A Tribute to an Especially Brave Guy

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.

I started showing him when he was a yearling. While we didn’t take home many ribbons, we continued to learn a lot about each other, how to read each other’s body language, what was expected.

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.

He sired some babies for us. Three of them born on our farm, two births which we were able to witness.

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.

So you see…..I love this horse…even with all those other emotions attached.


About laurie salzler

novelist, outdoor enthusiast, animal lover, dog trainer
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20 Responses to A Tribute to an Especially Brave Guy

  1. Barrett says:

    Damn. My heart was in my throat this whole blog. I remember another one I cried through. I’m so glad you boy is alright and home where he belongs. Take care of each other.

  2. Sharon Saxton says:

    Oh,Laurie, I am so relieved your little man is going to be ok. People who do not live with animals have no idea how dear they are. Your relief is our relief as you share this time with us. Thanks for blogging about it.

  3. Sheila says:

    (Posted this comment on FB as well, but will copy here, too.)There are bonds that defy description, that transcend the norm, and that are unique to the individuals. The connection between you and Stetson obviously is deep and so honest: hearts filled with respect, bravery, caring and tenderness. This wonderful tribute should be to you and Stetson both. Being brave for each other – there is no better definition of love, afterall.

  4. Beth says:

    OMG, I wiped the tears away…..tears of joy for you and for Stetson. What a wonderful connection to have with another living being. I know you’re both relieved to be back home, with one another just as you should be.

  5. ElaineB says:

    Wow! For once things turn out well. So glad for you both!

  6. Max says:

    Oh my.. I am so relieved – I was expecting heart break! Are you giving him any Arnica to speed his recovery from surgery? I figured from your book – you are probably well clued into natural remedies. But just in case you are still in shock from the whole ordeal:


    He is beautiful! and clearly precious..

  7. bevprescott says:

    A beautiful blog and even more beautiful horse.

  8. Pol says:

    Oh wow. I know what it’s like to love an animal so deeply and truly, and I’m so, so relieved that he’s back home with you. I wish him (and you) a speedy recovery.

  9. maite1015 says:

    You have something with words Laurie that always touched my heart, now you have me here in tears…I’m so glad he’s going to be fine in no time and you both will be together again enjoying the mutual company and love. I know how you felt, I lost my pet time ago and there isn’t a day I don’t remember him…he was my best friend! He will live always in my heart.

  10. Miriam Cano says:

    What a beautiful story Laurie? the bond between you and Stetson its amazing. So much better than humans i will say. Thank you for sharing..

  11. Victoria Oldham says:

    What a truly beautiful love story.

  12. A heart warming blog , A beautiful love story. Very happy your blog had a happy ending for you both.

  13. Sandy Rice says:

    Isn’t it something the way an animal can wrap themselves around your heart. I’m glad for the happy ending.

  14. Rebecca says:

    This is a lovely tribute, a heartwarming recount, and an emotional story of a love so few get to experience. You captured it perfectly. Thank you for sharing this, Laurie.

  15. Cheyenne says:

    Nothing wrong with that kind of love for a friend of so many years! I’m glad Stetson is feeling much better and I’ll be watching for more updates

  16. OK. You made me cry because I loved my man, Cody, like this. I had other horses, but my bond with him was different. So glad Stetson is fine. He’s very handsome.

  17. What a wonderful piece, Laurie. Thank you for this beautiful story and I am so glad things turned out so well. May you and Stetson have many more years together. He is a very special and good-looking guy.

  18. Kieran York says:

    Wonderful tribute, Laurie.

  19. I love your photos and I love your writing – I put you as one of my personal nominations for the One Lovely Blog award (going around WordPress). Check it out here if you wish: http://thisisashleyquinn.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/one-lovely-blog-award/

    It is so awesome to connect with other animal lovers. They really are members of the family.

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