My Journey with Doc (Holliday) Rowe
An Epitaph for a Friend.
As I sit in a busy yet seemingly empty field, I find myself wanting to write a Memorial for my friend Doc.
A little background first, I am not a horse person. All my 56 years, horsepower has been measured in torque and cubic inches for me. Despite the fact that my father, Billy Joe Rowe and Family own a small horse ranch in Kentucky, he is indeed a horse person. They had all types of horses but the most memorable for me were Dads two black Tennessee Walkers, Dynamite and Macho. As a young adult I even rode them both. Kind of cool, but only one horsepower.
Over the years since that time, I have seen and interacted with horses, they are beautiful animals and seemed majestic as well as a bit scary to me.
Fast forward to me, age 56....... the Love of my life, Tabatha Rowe also a horse person, is interested in a horse.
Together with a dear friend, Stacy Hughes, the search begins.
After the dust had settled, she had selected a beautiful 6-year-old black Tennessee Walker. Deja Vue, perhaps.
After arriving at Stacy’s ranch where Jet would live, the bonding between Jet and Tabatha would begin.
For the next three weeks I watched as human and horse began to bond, I was also included, and it felt special. Tab and Stacy started telling me that perhaps I needed a horse of my own.
I sort of relished the idea secretly but put on the “are you kidding me” front. As luck, or later I would see it as God intervening, a mutual friend in Idaho happened to have a horse with no home. I was shown pictures of a 12-year-old beautiful sorrel Tennessee Walker. Deja Vue, I’m beginning to doubt that......
His name was Doc and, in his past, he had gone through quite a battle with Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis.
This awful disease was picked up in Doc’s home state of Kentucky and discovered by his new owners in Idaho. These folks are amazing with genuine hearts of gold. They spent countless hours and resources trying to find out what Doc’s problem was. Finally, success, EPM and with the right medicine they provided the progression stopped. Sadly, the neurological damage had already been done and Doc suffered from dizziness in the mountains.
In the three years following Doc’s recovery, he was placed with new owners a total of three times, every time being brought back due to his dizziness and the fact that he was not a rodeo type horse. These angels in disguise openly received Doc back in their home with the resolution just keep him so he could be loved and appreciated.
Enter me, the first-time horse partner. Looking at all the facts, it’d been three years since Doc had an episode, he needed a forever home, and the owners were willing to give me a chance.
We make a plan and begin the long drive to Idaho in December to meet this handsome fella.
I was very skeptical on the way there and wondered how I could even consider a “hay burner.”
We arrived at the farm early that cold December morning and managed to get the truck and trailer parked. We exchanged pleasantries and visited about the horses and the general state of the union.
Then, the moment came. The angelic owner walked Doc out of the field amongst the four other adults and little girl present. I was distantly watching the scene unfold. Doc walked right out and slightly acknowledged the others presence and headed purposely toward me. His approach was steady and sure, calming in a weird sense. I wasn’t afraid or even concerned that this 900-pound animal was on a collision course with me. I offered him a palm up hand and without hesitation he stretched his head up and gently placed it over my shoulder bowing his head and pulling me toward him. I was chosen.
I wrapped my arms around his big neck and hugged firmly, I chose him.
This was the first time, of what I would soon learn of many, that I would feel Doc’s lip and hot breath playing with my ear.
After this initial meeting it was time to load Doc in the trailer. I led him to the open door and realized, I’d never done this before. Like a four-legged Yoda, Doc gently met me side by side and showed me how this was done. Lesson one of a million......
We all visit, and the angel of horses tells us the story of Docs EPM, he still gets a little dizzy, all I can think is “well I get a bit dizzy as well, we’ll be a perfect fit”.
After a stop at the local Cal Ranch for a few treats and Docs very own blanket, the trip home begins.
In my years I’ve towed and pulled just about everything there is to tow, except today. I now have genuine live cargo in the trailer behind me. Standing and what seem to be too thin of legs to endure the 6-hour ride home. My friend Stacy informs me of how many tragic accidents happen to horses due to poor driving. Wonderful...... no pressure...... right.
White knuckles and darting eyes to all mirrors for the long drive home. All the time seeing Docs soft nose and eyes filled with hope and confidence. After many stops to check on Doc, we arrive at Stacy’s ranch. Finally, I can breathe......
