Life Stopped

I lost Ava. She died.

Saturday morning she was bright and cheery, demanding her breakfast. By that afternoon she was in serious trouble.  She was euthanized when the sun rose Sunday morning.

I don’t know what happened. I fed at 6:30 am, and when I went out at 1:30pm I found her down in the stall, coated in sweat, and in obvious distress.  I knew she’d been that way for a while when I saw her.

What killed me is when she saw me in the afternoon, as she was laying in the stall coated in sweat and in obvious pain… she nickered at me… an almost “Thank God you’re here” type nicker.

I feel guilty, and gutted, and depressed, and just… heart broken.

I miss her terribly.

I had the vet come the moment I saw her. We tried everything, but nothing about the situation was normal.

The vet said later that the symptoms and situation were so troubling to him that he spent several hours pouring over her past vet records and researching what he saw with Ava. At the end, the vet suggested a hypothesis of cancer.

I don’t know how much of this blog you’ve read, or if you follow it that closely, but if you do then you’d remember Ava had a grandmal seizure this past January. We never did find what caused that.  Blood work and everything came back completely normal.

At the same time, she developed some minor ataxia in the hind end. You’d wouldn’t have even notice if you didn’t know the horse, or specifically test her on it.

Lately, I had noticed the ataxia was getting worse.  Not scary worse, but the kind of degradation where you second guess yourself…. But I knew it had gotten worse.

What I also didn’t write about is that she would stock up terribly lately. Before this year she’d occasionally stock up if stalled for long periods (locked in a stall 24/7 for more than a day). Lately she was stocking up badly even with the freedom of the paddock attached to her stall. It seemed like her hind legs only ever went down to normal right after I rode her or she had been wandering the pasture for several hours.

I’d also noticed that where her jaw and her neck met, that area seemed to stick out more than it used to. My poking and prodding didn’t cause any pain reaction, so I set it aside as something to keep an eye on… but it was so slight that it was easy to fool myself into thinking it always been that size.

She started having difficulties breathing during work. I chalked it up to unfit and hot weather and slowed down our work, walked more, made it easier on her.

I’d also noticed my air fern started losing weight the past two months. I chalked it up to my awesome feed management program with the new supplements and vitamins she was getting. I was so pleased with myself that I was finally getting control over of her weight.

She started to have more frequent bouts of colic. This last colic was the third colic this year. The first one was a definite impaction at the beginning of the year, and we navigated through it without too many issues. The second was mid-summer, and it resolved itself before the vet had even called me back (why do these always strike on weekends). Then this third and final one last weekend. For a horse whose entire history included one very minor gas colic five years ago, this was way off course of normal.

She didn’t want to move as freely or as much. I’d let her and Joy into the pasture, and Joy would kick up her heels and take off, while Ava would mosey out. I chalked it up to being a more mature horse.  Occasionally she’d still give the slow trot out there, and every once in a while she’d buck and fart and gallop out.

Everything, by itself, didn’t scream “You have a big issue!”. It wasn’t until the vet brought up the C word that I started wondering about all those little things together.

It really doesn’t matter what caused it… she’s gone.  I’m happy she’s not in pain now, but God damn it fucking hurts.

You’ll think I’m crazy, but Ava used to tell me when she was thirsty. I couldn’t point to a specific thing she did, and maybe I just anticipated really well, but I’d just know and I’d go grab her a bucket of water. She’d drink it down. Which, if you know horses, if they aren’t thirsty, you can get bent with the water. This was usually when I was tacking her up, or times she wasn’t free to just go to the trough and drink.

She’d look for me every time she heard the back door open.

When I called her name when she was in the pasture, she’d nicker and come galloping to me. And she’d always stop at the last second to let me know “I could run you over, but I love you, so I won’t”. haha

She had this frustrating habit of aiming both hind feet at me when she was feeling fresh and full of sass. But she’d always leave 3-4 feet between us. Even if it meant she had to move forward a couple feet to leave that safety gap.. you could almost see her plan it out and measure distances. Used to drive me crazy that she’d kick out at me at all, but I knew she wouldn’t hit me on purpose ever. I guess that’s partly why I loved her so much… she had a wicked sense of humor.

We’d spent so much time together that she knew what I meant, in general, when I talked to her or pointed at something. I could tell her “Go to the gate” and she’d dutifully go to the gate and stand there while I finished in the barn. Then I’d wander out and open her gate to let her into the pasture. If she was nervous about something, I’d tell her what was going on, and she’d settle.

She knew “Stay”. That was her favorite trick. If you told her stay and held your hand up, she’d stand there and wait while you did whatever. This only worked if new people didn’t show up though, because new people must be mugged for any treats, as if they were pez dispensers. haha

She’d kick, and bite, and threaten, and growl… but if you stuck a little kid in front of her she wouldn’t move a hoof, and would daintily take a treat from their tiny little hands with precision.

She loved walks through the woods. You could drop the reins and just stare at the trees as they passed by and Ava would stride out down the path without fear.  I used to steer her by touching her wither on whichever side i wanted her to move away from. Granted, you couldn’t stop her that way, but we’d just wander the woods until we eventually found our way home again.

I once watched her sniff the cat that had walked in front of her, and I thought it was going to be one of those touching moments of interspecies affection… when suddenly Ava got a glint in her eye and I could see her think “I can squish you!”… and then she tried.

I remember one time at the rated show, we were in the warmup arena and this lady kept riding straight at us even though she had plenty of room to pass left shoulder to left shoulder. I had moved Ava off the path several times, but I’d gotten sick of being forced to yank Ava out of the way for the billionth time, so I gave Ava her head instead. The lady came at us… and then I swear to God, her HORSE stepped off the rail with this wild eyed look at Ava like “Don’t kill me!”. I about died laughing. All it took from Ava was one look and that gelding wouldn’t even come close to us again.

I know she despised having horses near her rear. It was a sure fire way to get kicked. But if I asked her not to, then she wouldn’t. You could park your horse right on her butt, and if I asked Ava to tolerate, she would. Saved a lot of idjits from having their horses kicked over the years. Not sure why every one assumes all horses won’t kick.

I took Ava to a clinic one time and we were both really not feeling up to par that day. Cold, wet, early. We’d been warming up in a lack-luster fashion when suddenly the gate keeper yelled that it was our turn. I lead her up to the gate to enter, and I turn to Ava and said “It’s showtime” and I swear I could see her puff herself up and put on this… this persona of “I own this”. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. That transformation. And of course, she did rock it. She always did.

I decided one day, a few years back, that I was going to try riding Ava bareback. I hadn’t done it before, and I wanted to get better at it. So I hop on her in the arena. Everything was going great, until suddenly she was crow hopping and ducking her head and popping up in front like a pogo stick. By that point I’m starting to slide off the side of her…. when Ava suddenly comes to a complete stop and stands and waits for me to right myself. She toned it down after I righted myself.

I took her out to the back field one day after I hadn’t ridden her in a while. She was fresh, the weather was cool, and I was on her bareback. She saw a herd of deer and she decided we were going to gallop down a steep hill to get away from them. There we were, careening down a hill, and I can feel myself sliding up her neck with each stride. Scared the daylights outta me. I’m clutching mane for dear life, reins flapping. Halfway down the hill, and by that point I’m somehow up on top of Ava’s neck, not even on her back anymore, and I’m thinking all it would take is one hop or for her to duck her head and I’m off. Instead, Ava comes to a dead stop with her head held as HIGH and upright as she could get it until I could slide my way back to a secure spot on her back again. As soon as I right myself, she lowered her head and off we walked, like nothing had happened.

Seemed like every time I was just about to be toast, Ava saved my butt.

I used to go into her stall and scratch all the itchy spots. She’d “present” them to me. If it was a shoulder, then her shoulder was shoved into me. If it were her belly, then a giant rib cage was shoved at me. I’d scratch, she’d make funny faces, and then she’d sigh and go back to eating.

She had this crazy way of nickering when she thought you had a treat. treats She’d raise her head real high, tilt her ears toward you, and let out this soft and low wuffeling noise (really deep nicker). It was the cutest noise ever.

She used to love it if I stroked her nose. I could almost put her in a trance doing it. She’d lean her head into me when I did this and wouldn’t move a muscle.

She used to get so jealous if I touched another horse in the pasture. Didn’t matter if the horse was alpha or not. Ava would come barreling over and try to knock the other horse out of the way. Almost like she was saying “My owner! Go away!”.

