Tuesday, June 07, 2016

really quite horrible news

My sweet little baby horse, my brave, big-hearted guy who gives me his all, and nickers at me when I arrive to see him whether or not I have carrots, has a neurological disorder.  I didn't think today's vet visit would bring such numbing news. I drove out to Moorpark in the middle of the day and he whinnies at me, as he does, the sweet, big doofus of a brown horse, whose feet never seem to know where they are, the boy who closes his eyes when I rub his face, and we wait cheerfully for the vet. The problem is, he doesn't like to bend (and horses are supposed to bend) and he falls down to his knees when he grazes (I just thought he was young) and he sets his neck (they're supposed to flex at the poll) and he's been with lovely cowboy Dan, who fixes everyone's problem horses, just a little bit too long, so we thought that perhaps the vet might shed some light.

A barrage of tests later, all of which he failed miserably, and we discover it's really bad. Neurological disorder caused either by a virus (like West Nile or EPM) or by a fall (perhaps when he was a baby on the track he rolled head over heels) or perhaps his bones grew too fast for his tendons. It wasn't good. The vet, a very nice man who told me that his wife is 6ft 2 and looking for her perfect horse, couldn't have been more professional or clinical in his assessment. We went through the test methodically. He pointed out why he was doing what he was doing, and gave me context. And my little (big - 16.2, brown thoroughbred, off the track) horse, tied to a pole, winked at us and made faces and made us laugh. And then I asked that question you're not supposed to ask. "If he was your horse, what would you do?" And he looked at me and paused. And then he looked down and said "I'd put him down."

I'm not sure when shock actually sets in but I know the way it feels and it was in my body. All the loss and trauma, all at the same time. He's an animal, of course, but he's my partner, my friend, my solace, my every single weekend, my saviour, my lovely, lovely boy. I'm not being dramatic. There is not another thing in the world that cheers me up like being with him. Simple, calm, funny, loving, and brave.

The single quality I admire most in a person is courage. And he has it in spades. While hurting, quite a lot, one would imagine, he jumped big fences with me, tried his heart out, did everything I asked, just because I asked it. No-one but me and Deni, the brave girl of an assistant trainer, could ride him. He leaned, he changed leads, he bucked, he reared sometimes, not meanly, but he stood up, sometimes he wouldn't go forward, sometimes he rolled his eyes. And it was all pain. It didn't make sense that such a sweet, kind horse would behave that way. He was champion at the horse show. He has the biggest stride and was unbeatable in a jump off. I think it was the adrenaline that got him round, every single time. But we didn't know it.

And so I find myself in bed, eat cold peanut sesame noodles and drinking a California pinot noir, with my dogs by my side, absolutely numb and not sure who to tell, or how.

Liz, who helps out with the horse, confided in me today that her Australian shepherd, who's a pest because he rounds up everything and thinks he's a dog trainer and a horse trainer and generally likes to keep everyone in line, and has even been zapped with a shock collar to stop this annoying behavior, is actually very intuitive. "Every day" she said, "we'd come out to the barn and he would walk over to Jelly's corral (he's in an in-and-out stall) and stare at him and then bark." Like Lassie, he thought something was wrong and that a human should know about it. She paid attention, and while they were working in the round pen (a circular pen with wooden sides so the horse can't see out, which mimics to some extent lunging in English equitation) she noticed how he hung on the bit, and leaned hard on the rein when his head was pulled around. "I've never seen such a sweet horse hang so hard on a bit" she said. And of course, this is from all the awful pain in his neck.

My daughter, who is wise and brave and loves horses as I do, asked if I was snuggling with the doggies and drinking Ribena. "Horses" she said "are our partners." There is not other sport like this, where you are equal partners with your horse, and the best thing you can ever ask for is a horse that tries his heart out, and my little Jelly does that, again and again.

I don't really know what to do. But it helps to express it here, somehow.


Highstreet said...

I am very sorry to hear this. My dog was diagnosed with cancer over the weekend so I too am rather emotionally raw over a beloved pet.

I had a dog with a neurological disease. I'm not going to sugar coat it because you've laid out the fact in your blog. Let me tell you that I tried everything under the sun to help him from blood transfusions, operations, so many things and eventually as he went under for some operation (I cannot even remember now which one is was) he simply didn't wake up. He was miserable and in pain at the end. I had to spoon feed him beef broth to keep him alive and he couldn't walk far or at all without falling over. This happened in a two week period of time. Healthy and then thousands of dollars and a couple of weeks later he was dead.

I know you love your animals and I myself have always waited until the very last moment I could bear to put them down, probably at some expense of their comfort. Simply because I could not bear to have them gone. With the last dog I had who died at age 14, I waited until the doctor told me I was now putting her in pain if I kept her alive. And then it felt as good as it could feel, which was remarkably shitty, of course.

So, you are not alone, nor do I think you thought you were. The pain is great but you are his life connection and if he cannot have a happy one or a painless one, you must act selflessly. when that is I don't know. I will watch this pace and send you my love and good wishes for all involved, especially Jelly, who is looking in some way for your courage as well.

Jenny xx

ganching said...

I am sorry to hear this.

Lou said...

I'm so sorry to read this, your description is so vivid, the idea of him in pain so noble and so tragic all at the same time. I feel like Tania would know what to do; I hope she reads this. Lou x

Janelle said...

oh bumble...i am heart broken to hear this news...oh my god....i am so so so bloody sorry. i understand how you're feeling and i understand your great love for this beautiful horse. they really really are our soul companions and the love knows no bounds. sorry sorry sorry. XXXX

MrsWheelbarrow said...

Dearest Bumble, All of us who have loved a horse has lost a horse. Your post brings up so many memories (good and not so good) and I want to sit with you and drink wine and cry big fat tears. I'm so sorry. Jelly is so beautiful. xoCathy

Unknown said...

My heart aches for you, Bumble. What a tough thing to go through.

Sally Coleamn said...

You write so beautifully about the pain of life as well as the joy. He is such a brave and beautiful boy to be hurting but still to be there doing what you ask to please you and take your lead. Such a painful and sad place to be for you both. Am so sorry.

Sandie Zand said...

Oh this is tough. We humans think we're so clever and can establish what "is best", but can we?? We start to second-guess ourselves. I don't envy you the decision - I've had dogs and cats put to sleep, never something as... what? *dominating* as a horse? It's such a huge decision. With my smaller creatures, it was "this is what we should be able to do for our humans, it's the kindest thing to do", but not even that logic makes it any easier. I hope you find the decision which sits well with your soul - there is no *right* decision, bear that in mind - your glorious horse will accept whatever happens, whether it's suffering the illness or whether it's the speedier end. What matters, at the end of the day, is how YOU feel and live with what you choose. Not easy, no right answer, certainly 'early' sleep is the sort of kindness we can offer - it is that final act of love, isn't it? - but only YOU can decide. You have my sympathy. Live with what you choose and actively love your horse whilst you can, but know that your love will last forever. The horse can't decide - who knows what they'd choose? They can't, and won't, decide... it's hard for you but this is the responsibility of 'owner' of another. (Personally? Do the 'kindest' thing, but do it when it's absolutely necessary - when the suffering absolutely commands it. Don't do it too early, do it when it's right). Take the vet's advice on timing. Do what you have to do. My sympathies. x

Paige Orloff said...

Oh, Bumble, so sorry. It's a terrible thing to lose a horse, and this is particularly cruel. Is he always in pain, or only when he's working? I've had to put two horses down, and it's both terribly sad and, in the instant, less traumatic than I'd thought it would be, only because in both cases they were suffering so and it was not going to get better. I am thinking of you and your beautiful Jelly boy, and know you'll find the best path for both of you. Sending you peace and love.

k said...

OH I am heartbroken for you and Jelly. To share life with a horse is a rare, beautiful experience that changes you for always. Decades gone I still ride my cantankerous mare Marmalade regularly in my dreams. I hope you have peace in your decisions for Jelly. That kind of true, pure love gives wisdom.

LPC said...

So, so, so sad. I am so very sorry, I know how much he has meant to you over these years. A big hug, if that is of any use at all. xoxox.

Lorraine said...

Dear Bumble, I'm so sorry. What terrible news. It's heartrending to think of Jelly's continuous courage and generosity when, unknown to all but him, he was pushing through pain.

One of my boxers was diagnosed two months ago with cancer. Surgery and chemo have helped, but the tumor comes back and now we need to decide whether to take the next step, radiation. Treatment means multiple invasive procedures and weekly and perhaps daily therapy under general anesthesia. The radiation oncologist already told us he will die from the tumor, so the treatment is just about keeping him comfortable and buying time--and not much time, given the cancer's aggression.

I'm at a loss as to what to do and appreciate Highstreet's sharing on the agony of "waiting until the last moment" to put down a beloved animal companion.

Bumble, you are in shock now. Give yourself time to take in the news. I hope you will treat yourself tenderly, nurture yourself with good things to eat and drink, walk, breathe, meditate, call children, family and friends to talk things through and spend time with your beautiful horse.

It might also help to get a second vet specialist's opinion. Not that you doubt your vet's expertise, but it's very useful to get another perspective--and it also helps you move forward out of the shock. Likewise, you might want to look into alternative vet care that involves massage, acupuncture, etc.. Not instead of traditional medical treatment, but combined with the latter. E.g., A Chinese herb proved miraculous in stopping bleeding in our boxer.

