Let Him Eat Carrots

Guinness1

Limbo is not my favorite place, yet here I am, entering week four.

I have a horse who is sick. REALLY sick. For many of the days of these limbo weeks, I have gone out to his field with the certainty that this will be the day I find him dead in his field, or down in his shed, unable to get up.

There are several blog posts I have started in my head, most of which are not about this horse, but I can’t seem to write, or do much of anything else, right now. Then I thought maybe I would write about this horse, but we are in limbo, and I don’t know how the story will end. How can you write a story when you don’t know the ending? How can you write anything at all, when all you seem to be able to do is stare at the horse?

He has lost at least a quarter of his body weight, if not more. For a minute there, he went from being a fat horse (“when is that gelding due?”) to being a thin horse, and the weight looked good off of him, but it came off too fast, and it came off because he was simply not eating. He is not quite a skeletal horse, but if you saw him in my field, you would probably call the ASPCA. I probably would, if I saw him in your field.

The vet has made several visits, and has run many tests, all of which have been inconclusive. His symptoms add up to… symptoms. They might mean a disease (one of several), or they might just be what they are because he’s not eating. The why of his not eating remains a mystery. It is a mystery to the vet. To the dentist. To the chiropractor/acupuncurist. To the craniosacral healer. To the farrier. To me. If it is not a mystery to the horse, he’s not enlightening the rest of us.

Small things have made him feel a bit brighter. He loves the fact that we have opened his gate so he can wander the lanes between the fields. None of the other horses get to do that. He teases them – and lets them flirt with him – over the fence. His walk is shaky and a bit sideways from weakness, but he covers quite a bit of ground in a day. He recently got to roll in the sand arena and I felt like I had taken a kid to the circus.

Some days he likes to be out with his best buddy, but some days when I open the gates between their two fields, they simply switch fields. Sometimes I find them crammed into one ten by twelve foot run-in shed, close enough that another horse could fit next to them, if they ever entertained the idea of letting another horse into their little world of two.

This is not my first rodeo with a possibly dying horse, but it’s hard in a different way. For one thing, he does not feel in my heart as if he is a dying horse. There have already been more than a few days when it would have made sense to call the vet out to put him down, but he is giving me no indication that it’s time and I have never had an animal not let me know. Whether I have accepted it or not is a different story, but they always say.

For another thing, the shades of so many who have preceded him are surrounding me right now. Not just the animals, but the humans, too. There are the animals about whom, years later,  I wonder if there was something I missed or did not try. There are the animals about whom I wonder if I waited too long.

There is my father, stumping up the sidewalk to Starbucks for a coffee and a natter with his neighborhood cronies, shadowing my view of the horse meandering up the hill to visit over the fence with the horses in the next field.

There is my mother, the week she stayed with us the first time she got out of the hospital, and me then, trying to make small, artfully arranged plates of food to tempt her to eat – and me now, creating a cafe tray in a flat rubber pan to give the horse options of things to eat with none touching the others in case the wrong thing causes him to eat nothing at all.

The second – and last – time my mother got out of the hospital, the only thing she wanted was orange sherbet from Le Lion de la Nourriture (known to most of us as the Food Lion). For a time last week, the only thing the horse would eat was carrots. I’m pretty sure a horse can’t subsist on carrots alone, but he was still reasonably comfortable, and he really enjoyed his carrots. If every day might be his last day, I figured, let him eat carrots.

On Sunday night, I was sure we had reached the end of the road. He was no longer even interested in carrots. When I first looked out in the fields Monday morning, I thought he was down – in the exact spot I plan to bury him when the time comes. When I went outside I realized that when he stands in that spot he is over a rise in the hill, and it looks like he is lying down, but he was not.

We spent much of Monday waiting for the vet, and then talking to the vet and having the vet examine the horse. The vet did not quite say “it’s time to euthanize this horse,” but he did raise it as a possibility in the near future. This was not a surprise, or a new idea. And yet. It doesn’t quite feel like time.

The part of Monday not spent waiting for the vet or with the vet, I spent being frantic. Not doing anything, but just feeling like I was coming apart at the seams. Some time after the vet left I realized that during the decade in which we experienced the death of four horses, six cats, one dog, four parents, one dearly beloved aunt, three friends, and our children’s grandmother, we barely had time to mourn before the next death was upon us. We’ve had a respite for almost three years, during which mostly I think we remembered how to breathe, but I’d be hard pressed to say we have recovered. That’s a lot of grief for one horse to bear, when it all comes bursting out at the seams.

On Monday during the vet visit, we talked about what we would be willing to do – treat for everything it might be that is treatable – and what we would not be willing to do – drive him two hours to a horse hospital where they might say “Oh, this is what he’s dying of, isn’t that interesting?” After the vet left, we rounded up the rest of the things we had decided to treat him with. Another shadow crossed my path, reminding me of laying out the many, many pills my father needed to take in his last months, so that he – or his care giver when I could not be there – would not lose track.

