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Goodbye to Our First Horse

Goodbye to Our First Horse

We’ve said goodbye to too many of our beloved animals over the past couple of years, but this one hit the hardest. We have lost Valentine, our very first horse.

Sixteen years ago today, Bill gave me the best Valentine’s Day gift a girl could ever ask for (in my opinion, anyway): an all-black, 16.2H Tennessee Walking Horse named Clever Power. He came from champion bloodlines and you could tell just by looking at him. Oh, he was stunning! And so very sweet. We gave him the barn name “Valentine” because it just fit so well. Many of you followed our adventures over the years as we kinda-sorta became horse people, starting with that first wonderful horse.

Our herd grew, shrunk and morphed over time as we added and lost equines: Moonshine came to us to be Bill’s horse, we learned that she was absolutely NOT the horse for us, and we found Romeo and Cash; Moonshine went to be a bucking horse at a rodeo (told you she wasn’t the horse for us, lol); my dad found a little mule he couldn’t live without, so Jazzy came to live with us; then we unexpectedly and tragically lost Cash a little over three years ago. Wow, that was hard, but more was coming.

We haven’t kept up with this blog over last few years, and I apologize for that. Our lives have changed so much, and the focus really shifted away from the horses. We of course still had them, loved them, our lives still revolved around them (I never thought I’d care so much about the price of hay), but we hardly ever rode anymore. A few months ago, my best friend asked if Romeo could come live at her place because she needed another “easy” horse for her mom to ride. I readily agreed, since he was just a pasture ornament at my place. He was also a bit of a bully over food, and Valentine was suffering because of it. He always had trouble keeping weight on, and if Romeo chased him away from the food, well, by golly, he didn’t want any trouble. He just gave up and got skinny.

About this time, we started noticing other troubling symptoms with Valentine. He always had kind of an ungainly walk – his gait, when you found it while riding, was absolutely amazing. He was the Cadillac of horses. His normal walk on the other hand, was a sight to behold, and not in a good way. That’s why we didn’t really notice at first when he stumbled now and then, but he got progressively more clumsy. Then one rainy day, he slipped walking down the hill to our barn and couldn’t get up on his own. He was thankfully unharmed but it took the tractor to get him up. We thought it was a fluke but it happened again a couple of months later; we started to leave him in the barn when the weather was bad, so he wouldn’t run the risk of slipping in the mud. Shari (not just a horse person but a 20+ year vet tech) had some theories, but we were still hoping maybe he was just getting older (he was 21 at this point). Then he went down on flat ground on a dry day and couldn’t get up without our help. Then we got serious trying to find out what was wrong with him.

The leading theory was EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis), a neurologic disease that you can read about here. I don’t want to get into that too much because it’s still incredibly painful to think about, but I’ll just tell you that he went through a lot of testing and therapies trying to pin down what was wrong and try to make him better. The long and short of it is, we never really knew what it was for sure, and he didn’t get any better.

Things really got bad the week of Christmas. I prayed that, for at least that week, we wouldn’t find him laid out in the barn when we came up there on one of our many visits to care for him, and that we wouldn’t have to make the hard decision to let him go any time that week. Thankfully, he made it through but we knew all that week that the day was coming soon.

As you horse owners know, it’s no small thing to put a horse down. Truthfully, if Valentine were just a dog or cat, we would have taken him to the vet much sooner, and just buried him in the back of the pasture, Christmas or no. But given that he was a 1200-pound animal who was having trouble walking, it wasn’t so easy. We had to find someone with a backhoe who was available during a holiday week, and find a place that would be easy to get my big boy to, before and after the event. We also had to protect our only other remaining equine, Jazzy, from falling into the hole once it was dug (which she undoubtedly would, being as curious as a cat).

The first task was easier than I expected. Our first choice, the man who took care of Cash for us, was out of town on vacation, but Shari’s mom had someone doing work at her house who agreed to come out the same day, dig our hole, and come back the next day to move Valentine and fill the hole. He just left his backhoe in our pasture. He was so kind.

The next decision was harder. We wanted to put him next to Cash, but that site was at the top of the hill, and quite a distance away. Even at his best, after a huge dose of anti-inflammatories and steroids, Valentine couldn’t safely make that hike, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him having to be dragged there, even if it wouldn’t matter to him at that point. So we found a nice spot downhill, a spot where we often saw him grazing when we looked out our kitchen window.

