Remember the last couple posts when I talked about flooding and my subsequent truck adventure? When I was so proud I could handle those problems without having to call a neighbor for help? The truck adventure was Tuesday. On Wednesday morning while I was feeding the horses, the damn dogs went walkabout.
No rest for the weary.
Why didn’t I notice the dogs had run off? Believe me — if I had I would have whistled them back. They are actually good about coming, though Rosie’s “recall” leaves much to be desired.
I wasn’t paying attention to the dogs because of my mare, Kelsey, who had come in for dinner the week before with a badly scraped knee. There’s lots of lava rock around here, so any slip or fall can result in skin being shaved off, especially on bony joints. I was treating the wound morning and evening, and it seemed to be healing nicely. So that morning I was focused on Kelsey, treating her knee and not giving one thought to the dogs.
By the time I noticed they weren’t around it was too late.
Only one dog came home that afternoon — Bubbaz. I think the pair of miscreants must have gone pretty far, because when Bubz came barreling into the house at 4:30, he was panting like he’d been running hard and long. He’s afraid of thunder and lightning and the afternoon’s T-storm had just started rolling in. I bet he ran all the way home from wherever he abandoned Rosie and if so, because they were gone for so long – 7 hours by that time – they must have gone several miles out. I knew Rosie would be a while coming back.
But she didn’t come back. Not one hour or four hours later or by midnight when I finally stopped whistling and went to bed.
Bad enough but that’s not all.
That same evening when I went out to feed, Kelsey was down on the ground and unable to get up. I noticed drips of blood on the upper inside of her left leg, and guessed she must have scraped open the knee wound on her right leg. That’s all I saw — drips — I didn’t know what was going on with her but I could see she was in pain. I gave her a good dose of Banamine (a prescription equine pain killer/anti-inflammatory), left her dinner right next to her nose, and hoped for the best. There’s no veterinarian around here to make an emergency ranch call at night (or even during the day), and even if there was, my road was too crappy for a vet rig to make it to my place. There was no neighbor who, to my knowledge, would know anything more about horses than I do. This was all on me.
Back in the house I kept going to the window to see if she was still down, until it was too dark to see. She was.
You’ll understand when I say that between worrying about Rosie and worrying about Kelsey, I didn’t sleep much that night.
At least it didn’t rain more than a few drops.
I woke up at first light, after just a few fitful hours of sleep. I rolled out of bed and looked out the window. Kelsey was standing up – a good sign, I thought.
But no Rosie.
When I fed the horses their breakfast I noticed that Kelsey’s knee was not only bleeding again, it was actually squirting blood. Her leg was also swollen, hoof to elbow, and she was standing with her shoulder dropped. Adrenaline pumping through my body, I ran back to the house and threw everything off the shelf before I grabbed a blood clotting (hemostatic agent) kit. When I got back to Kelsey I was shaking so bad I could barely rip the package open.
I’ll do what I have to in an emergency but I’ll be a wreck as I do it.
Let me tell you, those kits work. If you don’t have at least a couple at home, get some now. I got the bleeding stopped and managed to get a wrap on her knee to keep the pad there. Meanwhile, Kelsey was happy that breakfast had finally appeared in front of her, so I figured whatever was going on, if she wanted to eat it couldn’t be too terrible.
That afternoon I started putting out the word that Rosie hadn’t come back. I have some wonderful neighbors, I gotta tell you. My closest neighbors have met Rosie, and they went out looking for her. My neighbor ranchers would be hunting this weekend and they said they’d keep an eye out. I was still stuck at home because of the mud but I hiked around till I couldn’t keep going, listening carefully and watching Bubz for any sign that we were getting near Rosie. Hah. All that happened is that I learned Bubz is no search and rescue dog. He’s great at attempting to fetch rabbits, mind you.
Hot and sweaty, I returned home, and spent the rest of the day glued to the phone and computer in case someone found Rosie or saw her out there somewhere.
The problem is that Rosie is brown, the color of dried grass. If she isn’t moving (or even if she is), she’s almost impossible to see even when the grass is green as it is right now.
I don’t do anxiety well and I was plenty anxious. My guts were churning with worry. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t actually do anything but wait. And watch to see what Kelsey was doing.
Over the course of the day Kelsey moved farther from the barn. I could still see her from the house. She occasionally grazed, but by late afternoon she was standing maybe 500 feet out and hadn’t moved for a few hours. I decided to serve her dinner right where she was rather than ask her to come back to the mares’ pen, given that the pen was soggy with mud. I brought more Banamine for her.
And then, as my late husband would say, oh sh*t went to oh f**k.
A sharp edge of bloody pale bone was sticking out of the back of Kelsey’s upper leg, the leg with the scraped knee. Blood was pooled at her feet. I stared for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t breathe. I dumped Kelsey’s bucket of food in front of her and ran.
