Did you ever notice the words “I love you” sometimes take on a trivial meaning? To say, “I love reading, or walking,” I think there are some emotions lost in the statement: interest, joy, pride, sympathy, sorrow, anxiety, fear. Love encompasses so much more than the enjoyment of doing something or being with someone. So when I admit to loving my horse, Stetson (don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely attached to all my animals), I’m really trying to express feelings that go much deeper than the generic “I love horses.” Let me explain…
A week ago I summoned a veterinarian to examine Stetson. Back in December he’d passed a couple of stones into his urethra from his bladder. At one point he was completely blocked and couldn’t pass urine at all. Imagine having to pee so badly and basically having a plug shoved up there. Yeah. Painful and extremely uncomfortable to say the least. We discovered he had a 4cm stone in his bladder. After a series of medications we decided on a long term treatment, agreeing I would have him checked out once I got to Michigan.
I’d noticed he’d not been himself. He drank gallons of water and of course urinated more often than was normal. He wasn’t blocking, which was good, but he was straining and there was a self-absorbed look about him. I think he and I both knew something was wrong.
So, last Friday morning, there we were, and so was the vet. She palpated him and then used an ultrasound to see what his bladder looked like. It “appeared” the stone was gone. Yay! But his ureters, the tubes that carry the urine from the kidneys to the bladder were enlarged. Nothing about what we saw on the screen was normal. We obtained a urine sample and took a vial of blood. We discussed possibilities. She mentioned the “C” word. My knees went weak. My stomach dropped and I suddenly felt hollow. Promising to call with preliminary results, we agreed it would be in Stetson’s best interest to see a specialist at Michigan State University’s Veterinary School. She would call up there Monday morning and make arrangements.
The moment the vet’s truck drove down the drive I went into Stetson’s stall, wrapped my arms around his big strong neck and just cried. I felt like a huge hand wrapped itself around my heart and was trying to squeeze the life out of me.
I spent the remainder of Friday, and all of Saturday and Sunday on automatic pilot. I did what I had to do, but I felt overwhelmingly numb. How could this have happened? I began preparing myself for a decision I might have to be faced with. Memories of his life ran like ticker tape over and over through my mind.
Stetson turned 11 years old on March 30th. I’ve had him since his first breath. Like most foals, he was all legs, but surely the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.I decided to leave him a stallion, opting to eventually show him, and hopefully sometime down the line, breed him to a few mares. This decision necessitated daily interaction. When I weaned him from Sierra (his dam) I became his surrogate mother…and our bond strengthened and grew…and so did he.
He was undoubtedly the easiest horse I have ever had the pleasure to train. We shared a mutual respect for one another. I never raised a hand to him and he never rolled after a bath. Eventually we earned his championship title in Halter, which is judged solely on conformation. We’ve traveled many miles together and spent a lot of time on the road.
But more than anything, he became a close friend. Whenever he sees me, he’ll nicker a welcome and head my way. When I had knee surgery and finally able to visit the barn, instead of searching my pockets for treats, his nose went right to my knee and he smelled my incision. And when I put a halter and lead rope on, he walked like he was on eggshells, careful and very aware of the speed at which I could hobble. Not too long ago, I took him to a training facility so he could learn how to pull a buggy. He carried on for three days, whinnying and pacing because he missed me. It was the first time we’d ever been apart. It was hard on me too. When I was finally able to pick him up, there was no way he was going to let me leave him again and practically dragged me to the trailer.
Every memory brought a new wash of tears and feelings of helplessness. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was depressed and filled with anguish, certain that after the vets at MSU had examined him, I would be bringing him home to put him down. I wasn’t about to let him suffer. He’d brought me too much joy and happiness. I couldn’t and wouldn’t be that selfish.
We arrived at our appointment at 9:30 am on Tuesday. I stuck as close to him as possible, insisting on leading him to the scale to be weighed and into the stocks where the specialists would begin their assessment. I forced myself to stay calm and not cry. I had to fool Stetson’s inane ability to sense my feelings. He was tranquilized and examined at length by three very competent vets, one a nationally known expert in equine urology. I knew I had the best in the room. Deep breaths. I kept expecting to hear their conclusion with the words “carcinoma” and “malignant” in it. But thank the gods, I didn’t!
That afternoon, I gave MSU permission to surgically remove a lemon-sized bladder stone. Initially I was told Stetson would be discharged the next day. I was elated and so relieved, I couldn’t stop the tears. I drove home knowing in a few short hours my boy would be feeling better. I won’t go into the anatomy of the surgery here, but I will say it was a success, although there were a few minor complications that required him to stay a few more days. This Friday morning (yesterday) I woke up shaking with excitement and the knowledge I’d be spending more time with him, on the trail, in the barn… My heart beat with the anticipation of seeing him…I couldn’t drive fast enough. (Damned construction) As soon as I walked into his stall I immediately wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him tight. This time he did search my pockets for treats and then started bowing, a trick I’d taught him to help stretch his back and neck muscles. He’d taken it to a new level. Stetson felt better and wanted to come home…with me.