Saturday, July 26, 2008

Do Horses Grieve?

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Pockets nuzzles Sunny's body as he says goodbye to his friend

Last Monday, I bid a teary farewell to our mare Sunny, a horse you have not heard about. Sunny was rescued from a feedlot in 2006 and brought to Watermark Farm to be rehabilitated and adopted. As many who've dabbled in feedlot rescue know, it's a crapshoot and you don't always know what you will get. In Sunny's case, what arrived was a motherly mare who loved children dearly, but who would never be sound.

Sunny, like so many racing Thoroughbreds, had become obsolete. Once raced at the famous Santa Anita track in California, she left behind an insignificant racing career to become a mother of three. During her time as a broodmare, Sunny was kept in a pasture with barbed wire fencing. One day, her foot became caught in the fence, and it "nearly tore it off," according to her breeder (whom I once spoke with). The damage to Sunny's foot was significant.

In 2006, with no baby at her side and a bum foot to boot, her breeder and life-long owner sold her to someone who, in turn, sent her to slaughter.

She was just 11 years old.

Sunny proved to be a wonderful companion horse, but people are afraid to adopt a chronically lame horse. After a year of looking for a home for her, I resigned myself to the fact that I was Sunny's permanent home, and retired her to a nearby farm, where the soft pasture footing would be kinder to her increasingly lame foot (for those horsey folks, her coffin joint was fused, she had massive low ringbone, and her navicular bone was lost in a mass of calcification; her xrays were so severe that even my seasoned vet sucked in a sharp breath when they appeared on his laptop screen).

Over the past 8 weeks, the pain in her foot became significant. The bad days outnumbered the good. More and more days came that Sunny's once happy brown eyes wore a cold, sad haze. She could no longer run with her companion, an elderly Thoroughbred named "Pockets." She spent most of her days curled up in her stall.

With a heavy heart, I made the decision to put Sunny down last Monday.

Sunny and Pockets loved each other. They were never out of each other's sight. The farm owner worried about how Pockets would do without her.

Sunny was sedated and peacefully put down on a cool Monday morning, Pockets standing nearby. He stood quietly, but worried when she went down. Afterward, I brought Pockets out to Sunny's body. He stood nuzzling her mouth, blowing gently into her nostrils. My daughter began to sob.

Pockets stood protectively over Sunny's body for an hour. Demi and I sat with him, brushing his mane and caressing him, watching his sad eyes. I began to worry that Pockets' grief would get the best of him. Just at that point, he turned and marched back toward the barn. I turned him out with another mare.

He bolted out in the pasture, inciting all the horses on the ranch to take one last victory gallop for Sunny.

In memory of Sunny ---- Jockey Club name "Wasp"
March 16, 1995 - July 21, 2008
13 years old

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Leah Fry said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I may not know much, but I know they do grieve. I'm sure you helped Pockets a great deal by giving him a new friend.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry. Its so hard to make that decision, even though it was the right one.

She is safe forever now.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Sorry to hear about Sunny. It's never an easy decision to put them down, but she sounds like she was suffering and you did the right thing for her.Pockets will definitely grieve for her for a while, we have a horse that after a year is still sad about his lost friend. You did a good thing for Pockets by letting him say goodbye. I think it will help him in the long run.

Susan said...

I am sorry you had to let Sunny go but it was time.

Horses do grieve, I've seen it time and time again. Thankfully, they also heal too. Pockets knew that Sunny had left her body behind but she will live forever in his heart.

I have let them say goodbye too, that way he won't be looking for her. In my experience, the nostril thing seems to be looking for signs of life.

Again, sorry to all of you for the loss of your beloved Sunny.

Jessica said...

I get a lot of looks and raised eyebrows when I attribute emotions to my horses Lena and Bar, but while their emotions may not be "human" they do express themselves. If we can't see it, it's usually our fault.

Thanks for the updates on Argus, too. Katie does look like a doll, hope she finds a "forever" home soon.

Keep us posted on the Mythbusters episode! Can't wait to see it!

Doe said...