Faced with uncertainty yet again, the four-legged Yoda taught me that he can just turn around and unload, no reverse needed. Wheww.
I lead Doc towards his new pasture where Jet anxiously awaits and is whinnying with excitement. Doc speaks back and confidently walks to the gate. Who is leading who I wonder. We introduce these two fine boys as I lead Doc around the perimeter of the field, no hesitation, just confidence, from Doc at least. Doc stops and gets a long drink, I never knew horses drank so daintily, no lapping involved. This is indeed a new world.
Stacy then comments, “let him off his lead and we’ll see what he does”. Visions of Wild West stampedes fill my head as I unhook the lead rope. Nothing. Just gentle wandering. Stacy comments again, “now just walk away”. Will she ever stop with these out of left field things?
Wow! Amazing! As I walk away, Doc just followed at a leisurely pace. No lead rope, nothing, just his desire to follow me. None of our three dogs do this, once off their leash, they are like fur missiles heading out on an adventure. Not Doc, he is content walking with me with an occasional nibble on his purple flowers he seems to like. New world.
The days go on as well as work, school, schedules and life. Doc and I gain confidence and bond as every day passes. By this point I’ve taken to lengthen his name affectionately calling him Doctor, he seems to be ok with it but nothing spectacular. I learn how to care for him, cleaning the “goop” from his eyes in a soothing manner. I also learned how to brush his coat, mane and tail. I’m amazed at how understanding he was with tangles, as a dad of two girls, this was impressive. We continue to walk the pasture and investigate new smells and the likes of that. He is getting along with Jet very well, schooling and being a Jedi master for this young man as well. Many times, I watched as they ran through the field, nipping at each other and kicking up their heels. Always friends at the end. They would stand side by side waiting to see who could get the beloved bucket of grain first we called Jet fuel. After fueling they would be off romping around again, just living it up.
I could just sit in the middle of the field on horse steps and wait. Soon Doc would saunter up to me and want me to pet him, in return he would lip me all over. Just feeling who or what this creature before him was. Never any teeth, just his expert upper lip. He seemed to have a “thing” for the toes of my boots. He would lip the toes and nod his head amazingly fast. Many times, I would laugh and feel elated as he would do this. He tickled my heart and soul. Jet would also get in on the petting and scratching action, standing just opposite of Doc. Some people would tell me, “Be careful getting between those horses”. Although the possible danger was evident to my brain, my heart KNEW beyond a doubt the Doc would never hurt me. I have absolutely no basis in fact or science that Doc would never hurt me, my heart just knew this a fact. A fact that Doc would prove over and over again.
Apparently, horses need to have their hooves trimmed. This as well was new to me although I generally knew it had to be done. A genuinely nice friend of Stacy’s happened to be the lady that takes care of this. New place and now a new person taking care of Docs hooves, ohh boy. The day arrived and the ranch was busily gathering all the horses for the main event, evidently this day is not marked on a horse’s calendar with a smiley face.
Enter me, Mr. not a horse person, halter in hand making my way to gather Doc. As I approach Doc, he just looks at me with understanding soft brown eyes. I present the halter and he simply lowers his head an inserts his nose into it like an expert. I was so proud to be the first one ready for the event, all thanks to Doc. I was a nervous wreck during this event, not Doc, he simply stood there staring into my eyes while the procedure played out. He was calming me the whole time.
It’s now February, and a cold one at that. Doc and I still spend time together in the field, but the new smells have become familiar. We walk together in the warm part of the day, and he steps ever so carefully to avoid stepping on me who was not so sure footed.
We made plans to ride in the spring and anticipated the better weathers arrival. I saw no need to saddle up Doc in questionable conditions.
By this time I had started calling him Doc Holliday due to his smooth swagger and confidant manner. He really liked when I would just call him Holliday. His ears would perk forward, and those beautiful brown eyes would lock with mine as we approached each other. I would always receive lip action and hugs when we met. I have had plenty of dogs and cats in my life and I love them dearly. The love they give with no demands feels so true. The love I am feeling with Holliday is every bit of that and much more. This gentle giant weights over 900 pounds and could stomp me into oblivion, but does not, all because of love and mutual respect. I would stand and sit with Holliday for hours and just talk or even sing, if he minded, he never said so. I could feel myself becoming so close to Doc. While walking, we almost moved as one, it is like he knew where I was going. I called my Dad, Billy Joe Rowe and apologized for so many years of asking him why did he keep those “hay burners”, now I had a good idea why. Such an amazing partnership.