I too admire courage. And loyalty. You have both, dear Bumble, and I know Jelly is in good hands. You will do right by him. Big hug to you.

Rowan said...

Dear Bumble,

It is devastating when we receive such news about one of our loved ones. I would include our pets in to that category, because we invest so much time and love and trust in our pets and they, in us, as their carers.

A couple of months ago we made the difficult decision to have our much loved Labrador put down. It was one of the hardest decisions that I have had to make. Although old, he was mentally still very alert and youthful and had meaningful communication with me through expressions and tail wags. He had however, become unable to walk independently and we had to walk him outside by slipping a towel under his tummy like a sling and supporting his rear legs. A car accident when he was a puppy had left him with a metal rod in his hind leg, which in old age had become arthritic and very painful. This was undignified for him and in the last weeks had made him a prisoner of his bed.

When it came time to say goodbye, the sense of loss was exacerbated by a sense of guilt at being judge and jury and becoming his "executioner". Shortly afterwards, I listened to a radio interview with a leading vet and his comment was that many people prolong their pets' lives in pain, past where it would be recommended, because they can't make a painful, mature decision.

I believe that the relationship between a human and an animal, is built on mutual trust. They trust us to take care of them, feed them, look after them, treat them with respect and love. Part of that trust must surely be to take them out of a painful condition if there is no way of improving that condition.

The mutual trust and caring bond between human and animal, is surely the most wonderful gift an animal can bestow on us as their carers.

I wish you peace in whichever decision you make as Jelly's loved carer!

Best wishes,
Deborah - Melbourne, Australia

Lainey said...

How incredibly sad and awful - my heart aches for you.
I am the new 'mother' of a puppy and am already dreading having to make such a decision for a creature who brings me so much joy, as I know Jelly has brought you countless days of joy.
Take your time, breathe deeply, be gentle with yourself.
Will be thinking of you and wishing you all the strength and courage you need.

Z said...

I'm so very sorry.

Miss Whistle said...

@Highstreet Dear Jenny, I am so sorry to hear about your dog's diagnosis. That's really horrible. The image of you spoonfeeding your dog broth is so poignant, so sweet. I wish Jelly were smaller and I'd just bring him home with me for a bit. Thank you so much for this; very appreciative. Love, MsW

@ganching Thank you! xo

@Lou Tania is always so good in these situations. I've reached out to her. You're right. Thank you xo

@Janelle I know you understand, dear Janelle. It just sucks so badly. I'm in a daze. Wandering about and trying to keep myself busy with work. I know you went through something similar. Thank you for you kindness. xo

@MrsWheelbarrow Thank you, Cathy. I wish you were here too. Wine and tears sound very good right about now. xoxo

@MichelleHush Ah, Michelle, you are so lovely. I suppose this is what we always have to prepare for. Just didn't know it would feel quite so sad. Thank you for reaching out. xoxo

@Sandie Zand I think you're right. Do the right thing. But there are always so many "what if's" -- can I do more? Is there another way? Should I get another opinion. I did get another opinion from my usual vet today, and sadly, he agreed. Awful stuff. Thank you for understanding and being so sweet. xo

@PaigeOrloff The thing is, we don't really know when he's in pain unless he refuses to do something, so he will go for a week being really good and then, one day, just refuse. And the hard thing about thoroughbreds is they have such a tolerance for pain, so you don't know. For example, he loved jumping SO much, but probably because the endorphins were flooding through his veins. Thank you so much for your kindness. xo

Miss Whistle said...

@K Marmalade! Such a lovely name. Yes, we do remember all of them, and vividly, in our dreams. I think our relationship with our horses feel almost mythical. In the best way. I always think there is magic between a woman and her horse. I believe it anyway. Thank you for being so kind. I am most grateful. xo

@LPC Thank you, sweet one, thank you so much. I am so grateful, always, for your kind and steadfast support. Much love xo

@Lorraine I am very, very sorry to hear about your boxer. I was just on the phone with a friend in New York whose dog, her very best friend in the world, has had the same diagnosis - an inoperable tumor on the nose in his case. It's heartbreaking. Thank you for you kind and wise advice and let me know how you do. Much love.

@Rowan Deborah, oh God, I know. The guilt! I've been dealing with it too. And yes, it helps to have a second opinion, but to have to play God, like that is the worst. You are lovely to reach out and share your experience. Thank you. I am most grateful. xo

@Lainey Congratulations on your new puppy. They bring so much ridiculous joy. I hope you don't have to make any hard decisions for a long, long time. xo

@Z Thank you so much xoxo