Sometimes in life the best decisions are the hardest ones to make.
Choice was beginning to deteriorate at an accelerating rate. He still looked in good condition with his gleaming dark bay summer coat fully in bloom but he was spending more and more time asleep in the paddock in the sunshine and having more and more difficulty getting up. We had reached the point where we could see it would not be long before he could not get up. Two or three weeks ago he would pull like a train to come in to his stable or be led out back to his field but over the last two weeks this enthusiasm had evaporated.
We had done everything we could to keep him going with regular visits from the vet for this ailment or that ailment and an ongoing skin condition. To relieve one problem caused another one to start up. At an estimated thirty years of age there comes a time when enough is enough.
The decision was hard but what was harder was the time between bringing him in to a paddock near the stable yard bathed in warm May sunshine with plenty of grass and privacy and when the vet arrived. I had already put his favourite treat, a Lickit which is a block of solid molasses in the field for him and his grooming kit. His walk back from his overnight paddock with his best friend Fred was slow and painful for Choice. I left him in the yard while I put Fred in his stable before taking Choice to the small paddock.
He stopped a couple of times with his ears back. Hopefully he had no premonition of what was going to happen but because he did genuinely have problems walking or he might have been thinking ‘Hang on matey, I normally go back to my stable at this time of day….not out to another field’.
Once on the grass and he saw the Lickit he was fine. Head down licking at the salty sweet molasses block getting his muzzle covered with a brown sticky stain. I gave him a couple of apples and some hard pony grass nuts from my pocket to keep him busy. You may be tired and in goodness knows how much discomfort but you still have your appetite big fellah.
I had planned things so we would have half an hour together before the vet arrived. but Our private moment was interrupted by the reality of the morning when a text came through confirming she was only a few minutes away.. I then let the fall monger know everything was on schedule.
In our last few minutes together Choice remained oblivious of what was about to happen and kept his head in his Lickit. He looked up a couple of times when he could hear other horses being brought in or when there was a branch snap in the woods caused by a deer.
In those last few minutes there was time to replay memories. Like when he ate the top off of a bay tree we had outside the stables we ran ourselves for a couple of years. Or when Heather rode him and he refused to budge until she started hitting him with a bouquet of wild parsley. The time when at the same stables we had put a tubular bird feeder in the low branches of a tree and he had worked out how to empty the seeds straight into his mouth. Competing in show jumping he was a horse you could trust your life with. No jump was too big or difficult. My middle brother, Brian, fell asleep at the small yard we had in a summer chair, Choice snuck up behind him and started grooming his hair vigorously.
There were also the rides. Hacking was fun because Choice must have always thought he was on the racecourse. He would settle in behind a group to be backmarker but I could always feel him shifting from one side to the other as he started looking for a gap to go through. His alternative name could have been ‘Pollyfilla’ and if one opened there was no stopping him. Getting on him became a performance as he would line up at the mounting block and just at that moment when you start to get your get ready to get your leg over he would swing his hindquarters away leaving you just about to go off balance. My way around this was to let him swing around so far that I was able to mount from the ‘wrong side’. He would look around at me with an expression of ‘you bastard!’.
The vet arrived, prepared the injection, administered it and Choice went down on to his haunches and then slumped on to his side and finally fell asleep. The vet and I chatted for a few minutes before she checked his heart had stopped and there was no reaction in his eyes.
Before he hit the ground for one last time Choice had probably already found Brian dozing somewhere sunny, snuck up behind him and surprised him by grooming his hair before we walked away.