All we have left are memories and the ‘I wish I would haves’

It was one of those frigid cold mornings in January when temperatures hovered near 10 degrees.

I have always said that you truly feel alive in frigid temperatures when every sense in your body is forced to awaken with the ambush of cold. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up and the ones in your nose tickle.

The clear sky was illuminated by twinkling stars that morning, as each breath I released created a cloudy mist.

I had to be at work early, and it was still dark outside when I went over to feed the horses. As I fumbled around trying to get my head lamp adjusted, I saw only two silhouettes standing near the feeding area.

After attaching the light to my head, I was able to get a better look at the pen where I kept my mare. She was lying down in the middle of the pen, her breath visible in the cold air. While it is not an uncommon sight to see a horse lying down, as soon as I saw her, I knew it was time.

For those who have kept up with my saga, you will recall my mare was diagnosed with streptococcus zooepidemicus, or Strep Zoo, last October. She improved briefly but then began to show symptoms of laminitis toward the end of November. Her appetite was still hearty and her ears perked whenever I whistled but I knew her feet were sore as she gently meandered around the field.

Selfishly, I wanted to get through the holidays. As this was the second year she had endured a laminitis episode during the winter, I held on to the hope she would get through this one, too. I began putting Styrofoam pads on the bottom of her feet to help cushion the soles of her feet.

When a horse founders, the tiny laminae in the hoof tear and the coffin bone rotates down. The pads work as a shock absorber reducing the pressure and providing additional support to the hoof.

Some days she seemed to improve but for the most part she steadily declined. Her heart and mind seemed to still yearn to run in mountain pastures, but her feet were forever disabled. I should have let her go in December, but I just couldn’t face that realization.

The farrier came out after the first of the year, and his words were simple. When I ask him if he thought she would pull through this, he admitted she probably would eventually. He added, however, that she would inevitably go through this each winter, and he asked me if it was fair for her to experience this pain.

“If it was my horse, I would probably put her down” were his last words. She was 18 years old, still young in horse years, but given her history of chronic laminitis, relapse was inevitable.

I went to work that morning after finding her lying in the pen, realizing her fight was over. She tried to get up, her heart forever strong, but her pain too overwhelming.

My son called me later that morning, confirming the decision I already had made. I called the veterinarian and made the appointment.

I want to take the opportunity to thank my son, Josh, and his friends, especially the Hatch brothers, for helping me out during that emotional day.

I threw her and the geldings some hay and they shared a last meal. Then I loaded her up in the horse trailer for her last ride to the back of my son’s property. The euthanasia was quick, she went down immediately. She suffers no more.

There aren’t any horse cemeteries I am aware of, and, unfortunately, most large animals that are euthanized or die of natural causes are taken to county landfills. I could not imagine this as my soulmate’s last resting place. My son called his friends, and they brought a backhoe.

We laid her to rest under a large cottonwood tree at the back of his property.

I will mourn this special creature until I see her on the other side. I miss her smell and the way she turned her head when I whistled. I miss sitting on her back overlooking the Colorado River on a hot summer night and riding the West Elks rounding cows up in the fall.

I wish I would have ridden her more last summer for there is no greater feeling than sitting in the saddle. I yearn for another ride. 

Whatever best friend brings joy to your life, I encourage you not to take time for granted.

These special creatures that fill our lives with so much happiness are with us such a short time. When they are gone, all that is left are memories and the “I wish I would haves.”

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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