I saw you first in a small grainy photo sent by a friend.
You were broken, at auction; would I welcome you?
I could have said ‘No’. I could have spared myself the heartache, the expense, the danger and the pain. But there was something about you. As readers here know, the one syllable answer I sent back was not No, and my friend Kay bought him that night for $35, and brought him to Rosemary Farm.
I’ll admit a soft spot for greys, and for gentlemen, and for horses that need a soft place to land. You had my heart from the first step off the trailer. It was clear that your carriage showed grace and breeding; but your body was spent; where to begin? Emaciated. Covered in thick rain rot. Foundered front feet. A huge stifle, an obvious old wound that you had endured without care. You were 16 hands high of ruined beauty. And you were just in your teens. And there you stood, in our barn, needing us.
Our team of horse professionals was called in. The x-rays, posted in an earlier blog, showed us what we already suspected, and the collective damage was severe. But the horse in front of us wanted to live. So we gave it a try.
(medical synopsis in laymen’s terms; This gelding is about 15, not 28, but extremely thin, maybe a 1 on the scale, and covered in rain rot. His right rear stifle had been broken at least a year ago, and x-rays indicated an untreated infection that slowly drained on it’s own as the bone slowly reformed and fused. It is reasonable to guess that this kick was possibly caused by a mare as the horse tried to breed. After the break on the rear leg, the horse ‘front-loaded’ his weight forward for relief, subsequently causing founder on both front feet. The right front bore such pressure that the tip of the coffin bone actually snapped off and up inside the hoof capsule. This left the horse with literally one good leg to stand on.)
A name was chosen by all of our friends, the friends who all contributed a few dollars each to help you; they named you ‘Oberon’, for your princely qualities. Around here you were often just called ‘Grey’.
As you woke up, your voice came alive too. You began calling with a high whinny, distressed and sad. You began to growl and shake your head, you became impatient. It was as if you were waking up from a nightmare, so anxious and melancholy. You were lonely. The song I heard when I saw you each morning was the refrains from “Vincent’s Song”.
“Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray..”
I hoped that you might have a future with us as a companion, maybe for babies, or older horses. But the horse that continued to emerge was much more then that. We became friends slowly, and you began having episodes of anger, striking out, charging for your food. I had to stand up for myself, we had to learn together. Slowly, I cleaned the rain rot off your back as we stood together in the weak spring sun. Slowly we became friends, gazing into deep brown eyes.
“Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul…”
As you got stronger, you grew taller; you threw off the cloak of despair and showed me the stallion that you were still were, in your heart; And in your body, it turns out. I finally put it together when we walked down below, to a new home for you in a small field amongst the other horses. The reflection in the mares and in the geldings told me that what I suspected was true, and you were a cryptorchid stallion. A cruel trick of ‘man’ to partly geld a horse, and expect him to behave, and yet, testosterone still courses thru your veins. Now I also understood why you could be head shy from sudden movements.
“They would not listen, they did not know how…”
You had been hit. I understood your frustration, your head wagging, and your nips. Despite my reluctance, I had my first stallion.
We grew closer after that, with better understanding of one another. You loved the new field and you loved getting care. You became, in a word, happy. You had lived for so long with severe unending pain, that getting some relief came like a huge wave across your visage, wiping out the wrinkles and stress. You flirted with the mares and challenged the boys, all from the safety (and alas, separation) of a separate field. You settled back into your true self.
“Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand…”
This horse tried to trot and the shadow of his former self was clear. With this refined head and feet, beautiful flea bitten coat, and deep eyes, it was clear he was special. In a word, this horse was magnificent. And proud again. But still lonely.
Then came Razzle.
Another auction, a few weeks later.
Why did I go? We had no room at the Inn. I went to help a friend. I went because someone has to. And there, was Razzle.
Razzle was the cause of a collective gasp and sigh as she hobbled onto the auction floor, suffering from obvious neurological damage. No one wanted to take her, not even kill, since she could ‘taint’ a whole truck without the cause of her condition known. Razzle was a 7 yo registered solid paint mare but that wasn’t enough to tempt any buyers. Although she was registered breeding stock, and had likely been a mom, she was not sound enough for breeding, certainly not riding. Even the trailer ride home was questionable. Bidding dropped to $50, to $20, to $10. “Would someone just take her for free?” he asked. Finally, in the long silence that followed the auctioneer’s plea, I raised my card and paid $1 to bring her home.
“Swirling clouds in violet haze”
With her big soft brown eyes and perky demeanor, Razzle became an instant favorite at RF. I believe she was well bred and loved when she was a babe, although I don’t know any details because her breeder would not answer my pleas. She was sold as a yearling according to the registration handed to me that night, but the new owner didn’t bother to transfer her into their name, so our information stops there. Now 7 years later, she suffered from damage that made her dangerous to herself and other horses, likely the neurological EPM. Not that she wanted to be a danger! Razzle was a love. She was so expressive! She would squeal and whinny and sidle up to you for attention, and purse her lips in pleasure at being scratched. Other then not being able to walk straight, Razzle was in good weight and coat, likely stalled inside over winter. With her thick black mane and tail, and her stocky muscled physique, Razzle was quite the head turner.
“Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils…”
Problem was, that ‘lack of ability to walk’ thing.
Our vet counseled us quite frankly that Razzle had no real future;
(medical diagnosis in laymen’s terms; Razzle showed severe neurological damage, rating a ’2′ in the front and a ’4′ in the back, out of ’5′, which is recumbent. Source unknown initially, but treatment limited for such a degree of damage. Either EPM or head trauma were the most likely causes, altho we did test for other possible causes to insure it was nothing contagious to our herd. Apparently the problem with such damage is that it becomes permanent, even if the swelling in the spinal area is lessened.)
She would not be safe for turnout with others, and would only be safe for herself under limited conditions. We despaired for this beautiful young mare, and asked for a few days to mull it over. As we mourned her, we searched for answers. And online, we found something; a new drug for EPM was currently in it’s EPA certification drug trial. Over 500 horses had been treated with 80% success rate. This was unbelievable! The morning our vet was scheduled to come out, I called about the drug trial. ‘Please don’t put her down’, the doctor asked, “I hope that we can help her”. That was all we needed. Razzle began treatment as soon as we could get the drug delivered.
Razzle was moved shortly to the safest stall on the property; our foaling stall, with solid safe walls for her legs, thick bedding, and nearby companionship. She was given a small turnout area to use during the day, next to Oberon. And this suited him just fine.
The meds were administered daily via an oral gel, similar to a worming routine. Razzle really resented this at first, but she and Robert worked out a routine and once she got over her fear, she accepted her daily dose without major issue. Razzle showed immediate improvement because she was happy; she had space and sunshine and food and companionship. She loved the attention from her handsome grey neighbor. And with the new meds, we started to see some improvement.
With both of these horses, against reason, we began to hope.
My grey boy began to go on grazing walks, showing impressive dexterity with that re-built lump of a stifle. He developed ‘girlfriends’ on the side, coming up to flirt with Clover, and on the far side of his fence, with Gypsy and Cleo. Razzle for her part built relationships on the other side of the fence, with other cute boys in the herd. I can tell you with surety that seeing a horse go from unhappy to happy is a beautiful thing.
Razzles meds stretched on while we looked carefully every day for clear signs of improvement. Some days were better then others. She grew more comfortable with us and with that, she sometimes became a bit pushy and bold. She tried running, concentrating so hard on each footfall. It was beautiful and heartbreaking as she tried to place each hoof. Oberon, happy and content, started to have more episodes of lameness, mostly with the right front hoof; and since he already favored his right rear, it left the horse sometimes trying to stand on his left side, or laying down for longer periods.
After three months, it was clear we had reached our apex. We had a routine; every morning, Grey was taken out and walked across to his field, and then Razzle was released to hers. When she appeared he would whinny a high shrill call, and she would rush to him, all clumsy and beautiful and they would nuzzle and coo. The day was spent grazing or laying down on either sides of a fence. They could never be together. Both were too broken, and he was a stallion. This was as close as they were allowed. Sometimes Razzle would go and talk to the other horses, if she wasn’t being doted on my a human, and coo to the herd. A herd she could never join.
As pain increased, our solutions disappeared; a decision had to be made. Oberon was on increased pain meds with decreasing results. Second x-rays showed infection around the coffin bone and further degradation of the bone itself, which can’t be repaired or replaced. Razzle showed worsening movement, which increased her chance of injury, and eliminated her chance for ever sharing turnout with another horse. When the grey boy went, which needed to be soon, Razzle would be alone. It was decided to send the pair out together. We had healed the part of their spirit and both were at peace, but we could not heal their bodies.
“But I could have told you, Vincent
This world was never meant
For one as beautiful as you…”
May 21 arrived, the day we had chosen. Sunset, we helped both over the rainbow bridge thru our tears. My stallion was on extra steroids for pain control, and was content that evening. Did this make it harder or easier for me? Trying to make decisions for another creature, trying to set one’s own emotions and attachment aside, is a tricky mind game. I did want to send him on his way before there was uncontrollable pain, but while his head was high; but now that the moment was here, I could hardly face it. He looked at me trusting and calm, and then he was gone.
Razzle, with Robert at her side, fought the needle, fought the doping drugs. It was awful. We knew that she always hated needles and that she was tough, with a strong spirit. If there was any way to give her a body to run with, with would have, but there was not. The only thing left to do for her was release her. Which we did, that night, under the setting sun. Then we buried them together, on the hillside, under a clear starry sky. Whatever horse heaven they find, I hope they find together.
It’s hard to remember that ‘we didn’t break them’, or that ‘we did our best’. I hurt from their loss. I hope that their spirits soar.
I so miss hearing them, happy in our fields.
“Starry, starry night…”