Two-Year Anniversary of Shorty's Death
He was my first horse. And a helluva kickass little pony he was, too. I'd like to share the following tributes I wrote immediately following his euthanasia...
Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
The plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to
Yesterday morning I had to make the call that every animal owner dreads. Shorty was down, uninterested in food, feverish, and miserable. After a six-month battle with cancer (and after being told he wouldn’t live to see the end of January), it was finally his time. Nobody wants to play God and make the decision to end a loved one’s life, but in times like this, you’ve just got to do the best you know how. So I gave the boy a few pats and hugged his neck and shared some tears with my mom, then I dialed the vet.
By the time she arrived, Shorty was standing, but his breathing was labored and his appetite still very diminished. The bute he had been given had brought his temperature down somewhat, but not enough, and he was hot to the touch. My mom sponged him off with cool water and we offered him all the treats he would take. The vet checked his vitals, then turned to us for the go-ahead. We all agreed there was no point in carrying on. Even if by some miracle we were able to nurse him through this bout as we have the previous two flare-ups, the cancer was certain to rebound again in the near future—perhaps at the hottest time of the day, or in the middle of the night, when no one was around to help him. No, as difficult as it was, it had to be done.
We led him from his stall to the place we had decided he would be buried. At first he was reluctant to move, and we feared we’d have to euthanize him in his stall and then drag him a quarter mile with the tractor to reach the grave. Once we got outside, however, he seemed to liven up. He wanted a drink of water, which we gladly provided, and red clover, which we picked in handfuls and fed to him. Seeing him like that, rallied, was almost enough to make us second-guess our decision. But Shorty has always been a stoic horse, and we knew he was suffering. His eyes were tired. Always the good boy, he walked along obediently, oblivious.
We found a shady spot in the back pasture, and decided that this was the right place, if there can ever be a right place for something like that. My mom said her final goodbyes and left, but I elected to stay, for whatever reason I don’t know. The vet tech held his head while the vet injected a sedative. He drooped and grew limp. I bawled and stroked his muzzle. Then the IV was attached and the lethal cocktail was administered. Halfway through the dose, he crumpled and fell. His eyes rolled and glazed. We all three knelt over him and rubbed him, while the vet spoke comforting words. And then, a few violent but unconscious spasms later, he was gone.
Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way
We walked back slowly and silently. The vet had cut a lock of his braided tail, which she discretely slipped to me. I hid it from my mom. A man with a backhoe was summoned, a hole was dug, and that was the end of that. So anticlimactic.
I cried off and on all morning, but I’d already expended so much grief over the past six months of trials that I didn’t have a whole lot left. I was just glad that he didn’t have to suffer; that he went easily, that we wouldn’t have to worry anymore. But just the previous midnight (24 hours before me typing this now) he had felt fine. We had been out to see him, and he was grazing contentedly in the light of the waning moon. Ten hours later, and he was dead. That’s life. Things change in an instant.
While Shorty was cheated out of time he should have had (at 15, he was only halfway through his life expectancy), at least he had the best retirement a horse could ever hope for. He was pampered and spoiled. He had free reign of the barn and could come and go from his stall at will. He was given all the most delicious and expensive treats, and he was checked multiple times a day to make sure he felt well, was eating, and did not have a fever. I gave him all the drugs the vet ordered and bought him all the time we could. Most of the time throughout his ordeal, I think, he actually felt pretty good, if tired. He was living the good life—the one we all deserve.
Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around
Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground
But I make it sound as though Shorty was lucky to have us. While that is true as far as it goes, we were the lucky ones to have him in our lives. He was my first horse, and I got him eight years ago this month. He taught me so much, and tolerated my novice whip-jerk-kick horsemanship. He won me innumerable ribbons, trophies, plaques, halters, saddles, checks, and prizes, besides. Even last year he was still winning pole bendings without even trying. He took care of me in my youthful foolishness, and when I outgrew him, he proved to be a faithful and steady trail horse for my mom. Unflappable, kind-hearted, and quiet, he was lazy as could be with a beginner rider on his back, but a wild spitfire whenever I asked him to run. He knew the difference, and he knew how to deliver exactly what his rider needed. A horse like that—who is simultaneously an athlete and a babysitter—is hard to come by. Shorty truly was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse on so many levels. He was a good, good boy.
