circle of life that starts with birth and inevitably ends with death. I always tell people when we treat these old horses, we know someday soon will be their last day, but we hope its not today. For this old guy, today was the last day. This old gelding had taught this little girl to ride, and now he had taught her to say goodbye to a friend.
Kathi recently heard a quote that goes something like this: “Sometimes it’s hard to hold on, but it’s harder to let go.”
If you have an old friend in your life, whether human or animal, give them a hug tonight.