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Rest In Peace Cash

Rest In Peace Cash

Cash
Cash wearing Valentine’s halter.

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 –

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.

R.I.P. Sad Elvis

R.I.P. Sad Elvis

Sad Elvis

One of the many posts I’ve been meaning to submit these past few days is one I was going to call “Our new dog Sad Elvis”. Elvis had been hanging around our house for some time now, the unwanted dog of a neighbor who refused to restrain him. He was a hound mix with full size features on short little legs. He got along with all of our dogs and cats and although he occasionally would bark at our horses, he did it infrequently and at a distance. This poor dog was skinny but we didn’t want to keep him from going home for meals. Eventually, though, we took pity on him and began feeding him. Most days he had been laying by our front door in the morning, shivering. So eventually we opened our horse trailer and put a blanket in there for him. Last week we decided to bathe him and take him to the vet for a checkup. And since his owner wasn’t taking care of him, we decided we’d try to find him a new owner. The owner had been looking for a new home for Elvis so this wasn’t out of line. We kind of wanted to keep him but we have four dogs already. He was “ours” in the sense that we were the only ones taking care of him.

Since he was now clean and since the weather grew even colder, we invited him into the house. He was a good inside dog and mostly laid around the house all day. Then on the coldest night of the season so far, we let him out before bed so he could go to the bathroom and we never saw him alive again. The next morning we discovered he had been hit by a car on a road not far from our house. Mikki pulled him off of the road and I angrily drove around looking for his owner (we had only spoken with him on the phone and he no longer took our calls). We finally found the owner and demanded he take care of Elvis’ body, which he did.

So Sunday was very sad for us. Even though he wasn’t our dog, he had become a fixture around our little farm and we’re going to miss him.

BTW, we called him Sad Elvis because hounds look sad and because of the popular Elvis song “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog”. It seemed to fit.

Saying Goodbye to a Horse

Saying Goodbye to a Horse

Memorial to Mary, Lady TowneleyLast night was a sad night in our little corner of the world. Yesterday afternoon, our pastor was doing some groundwork with a young horse, Nipper, when Nipper spooked, reared, and fell, hitting his head on the ground. You can tell by the title of the post how it turned out. The fall apparently caused a brain injury; he was bleeding from one ear and didn’t rouse for quite a while. He eventually came to, ate hay and neighed to his stablemate but couldn’t control his head movement and couldn’t get his back legs off the ground. After 11 hours of sitting with him, watching him periodically struggle to get up, they decided it was best to let him go. The vet came back around 11 p.m. and put him down. It was very, very sad. They have two little girls, 9 and 8, and it was just heart-wrenching to see them cry over their horse. The pastor’s wife took it even harder. They got this horse when he was only 6 weeks old and raised him. He was two years old.

And as rough as yesterday was, guess what they have to deal with today? A thousand-pound horse that’s laying in their pasture. I can’t remember if I’ve addressed this issue here before – I think I have – but a sad fact of horse ownership is that you need to have a plan in place if your horse dies. The reality of it is, a horse is really big and really heavy. You can’t just get the shovel out, dig a little hole and lay him in it like you would the family dog. So what do you do? There are a couple of options.

Our pastor (and we) own a big piece of property, so a good option is to bury the horse on the property (that’s what our pastor will do, and we would too). The problem with that is, most people don’t own the equipment necessary to dig a hole large enough for a full-grown horse, and to move that horse to the burial site. Luckily, we know people who do.

Another option is cremation. There are companies who will come and get the horse and cremate the remains. I imagine it might be kind of expensive, but I haven’t checked into that. There are also agencies – municipal, county or state – who will dispose of an animal for you (again, probably for a fee). And for those of you who aren’t as soft-hearted as we are, there are even companies who will take the body and render it for goodness-knows-what. I’m all for recycling, but I’ll have to draw the line there.