I am at work when I get the call. Tabatha is telling me that something happened to Holliday. I race the hour drive home to find Tabs and Holliday in the stable. Tabatha is speaking softly to calm our big boy; Doc is visibly quivering and very scared. I start talking to him and he leans my way on unsteady legs and nuzzles into me. “Dads here big fella, Dads here. “Then a realization, Holliday is blind. His pupils are the size of his whole eye, he can only see or sense my hand near his eyes and inch away. My heart broke.
A voice, be careful in there, “Holliday won’t hurt me” was my reply. By now I am in tears and Tabs tells me she cannot get any vet to respond. She’s called all the vets, even to online thing which ended up being a dog and cat doctor only. Holliday is dizzy and leaning into me harder, sensing this he gently leans his weight away but keeps nuzzling me.
Holliday had a seizure and had fallen into the electric perimeter fence.
Stacy’s there and her and Tab are calling all the horse people they know and trying to reach the vets. The rest of the night is a blur, phone calls, web research and either Tab or I with Holliday, calming him, drying him from the sweat and giving him love. After a while Holliday began to calm down and slowly munch on some grass. Tab and Stacy had got him a large water trough and a makeshift water supply. With nothing else we could do, we shut the stall doors and lovingly said good night.
The next day Tabatha had sent videos of Holliday to our local vet Tess, upon seeing these she made a barn call as soon as possible. She drew blood for tests and gave him some anti-inflammatory to make him more comfortable. She suspected his EPM had relapsed. He still could not see but seemed to be in amazingly good spirits. Tabatha stayed with him most of day brushing him and keeping him calm. Tab and a friend Crystal discovered to a simple fly mask helped with any light and shadows that Holliday may be able to see.
That evening we are at the stable with Holliday providing care, comfort and love. Still, he seems to be in good spirits, nuzzling and lipping on Mom and Dad. I fight back tears as I watch him try to navigate the familiar field. My heart is breaking as I see him bump into things and search for his grass and water. Some people talked about just putting him down, a blind horse and all. We could not make that decision without all the facts first. Tess told us that he was not in any pain and other wise was in good health. We had to wait for the blood test results and Tess agreed with us that it was not “that” time.
Time ticked by like molasses in January, 8 days later, EPM has returned. The good news, it’s treatable, the not good news, Holliday will not likely get his vision back.
After having to special order Holliday’s medicine from back east we began to get him better. Doc and I had a long and heartfelt conversation about his future. I cried over his face for hours as we talked, him listening intently. It was clear by his attitude and everything else, he was not going to quit. Well, neither were we. I made a solemn promise to him that day, you will have a loving home until you, me or Mom does not have breath in our lungs.
With that Tabatha and I called on other dear friends Kristi and Klay Shafer along with Todd Fowers. They helped us purchase enough horse panels to keep Holliday separate from the other horses and the perimeter fence. We also bought vitamin E and other supplements that could help his EPM.
With the help of Stacy, her family and our son Mikey, we placed the panels to give Holliday plenty of room to wander from the stall and into the field to visit the other horses.
We all take turns walking with Doc and showing him the layout of his new surroundings. Holliday is cautious, yet determined, showing me what love, and determination can overcome. He still bumps into things but is not deterred, this strong boy will not quit. Doc and I have plenty of time to visit and talk. Every day he gets stronger and looks better and better. It is good to see he’s still a crazy boy, once while I was trying to give him his medicine, he was having quite the fit. It is an oral liquid and involves me squirting in his mouth, simple right. He was just not having this one morning and kept lifting he head too high for me. When I did get close, he would turn his head side to side in the typical “no” fashion. I could not help but to laugh and be amused by these silly antics, Tabatha was filming this, and we both laughed out loud at this. Doc did finally let me give him his medicine, albeit with a sheepish grin. This guy never ceases to amaze me.