Whenever we went somewhere new, or were in a situation that wasn’t the normal routine, she always tackled it like it was a challenge to over come, even if she was nervous about it. But when she finally let herself relax, she’d let out this blast of air… As if she’d been holding a big breath for a long time and finally released it all in one big, full body expulsion of air.

She always demanded that you be strong, emotionally. She never tolerated weakness from those she felt would attempt to control her. She’d test you, if you were a new person. First a snarky look to gauge your response. Did you flinch? Then the ear pin. Flinch yet? If you were oblivious to either of these signs, then she’d go in for a nip to see if you’d flinch and run then.  Your choices then were to admonish her, which she would accept as her due, or you could ignore it, or you could move away from her. If you chose to ignore it, then she’d turn around (as if she wasn’t doing anything but looking the other way) and then she’d lift a hoof and cock it in your direction. Not resting it. It was locked and loaded for firing.  You could at that point smack her, and she’d graciously take it as her due and deescalate. If you did nothing, she’d kick at you (purposely miss at this point). If you still ignored it, then it was game on and you were probably going to get kicked, bitten, and thrashed about some.  But if you admonished her, smacked her, got after her in anyway at any point during any of these “tests”, she would accept it as her due and then all “tests” were abandoned and you were okay to be around.

However, if you hit her, admonished her, or were aggressive toward her and Ava didn’t feel she did anything wrong… then it was game on. You would get the full brunt of Ava’s wrath for as long as she felt necessary to get you to leave.

Not that you couldn’t make a mistake around her. If you mistook a leg lift for a threat to kick and whacked her, she’d let it go if you apologized (apologies in the form of cookies were welcome, but you could simply change your body language back to being soft and give her a pat and she’d accept that too).

She had different whinny’s for different things. The low, deep in her throat was “I’m happy to see you”. The higher the pitch went, the more it became a “Get over here and give me food!”. The full body, ear blasting scream was reserved for the occasions when she was thrilled to see you and desperately wanted something (usually to get out of the rain).

She hated the rain. Hated it.

I used to take her to the field behind the house, and gallop her along the wood line. Her mane would whip back and encompass me. The rhythmic cadence of the canter would change into power as she lengthened her body and lowered her head. Tears from the wind streaming down my cheeks.  She loved it. Being able to let go and run. And yet, if I gave a soft ‘whoa’ and sat up, she’d slow and come back until we were walking again.

Whenever we were working on something really hard for dressage training and Ava was not quite as passionate about getting it done as I was… I’d tell her “Give me one last big try and we can quit”, then we’d start the exercise again. Over the years, Ava figured out what  that phrase meant, and eventually when I’d say it, she would… she’d give it her all after I said that. Even if she didn’t do it right, or it wasn’t perfect, we’d quit for the day and go have cookies. But it was so neat to see/feel that change. To see the depth of her grit and “try” that she had in her, was awe inspiring.

She literally stared down a falling tree when I asked her to. That’s how much this horse believed and trusted in me.

It was raining when I walked her to the pasture for the last time, to the spot where she would be put down. I wanted to cover her head, but didn’t have anything to shield her. I tried to sing to her, to let her know everything was going to be okay, but I was crying so hard I could barely force the air out of my lungs.

I failed her in so many ways….

I thought we’d be tottering around the fields in our old age, being grumpy old women together.

I miss this mare so deeply.

6 thoughts on “Life Stopped

  1. What a beautiful summary of Ava. She was stunning. I know you’ll miss her forever, but be thankful you had her for the years you did. I loved watching the two of you when you showed her. In hindsight, there was nothing you could have done to change the outcome. On the other hand, you gave her years of love and care. She couldn’t have asked for more.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m so very sorry for your loss of Ava, your beloved equine friend. Our horses are our best teachers and we miss them so much when they pass on.May she gallop on in your heart and the heavens.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh no. I am so sorry. My guy died unexpectedly right in front of me, nothing I could do. I did the same thing, looking back and checking off boxes of things that were not serious on their own, but added together… they were. You gave her lots of love and the best care you could. I think in the end, that’s what they want. Love and attention. And you gave her all of those things.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so very sorry to see this. It is a heart breaker. I do remember the seizure. It is good you were there with her and you are right her nicker was a “thank goodness you’re here”. I had a shrill whinny from my horse Tommie who had foundered in the paddock and 24 hours later I had him euthanized. I send Ava an “apple for the road”.

    Liked by 2 people

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