As a word of caution, this post deals with the very unpleasant circumstances of the death of one of our horses, and for me it has truly been difficult to write, and may be as difficult for some to read. I want to give you that caution before you go any further so that you may have the opportunity to turn back now. I have to put it in this blog because this blog is a journal, and it would not be complete in any way without this entry.
Last week I had the unpleasant experience of saying goodbye to an old friend. This friend was one I had a lot of trust for, and one who I have known from the earliest parts of his life. He was one that I have worked with, played with, and entrusted my life with. Okay, he was a horse named Patches. But what I cannot emphasise enough is that he was a good friend, which made it all the more difficult in arranging for his death as he was losing to cancer on his penis.
I am positive I have said before in this blog that when he came to my family, he was badly injured from an event that left a bad scar all the way around his back left leg. Upon investigation by a vet, it was found that the electric fence he had gotten himself tangled into had not merely broken in one place and come out, as one would have expected, but it broke in two places, leaving a piece about eleven inches long inside him, wrapped tightly around his bone and undiscovered for about a month, allowing the bone to begin to grow around the wire. When the vet pulled it out, he became the second one to recommend putting Patches down, insisting that because of the injury to the one leg and the deterioration that compensating on the other leg would cause to the hind right leg. Still, we persevered in rehabilitating him, despite the vet advising that he would never be ridden.
I usually held the lead rope while David, my grandmother’s husband, would wash and treat him each day, and after he was finally able to walk more than a few steps, it was me who took Patches for walks in the little pasture next to the house, and then longer walks in the field over the road. At last, one day Patches started to hop and run a little, and that finally broke into faster and faster trots till one day he passed me by, and I had no choice but to let go of the lead rope.
Finally I had to go away to England for some years, but upon my return Patches was a fully capable horse that David would ride every day. The scars remained, but the horse was strong and very able for riding. I got possession of Patches and his daughter, Precious! But the summer here in the Nevada heat and sun proved too much for him in the end, and despite his now magnificent strength, he was not able to fight off the cancerous tumour that developed on the sheath of his penis. A friend and neighbor offered to arrange what was for me almost completely unthinkable, because no matter how much I did not want to think about it, Patches was losing and he was suffering.
A man by the name of Frank Pendleton came over with a backhoe and a .423 rifle. I had more than enough time to consider the gravity of the event about to occur on the day Frank arrived, and despite Frank’s almost pleading, I remained to watch, and to assure the dignity of the event.
Now For The Hard Part
I put an old halter on Patches and a black lead rope, and lead him from the corral where all the horses are kept just as Frank appeared to be finishing up a hole in the place I had asked him to dig it. It was a place where my grandmother asked me to put him, as he had been her horse for much longer then he had been mine. I honestly could not walk him any further than that, as the ‘green mile’ of this scenario was right down into his own grave. Frank took him to the edge, and as you could imagine, he was not to eager to go into a hole in the ground. Frank made a shelf in the wall, and I gave Frank some alfalfa cubes to put on the shelf. With some pushing and pulling, Patches walked down in and was soon eating from the small pile of cubes. I helped Frank out of the hole, and he asked me one more if I really wanted to be there for it. I assured him that I did, and he went back over by Patches’ head, where the rifle was leaned against a green t-bar post.
Patches was eating as Frank lifted the end of the barrel to his head near and above his right eye. I stood away and behind a pile of dirt, but still able to see clearly what was going on. Frank waited for the right moment, looked at me once more, and the waited again. He was clearly uneasy about me watching, but I fixed my eyes on Patches. Finally the shot reported like a thud against my chest and in my ears, and Patches dropped as though he were anesthetized for a moment, and then he slumped into the hole as what seemed like a couple of gallons of blood rushed from his nostrils. Frank jumped quickly onto the backhoe as I watched the latent movements of breathing on Patches’ side fade quickly away. The sound of the shot that has killed him was still so fresh that it seemed like the force of the sound was still bouncing off my chest as the sand began to pile in on Patches. I watched till the last of his ear was covered up, and he was finally gone into the earth, and reassured myself that I had seen him die just as instantly as he could have possibly done, and that there was no possible way he could have even realised he had died.
I said to Frank after he finished burying Patches that when I hear someone report of how a person died instantly in a car accident, I think, and Frank interrupted “bullshit!” I agreed. But I was glad to see that in this case it was really the truth. Frank gathered his things and left after a brief conversation. Within the next day or so we rearranged the pens so there was no longer an empty pen to remind us, and now, a week and a half later the idea of it is getting a bit easier to handle, though not in this kind of detail.
Patches was, in the end, my first horse, and I cannot possibly see how he will ever be my last, especially as we have two more here! Maybe I will get a horse shoe to remember him by, and maybe I will bend it closed, as a reminder of the circle of life, and the complete circle we came to when I let his lead rope go for the first time, and for the last time as he passed me by.