The days go on, and now Doc is used to me walking towards the stables yelling “Holliday “. His ears perk forward, and he seems to stare at me with unseeing eyes through his fly mask. He uses his “sniffer” along with what seems to be just sensing that I am there. He walks toward me, and his ears perk up even more as he nears. I get the usual sniff over and then he steps closer and gives me an expert lipping. “There’s my Holliday “I tell him as I rub his lip and scratch his ears. He shifts his weight grazing the toe of my boot with his hoof, Doc immediately pulls it back and waits for me to adjust my foot. I am not sure how he knows, but he knew when my foot was clear and then stood once again. One evening as we stood in field my vertigo was taking hold. I was beginning to fall to the right and like a superhero, there was Holliday’s big head and nose underish my right shoulder! He stayed right there until I got my bearings, staring lovingly at me with sightless eyes. An amazing friend.
Tabatha, Mikey and I continued to care for Holliday, bringing Jet in the corral so they could visit. They would still come to me sitting there, Doc and Jet, nose to nose enjoying the love and companionship. Docs resolve to continue is absolutely amazing.
May 22. Devastation.
Tab and I stop by the barn after work to see Holliday and Jet. We discovered Holliday was down. Panic grips my heart as we try to get Holliday up and on his feet. Stacy and the Two of us manage to get him up, but he is kicking at his stomach. We are suspecting colic and begin to walk Holliday on a lead rope. Stacy and Tabatha are already on the phones to the vet and friends. Tab has contact with the vet and he’ll be out as soon as possible, Stacy gathers her whole family, and we all walk Holliday. I could see the panic in Docs eyes as I was walking him, tears running down my face. I kept telling him, “I’m right here Holliday, I’m right here”. I could feel his hot breath on me as he walked with his head over my shoulder. Please don’t go down boy I pleaded. Docs resolve kicked in and he walked and walked until the vet arrived.
The vet gave him medicine and some mineral oil in hopes to dislodge whatever had him colicky. Holliday and the 10 folks out there were exhausted. The vet said Doc needed to rest and nothing more could be done now. Everyone dispersed to rest except my love. Not her, she said “Doc would not be alone”. Tabatha refused to leave his side. Tab stayed with him all night and continued to soothe and care for him. He did not go down, not once.
The next day brought no positive results so Tess came out and administered another range of treatments. She discussed his EPM may have a hand in this and commented on how good he looked and acted compared to a month and a half ago. She stated the Doc was a fighter and it was not “that” time.
It was rainy snow mix with clouds and temperatures that were foreboding. Between work / school schedules and exhaustion, Holliday would be alone. Enter my loving sister-in-law Gabby, her 3 year old Kinzlee and Crystal. Doc needs love and warmth! Together they towel and blow dry him and he is loving this! Every time Gabby stops blow drying, Doc “gives her that look” like you’re not finished. After Doc is warm and dry, they put his blanket on him and just give him loves. Holliday always knew when the little one was close and was as still as a statue.
The next day was Saturday with still no positive results. The kicking was still there and some nipping at his own stomach. Tab, Mikey and I would not give up on Holliday. We hooked up the trailer.
Holliday had never loaded blind; this may be a disaster. Tab walked him around the ranch, stretching his legs from the night before. Waylon and Megan came to Doc’s aid as they had done a few nights earlier. Waylon and I opened the trailer and waited for Tab and Holliday. I take his lead rope and get him close; Tab and Stacy lift his hoof and show him the step up. “You got this Doc” Tab tells him. Holliday takes a step closer, lifts his hoof and lands it in the trailer! I lead him slowly in and he walks in like he has done this all his life! We slowly drive out of town towards the Vet, and we are followed by Waylon, Megan along with Erin and Daniel, all flashers on, going slow for his first sightless ride. What a sendoff, Holliday seemed impressed.
Doc rode like a champ all the way to town where again showed me that no reverse was needed for him to exit.
We were met by Tess and another tech who were busy but made lots of time for Holliday.
The did another blood test and took his vitals, heart rate still elevated. Tess says the Doc is an extraordinary stoic boy, any other horse with his heart rate would be freaking out. Not Holliday, cool as ever.
