See that worried look in that mare’s eye? That’s how Annie came to us, worried and hurting, confused about what had just turned her life upside down, unsure of what to make of us, the other horses, this strange turn of events.
Annie’s eye stopped being worried, but she never stopped hurting. That’s why her time with us was so short, just three months. That’s why we had to finally make the decision to let her cross the rainbow bridge and go the place where horses run free…pain free.
Annie was a kill pen horse we took in as a rescue. We took her and The Naughty Pony from the same kill pen. They were destined to ship to slaughter and we, apparently, were destined to save them.
Taking in those two was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done given the state of the farmhouse renovation and the husband’s pending deployment. When my brother accused me of thinking with my heart and not my brain, he was right.
But we gave Annie a wonderful three months, I think, and when it was time for her to go, she went willingly, with the trust that was her trademark.
As far as we can piece together, Annie was an Appendix who raced at Portland Meadows back in 2001 then sat in a field for over 10 years. She went to auction with her full sister in February 2013, but no one wanted the gimpy mare. We had plenty of hay to spare, and we just liked the look of her and it seemed her gimpiness was only a hoof that required care. Plus she was listed as 15.1 hands so we thought maybe some good hoof care and we’d have a pretty, sound and rightly-sized mare on our hands.
An anonymous donor paid for her kill pen bail and we headed north to get her, an all day expedition for us. She was a sight to see: She was far more than 15.1 hands! She was at least 16.2 and as big and solid as a tank! Sheesh! Plus a mane and tail full of burrs and horrible feet and too much rib sticking out due to malnutrition.
Nevertheless, we loaded her up and brought her home. Our incredibly sweet and wonderful farrier was out first thing to work on that obviously horrid hoof, the result of years of neglect. But we soon realized we had a bigger problem. We had a cripple.
Because of an issue that developed years ago that was never treated, Annie was a cripple, and that was why her hoof was a mess. X-rays showed we could never fix her, all we could do was manage her pain.
And manage her pain we did. At first, she flourished. Her coat got shiny and her eye bright. The worried look went away to be replaced by one of curiosity. She quickly became both Bob’s and Emma’s favorite horse with her sweet demeanor. They fell head over heels in love with her and couldn’t get enough of her. Me? I had a sense from the start that something was wrong, that she wouldn’t be with us long. I already have “love” issues that make it hard for me to love unconditionally. With Annie, I was always holding back. As sweet as she was and as much as I adored her, I also knew I didn’t love her completely. Not so with the others. She was just too easy for them to love. I just couldn’t, not the way I wanted to.
The other horses took her right in too. In no time, she was part of that herd, exchanging wither rubs with Ricky (our first rescue horse) in a way he never does with the others, and being followed like a puppy by Chase.
For our part, we cared for her and groomed her and fed her (a lot!) and she gained weight and got beautiful and we worked on her hoof and we learned what we could and we did what we could. In the end, however, it came down to knowing when it was time. The hoof just wasn’t the problem. There was simply no way to correct the crippling. It was only a matter of time.
There was one day we had the vet out because I thought it was time. But when the vet got there, Annie seemed better. I was embarrassed and the vet was so kind. She said, “If I showed up here and saw a mare with a dull coat and dull eye and of low weight, I’d say we need to put her down. But I am looking at a horse with a bright eye and shiny coat and perky ears and obviously good weight so this is your call.” That was it with Annie, she was HAPPY despite her pain, so my call was “not today.” The vet kindly coached me through some pain management techniques and recommended I keep a daily journal so I could recognize a downward trend in Annie’s condition.
Two weeks later, that trend was obvious. I didn’t want to wait for the decline everyone spoke of. I didn’t want to wait until she was bad and listless and not eating. I wanted to do this while she was still somewhat good and happy. And that day came. Although her appetite was still good and her eye still bright and her demeanor still loving, she got to a point where she was in so much pain, it was painful to walk even a short way…and painful to watch.
One day right after Bob left, I watched as two of the horses headed to the upper pasture without her and she followed suit, walking a few steps then stopping to rest, walking a few more, then stopping to rest. It took about 10 minutes for her to get where they were. And all that time our sweet Chase was by her side, nibbling on her butt because he’s Chase, but not eating grass, just slowly making his way up the field at her pace, being by her side.
That was the day I scheduled the vet. It would have to wait two days, but it was scheduled.
