Monday, February 13, 2012

Mouthy Monday

This story was sent with just the name of the author. It's beautiful, both in the writing and the emotion. I'm hoping she writes in and tells us a little about herself. I'd love to read more of her writing.

Letting Go

Sunday, February 20th
6:30 AM
Stumbling over a knee-deep snow bank, I mutter to myself in frustration as I half-open, half-crash into the doors and fall into a heap of fleece and snow on the floor of the barn. What an excellent start to the day. Dragging myself and the forty layers of clothing I’m wearing up off the concrete, I turn around and pull the peeling wooden doors shut again, heaving against the icy wind and giving a sigh of relief as the frigid gusts of wind are shut out. Surviving winter on the farm is like walking uphill both ways to wherever your grandfather had to go back when he was young. I pause for a minute and stand quietly in the aisle. Something’s different, something’s wrong. You know that panicked feeling when you realize you’ve forgotten something important but can’t place your finger on what it is? That’s what I was feeling, as though something was missing.
I shrug and turn to the feed bins. It’ll come to me eventually, things like that always do. In the meantime I have thirty hungry horses to tend to. Propping open the big yellow bins I reach in to begin prying apart frozen buckets and preparing grain. This has become so routine that I could do it in my sleep. Half the time I do: being fully awake at 6AM every day on weekends is sometimes impossible. I laugh to myself when friends complain about having to work, they don’t know how much easier it is to fill a till compared to filling a hayloft. As my thoughts wander absentmindedly I suddenly realize what’s missing -the entire barn is quiet. Normally I’m greeted by a chorus of hungry nickers and demands for breakfast. Today there’s been nothing except for the sound of a horse pawing.
Pawing. Who’s pawing?
Thirty pairs of eyes turn from me to the last stall in the barn, and then back to me. My breath catches in my throat. It’s Jojo.
I run down the aisle with my thoughts racing ahead of me. The intensity of his pawing increases and when I reach his stall I can see him slamming his hooves furiously against the ground. The shavings in his stall have been dug away and are now banked in mounds against the wooden walls, which have been deeply gouged by the corks on his shoes. The aluminum on his feet is sending sparks flying as his shoes strike the concrete. He’s chewing the air with ears pinned flat against his head. As I slide open the latch on his stall door his knees buckle and he collapses, letting out a long moan.
“Oh fuck.”
 I yank the halter and leadrope off his door and kneel down beside him. Tearing off my gloves I check his gums for circulation, finding them to be completely white. He curls his lip up, yet another bad sign. He’s covered in sweat despite the cold weather. With shaking hands I lift his head and buckle his halter on. Jumping up, I begin heaving desperately in an effort to get him to stand. He stares up at me with a pained expression. Some people say horses don’t show emotion; that’s a complete lie.
 “C’mon bud. Get up!”
 I growl at him and whip his flanks with the end of the leadrope. It seems cruel but a colicking horse needs to be up and moving, not lying down as their intestines become even more twisted. He takes shallow, rapid breaths and finally manages to stand. I immediately drag him down the aisle and out the barn, grabbing my cell phone and a whip on the way out. The winter wind hits us like a solid wall as we trudge across the courtyard to the arena. I dial my boss’s number in as we walk. The phone rings for what seems like an eternity, my heart beating faster with each shrill tone.
 “Hey, it’s Jojo. He’s been up and down all night. Yes, I just got him up and walking. You call the vet, I’ll call Brea. Hurry.”
 I hang up and continue walking, dragging lines in the arena dirt with my heavy boots. Jojo follows behind me with short, painful steps. He shoves his head between my shoulder blades and the hair on the back of my neck raises as his shallow breaths creep down my collar. With the vet and his owner on the way all we can do is hurry up and wait. I try not to think any further than five minutes ahead.

6:00 PM
I’m sitting in the corner of Jojo’s stall, cocooned in a spare wool cooler with my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee carried down to the barn by my boss’s grandmother. I wouldn’t give up this job for anything in the world, it’s like my second family. I stare at Jojo with dull eyes. He would seem to be fine to anybody walking by, but I can tell he’s still off. The little hay we’ve given him is strewn throughout his stall, churned into the shavings. He’s standing against the far wall with his tail clamped tight to his hindquarters and his head hanging low. Any other day he’d have his nose buried in my lap, demanding attention and searching for the never ending supply of mints I keep in my pockets. Regular doses of Banamine throughout the day have kept him quiet and comfortable, but that’s just a Band-Aid fix to the problem. According to the vet he is suffering from epiploic foramen entrapment. In layman’s terms this means that a portion of his intestine has slipped through a small slit that exists in the abdominal wall, cutting off circulation to the digestive system.  It would take a true miracle for the entrapment to resolve itself on its own. Emergency surgery is the only option at this point, but a second trip there this year is financially out of the question for his owner and the chances of a successful surgery are extremely low. Jojo has a history of colicking, he’s a high-stress animal, a picky eater, forgets to drink enough and is prone to getting himself cast in his stall.
It’s a wonder that these horses manage to survive in the wild, but centuries of selective breeding has turned out high-performance animals with equally high needs and this is the result. Lots of talent and athleticism seemingly paired with a deathwish. There isn’t much we could have done to prevent this particular episode of colic though, so nobody should shoulder the blame. But a decision must be made and at this point I feel as though we are just putting off the inevitable. I sigh and wriggle deeper into the blanket, breathing in the comforting scent of alfalfa, bran and horse. My thoughts slow down as I realize what has to happen. I’d do it now if I could, just to let him go before the drugs wear off and he reverts back to biting his chest and flanks and kicking his belly in an effort to relieve the pain. But it’s not my decision.