Tuesday, December 28. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. We had our absolutely wonderful vet, Kristina, come out at about 11:00 am, and Shari came too. At this point, we didn’t know if we were really going to make the hard choice, or if we’d give him a bit longer. We had decided that if we wanted to give him more time, we’d just barricade the hole to keep Jazzy away.

We didn’t give him any of his meds, so Kristina could see what he was like at his worst. She examined him, evaluated him, then gave him a LOT of steroids and a good dose of pain meds. He perked up a lot, but it was clear that he was nowhere near good. Another factor in our decision was that a snowstorm was coming in the next couple of days, and at this point the poor guy had to live in the barn aisle; he couldn’t even go into his stall because of the risk that he’d go down in a small space. If we let him struggle on, he’d have to brave the cold weather in a relatively unsheltered space.

This was an indescribably hard choice to make. One thing that helped so very much was that our vet is Christian; the four of us prayed over our decision. After a couple of hours of prayers and tears for us and treats for Valentine, we knew what the choice had to be, and felt mostly peaceful about it. I made Bill leave (he has issues with needles) and the three of us carefully led my boy out to a soft spot not too close to the hole. Kristina gave him his first shot, of sedative, and I gave him one more apple. Then she gave him the beuthanasia injection. He had one moment of what I’d call surprise, then went down directly on the soft wood chips. It was almost gentle, and as went as well as it possibly could have. I was with him every second, touching him and talking to him. Bill came back a few minutes after, and we all cried over him, reminisced, and said our goodbyes. Then Bill and I left and my dear, sweet, wonderful, irreplaceable best friend Shari stayed to call the backhoe guy and take care of the final steps.

The days after were even harder than I expected. Poor, poor Jazzy…Valentine was her very best friend, and since Romeo had gone to Shari’s, she was all alone. She grieved too. She also ended up escaping a couple of weeks after, and we still don’t know how. We haven’t found any place she could have gotten out. We ended up giving her to someone we know well who has two young sons to spoil her, cows for her to guard, goats for her to avoid – mules apparently don’t like goats, who knew? – and a potbellied pig who is in love with her. She’s settling in well over there, after a few bumpy days getting acclimated, but I don’t have high hopes for the pig-mule romance.

It has been six weeks now since we said goodbye, and some days are still hard. The barn is eerily empty – there was a horse in there the day we moved in more than 16 years ago (owned by a friend of the previous owners; we agreed to let him stay for a while), and until Jazzy left, there was never a day that we didn’t have equines to care for. Today, of course, is an especially hard day, and May 18 will be bad, too – Valentine would have been 22 years old this year. But I treasure the days I did have with him. He was the best boy, and I loved him, and I thank God I was allowed to have him for the time I did.

Will we have horses again? I honestly can’t say. Today, my answer would be no. Maybe Valentine was our first horse, and our last horse. But you never know.



The beautiful Moonshine

Sometimes, even the right thing to do is a very hard thing.

We realized months – no, make that years – ago that we had too many horses. Only two of us ride, and our herd had grown to four. For people who can barely find the time for the basics of horse ownership, having two extra horses to keep in shape is just not practical. Besides, one of them was just beyond our abilities to ride: Moonshine.

I have probably mentioned in the past that I work for a veterinary clinic. One of our clients just happens to own a rodeo business. My best friend and co-worker, Shari, thought he might be interested in another bucking horse. You might also recall that bucking is kind of a specialty of Moonshine’s. After a few weeks of trying to get our heads (and hearts) around the idea, we finally called the rodeo guy and he was indeed interested in a good bucking horse, particularly a pretty mare with papers. He just happens to specialize in paints, and Moonshine is a solid-bred paint. So one Saturday in July, we brought her over to his huge, beautiful farm. It was so hard to do, but it made it easier that she went to a place that loves horses and cares for all of them. We also learned that they are just like us, and keep horses pretty much forever, whether they need them or not.

Three months later, we are happy to report that Moonshine has successfully fulfilled her role as a rodeo bucking horse. At the farm, she joined a herd of three other horses that had never let anyone else into their group, and the four are inseparable. Strangely enough, she isn’t the boss of her new little group!

The boys missed her for a couple of days…or at least missed the familiarity of her being around. They seemed to adjust very quickly to her absence. Cash took the opportunity to declare himself herd leader, but I suspect that’s only the case in his own mind. I’m sure the real leader is Romeo, but he’s the quiet tyrant type. He lets Cash think he’s boss, but slaps him down now and again when Cash gets too overbearing. Valentine and Jazzy just try not to get in the way, as usual.

