Friday, December 4, 2015

Goodbye, Mare

I think, a few times in the past six months or so, I've made a passing reference or two to the Mare, my elderly Holsteiner dressage horse.  I purchased her in Jan. 2001 as a green broke 12 yr old, a horse that had been given rudimentary under saddle training in walk and trot (and whoa) at age 4, but then not ridden again until I bought her.  Obviously, I got her as a project horse; one that I was going to train in dressage while taking lessons to further my own riding education.

Well, as often happens in life with a husband and a bunch of children, my riding time got interrupted for long periods on a pretty regular basis.  Meaning, we'd be going great, the Mare and I, and then my Mom/Wife life would get in the way and riding and training would be on the back burner for months at a time.  Some years I would ride three to five times a week for most of the year, and some years I'd be happy if I got in the saddle once a week. Add in my instructor's failing health, and we haven't had a lesson in about eight years. So her training never progressed quite as far as I'd hoped. And we never got into the show ring (in addition to time, there's the whole money aspect of showing that my Mom/Wife life didn't allow).  We did have a nice solid Second Level set of skills in several areas (such as trot, oh what an awesome trot she developed), while still sometimes struggling to get much above Training Level on other things.

This past winter, the Mare became reluctant to trot under saddle.  It was as if the gait was too difficult for her.  Being the ripe old age of 26, I figured there might be some arthritis playing a factor there.  She had been semi-retired for a couple of years (meaning I didn't ride her hard or regularly, and had made the Quarter Horse my main mount), so I decided that rather than force her to trot during rides, I would just ride her at a walk.

But then some funky things started happening in her hind end.  A weird swelling on the inside of one hock that didn't make her lame or seem to bother her at all, yet it persisted for months.  Muscles she'd always had, even during long periods of not being ridden, began to shrink.  She developed a habit of standing with her hips tilted and one hind leg smack under the center of her body.  Sometimes she lay down right in the middle of her dinner hay and would stay down for hours, this mare who had always been one to clean up every last bit of chaff she could find.

All this happened over a period of months, one thing adding to another.  And I began to see something familiar, the muscle atrophy and posture reminding me of two other elderly Holsteiner mares I had known: the Mare's mother and mother's full sister.  They both had developed hind end problems/neurological issues in their mid to late twenties that had eventually led to them being put to sleep when they were no longer able to get around.

I had the vet out in early April to check her out, and to give all my horses their Spring vaccinations.  The vet performed a few tests on the Mare, and confirmed what I had come to suspect: neurological issues coupled with muscle wasting, and enough coordination problems in her hind end that it was unsafe to continue riding her, even at a walk.

So, the Mare became officially retired.  No more riding at all, no matter how light.  The chance of her stumbling and falling with a rider was just too great.

And, having seen what her mother and her aunt had gone through at the ends of their lives (they both were at the farm I used to work at for many years), I decided I was not going to put the Mare through any of the sort of suffering they had gone through.  I would put her down before the ground became frozen/rough or icy or deep snow that the winter season brings.

All summer, she ate well, but her muscles continued to deteriorate.  Her hips showed, then her spine started to become prominent even though her front end was still robust and her weight was good.  The muscle atrophy began to move toward her front end.  Her withers started to stick out.  And, recently, her shoulders had begun to shrink.

As her body was wasting away this fall, I had noticed that her spirits weren't always as cheerful or sassy as she'd always been.  It was getting tougher for her to move around.  Life was not as enjoyable for her as it had been earlier this year.  No doubt about it, it was time for me to let her go.

So, I made an appointment with my vet to have her euthanized. Yesterday was her last day.  I had her turned out with her buddy, the Old Man, for most of the day as is her normal schedule.  Then, in mid-afternoon I brought her into the barn, gave her a good grooming, fed her an apple and lots of treats (oh, she thought she was being spoiled rotten, all the goodies and attention she was getting), then I took her back outside to one of the remaining patches of grass still growing in this cold weather and hand-grazed her until the vet arrived.

It didn't take very long to put her to sleep.  She was happy and pampered right up to the end.  As I wanted her to be: not suffering, not struggling to walk or stand.

Goodbye, Mare.  Thank you for all the rides, for all the slobbery horse kisses, even for all the frustration when you were being naughty and "Holsteiner mare-ish".  Especially thanks for all the things you taught me as I was teaching you.

May 2012, our last ride I have photos from

one last photo, 12-3-15
age 26 years, 8 months

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