9:00 PM
                This feels cruel, miracles don’t just happen. We can’t just wait and see. Wait for what? We’re just putting off something that has to happen anyways. I stumble through evening chores, throwing hay into stalls and topping up water buckets for the night, then flick off the barn lights and sit on the bench outside. I lean my head back against the steel siding, close my eyes and stay there until my arms and legs go numb from the cold. When I finally open them I notice it’s dark and the stars have replaced the wispy clouds that dotted the sky this afternoon. I realize my boss is talking to me. I look up at her, trying not to show my feelings. We don’t let tears streak our dirt-stained faces here; it’s usually either smiles or nothing. Her words fade in and out as I stare blankly back at her, then finally tune in to what she’s saying.
“We’re just waiting on Brea at this point; I’ll let you know when she calls. We can’t do anything until she’s ready to let him go.”
I give a slow nod as the words register in my mind. Picking myself up off the bench I walk to my car, turn up the radio and pull out of the driveway. Driving home I stare at the smattering of snowflakes as they drift into the reach of my headlights and swoop up over the windshield.

Monday February 21st
5:30 AM
                I’ve been sitting awake in bed since 5AM waiting for the phone call. The silence of my house has been strangely calming and I sit quietly with one hand buried in my dog’s warm coat, using the other to trace patterns in my pilled and faded flannel sheets. My eyes dart anxiously from the clock to my phone with every second, watching each digital minute tick by. Finally I see “Incoming Call” flash across the screen and I instantly pick up the phone before it even has a chance to ring.
“She’s ready, come up. The vet will be here in an hour.”
“Okay. See you soon.”
I let out a muffled sob and hang up the phone. Getting out of bed I walk downstairs, shove my feet into the winter boots warming under the radiator and grab my keys off the kitchen counter. I pause for a minute, thinking I should eat something. I then realize that my stomach is churning and whatever I manage to eat would more than likely come right back up.

6:30 AM
                With a racing heartbeat and weak arms we go for one last walk. It feels strange, leading someone to their death. Every step is measured; each footprint will be remembered as the last. The air is sharp, cold and quiet as tears run silently down my face with each soft breath. This laneway will never be the same; neither will the wooden stall door, the smell of snow, or this particular date in February. I wonder if he knows what’s about to happen. Something tells me he does; horses are more intelligent than many people are aware of. I stop and turn to face him, wrapping my arms around his neck as he presses his forehead into my chest. I can feel him shaking as my own body shakes with each sob. He’s trembling from the pain, not the cold. I inhale shakily, grasping his leather halter with one hand to trace his name engraved on the nameplate, twisting my fingers through his mane with the other. I give a brief nod to his owner and she glances at the vet.
We both mutter as he takes his final breaths.

                “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
 I can’t help but let a quiet scream escape my lungs as his legs crumple and his body slams against the frozen ground with a deadening thud. It’s always terrifying to see twelve hundred pounds of strength and muscle simply crash to the ground.
It’s odd to see adults cry. I walk over to Brea and wrap my arms around her as tears stream down her face. We kneel down beside him together and I reach over and slip his eyelids shut. It looks as though he could be sleeping. Brea runs her hands down his warm neck, I place mine on his soft muzzle and we sit there in silence for a while.
I wrap one arm around her shoulder. We stay there as the snow falls gently down. We talk about Jojo, about his successes, his attitude and the one time he managed to throw me in one of his playful bucking fits. I show her pictures on my phone of him tossing his feed tub in the air, stealing her gloves and throwing pylons around the arena. We remember all his firsts. The day she bought him, his first ride since retiring from the racetrack, the first time he jumped, his first course, his first show, his first time swimming in the pond.
She lets out a pained sigh.
“I feel guilty, like we should have done more. I’m so sorry.”
I look at her and shake my head, there’s nothing to apologize for. Keeping an animal hanging on a thread, keeping them alive because we love them and can’t bear to let them go, that’s selfish. Making the decision before it has to be made for us is completely selfless, and one of the last things we can do for them after a lifetime of shared memories. My answer to her is simple.
“Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is let go.”


