Monday, June 9, 2014

Old Horses

Most of us will outlive our horses. A horse's lifespan is only 1/4 of a human's, so we will inevitably have to make the hard decisions about how and when to end their lives. 

Last winter, Vinny had a bout of choke. Choke, in horses, is when something (usually food) obstructs the horse's esophagus and prevents them from swallowing. It's not a life threatening condition by itself, but if it doesn't clear on its own the horse can quickly become dehydrated and/or colic. It can be treated either by taking the horse to a veterinary hospital and administering IV fluids and banamine until the blockage clears on its own, or by running a tube down the horse's throat to manually clear the blockage. 

When Vinny choked last winter, I chose to have the vet come out and tube him. Vinny was not on board with this idea. It took 3 people and 1.5 ml of dormosedan to get him tubed, and then over an hour to clear the blockage because he was still fighting. 

After the choke, I changed his diet completely. No more beet pulp, no more alfalfa, he got softened senior pellets broken up into four feedings a day so the portions would be small. He also saw the dentist, who confirmed that his teeth were fine. 

Last week he choked again. He choked on two cups of soaked senior pellets. It was obvious that something wasn't right. 

Vinny was a grey, and he had a lot of tumors. The largest one was on his chest. I had it biopsied when it first appeared, and it came back benign at that time, but it had begun growing and changing in the last few months. 

So, I had a 28 year old horse with a huge tumor on his chest who was choking on seemingly nothing and was going to violently fight being tubed. There was no way I was going to have him tubed again, and it wouldn't really be fair to haul him two hours to the nearest vet hospital, either. I called the vet, and explained what was going on. We decided to give him banamine and a bolus of fluids, then wait to see if it cleared on its own. 

The choke did clear on its own after only a few hours, but he still wasn't quite right. He was lethargic and there was a necrotic smell to his breath. The vet came out the next morning to perform a full physical exam and confirm what I already knew.  

We probably could have pulled him through this time, but for what? The choke was likely being caused by a tumor somewhere in his chest. The vet confirmed that the necrotic smell was a sign of cancer and she also said his lungs sounded occluded, possibly from more tumors. The choke just would have happened again and again, and the tumors would have eaten him up until his body finally gave out. That's not humane. 

I made the decision to euthanize him now, rather than put him through any more tests, procedures and chokes. He was always a dignified old bastard, even when he was being a complete asshole, and he deserved to die with his dignity intact. 

I lead him into the dressage arena for the last time, and he halted himself right at G for his final salute. He went quietly, just laid down like he was taking a nap. 

It was a rough decision for me, but Vinny handled it with grace and aplomb. He and I both knew it was time. I'm glad he went without any pain or suffering.  I'm glad I was able to give him the ending he deserved. 

The last picture of the Old Man.


  1. Above all else, I think you have to know your critter and what is best not just for A Horse but for them. Sounds like you did right by this fellow. Condolences on your loss.

  2. Thanks for providing the details. Not that it mattered, but I did wonder what it was that finally brought him to the end. You did the right thing. Despite your depictions of him as an ornery old cuss, I can read the love you felt for him just as strong. Teachers aren't always easy, are they...

  3. I am so sorry. You did a great job for him - making sure he got the best of care but also being sure not to put him through unnecessary procedures and suffering.

  4. I think you did the right thing at the right time, but it's still sad.

  5. I went through it a few months ago--and it is a tough decision to make even when you know it is the right one. More isn't always better. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. Too often, the right thing is the hardest thing. Thank you for loving Vinny despite his attitude and for giving him a peaceful passing. You are a true horseman. RIP, Vinny.

  7. :( Such a hard decision, but the right thing. I'm sorry for your loss, but I'm glad you gave this guy such a great life and a peaceful ending that he deserved.

  8. You did right by him. Still, it's not easy. RIP Vinny.

  9. It was your posts on Vinny's bout with stringhalt which first brought me into the blogging world. Because I am a weird sentimentalist, he has, for that reason always been kind of special to me from a far. I always loved reading the stories of his antics, such as "jumping" the fence to get to the front yard to graze. While I am sad that there will not be anymore Vinny stories, I agree that you did right by him. I know he was never your "heart horse" yet you have always provided excellent care for him, and gave him a wonderful retirement. As we all know, horses are expensive pets, so what you did for him speaks volumes of the person you are. So sorry for your loss.

    RIP Vinny, you silly old guy!

  10. I'm so sorry to hear that. Glad you were there for him, glad it was you making the hard decisions.

  11. I am so sorry :( It sounds like it was the right decision for sure, but the final salute got me teary... *hugs*

  12. RIP Vinny. A noble schoolmaster sharing lessons, right up to the very end. So hard to let them go...

    Lovely tribute.

  13. This breaks my heart. I'm so sorry he's gone, but I'm glad you could give him a peaceful end. It is a hard decision to make, but it's the responsibility we accept when we bring them into our lives. You made the right decision. Hugs!


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