This picture was one of the first images texted to me when I was asked if The Shepherd’s Corner could help with an ‘owner surrender’ of four starving horses. This story has already been shared in the previous posts and if you haven’t read them, I encourage you to do so: the first post is: http://theshepherdscorner.org/wordpress/blog/?=100 the next post is located here: http://theshepherdscorner.org/wordpress/blog/?p=122
This post is about one of the horses we picked up on that day – a little palomino mare we re-named “Hope”.
We had already haltered and loaded the horse that was to be transported to foster with her, and, as she was next to go, I entered the dry lot with halter and lead and headed her direction. This was when I saw how very poor she really was; I have never seen a horse so emaciated and still drawing breath. Although I began speaking quietly as I moved toward her, the closer I got, pity squinched my voice down to a squeak and then to silence. Sorrow squeezed my stomach and slowed my feet until I stopped short of the frail little mare and just stared…
The Shepherd’s Corner policy is to remain calm, professional and workmanlike when we assist a humane agency removing horses from a bad situation. Surrendering owners are often present as are, (sometimes angry) neighbors/equine advocates and passersby – each with a different “take” on the scene. Emotions can run high and hot – usually to the detriment of the proceedings. We strive (usually successfully) to remember that we are there to serve the horses, not to judge or assume.
I am usually able to maintain composure in the midst of this kind of situation but, as I stared this little mare, halter and lead in hand, my eyes filled and I had to bite my lip hard to keep it from quivering. As we still had much to do at the site, emotion channeled into action and I continued toward the mare, voice still not entirely obedient. Where she stood in the lot meant that my approach was from her rear. As she took note of my presence, she turned to look at me over her shoulder – her eye meeting mine.
I could have managed an expression of fear, or apprehension, or ears pinned and teeth bared in my direction from the mare. In fact, any of them would have even helped me retain composure as I would have understood their genesis and focused on quelling her fear. Instead, a soft inquiring look met mine, and quiet acquiescence as I moved to put to put the halter over her ears. She had no reason to trust me, and many why I might be “suspect”. Instead – she trusted, and tears rolled down my face.
I took some extra time over adjusting the halter, my back and hers facing the others present, so that by the time we had turned to make our way to the gate, a measure of composure had returned, my face resuming a more business-like facade. But the barrier had been breached and for the duration of the day, I struggled to keep perspective.
When Hope arrived at her fostering farm, she was greeted with love framed by deep concern for her condition. Knowing that her digestive mechanisms had been strained for an indeterminate amount of time, and as advised by Dianne Pontia, our DVM, hay was offered in bits, water was free choice. As she acclimated to her new stall, Hope meandered, drank water and ate the hay offered in a steady and determined manner. She made manure and urine regularly, and accepted caresses and soft words with quiet grace – embracing the intent if not fully comprehending each words’ meaning.
The barn activity eventually faded with the evening and by 11:00 PM or so, Hope yielded to the rigors of the day (and preceding months) and lay down to rest in a deep pile of shavings.
It pains me deeply to tell you that she never rose again.
I received a telephone call from Carol – owner and manager at Hunter’s Creek Equestrian Center – @ 9:00 AM the day after we delivered Hope to her new home. Carol shared that Hope had laid down the previous night, without fuss, and had been resting peacefully as Carol completed ‘night check’ in her barn. By breakfast time the next morning, Hope’s stall showed signs that she had tried to maneuver into a standing position more than once during the intervening hours – but had clearly failed to do so. Nevertheless, the mare was calm, had not broken into a sweat with her efforts, and – when resting sternally, cheerfully continued to eat hay and swallow syringes of water as proffered.
Loraine and I met at Trinity Farm and were at Hunters Creek by 10:00. Even with many other helping hands and the support of a “belly band” and ‘front-end loader’ reaching over the framing of the stall to provide support and lift, Hope’s hind legs seemed unable to propel her to, or hold her in, a standing position.
As Dr. Pontia was already attending to another client that morning, Dr. Kate Pouch, another excellent equine veterinarian, had been called and was en route to examine the little mare and recommend a course of treatment/action.
A friend’s wedding (at which both Loraine and I were expected) required that we leave Hope and all her attendants at Hunter’s Creek somewhere around noon. We did so knowing that she was in the best of hands.
That evening – friend beautifully married and the ensuing reception in full sway – Loraine and I stepped outside to call Hunter’s Creek and talk with Dr. Pouch, who was still tending the little mare. We had been receiving discouraging texts from Carol all evening regarding Hope’s condition, and our conversation with Dr. Pouch confirmed that despite fluids and other supportive care, Hope remained unable to stand, and that she was failing. She said that though blood work taken earlier in the day “wasn’t too bad”, subsequent studies throughout the afternoon and evening depicted a wasted body finally yielding to the effects of devastating deprivation. We asked Dr. Pouch to administer the only other kindness left us to offer, and the little mare – surrounded by her new family, quietly slipped away.
There is a temptation to ‘second guess’ our actions. Was it correct to move this horse in her fragile state? Would she have gained strength on the dry lot if fed properly and not subjected to the strain of moving her? Was such a remedy even possible? We will never know the answers for sure. Our vets have suggested that her system was so severely compromised that her life may have already been forfeit by the time we met her and that nothing done or undone may have changed the outcome…. What we do know, however, is that by trailering the little mare offsite, her belly found solace in hay and water once again; She knew kindness and did not die unremarked or unmourned – and that is not nothing.