I was called out early Monday morning because Freya was having some difficulties getting up. She has severe DSLD (fallen fetlocks) in her hind legs, so as this disease progresses, it makes it more and more difficult for her to use her hind legs. She has been having difficulties getting up for a few months- usually when I rush out there, she sees me and just gets up, and then looks at me as if to say, “What’s your problem, lady?”
But this morning she had laid down right in the mud, and she was slipping and sliding while trying to get up. I put the halter on her and helped to move her a little to the point where she could get her footing, and she stood up. She was a little shaky, so I began walking her around the property for about 10-15 minutes, and she started to look better. While I was walking her, Javier (our ranch caretaker) came out and told me that Rio was not eating his breakfast. So Freya and I walked up to Rio’s stall to check him out.
Rio was in the back of his stall, but didn’t look terrible. I wondered if maybe he didn’t realize he had breakfast waiting, so I walked him over to his grain. He wasn’t interested. I noticed his nostrils were flaring a bit, and when I touched him near his stomach area, he flinched. He also rocked back and forth on his back legs, all signs of pain, especially abdominal pain. I called Lori (Hanaeleh’s Treasurer and Rio’s guardian), but she didn’t pick up, so I left her a message and a text.
I put Freya in Rio’s stall, took out his grain and replaced the food with her pellets, and left her to eat breakfast, which she seemed happy to do. Satisfied that all was well with her, I walked Rio up and down the property, until I realized that the hill was too much for him, so I moved Raven from the round pen where she has currently been living due to extreme mud in her stall from last week’s rain, back into her stall, and then began walking Rio in the round pen. He was clearly uncomfortable, and so I walked him for 10 minutes, then let him rest for 15 minutes. While I was walking him, I called the vet to see if someone could come out to see him… but all of the vets at the practice were out with Covid. That in and of itself was frustrating, but I called another vet, who thankfully was able to come out. I tried Lori again and then she called me back saying she would be at the ranch shortly.
Rio and I continued our 10/15 routine until Lori and the vet arrived. We gave Rio some medication to make him feel better, then did an ultrasound. Unfortunately, the ultrasound showed twisting in the small intestine, which can usually only be resolved with surgery (at his age and with his health issues, surgery was not an option). At that point there was no real option except to help end Rio’s pain- and even with the pain meds his discomfort was clearly getting more and more severe.
As horrible as that was, the day was not over.
We said goodbye to the vet, and then puttered around the ranch waiting for the hauler to pick up Rio, who said he couldn’t be out until later that afternoon.
A few hours later, I noticed that Freya was lying down in Rio’s stall where we had put her because it’s drier in there. I didn’t think too much of it at first, but still walked up there to ask her to get up again because she was kind of freaking me out.
Except she didn’t get up. She tried a bit, but every time she tried, she fell back. We put a halter on her and tried to help balance her, but while her front legs would scramble, her hind legs seemed completely useless. We tried putting two halters on her so two people could try to help pull her up, but we were faced with the same issue- her front legs moved, but she didn’t seem to try to use her hind legs at all.
Not sure what else to do, we called the vet out again. Freya was exhausted by this point, so we put a blanket under her head and made sure the sun wasn’t in her eyes so she could lie peacefully on the ground and rest.
When the vet got to the ranch, she gave her some pain meds, and said it might be a better idea to flip Freya to her other side. She was lying right next to the bars, so we took the stall apart and put neighbor Garnet into the arena so we could flip Freya over. We finally got her onto her other side, and she looked better for a few minutes, so we tried to get her up again- but she wouldn’t even try. We pulled and pleaded, but she just sat there, not even bothering- it was like she had just given up. We waited to see if maybe she was just tired, and we decided after a few minutes of rest we would try again.
If you grew up anytime in the 1980s, you probably watched The Neverending Story. In the story, there is a horse, Artax, who is swallowed up by The Nothing. He just gives up. Watching his owner, Atreyu, pull and plead with Artax, who refuses to try at all, but instead allows himself to be swallowed up by The Nothing, scarred me and thousands of children of that generation.
All I could think of while we were trying to get Freya up was to just *try*. Just don’t give up.
But when we tried again, and while we all pulled and pushed and yelled and cajoled, Freya didn’t try at all. She had given up.
At that point, we had literally no other choice- if we just left her on the ground, the weight of her internal organs would end up crushing her intestines and kill her that way, and the pain medication we had given her was not helping. So, for the second time today, we had to say goodbye to one of our best friends.
We have never experienced having to put two horses down on the same day, and it is so awful it’s even difficult to process. We were not really ready to lose either of these two, and while we knew that they were older and having some health issues, having them both pass so quickly and on the same day is both horrible and overwhelming. Both Freya and Rio were wonderful horses, and will be missed by everyone at the ranch.
To read their individual obituary, please click on the links below: