Friday, September 30, 2016

Grief: The Price of Caring

I had to put Jazzy down yesterday. She rests in peace next to the other two horses I’ve buried over the past six or eight years. 

Euthanizing her was a difficult decision. Other than her front feet, she seemed so healthy. I could see the strain beginning to show in her eyes, but she hobbled along valiantly until the end.

Jazzy's last meal
She appeared to be doing better the last week of August, so much so that I was letting her graze a few minutes each morning while I cleaned the stalls and enclosure. But she took a turn for the worse while I was out of town the first week of September. She developed an abscess at the hairline of her right foot. It may have been a result of putting so much pressure on that hoof while favoring her left one. My vet  gave her a shot of antibiotics, and instructed me to soak the abscessed hoof in a mixture of Epsom salt and iodine twice a day, and to continue the twice-daily doses of bute. He showed me the outline of the coffin bone, which was pressing on the bottom of the right hoof. He said if there was no improvement in the next few days, we would have some hard decisions to make. 

Four days later, she seemed a wee bit better, so I gave her the second shot of antibiotics. I guess I was just seeing what I wanted to see, because the abscess refused to heal. On Monday (September 26), my farrier showed me the thin bit of tissue remaining between the coffin bones and the bottom of each front hoof. I knew the end was near. I wept bitter tears that tasted of sadness, physical and emotional pain and self-blame. But I knew what had to be done.

I had three appointments on Wednesday, and would be tied up Thursday and Friday, too. So I lined up Dr. Coe and a track hoe for Monday morning, October 3. When one of my Wednesday afternoon appointments was cancelled, I decided that was the day. I knew I’d be a basket case if I waited until Monday. She would have been a mess, too, as it turned out.

With the sound of the track hoe digging in my woods, I fed Jazzy some carrots and hay and gave her two grams of bute to lessen the pain of walking on the hard ground between my barn and what has become my equine cemetery. I let her graze a few minutes on the brown stubble of grass in my pasture. It felt like a Death Row inmate’s last meal.

“I don’t have to ask how you’re doing,” Dr. Jason Coe remarked when he arrived. He took one look at Jazzy’s abscess, which was weeping almost as much as I was, and shook his head. When he picked up her right hoof, he saw blood. “The coffin bone has pushed through,” he said. Ditto on the other foot. It was the sign I had prayed for, the one that told me I was doing the right thing.

We led her to the grave, and Coe gave her the lethal injection. In less than two minutes, she went down. It was that quick. I stroked her, clipped some of her mane and tail, and went back to the house. I had wanted to be with her until the end, but couldn’t watch the burial.

Angie Osborne, one of my horsey friends, came over to my house that night with a bottle of wine. We drank a glass, ate leftovers, and talked about death and grief over a new cocktail I invented. As I told her, death came so swiftly it was eerie, a harsh reminder of how fragile life is. One minute you’re grazing happily, the next minute you’re 10-feet under (the depth for horses). 

This is my second animal loss in two months. I’m so tired of grieving, but it’s the price we pay for caring so much.


  1. Sending love and BIG horsey hugs to you my dear sister. Love is hard sometimes. xxoogg

  2. May the memories give you comfort and the tears bring you relief. It always breaks our hearts but knowing we were there loving until the end brings us peace. Hugs, betty packard