So that’s where our herd stands for now. We are planning to make one more cut – Cash – but we are in no hurry. The only way we can part with a horse (or dog, cat, goat, chicken, etc.) is for the new place to be a perfect fit. If that comes along, we’ll let him go. Otherwise, he’s here for life, with the rest of the misfits.

Valentine is a Ninja

Valentine is a Ninja

Valentine the ninja. Can’t see him, can you?

We’ve written about Valentine’s unique ability to sneak around our pasture (The Invisible Horse). At 16.2 HH he’s the biggest horse we have and a little lanky when he walks (though his TWH gait is beautiful). Well one night he didn’t come to the barn so Mikki and I went out looking for him. Actually this happened on multiple occasions, which leads me to think that he does it on purpose. With flashlights in hand we walked the pasture, called him and went to all the places the horses usually hang out, eventually covering the entire pasture. Valentine was nowhere to be found. We listened for ruffling leaves, clanking hooves or any other sign of movement and detected nothing. We mentioned last time how he sometimes meets us at the barn after these search walks but we can see the barn from part of the pasture and he wasn’t there. Now we were worried. We called again as we walked back towards the barn when all of the sudden something gently brushed up against me. It was dark so it was difficult to see just how high I jumped but when I finally landed and turned around, there was this giant horse standing behind us. I have no idea how he does it but as I said, he seems to thoroughly enjoy it. I’m adding “horse toy” to my list of job titles.

Do you have a ninja of your own? How has your horse used you as a toy?

Our first mule

Our first mule

Once a month or so, we hook up our flat trailer and head to our local hay supplier to get a month’s worth of round bales. All summer we’ve been greeted in our supplier’s hay yard by the sweetest little mule we’ve ever met. Jazzy would come and greet us and if our windows were open, would stick her whole head in the truck to say hi. She let us pet her all over, never biting, and if we allowed her, she enjoyed hanging out with the humans while the hay was being loaded and the fat was being chewed. Jazzy, her owner explained, was bottle-fed, raised by humans and made to feel like one of their herd. But Jazzy’s owner didn’t want her anymore and was talking about sending her to the sale barn where she’d probably fetch $25 and end up who knows where. Jazzy’s owner liked her well enough but didn’t really need her. Animals to him are livestock, meant to be bought and sold at will. I respect that, even though to us these animals are pets at worst and members of the family at best. Given the poor market for equines in Tennessee due to oversupply and under demand, we think we knew where Jazzy was headed.

Ever since moving to Tennessee, Pops (Mikki’s dad) has talked about getting his own mule or donkey/burro. After months of scratching her behind the ears and telling her how pretty she is, Pops decided he wanted this mule. A few days ago, she was loaded into our horse trailer for the short trip to our barn. Little 500 pound Jazzy was dwarfed but our seemingly huge trailer, the size of which was selected to fit 1300 pound Valentine. I wasn’t there when it happened but I’m told she didn’t want to get into the trailer. It was a new, scary experience for her but she made it without any serious issues.

Jazzy has been with us for a few days now and things are mostly fine. She’s adapting. Herd introduction was a little challenging and I’ll discuss that in another post.

Jazzy with Valentine
Jazzy with Valentine

So what are we going to do with a mule? In short, nothing. We don’t plan to ride her or work her. We’ve learned by observing her over the past months that she enjoys eating weeds along with hay. I think we can accommodate that. She won’t eat much and might be effective in keeping the coyotes out of our pasture. But to us, she’s a pet and a member of our family herd.

So Long to Our First Barn Dog

So Long to Our First Barn Dog

On Monday, we had to say goodbye to Jack, our loyal Jack Russell terrier.  My parents and I bought him as a birthday gift for Bill in 1998.  He was, as we liked to fondly call him, “the worst birthday present ever.”  Being a Jack Russell, he liked to bark at anything and everything.  To be expected, but so annoying!  As a bonus, for his first few months with us, he peed in the house and would not stop, culminating with an incident during a move from one house to another when he peed on our bed right before we fell into it, exhausted. Believe it or not, he survived that night, and that was the last time he ever peed in the house until his final illness.

He turned into a pretty good dog, though, and we loved him a lot.  He was our only dog when we moved here to Tennessee in 2005.  He adapted from city dog to farm dog quite well – he LOVED it here.  His favorite place, other than on the couch in the air-conditioned house, was the barn.  He had a thing for horse apples and hoof trimmings.