  1. Thank you to the author. Beautiful.

  2. Anyone who has ever loved an animal knows the last sentence in today's entry is the absolute truth. The kindest thing we CAN do is let the animal go. We send it onto the next leg of its journey, leaving us behind for the time being. They leave, pain free, young again, and ready for the next exciting adventure.

    The Bible calls upon us to be "good stewards." We put aside our selfish motives and do what is right by our animals, as much as it may break our hearts. They have rewarded us with their trust and loyalty, and they have allowed us to love them.

  3. What a beautifully written story

  4. Omg.. tear jerker!! We need a warning for these ones- I don't need to be cryin' at work!

  5. I agree with RHF, got a bit bored so I started to cruise my regular blogs, got a ton of wierd looks from those around me when I started to snuff and blink rapidly.

    It hit home with me because it has been a little over 2 years now that I put my childhood pony down because of colic. I was the only one home besides my dad, and I made the decision to have him put down before my sister and mother would be home because I didn't want him to suffer even if it meant they couldn't say goodbye. I grieved for him, but also held an early sense of peace because I knew he was able to go before he was in terrible pain

  6. So well written and so much the decision we all know we never want to make, even when we also know it is absolutely the right one.

    We owe this last act of love and kindness to all of them----horse,dog,cat etc.

  7. I have a pact with all my animals to be there with them when they have to go.

    It never, ever gets any easier. But the pain of being with them through everything is part of the deep love I have for each of them.

  8. Read this sentence recently: it is better to euthanize a week too early, than a day too late.
    heartbreaking no matter when though

  9. A real tear-jerker and full of truth. I agree with RHF. Warnings on these, I'm sniffling at my desk at work! *kleenex*

  10. Emme said...
    "it is better to euthanize a week too early, than a day too late."

    Thank you for that. I've been present for many euthanasias, and it's always hardest when the owner couldn't let go (or didn't care enough) and the animal is so far gone they're begging to be released. I can't afford major medical care so my animals will be let go as soon as their quality of life starts to decline, no matter how hard it is for me.

  11. Ohh, I'm glad I read this at home. Very well written. I'm a crying mess right now.

  12. Excellent message with a lot of truth and a lot of pain in the responsibility of doing the right thing for an animal.

  13. Oh my! Someone right now on another list has been fighting an impaction in their horse since last week. He's been doing fine, but just went down a few hours ago.

    I'll pass this on either way...after we find out what is going to happen, which I have bad feelings about.

    Thank have no idea how this will help.


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  15. Heartbreaking. Having lost one the same way just last fall, its still raw. I know what the author says is true, we gave her peace from pain in the end but it still hurts. The hardest part of being a keeper of our animals is letting them go.

  16. I'm happy to see this posted! I wrote this when I was eighteen, dug it out last year and submitted it. I had actually forgotten I'd made the submission. I'll be even more happy if it means that someone will read it and realize when 'that time' has come for their own horse, instead of waiting until it's too late. It's definitely a difficult decision, but something that's completely selfless.

    Whether it's a boarder's horse or my own, the process has never been easy. I've had to do it many times over the years, and not once have I thought about it later and regretted doing it. Regretted having had to make the decision? Yes. But in the end I find that usually if your horse's health has gotten to the point that euthanasia is something you've even had to consider, chances are it's the right time to bear their burden, take their pain and let them go.

  17. Oh, and little about me since you asked!

    I own a Thoroughbred mare who is the epitome of the 'bad' stereotype that many OTTBs are labeled with. When I first started working with her at a sales barn she reared, bucked, bolted, couldn't stand still if her life depended on it and was scared of her own shadow. Needless to say, my boss was unable to sell her so I stupidly made the purchase. She wasn't worth the price I paid, but two years later I can now hop on her bareback when I get the inkling and head out for a gallop in the field (intentionally!). I'm studying to become a vet, live on the same farm I worked at from age sixteen until now, and am lucky enough to be able to teach lessons, school horses and help out with my boss's sales horses to help pay for my education.

  18. Thank you Lauren that was wonderfully written and very touching.

  19. My horse had Gutteral Pouch Mycosis and at the time of having a scope done, was beginning to bleed out of his carotid artery. It was absolutely the most gutwrenching, heartbreaking moment of my life so far. The only thing I can rest easy with is knowing I saved him from further pain, suffering and being scared. I will never be the same, but know that I gave my boy the best I could. It is our duty as horse owners and friends to give them the gift of peace ~ only to break our hearts for missing them forever...

