One year later – Time doesn’t heal all wounds

Ranger competing at the 2016 Red Hills CIC1*.

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One year later – Time doesn’t heal all wounds

I’ve been writing this essay in my mind for the last month; trying to gather my thoughts, put emotions into words, scrap together the memories and organize the pain into accurate, comprehensible reflections.

They say, “Time heals all wounds.” They say, “This too, shall pass.” They say the sun will shine again, the world will go on, and you will be better for it.

They can take their sayings and shove it.

Yes, the sun does come up, and it also goes down again. I thought the sudden, sharp, tragic death of Ranger was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Sadly, it wasn’t. I suffered through some intense personal issues, combined with unimaginable stress and heartbreak, that made me question why I even wanted to get up each day. I clung desperately to a small sliver of hope, something to look forward to: the first foals from my classy Thoroughbred stallion. New life brings new dreams– without hope, one has nothing. And so I threw all the little shreds of hope I had left into the basket bellies of two pregnant mares.

Knowing my little stable was growing, I had to make the difficult grown-up decision to sell my first homebred, my only foal out of my retired Advanced mare. It was tough getting Harley ready to sell, but in my heart I knew he wasn’t likely a four-star horse, and I had to make room for his baby brother or sister that would arrive at any time. Knowing there would be a replacement made it a bit easier.

Harley. Photo credit: Ivegotyourpicture.com

The first of the two foals came one February morning– a giant bay colt out of Shezagreatgal. Because of his size, “Miso” was a little contracted in the tendons, but came along quickly with a dose of oxytet and bandaging. As nice as this foal was, the first from my stallion, I was very excited to see what my Advanced mare would throw from him a few weeks later.

Harley’s vetting was scheduled on a Friday afternoon, and he passed with flying colors. His new owner was thrilled to bits with him, and we made plans for me to deliver him the following Saturday. I spent each of the next 7 days watching my beloved homebred frolic in the field, acting smart and silly how only he could, run up for dinner when I whistled, and enjoyed what little time I had left with him.

In the meantime, I came out Tuesday morning to find a surprise… Articat had foaled sometime between 4am and 6am, showing none of the signs she had when she was pregnant with Harley. The colt was almost identical to baby Harley, and I called him “Marley.” Unfortunately, Marley was not as perfect as his brother… despite being full-term, he was dysmature and very small, about the size of a large dog. He needed help nursing and regulating his body temperature. The mare’s colostrum was questionable, so I had my vet tube him with some excellent frozen colostrum. He seemed to come around in the first 48 hours, and I let myself get a little optimistic.

Marley.

Unfortunately, things went downhill Thursday night and into Friday. Marley’s diarrhea worsened, and he became very dehydrated. His nursing slacked off, but he did not yet have a fever. Knowing his odds of survival weren’t all that high– and the dysmaturity made his future dim as a sport horse– I had to make the best financial choice and not send him to the hospital. I did what I could at home: with my vet’s help inserting a catheter, I ran him fluids all night long Friday night, every 90 minutes. He wasn’t nursing at all, and quit showing any interest in slurping milk from a bowl.

Saturday morning, Marley was crashing. I hadn’t noticed it throughout the wee hours of the morning, but sometime through the night, his catheter tube had kinked… and most of the fluids I was giving him had not gone into his bloodstream. His life light was flickering, he was spiking a fever, and I knew there wasn’t any hope left. I carried him out to the sun of the run out paddock and called the vet. She had already left me the stuff, in case she was on another call and couldn’t make it out. It would be several hours before she could get to me… and I couldn’t watch my little foal suffer anymore. I knew what I had to do.