Last January we took him to the vet because we were afraid the Buddha belly he’d developed was more than just fat.  Alas, we were right.  It was fluid buildup due to liver failure.  The vet thought he probably had liver cancer.  We started him on diuretic medication to make him more comfortable and began to wait for the inevitable.

A year later, he was still plugging along, but he had developed diarrhea and started peeing in the house.  Took him back to the vet and discovered that he was now also in kidney failure.  We put him on SQ fluids and a special diet and waited for the inevitable.

The diuretic stopped working a couple of months later so we stopped giving it.  His breathing got to be more labored but the tough little dog hung in there.  He started having problems eating too, and after a really tough couple of weeks, he virtually stopped eating altogether last week.  We reluctantly agreed that the time had come.  So on Monday, July 25, we had to say goodbye for good.  Jack was 14 years old and we’d had him for more than 13 years.  Wow, was that hard.  Knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier.

RIP little Jack buddy.  We’ll miss you.

My Boots are Back On!

My Boots are Back On!

BootsYay!  One step closer to resuming normal life.

Bill was out of town and Cash turned up lame (more on that later) so I had to do some horse stuff, and I didn’t want to do it in my tennies.  So I thought I’d give the boots a try, and I got them on!  More importantly, I got them off again later, with no pain.  I wouldn’t call them “comfortable” quite yet, but I’m not going to complain.

Uses for hay bale twine

Uses for hay bale twine

Hay twineOne of these days I’m going to keep track of the hay twine we go through and weigh it. We put out around two large round bales of hay a week for our four horses and end up with a handful of twine like you see in this picture. The big round bales where we live are usually secured with a plastic poly twine like this and the smaller square bales use a biodegradable sisal fiber (from an agave plant). Every square bale of hay we open gives us two more pieces, about 16 feet total. I could throw it away but I can’t help but thinking there is a good use for all this leftover twine. In our old forum discussion about uses for hay bale string, we got some great suggestions, especially from user shellz9 who quoted an article by Amy K. Habak called “30 Hay Twine Uses”. Here are a few that caught my eye:

  • Replacing missing horse blanket straps
  • As hanger loops for horse tools like hoof scrapers and brushes
  • For temporary fence repair (we use it for this a lot)
  • As a quick temporary lead rope

Dora Renee Wilkerson, a visitor to our horse blog, has another great use for hay twine – rugs. Dora makes really nice looking, useful and durable rugs by knitting the discarded hay twine:

Hay twine rug 1

Hay twine rug 2

She even has a great how-to article for making your own hay twine rug.

Mikki came up with another use that’s especially handy in the muddy winter months: disposable boot scraper. Here’s a short video that explains:

What kind of things do you use hay twine for? Anyone built a giant hay twine ball yet?

Horse Trailer Near Miss

Horse Trailer Near Miss


A friend of ours had a scary near-miss with a horse trailer yesterday. Driving down an interstate highway headed back home from a barrel race, she was suddenly shocked to see a car racing towards her truck at a high rate of speed…on the wrong side of the highway. Luckily there wasn’t a car in the next lane.  She was able to swerve out of the way just in time. She said it seemed like the car barely missed hitting her horse trailer. Later it was reported that the highway was shut down to apprehend the driver, who at times was driving at an estimated 90 mph. Unfortunately no further details were available. Can you imagine? Things can happen so fast! For sure, no one was expecting a wrong-way driver on the interstate that day.

I’m not sure what to take away from this as a learning experience other than to try to always pay attention to your surroundings and to always think of a way out, just in case.

Do you have any harrowing horse hauling stories to share?

Snow and horses

Snow and horses

Cash in SnowI bet many of you experienced some winter snow these past few weeks. In east Tennessee where we’re not accustomed to much snow, we enjoyed a rare white Christmas, with about 5 inches of snow falling and then sticking for a few days. We’ve mentioned before how much our horses love snow (January 2009 horse play) and of course our horses played and rolled in it like a bunch of very big kids. We brought them in at night since they were wet by then and the temps were in the mid 20s and it seemed like a good idea to keep their feet out of snow and ice for part of the day. Of course when we finally let them out the next morning, they bolted from the barn.

The picture above is of Cash. It’s HDR so the colors are blown out a little but it illustrates nicely how dirty he gets. That reddish white you see is supposed to be as white as the snow in the background but if you have white horses, you probably know how that goes.

Did you see any horses playing in the snow?

By the way, happy new year!