I am so sorry for your loss. Knowing when it is time is the hardest decision to make. You did right by Sunny, and Pockets.
I have found comfort in this poem many times:

God's Garden Must Be Beautiful

God saw you getting tired,
When a cure was not to be.
So He wrapped His arms around you,
And whispered, "Come to Me".
You didn't deserve what you went through,
So He gave you rest.
God's garden must be beautiful,
He only picks the best.
And when I saw you sleeping,
So peaceful and free from pain,
I could not wish you back
To suffer that again.

-Author Unknown-

Blessings to all,

cdncowgirl said...

Katie I'm so sorry. Knowing it was the right thing to do for Sunny probably helps a bit, but of course it still hurts.
I do believe horses grieve.

Thank you for not letting Sunny suffer.

wino said...

Earlier this year we made the decision for my darling TB gelding who was dying slowly of congestive heart failure. What still impresses me is that as we walked him down the run to where the vet was waiting every horse on our property and on the neighbours turned and called to him. They waited until he went down and then they all cantered away. I don't know how they knew - but they did.

Gecko said...

You brought tears to my eyes reading this, I'm so very sorry for your loss but although I'm sure you've heard this too many times already, she IS in a better place.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry about your loss. You can take comfort in the fact that you did the best thing for Sunny. And also take comfort in the fact that you gave her kindness and love in her last years.

Thanks for being such a good friend to horses.


Life at Star's Rest said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now, and I'm always touched by your sensitivity to the horses in your care. We have a small band of formerly wild mustangs and we have watched them grieve for a lost herd member twice now. If you would like to read about it, this is the link -

Thank you for taking such kind care of the lost and abused ones. Carmon

SOSHorses said...

Oh Kate,

I can not stop the flow of tears that run down my cheeks. I understand the difficult decision that was placed before you and commend your ability to act for the benifit of you lovely friend. They really do count on us to make it better when they just can't go anymore.

Thank you for being the wonderful person you are, and my heart goes out to you and your family during this time of sorrow.

SOS Horses

Anonymous said...

That was a lovely post about her. It takes a true horseman to know when it is time. I dearly love reading your posts about Argus and the rest of the herd. My condolences are with you and your family.
Allison in Seattle

Sasha said...

She's forever free from pain. You did a good thing for her.

Anonymous said...

A true horseperson, knows that, quality of life, is very important. So many times humans are so selfish and allow an animal to live, while in so much pain. It helps to know, that their physical bodies are "gone" but their spiritual beings still remain. Sunny adores you, Katie and thanks you for all your love.
Good luck at the legal proceedings against the Argus' owner.
Nameste, Patti C. Connecticut

Joy said...

Ah. You just made me cry. I'm so sorry for the loss. Bless you for setting her free, she surely deserved it.

spotteddrafter said...

I should've known better than to read this at work....I looked at the title and thought "don't do it, read it at home."

I know for sure the animals grieve, all in their own ways. What a gorgeous send off, though - one big rousing victory gallop in her honor.


JoyJumper said...

Bless your gentle and compassionate heart.

hope4more said...

I have tears running down my face. You are such a kind and compassionate person. your daughter seems to be following in your that her in the first picture? She is going to be an amazing person as well, getting to watch you.

My heart goes out to you and your family in the loss of Sunny, and Pockets too the poor guy. May she rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss. The picture of Demi, Sunny & Pockets, is very touching. ((hugs))

Miss A said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Netherfieldmom said...

So sorry for you...thanks for helping us by posting even though it was difficult for you. I'm sure they grieve. Concentrate on the wonderful last years of her life that you provided.

Anonymous said...

Katie your blog has been gotten a reward. On my blog please read the post :).

Anonymous said...

* Sorry I ment an award.

SkyBar Farm said...

I have been reading about Argus for some time now and always love to hear of the milestones he has reached. I am so sorry for the loss of Sunny. I too have had to make those very hard decisions and it is never easy. Rest assured she is now forever pain free. You gave her the greatest gift anyone could give her.

