Old Earl wasn't really interested in anything or anybody. I don't think he'd ever been a "pet". He turned his nose up at the soaked hay pellets we tried to get him to eat. I can't say I blame him...it was pretty unappetizing mush. So we added a little sweet senior feed to the mush and he started eating...and eating...and eating. After the first week, he started nickering when anyone came in the barn to feed. The only time he nickered at anyone was for food. He pretty much got as much as he could eat and in no time went from being a walking skeleton to a hog fat equine senior citizen. Okay, maybe he got a little too fat...not a lot...just a little.
OF had an oldster Arab named Trigger, so named by OF's ex who didn't want to ride a horse called "The Guy"...which is what OF called him....probably because her other horses were mares. Trig, who bore no resemblance to his flashy palomino namesake of Roy Rogers fame, had been put out to pasture at OF's sister's house because of a gimpy hind leg and was starting to get thin. He came back to OF's where he and Earl, who was pleasingly plump by this time, became pasture mates.
Trig was Mr. Personality...the complete opposite of Earl...more of an "in your pocket" type of guy who loved attention, always walking over and presenting himself for a good scratching. They were a pretty good fit...two gray haired old men standing head to tail swishing flies off each other when they weren't ambling around the pasture pretending to eat the dry grass but actually subsisting on a steady diet of senior feed. Life was good.
A couple months go by and OF gets a call from her sister. Her Arab, Kai, was sick and she was worried about him. The vet was called, treated Kai for colic, and he seemed better...still not quite right, but better.
OF & her sister went on vacation to Mexico for a week and I was going to take care of the animals while they were gone. Everyone decided that Kai should come to OF's house in case he got sick again. I immediately felt the pressure. All I could think was, Please God, don't let him die while they're gone.
Of course, as luck would have it, Kai got sick almost as soon as they left. Colic...again. I called the vet who doused him with mineral oil and some kind of anti spasmodic meds.
On a little side note...Tess, one of OF's dogs, lapped up a bunch of mineral oil from the bucket while the vet was tubing Kai...which she barfed up in OF's garage after he left. It was disgusting. I went in the house to find some paper towels to clean it up and when I got back to the garage...there were OF's three dogs, tails wagging...and there was no barf left on the garage floor...it was licked clean. Somebody ate the barf. I'm hard pressed to decide which is worse...dogs eating barf or dogs eating cat poop...why do they do this?
Kai seemed better after the vet left, but still not right. I was thankful he didn't die while they were gone. Instead he ended up living at OF's house with Earl & Trig. As it turns out a diet of grass was causing his problems and once he started eating senior feed the colic went away. Funny how something you eat all your life all of a sudden starts making you sick.
So the three old gray horses ended up together. Three Amigos. We called them the Old Guys. They all got along and the pecking order you usually see at feeding time, was pretty much nonexistent. Earl, the big ol' Quarter Horse was thirty now and still unfriendly except at feeding time. Kai, twenty-nine, and Trig, twenty-four, whose former gray coats were now almost completely white still had those beautiful Arab heads with great big soft eyes. I don't care what kind of horse lover you are, there's nothing more beautiful in the horse world than the head of an Arab...I think even the most die hard Quarter Horse fan would be hard pressed to deny it.
When you have oldsters, you know they're not gonna live forever, and you think you're prepared...but you never really are. I always figured Earl would go first. Even though he gained all his weight back, he was arthritic and wobbly, and his back end tracked crooked from his front end. His eyesight was going too.
But it was Trig who went first. Go figure...the spring chicken of the bunch. His back end was getting stiffer and one day after rolling in the sand couldn't get back up. OF managed to help him get up and once he was upright, he went on his merry way like it was no big deal.
The next time Trig went down, hours, and I mean hours, of pushing, prodding, and coaxing with a grain bucket didn't help. But boy he tried...each time he was asked he tried to get his legs under him. His heart was in it but his old legs just wouldn't move the way he wanted them to. It was pitch dark by the time the vet got there and Trig spent his last few hours illuminated by car headlights eating treats and generally basking in all the attention he loved so much. Everyone cried.
He's buried right in the pasture where he spent his last night.
With Trig gone, Kai and Earl became inseparable. Wherever Kai went, Earl followed, his nose whiskers touching Kai's hip. Even though he wasn't completely blind, Kai was like a guide dog for him.
They came to my place for the summer. I got used to hearing Kai whinny every time I called his name. Earl still only gave a little nicker at feeding time. I started feeding Kai separately after I figured out that Earl was wolfing his food down and then helping himself to Kai's food. Earl wasn't aggressive or anything, he'd just kinda move all his massiveness in on little ol' Kai and nudge him out of the way...all very slow and methodical. So I'd open the gate and hang Earls feeder on the inside of the fence and Kai would walk through the gate to his tub on the other side. He always grabbed a mouthful of Earl's food on his way out. It was kind of a payback ritual. When Kai got done eating, I'd open the gate and he'd walk back in where his buddy was standing patiently waiting for him. Life was good.
A few weeks ago I went with OF and a couple of others to the coast to a B&B that had stabling for our horses. I left early Saturday after feeding the Old Guys and everyone else. My neighbor, who has horses of her own, was feeding for me while I was gone. I called her Saturday evening to see if everything was okay and she said Kai wouldn't eat. He didn't act sick, just wasn't interested in food. When I called the next day he was the same.