  20. My best friend lost his 6 yr old paint mare to this same type of colic. She didn't show this type of pain, but it was still horrible to watch. All I could do was be there for the both of them and hope someone is there for me in a difficult time like this.

  21. "....we go for one last walk. It feels strange, leading someone to their death. Every step is measured; each footprint will be remembered as the last."

    That was the kicker for me. It is so true how you can remember ever little detail in that walk. The smells, sounds, and some ethereal quality that I cannot put into words eloquently enough, as Lauren did.

    "Keeping an animal hanging on a thread, keeping them alive because we love them and can’t bear to let them go, that’s selfish."

    Amen. Seeing a human not being able to make the most merciful decision due to their needs or some sort of reglious, 'God will take him/her' just irrates me.

    If you do not mind Lauren, I would like to print this put and hang out at the barn.

  22. Today is the day I scheduled my vet to come and euthanize my pony. He'll be here in 3 1/2 hours. I almost did not read this post when I saw the headline, but forced myself. I wish he could have come last week as it was difficult to bring her through the last 4 days of bitter cold, but we managed to keep her comfortable most of the time. It truly is the ultimate act of love for our pets, to let them go. Thank you Lauren.


  23. Same here with asking for a Tear Jerker Warning on posts like these -- I should have known better from the title alone, but the author's writing abilities drew me in.

    It's so very hard when it's your own animal to try and set aside sentimentality and let them go over the bridge.

  24. Emme,

    That's a great line and a great principle. I couldn't agree more.


    Please add my voice to those who thought this was a very well written and beautiful (albeit sad) story.

  25. Having the memory of my own experience with my horse, Poncho, so fresh, this story just let the tears open up! Very good story and one that brings back my own memories. And you do have to let go sometimes. Never easy, and always hard.

  26. wow. Lauren, you should seriously consider writing as a career. You managed to express how it feels to loose a horse to colic so so well.

  27. Very touching.

    Some of the COTH forum folks put this together a couple of years ago. Absolutely the most stark, gorgeous video available on the subject... I can't even start watching it without tearing up.


  28. Ouch - just went through this...I am sitting here crying. My gelding was in crazy pain - he'd never had a non-scheduled vet call in his life...a friend was telling me that he'd snap out of it, he's just too sensitive to the pain. I don't know for sure if he was impacted or twisted or what. His gums were white and had what the vet called the "toxic line". He was not a candidate for surgery - we couldn't control the pain long enough to ship him even if we could manage his claustrophobia as well. There was no choice that I could see other than to end it as quickly as poor boy. He did get 3 quick nibbles at the winter grass before he went down....a little for the road.

  29. Anyone who wants to print/post this is more than welcome too, I'd love if you could have my name in there somewhere but it's not really necessary, the sentiment is what matters.

    I thought about having a career in writing, but I love it too much to make it my job, if that makes any sense. Same deal with riding, doing it part-time makes it fun and enjoyable, but if it's what I had to do seven days a week I definitely wouldn't be able to enjoy it quite so much.

  30. Thank you so much for sharing this, it is so poignantly written I felt I was there.

    Doesn’t it seem our senses are more vivid and alive in moments like this? We feel, hear, see everything.

    Love in the beginning, love in the middle, love in the end.

    Lauren -
    You have a gift for writing, that is crystal clear. I dearly hope you will continue to write and share. The world needs to hear your voice. (If you do, I would love to hear about it. I'm best reached via the comment section on my blog as I'm not online everyday. Comments are moderated and I respect wishes of folks who do not want their comments posted. Thank you kindly for your consideration.)

    With many thanks to you, this blog for sharing, and the friend who led me to this site.

    Best to you all.

    Blessings, Love & Peace,

  31. I had my old ex-racer put down two weeks ago, this made me cry all over again. What a sad, but beautifully written story.

  32. I lost my first horse to ulcers, which showed themselves as colic. The vet that I was using misdiagnosed her, and by the time I switched vets, it was too late. I remember the panic of finding her cast in her stall, the hours of hand walking and the emergency calls. This post was very well written- it brought it all back for me! I wish I was at home so I could cry properly.

  33. deedee sonnyduo@yahoo.comFebruary 15, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Lauren, everyone I have shared this with has been so ggrateful for your sharing this experience so truthfully. Thank yo so much!

  34. Yes, the kindest thing........ I'm crying now, I've felt that pain.....

  35. Oh how familiar those words are to me. After years of colic episodes, surgery and more episodes we fianlly realized he had gatroinstinal stones. They had moved around causeing sometimes more, sometimes less disconfort. To imagine my boy carried approx. 20 pounds of stones while still engaging with me and leading his herd is unfathomable. Letting him go was the best thing I could o for him as well.