Exactly nine months prior to that Saturday, I watched my best horse take his last breath, as my hand rubbed his neck and his cheek. All my memories with Ranger flooded back to me, here with my precious little foal, my hopes, and dreams, that I had to kill right in front of me. Instead of my hand on his cheek, I had my knee on his neck, holding him still so I could give him his peace. I cried because I couldn’t save him, I cried because I failed. I cried because he didn’t even have a chance, and I felt like it was all my fault. Such a beautiful, big white face on a dark bay body (that would have eventually turned gray, like his mother and brother Harley). Just like Ranger…so much life left to live, but taken away so cruelly. I pushed the plunger of the syringe, and Marley’s raspy breathing slowly stopped. My mare stood a step behind me, her head just behind my shoulder. She knew.

I stepped back to give her space. She smelled her foal, and stood over him. My heart broke for her. At 20 years old, this would be her last. I felt like I failed her, too.

As if that wasn’t hard enough, twenty minutes later I had to load up Harley and deliver him to his new home. The tears never stopped. Tears for Marley, tears for Harley, and wrapped up in it all, tears for Ranger. As I arrived, I dried my eyes, smiled, and acted professionally, said nice things to his new owner and helped him settle in. But truthfully, I couldn’t get back in the truck fast enough, I couldn’t hold it together a second longer before the tears fell again.

I came home an hour later to find my gray mare dutifully standing over her dead foal; part of her knowing he’d never get up again, but she wasn’t going to abandon him. My husband and I drove the tractor out to the backfield and dug a hole. I walked back to the barn, gave the mare a heavy dose of sedative and locked her in her stall. We buried Marley. The mare took his loss pretty well, she cried for a few hours after the tranq wore off, but by the next morning she had mostly moved on; nature has a way with animals, they can be so practical sometimes. I wish it was as easy for me.

I’m left with one really nice foal, that should give me joy. And, to be sure, “Miso” is everything I could have hoped for from that mating. He is the spitting image of his sire, with a great personality and one of the best-moving TB foals I’ve seen. But, he’s not the one I really wanted… he’s not the colt I was most dreaming of– I was anxiously waiting for Marley, the product of my proven Advanced mare with my upcoming eventing stallion. Instead, I walk past a bare patch in the field…. I give my empty gray mare a pat, I watch facebook videos of Harley with his new owner, and I barely let myself dream of what Miso might be. I don’t know if I want to get attached to those dreams again.

Miso.

 


 

Day to day, I do pretty well, at least from what outsiders see. I’ve learned to keep Ranger’s memories sequestered in a far place of my mind. Oh, he’s far from forgotten; I think about him every day. But I’ve learned to prepare myself: to take him out, remember him, and put him away before I lose my grip. I can talk about him without crying (most of the time), and it’s not like friends have to walk on eggshells avoiding those six years of my life. But sometimes, there’s those times when it punches you in the gut when you least expect it… like the random day his video popped up on Youtube when I was totally unprepared to see it… not a video of us together, a video in my library (I gloss over those with unseeing eyes). This was his sale video, from the racetrack, a private listing that cannot be searched, that happened to be saved in a playlist I didn’t even remember making. I hadn’t seen that video in nearly six years, and I honestly forgotten I’d even saved it… I couldn’t help but watch, roll up in the fetal position, and cry.

Those moments are few and far between, but I know they’ll never really go away. That scar on my heart will never disappear, no matter how much time passes. My husband saw Kyle Carter a few months ago, and somehow Ranger came up. “Don’t expect her to ever get over it,” Kyle told him. “You never get over those kind of horses, they take a piece of you with them.”

I picked up two nice young horses off the track last fall, when I felt like I was ready to start the slow steady process again. Like nearly any horse, they could be world beaters, or they could turn out to be nothing. They are good enough movers, good enough jumpers, with brave minds…they have some raw talent to work with. The big bay gelding is a grandson of Old Trieste, just like Ranger was. But, he’s not Ranger…and no horse ever will be. I can only expect each horse to be the best version of itself, whatever that is. One of these two horses will be a keeper, one will be for sale, hopefully, I’ll figure out which one later this summer. Having horses to ride keeps me going, plans to make and goals to aim for. Life seems to be leveling out a little bit, but I’ve learned not to take one moment of happiness for granted. Tragedy is just a blink away, and you can never predict how harsh it may be.

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