I don’t have to remind anybody that things aren’t all flowery goats and horse kisses here on the farm. And even though you know it and I know it, it still is devastating to lose a family member. (Yeah, I even get a little schmoopy when we have to process the chickens.)
Losing a horse like Sis who taught us so much and put us on the map as a viable wagon tour service especially hurts.
You always hear about “gentle giants” – big, kind draft horses. Out of our 4 drafts, only one was truly a gentle giant. Sis wasn’t a gentle giant in the storybook, “James Herriot” way. She didn’t wear flowers in her mane and let children nap between her front feet while she carefully grazed around them.
Honestly, I think she could have been a giant puppy dog kind of horse. But, she had a staidness about her that led me to think she probably had a harsh upbringing and training. She tread lightly around her people, but never showed affection. She tolerated humans with skepticism and a dampened hope that they might actually care about her.
Her life was dedicated to making humans’ lives easy. It never felt like she did it out of love and care for humans, but as a coping mechanism for survival.
I learned through the grapevine that Sis’d been purchased as a youngster (maybe 3 years old?) from a feedlot — the last stop before horses are sent to slaughter. From there she was paired with an equally undesirable misfit — a Percheron with Belgian coloring (Wishbone).
They were poorly matched in every way except color and species. They had completely different work ethics (as in — she had a work ethic, him not so much). She stood a good 6″ to a foot shorter than him.
I wished always that she could’ve had her own little person. So, when we had “cowboy camps” litters of little people gave her “spa day”. They crawled over and under and around her with brushes and kisses and pats and treats. They held a stethoscope to her flank and listened to the rumbling bubbling of her gut. They especially liked placing the stethoscope to her chest to hear her massive heart beating.
She eyed it all with optimistic restraint. I think she enjoyed it. I hoped she knew how much I appreciated that I could trust her without reservation.
She was failing lately. She had a hard time getting her feet trimmed by the farrier. Her muscular booty whithered slowly and arthritis made every move difficult and painful for her. I had the vet out this summer for the annual herd check and we talked about her limited options.
But it’s hard to “pull the trigger” so to speak. I don’t want to deny any of the horses a single day of happiness, but also want to minimize their pain. She was in that grey zone where you wonder if the pain outweighs the pleasure. She was stoic in every aspect of her life.
And, we had her teammate to consider. Wishbone has been with her since they were misplaced youngsters, thrust into the harness and a life together. He protected her, relied on her, hated her, loved her.
I couldn’t load her into the trailer and take her to the vet to be put down — it’d be brutal to her and hard on Wishbone.
Saturday the sun came out and temperatures rose to the balmy 60s.
Sis laid down to sunbathe.
She didn’t get up. I called our wonderful vet at Double Arrow Veterinary Clinic.
After a moment of silence, he placed his stethoscope to her chest. Her heart didn’t beat any more.
It was the kindest thing she’s ever experienced, I hope.
Later that night, after calling a couple of friends and finishing up my chores, I went down to check on Sis and Wishbone and the herd. Wish stood over Sis’s body, his hind leg cocked, eyes droopy. I scratched his neck under his mane and apologized to him for his loss. Then I bent down over Sis to pet her and make sure her eyes were closed. As I crouched over her, I felt something warm on my shoulder and looked to see Wishbone nuzzling me.
So much of the time I think it’s my job to comfort the horses and make them comfortable. But it’s always them comforting and making me comfortable.
Sis, as always, made my job easy.