I took a client’s horse in to ISU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital today to have radiographs on his front hooves. He’d been pointing one front leg or the other intermittently over the last few weeks and finally we had to know what was going on.
The radiographs indicated moderate navicular and the prognosis is continuing deterioration and discomfort for the rest of his life. I’ve had some second-hand experience with navicular disease and I know it isn’t fun for horse or human companion. I’d suspected navicular and talked with my client yesterday about our options should that be the diagnosis. We agreed that donating to the vet school for educational use for the students would be an option that at least would yield some benefit to society. So when I got the news, alone with the vet in front of the glow of the radiographs on the lightbox, I considered a moment and told her of our wishes. She agreed that navicular can be a difficult road and said she had to talk to administration to see if they were in need of horses right now.
She went off, and after I wiped the tears from my eyes after a sob, I went over to Bino’s stall and rubbed him in all the places he likes to be rubbed. It isn’t fair, this business of good-minded, gentle souls being placed in bodies that hurt them. But I didn’t cry around Bino. I talked in my usual low voice and fed him cookies from my pocket. He doesn’t need hysterics, he needs a friend to take his mind off his aching feet. And a real friend to make the hard decision to take the pain away entirely for this lifetime.
The vet came back and said that there was a class starting in 2 weeks where the 4th year students would be learning catheterization and ultrasound techniques. Since Bino is a good sort, he was a candidate. They would administer pain killers so that he would not hurt in any way as a result of their occasional misfires in the learning process. At the end of the term, they would euthanize him. This wasn’t quite what I had envisioned. I was thinking of them doing a practice colic surgery and just not reviving him at the end. But I could get my mind around this plan too.
Difficult decision made, sniffles abated, but the class doesn’t start until October 27th, two and half weeks from now. He could stay at the vet school or I could take him home and bring him back then.
I brought him home. We’re going to have cookies. We’re going to use bute. We’re going to trail ride every day possible between here and October 26th, when I have to deliver him back to Ames. I am going to continue to be his pal, even though he is really “only” a training horse to me. His mom lives pretty far away and may come to see him, but she won’t be here daily. I’m going to smile and notice butterflies and watch geese fly south from his back during the next two weeks. I’m going to sing cowboy songs and let him be my hero horse.
And I won’t cry around him. When my dad was terminal he seemed to really be uncomfortable when people would cry because of his situation. Of course. They were thinking of their loss, not really of him, or they’d have brought cookies or board games to cheer him up, even if only momentarily. So I made him a funny fake news show about John Deere tractors at the television station I worked at during that time, and brought it to him. He was a JD salesman. He loved it. He forgot his troubles for a moment. It made him remember who he was and made him laugh. There was time for crying after he was gone.
And the same is true for Bino. We’re going to put on the big girl panties and enjoy these two weeks with walks in the soft ground of the harvested soybean fields, and I won’t cry in front of Bino. There’s time for that later.