That morning the vet was due at 10 a.m. At 9:30 I headed out and I thought about giving Annie a good grooming. By now Bob was in the Middle East and I was managing this alone. A good grooming to get off the mud she loved to roll in, it seemed appropriate for cleaning her up for her send off over the rainbow bridge. Instead, at the last minute I decided to turn all four horses out onto new grass, which always gets them goofy. And sure enough, they took off running and kicking their heels up in the air and tossing their pretty heads and there was Annie, right there with them, just slower and with a pain-induced head bob the others didn’t have. But her last 30 minutes on earth were spent with her buddies, chomping on green grass and feeling like a filly.
When the vet arrived, I went to get her and she came willingly. We slowly hobbled our way over and the vet explained what to expect. I won’t go into the details because typing this is making me cry and I don’t want to go there. But let’s just say Annie was ready. She loved life. She loved green grass. I think she loved us and the other horses…as much as horses can. I think her last three months were a joy for her. But she could barely walk and she was done.
She was one big huge horse. When she laid down that last time, it was something, all that bulk. But I got to hold her head and stroke it as she took those last breaths…OK, maybe I did love that friggin’ horse after all, because later that day, after the vet left, I bawled like a baby. For longer than I will admit.
Then the darndest thing…the horses all watched this happen but her buddy Ricky and her buddy Chase…they took it all in stride. Then my horse, the one I never saw her buddy up to, my Alvin started to go ballistic. The vet and I watched him for a while and it finally got to the point where she told me I’d better get him and bring him over to see Annie and smell her. I did and he wouldn’t get any closer than 5 feet. He sniffed in that way horses do, with big nostrils and big exhales. He did that, then seemed to calm down. He let the vet love on him and he seemed okay after that so I put him back with the others.
Sadly, the man who was supposed to take Annie’s body away called to say his truck broke down so her body lay in the orchard for six hours before someone else could come. All that time, Alvin called and paced and called and ran in circles and called again. At first, I stayed with him. I stayed with him for an hour. He’d come up to me and relax for a minute as I stroked his neck, then he’d tense up again and be off. I had a tarp over her body but it didn’t matter. He was crazy. He wore away all the grass along the fence line. He wouldn’t stop. Except for coming to me every few minutes for a calming stroke, he was a wreck. He was making me a wreck.
When the second man came to get Annie, it was almost six hours from when she laid down. Just before he arrived, I took Alvin out to see her again. I pulled the tarp from her head and this time he went close enough to put his nose to hers. He touched his muzzle to hers and kept it there, sniffing and sniffing and sniffing… Then the man with his truck and trailer showed up and I pulled Alvin away and we opened the gate for him and I put Alvin away again.
I went in the house while Annie’s body was loaded. I couldn’t watch her be just a carcass. Then the man came to the door for his check and I said my goodbye to him and walked out to the orchard to shut the gate. As I walked toward the gate, Alvin watched the truck and trailer pull onto the road and drive away. He called to Annie, then looked at me. Hard. Then he watched as the truck drove away, watched it for as long as he could. Then he watched me…without moving…for as long as he could. His eyes, they were both confused and accusing. I will never forget that look.
After Annie was gone, he kept calling. For 9 ½ hours I listened to him calling for her. Then I finally shut myself in the house and had Emma turn on the TV so I couldn’t hear anymore. My heart already hurt. Alvin’s agony was breaking it.
In the morning, he didn’t call, he only looked. His head kept popping up and he was on his guard, looking, looking, looking for her. But by 11 a.m. he was okay. He stopped looking, he calmed down. Annie was finally gone.
Alvin convinced me I don’t have the stomach for rescue horses. Or the heart. I still have yet to figure out The Naughty Pony and for now she has been foisted onto someone else, and I need to remedy that. Our first rescue horse is a sweetheart and we adore him. He is geriatric and his age was quite apparent this winter, but he seems okay for being my bullet proof horse for the summer. We love our Ricky. But I can’t take on another horse destined to only cross the rainbow bridge. Annie was a delight and we will never regret the short time she was with us. We are thankful that we could make that amazing mare’s last few months so good and that we got to enjoy her sweetness at all. But I can’t stop being mad about the abuse and neglect that made her a cripple when she could have done amazing things, that huge, beautiful, sweet, athletic mare . I can’t stop hurting, knowing I had to make the life or death decision for her. I can’t get Alvin’s agony out of my head.
I know 8,000 horses a month go to slaughter in Mexico every month. I wish I could do something about that, I really do. But I don’t think I have what it takes to take in the kill pen horses with all the gamble that involves. I really don’t.