Whatever you think is the best choice for you, plan ahead. You think it won’t happen for a while, you pray it won’t, but it does. And it seems that things like this happen at the most inopportune time – late on a cold night during a holiday week, the night before it’s supposed to rain, for instance. So, as painful as it is to think about, I urge you to be prepared. It will make a difficult time a little less of a burden if you have a plan in place.

(If the photo is hard for you to see, the inscription is “The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears” and is inscribed on a memorial to Mary, Lady Towneley, on the Pennine Bridleway in Derbyshire, England. I found the photo at www.idonohoe.com, a mountain biking site.)

Horses and Heat

Horses and Heat

It’s been a hot few weeks in east Tennessee, with highs around 107 in the sun. Our two horses are consuming water at the rate of about 50 gallons a day. It’s way more than they normally drink. As I mentioned before, we’ve taken to showering the horses once or more a day to cool them off. Today I filled their drinking water barrel up to the top around noon but by three o-clock I noticed they hadn’t been by to drink any. In fact, I don’t remember seeing them all day (our pasture is hilly and the rear part of the property isn’t visible from the barn). Worried, I grabbed Mikki and we headed out to find our horses. We found them up at the old barn taking shelter in its shade. To our relief, they seemed fine and happily followed us down to the barn where we fed them cold watermelon and showered them with cool water.

Now I know there are wild horses roaming the hot desert in Arizona and figure they find a way to deal with the heat there. But today I worried about heat exhaustion. We’re not working or riding our horses in this heat but I wondered how working horses dealt with the heat. Despite global warming claims, 100 degree days are not new to this area so what did farm horses do?

There is a website I visit often that shows pictures of the old days. The website is called Shorpy, named after a child laborer in one of the pictures displayed on the site. Horses are often featured and today I came across the picture below. Apparently in days past, animal rights groups spent a lot of time pushing for ethical treatment of working horses. It’s not something we think much about today since there aren’t nearly as many but it was clearly important back then. Click the photo for more info from Shorpy but be forewarned, the link takes you directly to a page showing the photo of a horse that died on the street from heat exhaustion. The photo below was taken in 1911 in New York and is entitled “free shower baths for horses” from the G.G. Bain Collection of photos. You’ll find it referenced in the comments of the photo at the link.

The photo of the horse that died from heat exhaustion is sad but was probably part of every day life in the city during hot summer days.

Photo courtesy of Shorpy – the 100 year old photo blog (link opens in a new window)

Horse Life Expectancy

Horse Life Expectancy

Leafless treeWhen we first started talking about buying a horse, we sought out advice on the internet and from people we knew with horses. It was universally suggested that we should purchase an older horse, 15-20 years old, especially if we we’re mostly interested in pleasure riding. It is reasoned that older horses are generally more gentle and usually have more riding experience. This made perfect sense to us, even though we ignored it to buy the horse (now horses) we have now. As regular readers will know, we have two horses, 6 and 8 years old. That’s pretty young even in “horse years”. One benefit to their youth, however, is that we probably have many years to look forward to, if we keep them (and we plan on keeping them). Just how long could that be? In my quest to answer that question, here’s what I discovered:

  • Although some sources indicate the average horse life expectancy to be between 20-30 years, I found accounts of horses living much longer.
  • The Guinness Book of Records shows a record of 62 years old. The horse was named “Old Billy”, born in 1760. This, however, is not the norm.
  • One of the Champion horses lived to be 41! See Just Like Gene and Roy.
  • Some locals here in Tennessee report horses normally live into their 30’s.
  • We’ve been told that a “Horse year” is equal to 3 human years. This is the “dog years” approach, where we compare horse life expectancy to human life expectancy. The average American is living to be around 78 these days. In “horse years” that’s 26.

To be honest with you, some quick internet research shows “horse life expectancy” estimates all over the place. I’ve seen 20 years old and I’ve seen 46. My non-technical way of making sense of the wild variation is to average it out. My uneducated guess is that, barring unforeseen circumstances, our horses should live to be up to 30 years old. For me, that means when Moonshine is a senior citizen, I will be able to sympathize, as I will almost be one myself.

What have you heard or experienced?