Monday, July 25, 2016

A Final Letter to my Old Man, TC

I’m not sure when the story started – early on in these 8 years we’ve shared perhaps – that in your final moments, a blissful peace would sweep over you as you lay down in the sunshine, and in the next moment, you are running as fast as your hooves can carry you across the rainbow bridge. I would find you in the pasture, looking relaxed and asleep, the wear and tear of this world left behind. Your soul at peace. This is what we all wished for you.

You’ve always been healthy, even for a gelding of your age and history. Sure, you choked on grain that one time, and you aspirated it on that other occasion, but between the vet’s knowledge and drugs, my checkbook and your strong will, we beat them all. Even when you gas colicked this past winter. It was a rough one, but you pulled through.

This Spring seemed like business as usual. I was quite amused as you gingerly trotted through the pasture, picking up a jaunty canter when you felt sure-footed. I kept thinking about how lucky I was to have found the magical combination of feed and exercise that kept you healthy and your eyes sparkling. You were voraciously hungry, you were drinking more than ever and you were even a tad round.

And then this crazy Upstate New York Summer weather happened. 90’s and humid during the day. 50’s and 60’s at night. You were sweating more than you had in the past three years. Fourth of July weekend you stopped eating grain altogether. You acted uncomfortable for days, despite vet visits and medications. Suddenly, after 35 years of riding, driving, showing, and trails, you had developed laminitis. I was beside myself. That Sunday morning I haltered you and took you out to the lawn, hoping you would eat something. In those cool, quiet early morning hours, I found a place to release my frustration. I could not make you eat. I could not fix your feet. I felt like I was in the middle of a perfect storm for your downfall. I leaned over your now bony sway back and sobbed as you slowly wandered around the yard before deciding that you wanted to be in your pasture more than you wanted sweet yard grass.

And yet you continued on. I changed your meds a bit, added ulcer guard. Mixing your meals was four star service and yet it was a crap shoot as to whether or not you’d actually eat it.

I lay in bed that night, thinking. I tried my best to meet each new issue as it came along and I was not deterred as they began to pile up. I chatted with our vet one night, making sure we were doing everything we could to help you, to keep you comfortable. I started to analyze other food choices and ponder where I could get samples – perhaps you were bored with yours. If I could just stem to tide of old age –

As I lay there, all of your laundry list of meds running through my head - your routine of easy boots on all day, off while I was doing chores and monitoring you, back on at night as you loved to roam under the light of the moon, five o’clock sponge baths, snacks in the yard – I started to pray to God to keep you healthy. And that’s when it hit me.

What if I was asking for the wrong thing? The last thing I ever want to do is to go against nature. I would never want to be seen as warring with the Creator. I also realized that if you colicked again, I would call the vet and fight to fix you. I would continue to fight to heal your laminitis. I would find something for you to eat that gave you the energy to fight for yourself.

In that moment I realized I would never be able to let you go unless it was the result of something I couldn’t fix. That’s when I knew what to pray for.  The prayer eased my mind. I had found my greatest fear when it came to you, as well as my way to find peace.

Ten days later, I found you down in your stall. Slick with sweat, eyes dull from exhaustion. I knew I couldn’t get you to your feet. I called my neighbors and they came to the rescue. It took six of us, but we got you to a standing position. I was encouraged. Even though your shoulders trembled, even though your heart raced – you were standing. This felt like winning.

And then I ran my hand over the soft rim of your nostrils. It was 86 degrees that day, and your nostrils were ice cold. The corners of your lips were the same. Ten minutes after the vet arrived, your gums were turning blue even as you ferociously grabbed a hay bale, ripping it off the ground.

I knew it was time. That’s when I remembered the fairy tale ending I had wished for you for so long, realizing in hindsight that I had gone against my word and fought to get you up anyway. And that’s when I heard my prayer softly echo through my soul.

“Please, when you take him home, please let it be because of something I cannot fix. Because if there’s the possibility that I can fix it, then I will try. I cannot help myself. This is just the way that You made me.”

Old Man, when you first came to my farm, I used to say, “if you’re here for five months or five years, you will be safe and you will be loved.” And you were.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm facing that now... I understand your prayer because I have "saved" this horse from EPM, Potomac Fever, Surgery, you name it but now he is going by inches with laminitis, insulin resistance, and breathing problems. It is so tough to let them go when you think you can hang on.

  2. My Rowdy was 2 months shy of his 35th birthday last year (2015) when he crossed the rainbow bridge. I was privileged to have had him as my friend for every day of his life. He and I had shared memories of my dad, my mom, and my favorite uncle who are all gone too. I still see him in the barn or the pasture.
    Thank you for sharing, and know they are always with us still.