When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was a story about a horse who became a unicorn when he died. It's something that always stuck with me, and somewhere within me I'd like to believe that's what really happens when a horse dies. Gwen became a unicorn last night.
1987(?) - September 5, 2012
I bought Gwen in March of 2000. I was in college, and my first horse Thunder had died eight months before that. Gwen was about 15 hands of feisty attitude, and to say we had some issues right out of the gate would be an understatement. She immediately went off for professional training, and returned with a vastly improved outlook.
Foot problems kept her from being the trail horse that I'd expected, but we enjoyed our flatland rides. She retired, so to speak, at the age of about 18, when I was starting to train my young horse Shylah for riding. And it was in her last few years that I really grew to love Gwen. She mellowed, she softened, she was better with Shylah, and she finally seemed to really enjoy the company of people. I could climb on her back as she stood in the corral next to the fence, and I didn't worry about her taking off. She was perfectly happy to just stand still and get a back scratch, or if she did amble around the pasture I felt I could finally trust her. That wasn't a bond we had early on in knowing each other. In her late years, she was particularly good with kids, and packed around quite a few of them in little jaunts around the corral. But she was still terrible with other horses (other than Shylah), to the point of being unsafe. She was a bitchy old mare, but she was my bitchy old mare, and I loved her in spite of that. Or maybe even because of that.
She had health problems, and more than once in the last couple years I wondered if her time might be coming to an end, but she always bounced back. I worried a lot about what to do with her when I moved. If I had been able to find the right home for her, I would have rehomed her, but I didn't find one, and bringing her with me wasn't a good option. So she stayed in Wilton, in the pastures where she'd spent the last twelve years, and in hindsight I'm so glad she was able to live out her life there. A few months ago, I didn't know she only had a few months left.
When I saw her a few weeks ago I was disturbed by her appearance, she was starting to decline. I made the decision at that time that I would have her put to sleep before winter. In the last week, she had multiple bouts of colic, all relatively minor. Of course this was all relayed via phone call, my mom was taking care of her. It sounded like maybe the end was going to come faster than I thought, and I couldn't deal emotionally with trying to figure out what to do from 200 miles away. It was probably time, but should I go say goodbye or would that make things worse, and was I sure it was time, did I need to call my vet, etc... I gave it a night to sleep on it, and yesterday I felt that I absolutely HAD to get down there, right away. So I did, and thank goodness I did, because I arrived to find her in pretty serious distress. It was time, there was no doubt. I had maybe a half an hour with her before my vet arrived, and it gave me time to say goodbye. I sat on the ground with her and put my hands on her, and it was the first time since I'd gotten there that she stopped rolling and thrashing, and was still... calm... peaceful. I told her I loved her, and I told her goodbye, and I told her what was about to happen and that soon she would stop hurting. I know the words don't mean anything to animal, but on some level I'm sure she understood.
I stayed until my vet arrived, and then I had to leave. I couldn't watch when Thunder was put to sleep, and I couldn't watch Gwen either. As she was already flat on the ground, I know she went easy and just slipped away.
Losing an animal you love is a terrible painful experience, and I think losing a horse may be worst of all. It breaks my heart that she is gone, I am crying writing this, but there is also a tremendous sense of relief that she's no longer hurting and I no longer have to wonder when the time would be right.
So I have two unicorns in that great pasture in the sky now, Gwen and Thunder. I miss them both, I always will.