To say that I have been lucky would be an understatement. To have had this horse as my true first horse, I couldn’t have been more blessed. And to have been able to choose the time to let her run free from her demons...well, not many people get the chance to do that.
My original plan for her had been to donate her to the Cushings study at Oklahoma State University (see Just When Plans Were Falling Into Place). The laminitis and abscess changed all that. Ariel’s 19th birthday was hard, really hard. To see this horse who has initiated me into true ownership and horsemanship in so much physical pain, it was awful. But I new that she would recover from it. That day I made a promise to her that she would get better and that she would never have to feel that kind of pain again.
Ariel gradually started to recover, but I think I knew in my heart that she wouldn’t make it all the way back. I made it my mission to have her be the happiest and healthiest horse she could be as soon as possible. I had a time line in mind back on April 19th, but nothing was set in stone. At that time I was still thinking that OKState would happen. The prolonged recovery from the laminitis and abscess effectively nixed that.
From the time the lameness started back in early March to the abscess finally rupturing was close to 2 months. Even on Thursday, June 19th I think there was yet more of that abscess waiting to make another release at the hairline.
Over the years, I rode in many clinics hoping to gain some skills and a better understanding of how I needed to be to help Ariel. I got lots of help from folks like Greg Eliel, Leslie Desmond, Mike and Deanie Hosker, and Ricky Quinn. However, the greatest guidance I got was from Buck Brannaman. I never got the chance to take Ariel to a Ray Hunt or Peter Campbell clinic, but it really wouldn’t have mattered. Buck ultimately kept me safe and helped me the most. If it weren’t for him, I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t be here typing my recollections today. I have no qualms about giving him the credit for all the good things I do with horses. If I don’t do something right, it’s not his fault. It’s mine for not being a better student.
Many years ago, Buck mentioned in a clinic that I should “can” Ariel or turn her into “chicken feed.” Now I may not get the exact wording right on how he said things, but I knew that I wasn’t going to give up on her, or myself, that easy. I stuck with her and by her for a good long time. And I knew that she would make me a better horsewoman. Heck, a better woman. And she did. If it weren’t for that horse and for Buck, I wouldn’t be living the life I am today. A wife, a mom, a better person.
How do you pay your respects and honor a horse like that? How do you treat them with the utmost dignity and think of their well-being and happiness first and foremost? For me, it was finding the time to let her go.
When she started to make the recovery and was well enough to go back to being turned out I started letting her have the things I had been denying her for I can’t remember how long. She got to graze, without the muzzle, on the lushest green and tall grass. She got to run with Buena and be out all the time. No restrictions. The final week she got to have wet cob (corn, oats, and barley with molasses). And her final meal was all the wet cob she could eat and apples and carrots and green grass and clover. She ate her fill for quite a while. I didn’t count how many times we filled the pan with the cob. Eventually she decided she had enough and moved to the clover.
My son was with my good friend S and her son for a few hours. I explained to him before he left that Ariel would not be home when he got back and that he had to say good-bye to her before leaving. We spent some time stroking her and he pet her in the spot on her elbow that he liked to pat. And he also stroked her face and withers. I wish now that I had given S the camera to snap some pictures, but hindsight is always 20/20. *sigh* He was strong then, and even to this day he hasn’t asked where Ariel went. He knows that she isn’t coming back. When and if he asks that tough question, I am sure I will find a way to tell him. Even at 4, he knows what death and dying is. But I know I didn’t know how real it was at hat age, so I am not sure he knows either. That’s pretty tough to deal with as a parent, but I’ll find a way to help him understand if he ever is confused.
A couple of my very close friends came to be with us during the appointment. These gals have been with me on this horsemanship journey from almost the beginning. We and a bunch of others all met through Greg, Buck, the Hoskers and other friends. Having like-minded folks to ride with and share the horsemanship journey with is crucial. I am truly blessed to have these 2 gals, and all the rest, in my life. They deserved the chance to say their good-byes and honor Ariel and I am so happy I let them share in this poignant event. Had they not been there, I might not have shed a tear, but I know that it’s good to cry and let some things out. I needed them there for this, as much as they needed to be there to say good-bye.
Before Dr. Bob and Julie arrived, I had scheduled a rendering service to pick up Ariel’s remains around noonish. Dr. Bob also had other clients to see later in the day. He and Julie arrived shortly after 10. We chatted, as ALL of us like to do, and he did a Coggins blood draw on Buena and wrote up the traveling documentation that I will need (more on that later). And then we chatted and chatted some more. We let Ariel and Buena have final moments eating together. I let my good friends C and E say their good-byes to Ariel. I can’t even recall the number of time I thanked them for being there. Just that little bit of moral support really helps. It may not seem significant in the moment, but looking back it is huge.
I stroked and hugged my horse;, my first horse, over and over in those final moments. She knew only the loving touch of humans in her final moments. No pain. No fear. No uncertainty. And even after the drugs took her heartbeat, she still felt the love and warmth of us guiding her across that Rainbow Bridge that animal lovers so fondly choose to use as a metaphor. We caressed and stroked her for many minutes after she was gone. Her spirit lingered with us as we wept and said even more good-byes. We carefully cut her forelock, mane and tail to save for later momentos.
We let Buena sniff her body so that she would know. The first few moments she didn’t seem to realized that Ariel was gone. Maybe her spirit wasn’t yet. Right before we led her away, Buena sniffed one more time and then gentled stomped with her right front foot a few times. That may not seem significant to most, but C has related to us a story about her palomino mare who had been euthanized and that her paint gelding had done a similar thing when he sniffed the mare’s body. I remembered that and made a heartfelt note to mention it here.
Buena was clearly missing her buddy once she was turned out. That was to be expected by a herd animal after all. I did make sure that she was turned out in the round pen so that when the rendering truck came that she wouldn’t be able to see, and hope not be able to smell. I knew that my friends and I did not want to be there to witness the impending event as well. Buena did a little bit of calling out and pacing, but soon she was quiet. We covered Ariel’s body with the cotton canvas blanket I bought her many years ago (and haven’t used in years) and went for a drive to a local lavender farm to focus on renewal and nurturing new life. I was hoping to find a great plant that I could use to remember Ariel by for many years to come. I think I may have found that plant.
Here was one last scritching session from the morning of June 20th:
Over the next few weeks and months I will dig up some old pictures and stories from the past 12 years. And I will have some new adventures to share as well. If you have a story about Ariel you would like to share, feel free to post it in Comments or e-mail it to me and I will share it at a later date.
Rest in peace my dear Ariel. You are now truly running free!