Latigo Liz said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for doing right by the horses. Pockets will be fine, especially because he was given the chance to say good-bye. I did the same with Buena when I let Ariel go back in June.

They know.

Thank you again and my heart goes out to all of you.

Callie said...

Oh precious sorry, tough decision, but a right one.

sellefrancais said...

I'm so sorry :( Always hard. Your daughter is incredibly brave and strong.

The Spotty Bums said...

I'm so sorry,
yes horses do grieve, but they do heal in time.

At least Sunny is safe now


Anonymous said...

Dear Katie,

One look at your face and it brought me to tears. I hope you and Demi are doing ok. It's never easy-try not to second guess yourself-she is much happier out of pain. I remember following Sunny's story.
I'm gonna miss you guys way up here. Give a smooch to Argus for me.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry about Sunny.
You did right be her.
Give Pocket a extra hug for me.

Cheryl said...

I just found your blog! While I was so sad to read about Sunny (I have a PMU gelding), perhaps it was for the best.

I have Beauty and Merryana from CBER. Beauty is now rideable! My cousin has her and is completing her training. Merryana, now Gigondas, well, we've just let her be a horse for a year.

So nice to find you, Katie!
Cheryl (Sundancer)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I found this today. Yesterday, we had to put our 27 year old gelding, Sunny, to rest. It tore my heart out. the vet had come after we suspected colic, tubed him, got a lot of reflux, was very worried about him, as well as his chances even with surgery. A decision had to be made. He was a huge thoroughbred, solid, who had this gorgeous head and was always a wonderful, gentle show horse for our kids. We sort of rescued him when his owner was in a serious accident. Sunny had been lame with arthritis for a while and on Bute every day and we had recently been thinking about at what point ... but he could still sneak out of his stall and loved going out everyday even if he couldn't run with the others..he also had this wonderful old companion, Crafty. This came up very fast yesterday morning when he wouldn't eat and just looked terrible. Our vet explained everything and tried to make it easier. She didn't rush us, and was wonderful to Sunny. When it was time, walked him out to one of his pastures and he was very calm. As horribly sad as it was, I was so glad I was with him ,petting and talking to him. I knew that he went very peacefully.
We had earlier brought Sunny around to the other horses before we walked outside to the pasture to send him on his way to a new, pain-free life. I wish I had read this before because I would have brought his companion and pasture pal, Crafy, with us. Crafty seemed to sense something when Sunny was brought to his stall to say good-bye. When I later brought Crafty out for the night (our summer schedule)he stayed near the fence and wouldn't go further out. Our usual routine is for Sunny to got out at night before Crafty because Crafty takes longer to eat his alfalfa cubes. He would never move out into the field until Crafty was finished and had come out. Last night Crafty was brought out, but kept looking over at the field where Sunny was buried and whinnied several times. It was heart wrenching. He finally moved out into his own pasture a little but kept coming back. This morning when I brought him in for breakfast/the day, he went to two stalls where Sunny had been, looked in, smelled the ground all around, and then walked up and down the aisle (Being elders, he and Sunny have always been allowed to take their time getting into the stalls and go on their own for a few minutes before finally wandering into their own stalls.) I did take him out to Sunny's grave, along with the third horse he was pastured with (although he's never paid attention to). They did the same thing someone else had mentioned..sniffed for a while, then ran off bucking and tearing across the field. I brought them back in the barn and Crafty ate, but not a lot. I am going to check on him right now, because I have been worried about him. This blog was meant for me today. Thanks, everyone.

I had originally gone on the net in search of "Do horses grieve for a companion?

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

Ironic I just saw this too. Sunline, who was on the same lot as Sunny, was laid to rest just a month later, August 21st. She had lost almost all of her sight and was just scared being alive so it was time. I hope the two redheads are running together on the other side of the bridge.

Anonymous said...

i only read the 1st paragraph and i cryed

Anonymous said...

Of course they grieve I have a horse that when he felt bad he used to chance its mood and he was so happy and beautiful. It is same when I ask to my husband if he visit Viagra Online if he doesn't my mood chance.