And there’s more than that, too. Shorty came during a transition period in my life, and he saw me through all seven of my years at Central as I grew and changed completely, throughout adolescence and the upheavals of the teenage years. And he changed the course of my life, too, for he indirectly started me on the path of Veterinary Medicine, and he taught me how to ride and train, and he’s the reason that I now live on 31 gorgeous acres in the country. That’s a big influence for such a little horse. But you can’t measure that unseen quality: heart.
Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again
For the most part, my mom (who loves the horse even more than I do) and I have been handling the grief as well as can be expected. I only lost it when Buddy started crying for Shorty. Bud came here seven weeks ago as a loaner for me since all of my other horses are, for whatever reason, out of commission (it’s been a really bad year). From the first night of his arrival, he immediately latched onto Shorty, who has always been solitary by nature. Buddy wouldn’t leave his side, however, and whenever another horse came too near, he’d run it off and herd Shorty away from the perceived threat. I’m not one to look for deeper meanings in things or believe in spiritual sentimentalism, but it was almost as though Buddy came as a guardian angel during Shorty’s time of need.
Anyway, as we were leading Shorty to his final resting place, I caught up Bud and put him in Shorty’s stall so he wouldn’t get too nosey or upset. But he just watched out his window and called loudly to his friend as he walked away. And, hours later, when we turned them all out for the night, the first thing Buddy did was run to the spot where he had last seen Shorty, neighing all the while, looking around, ears pricked, distressed, concerned. I hate to anthropomorphize, but it was quite clear what was going on. Anyone who says animals don’t experience emotions and attachment is cold and deluded. The same goes for anyone who claims that, if there is such a thing as a “soul,” only people possess it. Again, that’s sheer arrogance, as far as I’m concerned.
Eventually Buddy quieted and calmed down, although he’d still periodically lift his head and look around for his pal. Yes, Shorty, you’ll be sorely missed. Godspeed, little buddy. And thank you.
When it comes to the question, “What happens after death?” I tend to break it into two parts. First, there is the spiritual/religious aspect: Where does the soul (presuming a soul exists) go? I’ve heard countless answers. There are the traditional concepts of Heaven and Hell, which I’ve never found particularly attractive. Someone once explained to me that your last waking (living) moment stretches out infinitely, and you’re left with the eternal experience of the peaceful turning-point of death. Then there’s reincarnation, which is an appealing thought and no more ludicrous or provable than any other theory. Still, the question, with its completely unknowable answer, is enough for me to turn back to my stanch agnosticism, throw my hands up, and say that I neither know nor truly care. Might as well argue how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, for all that.
But when it comes to the physical side of things, the reality is much more definite. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, indeed, but it’s much more beautiful and vibrant than that. Decay and synthesis. It’s Elton John’s Circle of Life all over again. Yes…and isn’t that a beautiful concept?
One thing: grass and grasshopper. One thing: grasshopper and sparrow. One thing: sparrow and fox. One thing: fox and vulture. One thing, Jared, and its name is fire, burning today as a stalk in the field, tomorrow as a rabbit in its burrow, and the next day as an eleven-year-old girl named Shirin.
The vulture is fox; the fox, grasshopper; the grasshopper, rabbit; the rabbit, girl; the girl, grass. All together, we’re the life of this place, indistinguishable from one another, intermingling in the flow of fire, and the fire is god—not God with a capital G, but rather one of the gods with a little g. Not the creator of the universe but the animator of this single place. To each of us is given its moment in the blaze, Jared, its spark to be surrendered to another when it’s sent, so that the blaze may go on. None may deny its spark to the general blaze and live forever—not any at all. Certainly not me, for all my giant intellect. Each—each!—is sent to another someday. You are sent, Jared—Louis. You’re on your way, both of you. I too am sent. To the wolf or the cougar or the vulture or the beetles or the grasses, I am sent. I’m sent and I thank you all, grasses in all your forms—fire in all your forms—sparrows and rabbits and mosquitoes and butterflies and salmon and rattlesnakes, for sharing yourselves with me for this time, and I’m bringing it all back, every last atom, paid in full, and I appreciate the loan.
