Today was one of those gorgeous blue sunny days when nothing bad is supposed to happen. But it did. Our old blind mare Smokey, who had just arrived on November 19, died from colic. Her gut twisted on itself. It was an awful death.
We found her down in her stall in Beauty's Barn this morning, writhing in agony. We could tell she had been thrashing around for quite a while overnight ... the stall panels were knocked askew, her water bucket smashed, her head bloody from smacking it against the ground as she struggled in pain. She was groaning and in complete distress.
We grabbed the phone in the medical room and called our vet, Dr. Bill Brown in Missoula. I told him I thought she was colicking. He told us to give her banamine, a powerful pain killer and anti-inflammatory, and he would be on his way. We ran to the house, grabbed the tube of banamine, and raced back to the barn. As Smokey lay on her side, I opened her mouth and squirted the paste in.
After about 20 minutes, Smokey struggled to her feet -- she was wobbly, her hindquarters twitching, but she was up. I breathed a sigh of relief. I slipped a halter on her and carefully ... slowly ... led her across the barn aisle and into the heated medical stall. It was warm and dry and clean, better for her and for Bill who'd have to work on her. Alayne and I took turns walking her around and around the stall in circles. Sometimes in colic cases just getting some exercise can help.
An hour later she was doing so well ... walking around on her own ... that I left her alone and stepped out to put her stall panels back together. Suddenly I heard her crash to the ground in the medical stall. I opened the door and she was down. My heart stopped. I put a pillow under her head to protect her face that she had bloodied during the night. She was groaning again, beginning to writhe. I called Alayne in the house to tell her Smokey was back down.
I looked out the barn window and saw Bill's truck turning into the drive. A few seconds later he pulled up to the barn. I opened the barn door, and while Bill quickly gathered his supplies, Bill's wife Linda rushed into the barn with me. I opened the main door to the medical stall and was startled to see Smokey in mid-air, falling right towards the door! I slammed it shut just in time. She must have struggled to her feet, only to collapse again. Linda and I went in the other door to the stall and saw an awful sight: Smokey's legs were sticking straight out sideways, rigid, and her body was heaving.
Linda shouted, "Bill, come quick!" I ran outside and told him, "We're losing her!" He hurried inside, took one look at Smokey, and turned to me. "Steve, she's dying. I don't think there's anything I can do. I think it's too late." I started crying.
Bill pulled out his stethoscope and started listening to her heart. Just then she went into agonal breathing -- taking her last breaths -- and I knew Bill was right. Seconds later, it was over. She was dead. I kneeled by her side and just cried. I couldn't believe it. This blind old girl had been here less than a month. She was so sweet, so gentle ... and so deserving of more time with us than what she got.
This is a photo we took the night Smokey arrived. You can read her original story I posted the following day here.
Alayne and I grieve as much over our horses as we do the dogs and cats when we lose them. Every one of them is a death in the family. But having a horse die is worse in a way because we immediately have to start worrying about what to do with the body. And it hurts because there is no dignified way to deal with a 1,000 pound dead animal. When our small animals die, we can hold them and caress them and grieve as long as we need, before giving them to the vet to be cremated. With a horse, we have to take care of the body ourselves. And right away.
Fortunately, we had one open large animal gravesite left. But the grave was a 1/4 mile from Beauty's Barn and the snow was deep. The only question was whether I could get Smokey's body to it. I ended up spending 5 hours on the tractor today, digging my way to the gravesite. Alayne and I finally got Smokey buried as the sun was going down. Just before we put her in, Alayne and I stood over her body, crying together over this horse we loved but had barely known. We looked out across the valley, and the white, snowy mountains above us were all lit up in a soft red glow from the setting sun. It was, after all, a gorgeous day. We told Smokey that she couldn't have been buried in a more beautiful place than right here on the ranch.