Death Comes Knocking

Death is a natural part of life, especially when you live on a farm. But no matter how natural it is, there are certain limits to how much of it you are prepared to deal with at any particular time. When the universe decides that you’re going to deal with a LOT more of it than you have prepared yourself for, it’s quite trying, emotionally, mentally, even physically.

Two months ago, we had to put one of the horses down. Nutcase (ignore the name, please) was a fixture on this farm. He’d been born here over 30 years ago and taught many of us how to be horsemen. And how NOT to catch a horse- he was notorious for letting you get right up to him and then bolting to the other side of the field… about 1/4 of a mile away. Repeatedly. And he was terrible about rubbing against trees on trail rides, almost unseating unsuspecting riders or, at the very least, giving your knees a wicked bruise. But, even with that, he was a sweetheart and a solid horse.

He’d been on the decline for several years and was out in the retirement field enjoying a peaceful existence. This winter, as everyone in the eastern US can attest, was particularly brutal and it took a heavy toll on this frail old man. Putting him down was the only option if we didn’t want him to suffer. I had hoped he would make it until Spring, but we couldn’t put it off and the vet was called out.

Two weeks later, another of the old gentlemen met an untimely end. Paint was in his late 20s and had spent the past few years in retirement with Nutcase. The man whose farm adjoins ours came to inform us that there was a dead horse near our boundary fence. It turned out to be Paint. He’d fallen off a ravine newly created by the constant rain. The vet said his neck broke and he died quickly. That was slight consolation.

This morning, as I went to feed the chickens, I noticed one of the divider fences was down. I stopped to let the barn manager know and then had to run to meet my sister for wedding dress shopping (for her, not me). When we got back to the farm, the barn was particularly busy. A new school horse had just been put down. In the night, some of the mares had taken advantage of the downed fence to run wild through the geldings pasture and they had beaten the new boy up so bad that they fractured his foreleg. There was nothing to be done for him but end his suffering.

While the vet was out, he checked up on one of the barn manager’s horses. They’ve been monitoring him for several months as he’s been suffering from a sever endocrine problem, resistant to treatment, and rapidly loosing weight. The decision was made that he was past the point of recovering. Like ripping the band-aid off all at once, they put him down tonight since none of us was going to sleep well anyway.

When you live on a farm with 50 horses, many of those old horses living out their days in retirement, these kinds of things happen. But on average, we might lose 4 horses in a whole year. To loose 4 in 2½ months is emotionally draining. It’s not something you can prepare for. All I can think is that we’ve got to be insulated from further tragedy for at least a little while. I really, really hope so.

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