I’ve almost written this post a few times but it hurt too much. On Monday, November 27, 2017, Mikki and I walked up to the old barn to see how much hay was left. I had to go on a business trip and wanted to put out a new bale if it looked like the horses would run out before I got back, because it’s much easier for two people to put out hay without letting horses out of gates as you’re driving the tractor through. As I approached the bale I noticed Cash was laying nearby. It’s not unusual for horses to lay down occasionally. But after a few steps it became clear he wasn’t moving. We broke into a run and our worst fear was quickly realized. Cash was completely still, not breathing, and cold. Cash was dead.
This was a total shock to us. Cash hadn’t shown any signs of being ill. There were no changes in his behavior, diet or activity. When we found him, there wasn’t a mark on him and it didn’t appear that he had struggled or thrashed or anything like that; it seemed like he just laid down and passed away, with the exception of a very small amount of blood around his mouth and nose.
To say we were horrified was an understatement. Mikki pretty much lost it for a few minutes, and immediately called her best friend, who is also a horse owner and veterinary tech, Shari. They grieved together and discussed possible reasons for Cash’s sudden death, but Mikki was really in no condition to talk about those details, and the unfortunate reality of the situation was that time was not on our side. I had that business trip that couldn’t be rescheduled and had to leave within the hour; it wasn’t terribly warm, being late November, but the temperature was still much too warm to preserve anything. The cold hard fact was that we had a 1,000-pound body that had to be dealt with, and soon. Our tractor, while pretty capable above-ground, was not the right equipment for digging a hole the size and depth we needed. Since Shari had buried her beloved donkey, Doc, five or six years ago, Mikki asked her if they still had the ability to do that, but unfortunately they had sold their backhoe. She suggested we call the man who takes care of the graves for our church cemetery (Shari’s husband oversees the care of the cemetery) and promised to find his number and call back. In the meantime, we ran through the other possibilities; first was the friend who had taken care of the last horse burial we knew about, but that was years ago so our hopes weren’t high. We were right about that, he had changed jobs and no longer had access to a backhoe. Minutes later Shari called back with the number of the, well, gravedigger, and we called him. He was down with pneumonia. Then Mikki remembered that, ironically, the man from whom we had bought Cash had recently started a land services business. She called him and he was available. He agreed to come out within 3 hours and not only dig the hole but take care of the moving of the body as well. Mikki’s father lives right next to our pasture so our next stop was to tell him the news. He agreed to meet with the backhoe guys so Mikki wouldn’t have to deal with any of it, other than the payment. Which leads us to the final difficulty of this situation, but let’s stop and summarize here.
There is a very dark side to having horses. If you are like us – and I have to assume that you are, if you are reading this vaguely informative but decidedly sappy blog, you love your horses like pets. Therefore, this next part is going to distress you, and I apologize, but believe me when I say this part is meant to be informative rather than sappy. The cold, hard truth is that if you have a horse (or horses – we’re going to go with the plural here) and do not sell them or give them away, you will lose them someday. Unless they have a long-term disease that you know about and treat them for it for a while, their deaths will be sudden and unexpected. You will be shocked and grieving but, unlike with the family dog (which most people can bury easily in someone’s backyard or pay a nominal fee to have cremated), in the midst of that shock and grief you will have to deal with a half-ton body. We were fortunate that our community doesn’t explicitly forbid animal burials but many do. This is not something you want to find out at the last minute. We advised in the above-referenced previous post to be prepared for that day. We did not follow our own advice. Too much time passed and we became lax and complacent. Our horses were young then and are not terribly older now (Cash was just 14). So on a cloudy, cool November day with a business trip an hour away, we found ourselves having to find someone to bury our beloved horse, pretty much immediately, and coming up with the money to do so. We are lucky to live in a rural farming community, and knew the guy who did it for us, so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, but it was still a big, unexpected dent in our budget. Right before Christmas, too.
So again we advise you: have a plan in place for the inevitable. Update it as circumstances change. Be ready. It will make a very, very difficult time just a tiny bit less so.
The last thing is that you’re probably wondering what happened to Cash. We too wonder that. Mikki discussed it with Shari and did a little bit of research (this is still very painful to think about very much, so deep research was out of the question). The most likely cause, given the scant evidence, is intestinal torsion, or volvulus, or as it’s commonly known, “gut twist” (colic is sometimes a symptom of this). Several horse owners we know personally have lost horses suddenly this way; a horse was literally fine one day and gone the next morning (isn’t that scary, that it’s that common?). Another possibility is a ruptured aorta; the small amount of blood we saw could have been evidence of that. That also is horrifyingly common, but usually happens after intense physical activity, but he could have been frolicking in the pasture right before. The only way to know for sure would have been to have an autopsy done, but those are extremely costly.
Now our last piece of advice, which we are following religiously now: take care of your horses as well as you possibly can, watch over them carefully, and love them like this is the last day you will have them – every single day. We are so grateful for the time we had our Cash. To end on a more positive note, here’s a link to the post where we introduced him. He was quite the horse. – June 23, 2008 post –