It is with great sadness that we report this past week we had to help Hershey cross the Rainbow Bridge. Hershey was a 27 year-old Appendix (Thoroughbred and Quarter horse cross) who was one of our first rescues. He was a show jumper, but his owner could no longer afford him, and he had some personality *quirks* that made him difficult to work with. Hershey had been in a box stall for much of his life, and except for a few months in a pasture, he was not out with other horses, and he did not have experience with the social nuances of being in a herd. When we first rescued Hershey he would try to bite people when being groomed, a testament to the abuse he suffered from those who worked with him previously. It took us some months, but eventually Hershey was able to be handled safely.
Hershey Leaves and Returns to Hanaeleh
Hershey was adopted out for about a decade, but his owner had some medical issues and was no longer able to pay for his care, and he came back to us. Hanaeleh ALWAYS takes back our horses we adopt out, no matter how long or for what issue- we never want our horses to be in a position where they won’t be safe. Hershey had been retired in a dry lot with other horses, and wasn’t getting a lot of individualized care. It took us some months, but we were able to get some weight and muscle back on him.
One of the interesting things about Hershey is that while he was often difficult to work with on the ground, he was AMAZING when he was being worked or ridden. It was like a switch went off in his brain, and he went into work mode, and he was just great. He knew his job and did it to the best of his ability.
Of course, Hershey’s exceptional (exceptionally difficult) personality came out in other ways as well- he quickly became attached to any horse we put him with, and became difficult to handle on the ground. We had to take him out of the stall when the volunteers would clean as he was intimidating, and he was only safe to work with at one tie rail as he kept flailing back and forth while being tied. Anyone could ride him or work him in the arena, but very few people had the patience and fortitude to groom him. We mustered through, however, and Hershey did mellow out a bit… eventually.
And then he met Gypsy.
Hershey Meets His Match
Gypsy is our wild Mustang. She does not suffer fools, and she was not about to put up with any of Hershey’s ridiculousness. We first put Gypsy next to Hershey when he was in one of the upper stalls. To be fair, he did calm down- a LOT. When we needed the stall for another horse and had to move Gypsy to the lower paddock, however, Hershey FREAKED OUT. Hershey had previously attached himself to any random horse we had him with or next to- but after meeting Gypsy, no other horse would do. We had to build him a stall and move him down in the lower paddocks so he could live next to Gypsy.
What did Hershey see in Gypsy? To be sure, nothing she saw in him. She didn’t seem to care one fig whether Hershey was there or not, but her quiet, self-assured presence gave Hershey the stability that he craved.
For a few years, things moved along just fine- age started to creep up on Hershey, and we didn’t ride him much, but we trained him to pull a cart to help keep up his muscle tone and keep his mind working. He took to it very well, and while he didn’t like going out on the street alone, he had no problem with the cart at all.
Hershey Starts Being Picky
About 18 months ago, however, we noticed that Hershey started getting picky with his food. He stopped eating his pellets, so we started feeding him senior feed. That worked well for about six months, but this past March he stopped eating the senior feed- so we tried a different type of senior feed. And that began almost an entire year of musical feed where everyday we asked, “What will Hershey eat today?” One week he loved Purina Senior Feed; the next, only Omoline would do. For a few months, he would only eat the Senior Impact, and then, only Triple Crown Senior. Then, only Purina Senior again… then, only timothy pellets. It was exhausting.
In April we had the vet out to run a metabolic panel to see what was causing him to be so picky, and we scoped him for ulcers. Nothing came back as an obvious reason for why he sometimes wouldn’t eat. The vet did diagnose Hershey with EOTRH (Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis), which essentially is a loss of both the bone and the surrounding tissue of the front teeth. This can lead to discomfort in the teeth as the roots are inflamed, but the teeth themselves can also eventually break. It can be painful, but it was at the onset and the vet did not think it was advanced enough to cause him to be picky- plus he had no issues eating carrots or other “hard” food, so it really seemed that it was more him being picky rather than not wanting to eat. EOTRH can only be resolved by removing the horses’ teeth completely, but Hershey had a heart murmur and low blood pressure, so that was not really an option for him, anyway.
While the scope showed that Hershey did not have any ulcers, the vet thought that perhaps he had a thin stomach lining, and that could perhaps be why he wasn’t eating well, so we put him on ulcer medication for a month, then we put him on a supplement to help manage any potential stomach issues. That seemed to help for a few months, but then the pickiness came back. We didn’t know when he would randomly stop eating the food that he loved just a few days before.
Hershey was still acting like his silly self during this entire time- he was still awesome when being worked, although arthritis had set in and his time being exercised in the round pen or arena was limited, and for the most part he just got a nice turnout everyday for about an hour or so. He would still scream incessantly whenever Gypsy was taken out of the paddock, and would NOT STOP until she came back- he was completely inconsolable, so we would have to take him out first and put him in the round pen before we got Gypsy out- even then he would sometimes scream and carry on when he realized she was not in the paddock where he left her.
Hershey Takes a Turn
In December, Hershey stopped eating in earnest. He would eat his grain mixed with rice bran, but otherwise it was difficult to get him to eat his regular breakfast and dinner. Instead of changing his eating preferences every few weeks, he would refuse to eat something he would eat earlier that day. We finally took to putting out four or five different buckets of different types of food so he would have a buffet and could choose what he wanted to eat that day.
We continued like this for a few weeks, with Hershey eating less and less. We called the vet, who suggested a steroid may help, but by the time we got the steroid, Hershey took a nosedive. When we came out to the ranch on Saturday, he had a swollen shoulder and had difficulty walking, and his sheath was swollen and he was dribbling urine. He had been on Equioxx for several years, but we gave him some Banamine, and he rallied as he usually does- he looked much better on Sunday, and screamed and carried on for about 20 minutes when Raven (his other girlfriend) went out for a walk. The reality, however, was obvious- he was not going to get better, and we were merely prolonging the inevitable. On Monday morning we came out to give him some more Banamine to keep him comfortable, and called the vet who came out that afternoon. The wind had been bad earlier in the day, but thankfully it calmed down while the vet was out, and Hershey passed peacefully. We had all of his horsie friends come by to say goodbye so they would know he was gone.
Hershey was sometimes a difficult horse to love, but we did love him a lot. He would kick or threaten to bite people, but he really wasn’t mean- he was just kind of a jerk sometimes. One of my favorite things was when Hershey would run up to the stall door when I entered- when he first came to Hanaeleh he would turn his backside to people and threaten to kick them. That was not acceptable, so we worked with him so he knew to come up to us when we came in. After that, whenever I would walk to the stall, he would come rushing over and shove his ginormous head into my chest and give me a huge hug- even often shoving me back a little because he had literally no self-awareness. He wasn’t trying to shove me back- he just was giving me a hug- it wasn’t his fault I was too weak to withstand it.
Hershey taught a lot of people how to work with horses in the round pen- he was great for beginners because he knew his job and even when they didn’t know what they were doing, he did, and he was usually able to figure out what they were asking. He taught all of us patience, because you have to be patient when the horse you’re trying to groom keeps pivoting back and forth. He also taught us dedication, as Hershey also never wavered from his total and complete devotion to Gypsy, whom he loved to the end.
Hershey was a force unto himself, and we are going to miss our big, silly, sometimes annoying guy.