Despite his cool demeanor, Holliday is hurting and still kicking at his stomach. Tess and us agree on the “Hail Mary” play, Doc will receive 15000 ml of IV with the only medicine we have not tried. Anything to help Holliday. We spent the rest of the day with a lightly sedated Doc, we comforted him, and he comforted us as 3 large medicated IVs were ran into him. Afterwards we all took walks with Doc offering encouragement and love. Holliday got to spend the night there in the equivalent of a luxury suite. Despite his luxurious surroundings, Holliday and us both were sad to part.
Tabatha and I woke early that morning in preparation for visiting Holliday. Just as we got on the road, we got good news. Tess told us he had eaten most of the special meal they made him and looked like some pooping was going on. We were elated and sang church hymns as we traveled. When we arrived, there was Holliday and from the looks of things he had indeed pooped, but it was not the good semi solid. We took this as a win and brought him outside for hugs, loves and walks. He drank gingerly and munched on some hay. The belly irritation seemed to still be there though, so we were cautious.
Then it happened, Holliday went down, and hard. He started to thrash and was in a lot of pain. Tess gave him some pain medicine and he stood back up. This fella is amazing.
I am in complete tears and am horrified to see Holliday hurting so bad. Our Hail Mary play had failed. Tess tells us there nothing more medically that can be done, this will only get worse for Doc.
This was always known as a possibility, but just the words made my heart stop. It was one of the hardest decisions that Tabatha and I ever had to face. Neither of could stand to see Holliday in pain and grief, the decision was made.
Tess told us that he was not in pain, so it didn’t need to happen immediately. We had till four, it was already two o’clock! So little time, so many things left to do. I was absolutely devastated. At this moment, I am a complete mess, openly weeping on Holliday trying desperately to memorize and feel every inch of him. Tabatha is melting down, calling friends and family explaining the dramatic turn around. I am trying to comfort her as my heart is shattered into a million pieces, we are trying to console each other and be strong for Holliday. As we stand there under an overhang consoling each other, bump bump on my elbow, it’s Holliday! Even in the face of impending doom, there he is, lovingly looking at us with soft sightless brown eyes. We both caress this wonderful fella who has the heart and soul of a champion.
The weather was still miserable, rain, snow and now hail. This did not seem to phase Holliday who wanted to go on a walk with us both.
Tabatha and I both walked and talked with Doc, expressing our love and telling him it was ok to lie down, we didn’t want him to hurt anymore. Holliday simply would not quit, he just kept walking and nuzzling us. Tab and I brushed his coat and mane which he thoroughly enjoyed. “You need be extra handsome when you meet Jesus today” I told him. More smiles.
When we got a hold of Mikey, who was out of town for the weekend, he joined us as soon as he could. The smile on Holliday’s face was plain to see as he lipped and loved on “his” boy. Mikey was also loving on Doc who just kept smiling at him. Mikey took Holliday out for a long walk, what they talked about we still do not know. Holliday was in a different place when they returned, a look of peace around him.
The three of us surround Holliday and love and caress him. Speaking to him softly, “it’s ok big fella, we know you are tired, it’s ok”. Tabatha and Mikey step a short distance away, Holliday and I have soft words. “Holliday, I know you’re hurting, and I know you’re tired. I have felt the love you have given me and have tried to give you all that love in return. “Holliday nuzzles me gently and his eye lids are half closed. “It’s ok to rest Holliday, you’ll always be here in my heart and I’ll always be in yours.” Holliday is swaying now; he is trying to lay down. Something is keeping him from doing so, Tabatha softly tells me, “it’s you babe, you’re too close and he doesn’t want to fall on you”. Tearfully, I step away and Holliday lays down. Holliday will not hurt me.
Farewell ole friend.
The three of us surround Holliday telling him how much we love him and how proud we are of him. I caress his face, memorizing every line while tears fall on his nose. I tell him how much difference he has made in my world and that I will always love him. Lip wiggles on my hand.
I promised him that I would never leave him, and I didn’t, I stayed with Holliday, and he stayed with me melting my heart with those big brown eyes.
Somberly, Tess has appeared cautioning me to move so he does not accidentally kick me. I respectfully tell her “I’m not moving of leaving him, Holliday will not hurt me”. The tears had become a river off my face as I hold onto Holliday and feel him slip from this earth into the loving hands of the master. Holliday never kicked or moved, he just stared lovingly into my eyes.