My death will be the life of another, Jared—I swear that to you. And you watch, you come find me, because I’ll be standing again in these grasses and you’ll see me looking through the eyes of the fox and taking the air with the eagle and running in the track of the deer.
I’m torn in my grief. On the one hand, I think it’s silly. Shorty was, after all, just a horse. Just a horse in the sense that I am just a girl, and really neither of us is particularly significant in the general scheme of things. Really, I must be grieving more for myself and what I have lost (memories, namely), and if this is the most traumatic loss that’s occurred in my life, perhaps I need to get out more and see what it’s like to have a child or best friend die.
But on the other hand, I know there’s far more to it than that. All people are wired in different ways, and, well, I’m wired towards horses. It’s my make-up, my career path, my calling in life. I can’t change it, and I certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of it. And even at that, I suspect I feel the grief less acutely than others might. I’m lucky or cursed enough to have some capacity of emotional detachment.
But for an animal that saw me through years of adolescent angst, who helped to solidify my future goals, who served as a catalyst for my current lifestyle, who was always quiet, always patient, always kindhearted and willing, who won me money and took care of me, who loved peppermints and Twizzlers more than anything else in the world, who was wrapped in an adorable jet black package, who served simultaneously as teacher and pupil, whom I rode at least 2,000 times, if I had to count (and that might be a low estimate), who was faithful, and calm, and athletic, and a good partner and friend—what else can I say? The loss is huge, but life will go on. Already it's getting easier.
The little nondescript grave doesn't look like much. Just a raised area of gray dirt that's packed down hard by the weight of the tractor and scarred by broad tire marks in red clay. No marker adorns the spot as of yet, and no radiant angel stands guard to mark its holy significance and command all passers-by to stop, kneel, and pray. It's shaded in the morning beneath a copse of tall persimmon trees, but in the evening it faces the sunset at the base of a rolling green hill that serves as our hay pasture. Microbes and carrion-eaters have already moved in; the carcass will decompose, disintegrate, turn to earth, and from this earth will spring shoots that grow leafy and heavy with sugars, and this will be harvested, and baled, and utilized as nutrients by the hungry herd that remains.
Yes, and that will suffice.
The wind bids me leave you.
Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go.
We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.
Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken.
But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again,
And with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak.
Yea, I shall return with the tide,
And though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your understanding.
And not in vain will I seek.
If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts.
I go with the wind, but not down into emptiness;
And if this day is not a fulfillment of your needs and my love, then let it be a promise till another day. Know therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return.
The mist that drifts away at dawn, leaving but dew in the fields, shall rise and gather into a cloud and then fall down in rain.
And not unlike the mist have I been.
This day has ended.
It is closing upon us even as the water-lily upon its own tomorrow.
What was given us here we shall keep,
And if it suffices not, then again must we come together and together stretch our hands unto the giver.
Forget not that I shall come back to you.
A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body.
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.
Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.
What a lovely tribute. I am very sad for your loss.
What a beautiful pony. You were blessed to have him. So sorry for your loss
I wish I had more photos of him on my computer.
I know he looks mangy here, but he actually was in the prime of health when this photo was taken:
He definitely was a little pig and a food hound...
Tolerating my aunt, a total timid non-rider from Detroit. You could put anyone on his back. If they were a beginner, he'd take care of them and even sometimes refuse to go very quickly. If they were experienced, he just *might* throw in a little buck, rear, or bolt. He was a deadhead, plugalong trail horse and a pro rodeo roping horse and a solid barrel and pole horse and kids' lesson horse....all at once.
You don't come across a good horse like that very often.
Thanks for sharing, he was a beautiful boy, and he was lucky to have someone with the courage to take him on that last walk, while he could still make the walk and eat the clover.
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