Inky: Gone, but Not Forgotten

Today, I had to do something I have never done before. And that is to put down a healthy horse; an old, but otherwise healthy horse. Granted, this horse’s years of service had long since come and gone as his ability to shuffle all four feet in time with any regular beat had sadly, accepted defeat. But none the less his appetite was good, his weight was good, and his spirits were good. And he still had a spark in his eye. In his eyes, life was good, no great. So why you ask, did I put this horse down? Sadly, it all comes down to one thing, money, dollars and cents, or the lack thereof, and timing. And there is never a good time to run out of money.

We should all be so lucky to have the opportunity to grow old gracefully; or at least just to grow old. But the reality is; that it costs money to live, and die, and everything in between. Our horses, as much as we love them, are a huge responsibility both financially and physically. And if we are the type to hang on to our horses for the long term, which many of us are; there will come a time when we are all forced to look at the cost of maintaining our older horses and for how long. And each and every one of us must decide where our breaking point is, prior to going broke. Quality of life, versus quantity; more is not necessarily better; it’s just more. More time and more money; and with it the disconcerting concerns, concerning the issues of life and death. When to say when?

There is never a perfect time to put an animal down. Granted there are certain situations that perhaps, make an already difficult decision seem less difficult. For example, should an older horse colic, or run into an otherwise serious and often fatal health complication, the choice is often made for you. But for those of us that have older horses that have already lived far longer than you ever expected them to, it often becomes a matter of how much longer one can afford to afford this animal. Realistically, it’s expensive to maintain an older horse. Most often, they are no longer able to exist on just roughage, which leaves a variety of concentrate all-in-one types of feeds to choose from. Feeds that will provide your older horse with a healthy, balanced ration that will not only meet their dietary needs, but is also palatable and easily digestible.

However, if you consider that the average horse consumes appx. 2-3 % of their body weight in feed per day, and the average horse weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 1000-1200 pounds; you’re feeding somewhere in the vicinity of 25 lbs. of feed per day. In addition, you may also supplement their diet with orchard grass or some type of grass hay; that is finer stemmed than oat or alfalfa that will still provide them with something to chew on in the absence of grass or pasture. You may too, be providing vitamin and mineral supplements, and often times have them on some type of anti-inflammatory to ease their aches and pains and keep them comfortable. 

If you add the costs up, you’re spending somewhere in the vicinity of $300.00 a month, just in feed and supplements, not to mention the cost of board, having their feet trimmed or shod, annual vaccinations, worming, blankets, fly masks, and all of the other incidentals. It adds up. And, if you’re like me, you don’t have just one senior citizen, but a whole herd in the geriatric ward that you’re attending to. And eventually your dwindling pocket book will force the question.

Tough decisions, and no matter how long you’ve been in the horse industry, and how many times you have found yourself in this exact same situation, grappling with the harsh reality of having to end a life, a very precious life; it never gets any easier. And quite honestly, if it ever does, I need to do something else for a living. Each and every one of my horses and ponies, whether I have had them for a little while or a long while, leave hoof prints on my heart, and I am never ever the same. 

The older gentleman that I recently had to say good bye to was no exception. He came into my life not so very long ago. And even though he was already well into advanced equine senior status, that was the best part about him. For as those of us with our own case of seniority know, with age (hopefully), comes wisdom.  And this gentleman was very wise; I could see it in his eyes. And he and his old pasture buddy whom had accompanied him to my ranch, had spent the majority of their long lives together. They were my Felix and Oscar. Two crotchety old men who preferred to spend their days of leisure hanging by the water cooler/trough swatting flies and stories, no doubt reminiscing about the good old days. And of those they had many. School horses in an active lesson program, there days of fun in the sun with eager young equestrian enthusiasts clambering for their attention were many.

But with the crisp fall days closing in on yet another winter; with it came the reality that this fine fellow may not rise to see the entirety of the occasion. But maybe he would, and that is something I will never know. Because I’m still faced with a feed bill that exceeds my house payment; and I may not survive that. Never a good time to make a tough decision, and I can only hope it was the right one. 

Today, I did something I have never done before, but I’m sure I will have to do again. And that is to put down an old spirit that was not yet out of spirit. Rather than wait until he was perhaps sick; or worse yet, dying, or faced with an otherwise life-threatening situation, it seemed the right time and the right thing to do. Perhaps, it is best to go out when you’re on top, versus on the bottom. I can’t answer that question for anyone other than myself. And as you can see, I don’t yet have an answer for myself. But what I do know is that I gave him the best that I could, for as long as I could. And I promised him that he would go to horse heaven, and that it is a very good place. Because I have many horses and ponies that have preceded him to this green pasture in the sky. And as I hugged him one last time, I whispered my last request into his warm, wintered ears. For when he found himself hanging by the water cooler/trough in the sky, with all of my other amazing horses and ponies that have come and gone; some way too early out of my life and theirs, could he, would he please give them all a great big horse hug for me. And then he too, was gone; but never forgotten.