I sobbed and wept uncontrollably after Holliday left this world, my heart was shredded into a zillion pieces.
After a while, my love Tabatha, “it’s ok honey, he’s at rest now”. She helped me to my unsteady feet and led me to the truck. More uncontrolled sobbing, my heart is ruptured.
We drive back to the ranch, the big truck and horse trailer still hooked up for Holliday’s ride home. The pit in my stomach doubles.
We go into the field and gather Jet and the other horses. They deserve to know. Jet and Smoky know instantly, Docs not coming home.
We speak softly to Jet and the others; they are still loved and such a big part of our lives.
A sign from Holliday, little sugar is paying a lot of attention to me. Kind of unusual but welcome. She lowers her mini horse head and begins to lip the toe of my boot like Holliday had always done. Tears fill my eyes as I wonder if this is Holliday reaching out from the other side, saying I’m ok Dad. Sugar had never done anything like this before. Then Jet began doing an unusual thing, he started fast lipping the top of my head and hat. I know this was Holliday reaching out through his brother. We smile bittersweetly.
We give out the apple slices and carrots Holliday was too sick to eat in salute our fallen friend.
The Day After.
The next morning after little sleep, the sorrow is still thick in the air. After needed coffee I decided to go for a drive, needing to process all that has happened.
I set out on a destination-less drive, searching for answers to questions that I did not know. The remorse and guilt setting in. Did I do enough, why did not I see this and that sooner. Pausing frequently to clear the tears from my eyes, did we make the right decision? The what if’s filled my head and heart, the grief never ending. I look around and see that I’ve wandered into Stacy’s ranch.
I approach the barn and see Holliday’s empty stall, his uneaten hay and water. His hoof prints still scattered all through the field. The sadness engulfed the shattered remains of my heart. I found myself sitting in the field next to Jet, both of us looking longingly in Holliday’s corral. The emptiness fills the area, no one here has moved past this loss. Jet and all the horses stand vigil awaiting Docs return.
I keep seeing brown colored movement out of the corner of my eye, I look and there is nothing. I dismiss this as my poor vision because my eyes ache like filled with hot sand from the river of tears.
I notice three yellow birds flying through Holliday’s corral singing sweet bird sounds and landing on three different sides of his corral. Pretty birds, can’t remember seeing that kind, but how dare they be singing happily on this day is sorrow.
More boot fast lipping from Sugar and Jet, “I know friends, I miss him too”.
Stacy appears seemingly out of nowhere, “you ok Johnny boy”, not really was my reply. Stacy echoes the words she’s spoken to me already “Don’t close your heart to horses, Doc would not like that at all. When the times right, you’ll know” I replied I’m not closed hearted to horses, I’m amazed how close I got to one spectacular horse. “Don’t let that bond you and Doc had die in vain Johnny “. I won’t.
She was gone as quickly as she appeared.
I went home and could not find the energy to do much, I find myself looking at all things horses and loss on the internet. I stumble into some interesting things, some signs from the other side and lost horses.
If you see your other horses demonstrating behavior that you lost horse did.
If you spot birds, Blue Jays, Red Robin’s, Cardinals and Gold Finches near you or your field. This is a sign of freedom.
Seeing glances in the corner of your vision.
Seeing cloud shapes that look like your lost horse.
I was in awe; I googled all the listed birds and immediately recognized the Gold Finches. Jet and Sugar lipping my boots!?! The movement of brownish color in the corner of my eye?!?
I am a skeptic by nature, but not this time. I walk outside and look at the clouds, sure enough, there was Holliday, running through the clouds.
What a spectacular friend!
When Tabatha gets home, I tell her what I discovered. She was not surprised at all, she is not a skeptic like me. She knows Holliday will always be with us and even I feel him and believe.
I am not quite sure if I’m a horse person or not. I love and care for Jet and the other horses but our bond is not like I had with Holliday. I really don’t know if I’ll get another horse, Tabatha tells me that when it’s right, Doc will show us.
Even if I am not a horse person, I was Holliday’s person and that was wonderful.
Rest In Peace Holliday.
May 23rd, 2021