Monday, March 15, 2010

The End of an Era

Horses I Have Known: Part 10

By now I had moved Russell and PJ to a new barn. We spent several good years there, until the day that Russell nearly fell down going out the barn door to his turnout paddock.

It only took another day before he was severely lame. Unfortunately, the prognosis was not good. Everything pointed to laminitis. This was over 20 years ago and even less was known about treatment of the disease than today. Things didn't look good.

We reshod him with his shoes on backwards, a recommendation of an old time vet whose counsel I had relied on more than once. I cut back his feed to just hay and we put him on 24 hour turnout. It was a matter of wait and see.

But at that point, I knew where things were headed and after about a week of nursing, I had already decided I was going to have to end Russell's suffering. On Wednesday, when I went to care for him, my boy was standing in the little run in shed, staring out into the woods beyond. For a moment or two, he did not even seem to notice I was there and when he finally did, I could see the anguish in his eyes. Still, the Russell sense of humor somehow glittered through the pain long enough for him to wait until I turned my back so he could tip the wheelbarrow over to dump out all the manure I cleaned up out of the paddock, but my smile was fleeting. I had a hard decision to make.

By now, I had established a good relationship with an excellent animal communicator and that Thursday, I put in an emergency call to her for a consultation. I told her what was going on and that I had to decide whether or not to euthanize Russell. She began to "talk" to him for me. He told her he was so very, very tired. I told him it was OK to lie down if he needed to. Then, I asked him what he was doing in the run-in shed when he didn't notice me. He "said" he'd been thinking about "going," but he was worried about what would happen to me once he was gone.

I reassured him. I would be all right, I said. I would be so very sad, but I would be fine. Then I asked him how I would know it was time to say good bye. Russell said when I saw him looking out into the woods, I would know he needed to leave this world. I don't remember much else of the communication except that I had finally reached a kind of painful peace with my decision. I was going to call the vet the next day.

That next morning, I got a frantic call from the barn. Russell had gone down during the night and they could not get him back to his feet. I drove over as fast as I could. When I got there, Russell was lying by the fence, near the woods, with his head, reaching under the bottom rail towards the forest beyond. The barn owner told me, "We keep trying to get him away from the fence so we can help him up, but he keeps pushing himself back with his head into the woods."

"It's all right," I answered. "Just leave him alone. I understand." As soon as I sat down next to my beloved Russell, he put his head in my lap. I remember sitting there with him talking about all the wonderful times we'd had together was we waited for my veterinarian to arrive.

And then, at last, my beautiful, precious Russell breathed his last as I spoke words of love in his ear.

To this day, it is hard to tell this story. My broken heart still aches when I think of that day. I know full well I did the right thing, and I also know Russell died peacefully, surrounded by my love. But that does not take away and sorrow.

For weeks afterward, I was in a lingering depression. Russell was in my thoughts, close to my heart at every turning.

Then, one night as I was driving home from choir rehearsal at church, I had the strongest feeling he was there, his heart still attached to mine with a powerful bond. I burst into tears again and then I told him I was OK. "You need to go, Russell. I'll be OK. But you need to go on now. I don't want to hold you here anymore. I'll be OK."

It only took a moment, but suddenly a great feeling of relief washed over me and it was as if a huge weight had lifted from my soul. For the first time since I had lost my boy, I knew I really was going to be OK.

I had PJ and was now also the owner of a feisty young Thoroughbred I'd bought while Russell was ill, knowing the time to fill my life with a new horse was coming.

To Be Or Not To Be had entered my life just when I needed to surrender the past and look to the future.


  1. Anonymous9:43 PM

    A very sad, but also sweet, story about your love for a wonderful horse. You were fortunate to have had one another.

  2. It's always so sad to let them go but there comes a time when it's for the best. I think for them not for us. He was a wonderful horse and you had many good times and loved each other so much. I'm glad you were there with him at the end and he left peacefully with love. This is a heartbreaking but very sweet story of two souls connected even beyond death. I'm glad he finally left and you were okay with that.

  3. Our hardest commitment to the animals we love:(

  4. You got me...I am all teary. So sad. It is the most painful decision an animal owner has to make.

  5. This one brought me to tears. What a wonderful bond you two shared. I hope that my boy's passing can have that sweet communication that you two had. I'm so glad you're doing this series of stories; they've been heart wrenching, beautiful and inspirational.

  6. Just found your blog. I loved this post. It also brought me to tears. I share a similar story and feel so lucky to share my life with such wonderful animals. Thanks for sharing. I am still crying...

  7. not very often i end up tearful, but you got me there... hug.

  8. Very sad, but I'm glad you were able to be with him at the end.