We came home early and I hauled the Old Guys down to OF's place. We called Ellie, the mobile vet, who barely looks like she's old enough to drive, and she came to check Kai out. Ellie said Kai had a fever and his heart was beating abnormally but she was more afraid his liver was failing and did a blood test to confirm it. We waited till the next morning and got the good news that Kai didn't have a liver problem but did have some kind of low grade infection. Everybody was relieved and he was started on daily penicillin injections. But still wouldn't eat...and he didn't whinny when you called his name.
I went over after work to see him and carried out a pail of dry unsweetened pellets, grabbed a handful and held it out. He took it...and ate it. It was nearly dark, and getting cold...my hands were slick with horse slobber but I was elated. He ate!! It was only about four or five handfuls, but at least it was a start. He wouldn't eat the sweetened stuff but ate the dry unsweetened kind. Go figure...when he first came to live with the Old Guys he didn't want the dry plain stuff but chowed down on the sweetened stuff.
OF said he whinnied at her when she called his name the next morning. We were just looking for any sign that he was going to pull through...the tiniest thing would give us hope.
So we got dry senior pellets for Kai...two different kinds....which he immediately turned his nose up at. We saw him nibble at the hay that was dropped when we fed the other horses so we started putting hay in front of him. He pushed it around, but it mostly stayed in the feeder. We tried to convince ourselves he was eating. But he wasn't. You want to do anything but say goodbye...but you have to. OF called Ellie.
The day before Ellie came back, we put Earl in one of the pastures with an old horse named Nick, thinking Earl wouldn't be as stressed if he wasn't alone. Nick, another oldster, lived on the property next to OF. Earl made it clear he wanted no part of Nick, arching his neck, screaming and striking out with his front foot. Very studly for an old guy. It was a brief glimpse of what he must have been like as a youngster. I bet he was really impressive in his day.
We turned them loose and they promptly ignored each other. Nick stood at the fence bordering his property while Earl paced up and down the other side facing the barn where Kai was, leaving crooked hind end tracks in his wake. They stayed that way all day until feeding time when Earl grudgingly left his side of the the fence long enough to chow down and the love of food was enough to get Nick away from his fence line. The next morning when OF fed them she said Earl stared at Nick like he was giving him the Evil Eye and gave another little studly scream when Nick started eating from the feeder next to him where Kai usually ate. Nick ignored him...maybe because there was a stall panel between them...or maybe because he knew he was way more agile than Earl...or maybe because he just wanted food. Nick's a pretty mellow dude.
In hindsight, which always seems to be 20/20, Earl probably would have been better off alone that first night. You have to wonder what they think when all of a sudden their buddy is taken away from them and some interloper is trying to take his place. All our good intentions probably just traumatized the old guy even more. We probably double whammied him by taking him away from his buddy AND putting a strange horse in with him.
It was about ten when Ellie got there to check Kai. She knew why she was there. We knew why she was there. We knew it was going to happen. It didn't make it any easier. OF had even called "the truck" to haul away the body.
Ellie examined Kai and said his gums looked worse. He wasn't oxygenating properly. His heartbeat wasn't worse but she could see the pulse in his neck and that wasn't a good sign. Simply put, his heart was failing. She went on to say there were various things that could be tried. After she explained things that "could" be tried, she said the magic words to OF...
"You wouldn't be doing these things for him...you'd be doing it for you."
OF went in the house. She couldn't watch. I held him while Ellie gave Kai a tranquilizer before the final injection...a giant syringe of pink fluid..."the pink juice" my friend D calls it.
Some of them drop like a ton of bricks, but not Kai. Ever the dignified Arab he let his legs just curl up underneath him and slowly lowered himself to the ground. Almost like he wanted his last act to be a graceful death.
While we were standing there waiting for the final breath, Ellie making small talk, me fighting tears, Ellie looked over at Earl. I was so focused on Kai I didn't even see him. He was laying down in the pasture thrashing around...and he couldn't get up.
OF came out and the three of us tried to get him up. You could see the panic in his eyes. I don't know if it was from the three of us pushing on him or just a natural fear from being unable to get up. Either way, it was there. We were finally able to get him up after a few minutes of pushing.
You never know if you're making the right decision. Is it time? What if he goes down again and can't get up and nobody's around. Can he make it through the winter? Should I wait and see?
Ellie knew..."What do you want to do?"
I put the halter on him and led Earl out to the lawn where Kai was while Ellie filled more syringes. He didn't go down as gracefully as Kai.
"I wasn't expecting him to go too" I told Ellie while we stood there waiting for Earls final exhale.
"You know, maybe he just wanted to be with his buddy" she said bringing fresh tears to my eyes.
A few days later when I was sitting here writing this, The Husband laid this card down on the desk. It came in the mail with no return address.
Inside there was a handwritten note that read...
Dear Mother R,
Thank you for making my last years wonderful. I was never hungry, cold, or lonely. You were always kind to me and I thank you for loving me. I knew my best friend was going to leave me & I chose to go be with him. I was sad to leave you but knew you would understand. I miss you already.
I thought it was from Ellie...as it turned out, I was wrong, it was from my friend Smellie.
I had a preacher once tell me that animals don't go to heaven because they don't have souls. I don't know if he's right or not. But anyone who has ever known the unconditional love and devotion of a dog, the affected indifference of a big orange cat, or the bond with a favorite horse would have to disagree. I know I do.
So I hope that when I get to the Pearly Gates, there's Three Amigos standing there waiting for me. The Old Guys...Trig waiting to be scratched, Kai with a big whinny hello...and I hope I get to hear Earl give a little nicker.
"God forbid that I should go to any Heaven in which there are no horses."
R.B Cunninghame Graham