It’s never good when we get a phone message from someone who has adopted one of our horses. Most of the time we get check ins via email, and photo updates to keep track of condition. It is never a phone call. I was happy I had made it to the gym and was on a nice endorphin high when I checked the machine. Uh-oh. I returned the call and got a voicemail. I tried to go about some chores, but knew sooner of later the phone would ring again. About 30 minutes later I was speaking to the people who adopted the horse. She had been injured in the pasture. Severing the tendons in her leg. While horses can in fact heal with completely severed tendons, they never return to complete soundness. It also involves a very long rehab process, in which the horse has to be contained and kept very quiet. Horses don’t much like to keep quiet. They aren’t like people who can be told to stay in bed. While they can be put in a cast, it is hard to manage and they are prone to pressure sores, cast failure and other complications. This horse was a fiery red head. She lived her life to go fast and to play polo. She loved her job. Was as competitive as any horse I ever played on. When they asked me for advice, I could only think of how hard it would be to container her, and how she would never again be able to run fast and play polo. Sadly, I told them to let her go. He agreed with me, and their vet was recommending it also. I can only hope someone stood a her side and looked her in the eye when she took her last breath.
It never gets easier. Euthanizing a horse is for many a jarring and difficult experience. More often than not a horse is standing. This is very different from a small animal. Taking into account they are 1200lbs, and often unpredictable, it is not something people ever take for granted. I always stand at their head. Looking in their eye, and being present with them. In their pain, or fear, or resignation. Whatever it is, I will be there with them. The vet will administer a sizable dose of sedative, just to take the edge off, and to make it easier to administer the two 60cc syringes of barbituates. Once they are quiet, and at ease, our vet will step up to their neck and insert a large bore needle into their jugular vein. Most vets will try to work very quickly. It is extremely important that they get both syringes in full, otherwise there is a possibility that euthanasia will not be successful. I have been thru this countless times. It never gets any easier. In the following 10-30 seconds, depending on blood pressure, the horse will collapse to the ground. It can be anything from a graceful lean on buckling knees to an all out struggle. Some horses fight it. Every part of them resists this drug onslaught. Since they are a flight animal it can be fairly dramatic and dangerous to those handling. The vast majority though, go peacefully to the ground. It takes a number of minutes for them to be clinically dead. We normally sit beside them and stroke their forehead. They are departing the pain and suffering for a peaceful place. It is heart wrenching to participate. We do it many times in the course of our work. Whether they injure themselves catastrophically like the mare with the severed tendons, or if they succumb to a long battle with chronic illness. I am thankful we can provide them escape. We never take it lightly, nor does the vet that takes an oath. They will not euthanize a horse just because someone requests it. There are a number of factors that play in to the decision. More often than not, the decision is very straightforward. There is no other option. It is either that or allow an animal to suffer.
Whether large or small, I do not like to see any animal suffer. I hope that the lovely mare that lost her life today is galloping off in some terrific polo field. She was loved and will be missed. We offered her a place, when her fate was to end up on a dinner plate in France. She had a couple extra years to play polo and enjoy life. That is what balances out the sadness in my heart. She got a chance, many didn’t get. She didn’t die in some god awful slaughter-house. It gives me some relief to think that. I head to sleep tonight, knowing I will dream of that little red mare.
I just spoke with them. After multiple different vet opinions they are going to try and save her. Since I am not the one there, I can’t decide if that is a good plan or not. I have to go with there decision. I hope she makes it. I’ll still dream of that little red horse….