Today, for whatever reason, the horse has decided to eat. He has eagerly consumed all of six small meals. Unlike my mother, who could be tempted by half a bagel with cream cheese and lox, plus a few vibrant raspberries and enormous blueberries, he is content with his senior feed. Nutritionally it may be the equivalent to Cheetos, but now is not the time to pick nits about grain quality. He ate a fenugreek flavored treat, which yesterday he would not even look at. He ate a whole handful of baby carrots.

I still don’t know the ending to the story. Tomorrow, I will still walk out to the field with my heart in my mouth if I can’t see him from the house. We may have him for many more years, or we may have him for a matter of days. Either way, he will be with us forever.

Guinness

 

Hitched

Everyone has their own way of preparing for a horsemanship clinic. Some people work their horses like they are getting ready for a show, or a test. Some people read everything they can get their hands on about or by the clinician. Some people shine up every inch of their horse and their tack. Some people plan their outfits. Some people buy new tack, because who doesn’t like an excuse to go the tack store?

Many of us who don’t travel with our horses regularly (and even some who do) spend some time working on – or at least fretting over – the horse trailer. Will my horse get on it this time? Do I need a backup plan to take a different horse if the horse I want to take won’t get on? If I need the clinician to help me work on getting my horse on the trailer, how do I get my horse on the trailer so I can get it to the clinic so the clinician can help me get my horse on the trailer?

Rose and I are going to a clinic soon and we are on the step before the step about the horse and the trailer. If you have ever put together IKEA furniture with your spouse, or hung wallpaper with your spouse, you may know the step I am talking about: hooking up the horse trailer with your spouse.

We have not taken the horses anywhere for a lot of years, and in the interim, we have acquired a new horse trailer. It is much better than the old horse trailer, and I look forward to not coming home with more stories from the horse trailer wars. However, hooking it up is a learning experience. It has led to some of my less proud moments – the kind of moment when you hear yourself saying things like “We really need to work out some less frantic hand signals,” or “No, I CAN’T see the exact middle of the tailgate because I’m DRIVING THE FUCKING TRUCK, not perching on top of the cab!”

And of course after this we want to go get the horses from the field and calmly load them.

One thing I like about clinics is that no matter what I go there to work on, I always wind up learning something I did not plan to learn, or did not even realize I needed to do better. How lucky for me to have the learning start before we even leave our driveway.

 

 

Ruby

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We said goodbye to Ruby, our 18 year old truck, this week.

 

Ruby drove us and two of our horses out to Colorado one summer, 14 years back. We drove 3,200 miles round trip, blew out two tires on the horse trailer and needed new brakes on the truck by the time we got home, but she got us there and back. Still one of the biggest adventures of our lives.

On day 3 of the trip home, after the second trailer tire replacement, in the western Maryland mountains in heavy fog and light rain, we were not sure we were going to make it. One of our main cds that trip (remember cds?) was Patty Griffin’s Impossible Dream, and one of our two favorite songs on that cd was When It Don’t Come Easy. I don’t know how many times we listened to it that night.

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the waters getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight

Ruby moved us to our current home. We were in a rental that we loved and wanted to buy, but the owners did not want to sell. When we found this place, Ruby sat in the parking lot of the title company at settlement, hitched to our horse trailer loaded with all the stuff we didn’t want the movers to move, waiting to take us to our new house, which has now been our home for almost all of those 18 years.

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love 
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

She hauled our horses to horse shows, clinics, trail rides, the horse hospital, and best of all, home from the horse hospital. She hauled loads of everything we needed her to haul: hay, wood pellets, horse feed, stone, sand, lumber, boxes and boxes of books from my dad’s apartment after he died.

She carried our family on vacations from the mountains to the ocean.

She was the favorite vehicle of every dog we have had.

She carried our kids from ages 9, 11, and 15 to 27, 29 and 33, and moved them into and out of dorms, apartments, and houses.

I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home

In those 18 years, we have said goodbye to all four of our parents, my favorite aunt, three friends and mentors, six cats, four horses, and one dog.

We’ve had more jobs than I even want to think about.

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

During those 18 years Rose and I nearly split up, and then later, got married. In fact, during those 18 years, it went from being unthinkable to possible to law, that we could get married.

Those 18 years have seen our children start and end relationships, become engaged and unengaged, get married. We drove Ruby to our middle child’s wedding, come to think of it.

So many things that I had before
That don’t matter to me now
Tonight I cry for the love that I’ve lost
And the love I’ve never found
When the last bird falls
And the last siren sounds
Someone will say what’s been said before
Its only love we were looking for

Ruby was hard on brakes, but she never broke down, refused to start, or left us anywhere. She didn’t have a lot of oomph towing up hills, and her gas mileage ran to gallons per mile, but she went everywhere we asked her to go.

She still has a lot of miles ahead of her, and she has gone to a friend, so it’s almost like she’s staying in the family. But not quite. Our new truck has got everything we want and need, but it doesn’t have 18 years of memories. Farewell, Ruby, and thanks for taking us to where we needed to be.

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love 
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

(quoted lyrics by Patty Griffin, When It Don’t Come Easy)