No home first-aid was going to save this horse.
I’ve put down my own horses, dogs, and cats before, but each time I’ve done it, it’s gotten harder. I just can’t do it anymore. I didn’t have time to agonize over that realization – I called up the rancher neighbors and explained the situation. No names for the heroes because I don’t have their permission to identify them, so I’ll just say that she told me her husband would be over right away.
I hung up the phone. My heart was thumping. I couldn’t sit still, waiting, doing nothing. I paced. Finally I went out to open the gates.
Of course it started to rain.
In no time at all water rushed through the gullies. I called the rancher again but she said her husband was already on the road. In good weather that was a 10 minute drive but what if he had trouble? She assured me his tires were good and the truck had 4-wheel, and he’d be there any moment.
By the time he rolled through my gate I was soaking wet, and cold, cold — but I hardly noticed. The soil had already turned to slick mud. Both of us came close to falling a few times as we approached Kelsey. He asked if she was gentle. I said yes. He walked up to her and said something I couldn’t hear. Then he raised his hand. I confess I turned away when he took the first shot, and then the second to make sure the first was good.
It was over. For Kelsey, at least.
Poor man. He told me he hated having to put down horses. He wasn’t criticizing me — he totally got it when I said I just could not put down one of my own anymore. Horses aren’t just work animals even if they’re not really pets — but they are special. They are partners in so many ways. Now the horse I’d known since she was in her dam’s womb, the lead mare of my little band of Arabians, a gentle horse anyone could ride, my good mare Kelsey, was sprawled in the mud, blood trickling from her nostrils.
I watched my neighbor’s truck till it disappeared behind a hill before trudging back to the house, soaked and sad. I had the presence of mind to get out of my dripping clothes and into jammies, bathrobe, and a jacket. I was cold to my soul.
I called the neighbor half an hour later and he answered, so he had gotten home safely and that was good.
Kelsey wasn’t feeling any pain anymore and she didn’t care about getting rained on, so that was good.
Rosie was still out there in the storm. That was not good.
I was exhausted when I fell into bed. I was still exhausted when I woke at first light.
My mind immediately went to Kelsey and I looked out the window. I didn’t expect her to be standing up, but, well, that atavistic part of me just knew she’d moved. That two bullets to the brain didn’t make her dead. That she’d picked her head up and was thinking about getting up. Then I put on my glasses. It was just her mane, fluttering in the morning’s mild breeze.
Around 7:30, I heard what sounded like Rosie’s begging whines. I listened more closely but nothing. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been hearing “Rosie” for two days now, but it’s never been her. Except this time… I went to the door and looked out and dammit if Rosie wasn’t standing there, wanting to come in.
Not a mark on her. She seemed perfectly normal, only hungrier than usual. So much so that she snarled at Bubz just for standing between her and me as I put kibble in her bowl. I fed her in two small portions with half an hour between so she wouldn’t just gorge and puke it all up (she did anyway). Then she jumped on the couch and fell asleep, snoring just like always, as if nothing unusual had happened.
I smiled at that, but then a few tears leaked from my eyes. Animals are so wonderful and yet the ones that share our space and lives can be such heartbreakers.
I looked out the window. There was a prime example of heartbreaker, right where I’d left her last night.
I made another call as soon as it was not too early to do so, to a neighbor who lives four miles from me and owns a tractor. He’s the closest person to me with heavy equipment that can dig a grave. He wasn’t home, but he did answer an email. Soon as he got back from town he would come on over, trying the road first with his truck to be sure he could get his tractor in.
And then the tractor was here though the neighbor nearly got stuck doing so. Given the amount of rain the night before, we walked the route to Kelsey’s body first. In the end my neighbor had to drive up the hill behind my house and then through my barn in order to avoid the places where he might get bogged down. His plan was to dig a hole for Kelsey as deep as he dared. It wouldn’t be the traditional six feet down, not with a tractor — but a mound of dirt is way less disturbing to look at than a carcass.
My tractor neighbor, when it was time to put the chain around Kelsey’s hind feet and haul her into her grave, apologized to her for what he was about to do. Later he tried to shrug it off, saying that he knew she wasn’t there but…
Yeah, I said. I knew that, too. But still, we need to do it.
Damn, I’m sorry Kelsey.
It’s a good thing to have good neighbors. I want to thank all of mine who went out of their way to help me when I needed it. You know who you are. I owe you.
In retrospect I believe that Kelsey must have broken her leg sometime during the afternoon on Wednesday, just before I found her on the ground. The sharp end of the compound fracture of the bone of her upper leg had not broken through the skin at that point, but moving around the next day must have made that happen.
The bone in question is the humerus, a thick, strong bone I wouldn’t expect to have broken, but horses, like humans, lose bone density as they age.