by Laura Crum
This would be us. After months of no rain and lots of whining about drought, we got five inches in one week. I am not complaining—we needed that rain. Still, it has created a new problem for me. Because the drought was what was allowing my 34 year old horse, Gunner, to make it through the winter.
The sunny, seventy degree days and the dry ground were stress free for my old horse, who has severely arthritic knees and is pretty shaky and fragile overall. He was eating well, not too lame, seemed quite content. And then the storms blew in.
Overnight we went from sunny and dusty to our usual winter conditions—cold, wet and muddy. And the obvious solution-- put Gunner in a run with a shed--won’t work. Gunner’s anxiety and old-horse dementia has gotten more pronounced and he gets very upset if ANYTHING is changed. He is only comfortable if he is in his big, open corral, with Plumber on one side and Henry on the other. If I change anything, Gunner worries. If I catch Plumber to have him trimmed, Gunner begins running around in a panic, afraid that I will remove his friend. It’s becoming very difficult to cope with.
Because if I let Gunner run around these days, particularly in the mud, he always falls down. And falling down is how he tweaked his already arthritic knee last spring and transformed himself from a sound old horse to a lame old horse. Not a positive change. Ever since then I have had to manage his lameness issues, along with his lessening appetite and his old horse dementia. It’s a challenge.
I don’t in any way begrudge the time, energy and money that I give to taking care of Gunner—I do stress when I worry that his quality of life just isn’t good enough. If he is too lame, too thin, not happy…well, there comes a time when it is kinder to put him down. I am walking a line here, and I want to try very hard not to err on the side of keeping Gunner alive when his life is no longer any pleasure to him. On the other hand, I don’t want to take his life until he is ready to let go of it. I try to do for him what I would want done for me.
So I double blanket Gunner and check on him endlessly as the rain pours down—to be sure that he is warm and dry under his blankets and his eye is reasonably bright. I worry that he eats about half of what he was eating before the storms started. I worry that he is miserable and that this is no life for an old horse. But I know from experience that he will be even more unhappy if I put him in my small covered shed where he would be out of the weather. If I change anything it upsets Gunner. I cannot put Plumber in the covered shed because I can’t move him or Gunner freaks out, so I blanketed Plumber, and then Gunner was upset because his buddy looked different with a blanket on. It really is getting very difficult to manage.
And yet, I just lost my old dog a couple of weeks ago—I don’t want to lose my old horse if I can help it. My son was so sad when Jojo died—she’d been part of his life ever since he was born. The same is true of Gunner. We love him very much. So I persist—doing the best I can to take care of him, and worrying that it’s not enough.
I know that those of you with older, much-loved horses will understand. This is a hard path to walk. But…and I always remind myself of this…it’s a far better path (in my view) than losing a young horse unexpectedly, or a horse in the prime of life. Gunner has had a very good, long life, even if he dies tomorrow (which I hope he doesn’t). Just like our sweet old dog. And that’s a good thing.
Gunner and Plumber last summer.