I lost a life in my care this past weekend.
He’s the second horse that’s been euthanized in less than two months where I work. I’ve seen plenty of death, but it doesn’t get any easier. I love my job, but I hate this part of it. Older horses, often times with a variety of health issues are very common in the equine therapy world and therefore fairly regular death is a common theme. Being an equine therapist is a very hard job, and those who qualify are often nearing the end of their lives already which is a damn shame because each animal that is a good equine therapist is worth their weight in gold.
I remember when our Weston first came to the ranch. He was this tall, awkward, long legged Tennessee Walker with a beautiful dark coat wandering around by himself in a private turnout, not giving much of a care to the fact that he was in a completely different place. I squeezed into the pasture and he came up to say hello, and for the next 30 minutes hung out with my brother and I as we loved on and groomed him.
The other horse’s death, Rocky, I think had a bigger impact on me. Not even going to lie – I loved Rocky more, and he had influenced me more. But Weston was different. Weston was always just there, doing his own thing and being an insensitive, stubborn brat but the most kind, loving, gentle animal around children. Even when that animal was in terrible pain I never saw him intentionally lash out at any human. The most he’d do was make angry faces at the other horses and talk a lot of smack. No one blamed him though. Weston loved his job, and as soon as Weston could no longer do his job or be a free horse, he became miserable. Who wouldn’t?
Weston was different.
I didn’t always closely interact with Rocky closely every day, but in the last few months of his life I always make it a point to keep an eye on Weston. With his gazillion different health issues he needed constant care, and he was worth sparing no expense to just see if maybe, we could save him.
But we couldn’t.
On Friday the 15th, he started acting off in the morning. In the afternoon, I was walking down the stall breezeway and someone told me Weston had lain down. As soon as I saw him, I knew. He was done. Not too long before the four of us who work most closely with the horses had all agreed that if Weston went into colic again we were not going to let him suffer even more pain.
Weston stayed down for three hours that day, and with each passing hour the dark reality of the situation became more and more apparent. He couldn’t be comforted and his distress and irritation kept building until he finally pushed himself up and asked to be let out of his stall.
He was let out and walked to the back where he could get away from the commotion of the barn. Three of us sat ourselves down on the grass as we watched him pretend to graze and move around, and brought up the elephant in the room. Since we were all on the same page, the vet was called, we took off his halter, lead rope, and boots and let him roam the property and enjoy being a horse for the last hour of his life – something he hadn’t been allowed to do for too long as it was too dangerous to his health.
At around 6pm Weston was humanely euthanized in a field of bluebonnets with the four people who loved and cared for him more than anyone else. The stubborn bastard went out as stubbornly as he lived his life. First he wouldn’t go down, and then he went down so awkwardly I was scared that he would break his legs. It took all of us to pull him over to his side.
Then his damn heart wouldn’t stop beating. I curled up next to him and listened to his heart race as his body broke out into a hot sweat, stroking him and telling him to let go. The vet kept checking his pulse, alerting that the next breath might be the last, but it wasn’t. Not until he had had more than the usual dose did his body finally start to let go.
I felt his heartbeat slow and the twitching stopped. He let out a huge sigh, and a few seconds later, he took one last, quiet breath, and I felt the life leave his body instantly, taking all the warmth with it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell of sweat, salt and blood that hit me as soon as it was quiet.
I hate this part of my job.