An End of An Era

9/14- Mitzi & Gary enjoying the autumn sunshine
9/14- Mitzi & Gary enjoying the autumn sunshine

On February 3rd 2015 life on our farm took a major turn. The life of my beautiful Morgan mare Mitzi would end this day. Mitzi was 27 years old and had lived here as a member of our family for nearly 20 years. She had a chronic medical condition that for the last 10 years had eroded her health, but never stole her spirit. When I entered the barn at daylight on Tuesday morning something was obviously wrong. Her best buddy Gary, in the adjoining stall, was standing with his nose against the stall divider making little snuffly noises with his nostrils. I could see her blanketed back thru the divider but her head was down out of sight. I went to her stall door, she was on her feet, wobbly and unsteady. Her stall showed signs that she had been down and struggling during the night, with all of the bedding pushed outward against the stall walls.  She raised her head slightly and gave me a small nicker of welcome, a nicker I have heard every morning for nearly 20 years. I went inside the stall, stroked her neck, pulled her ears and asked her “Is today your day old girl?” She put her head against my chest and leaned into me, her answer was “yes”, the spirit was gone. After quickly feeding the other barn inhabitants & leaving Gary standing guard over his best friend, I went to the house to call the vet. It was time, the day I knew was coming, the day I had prepared myself for for 2 years, the phone call was made, the vet would be there by noon.

I have had the pleasure to share my life with horses for 45 years, getting my first when I was 12.  I was a shy & awkward girl and horses were my best friends, confidantes and listeners to all my young prattle. Many hours were spent on the backs of horses and in the company of them in those years. All of those horses hold a special place in my heart, they did help me grow up after all. Later on, I was a mother with 3 young children, the oldest who was also a horse crazy young girl. We had purchased our daughter an old gray mare named Angel for her to grow up with. A best friend, a confidante, a good listener.  But Mitzi was my mid-life crisis horse. I wanted/needed a horse for me. One to take dressage lessons on, to trail ride and horse camp with. In need of the type of friendship you can only find with a fury beast with penetrating brown eyes and a nicker. The first time I saw her I knew she was the one. A beautiful, young, liver chestnut, Morgan mare, well trained, sweet & kind. She was my wedding anniversary present that year. The BEST gift EVER!

Over the years we did many things together. Riding lessons, beach trips, trail rides. And then there were those wonderful family horse camping trips to Central Oregon.  Hours and hours spent in the saddle and many more hours spent in the barn. Mitzi learned to curtsy and nod her head to say “Yes”. She was a master with her lips and could open gates and stall doors. Mitzi LOVED being groomed, especially having her mane and tail combed out, she was girlie that way. She also loved trail riding, exploring new places, tackling new challenges. Occasionally silly but mostly steady, she trusted me & I trusted her.  As we both aged our life together changed.  I was busy with teenagers, then young adult children.  She took to her life of semi-retirement reluctantly. I gave beginning lessons to several young girls on her.  She loved that job and took care of her young riders. By that time her only gaits were walk and trot. In the last several years she had lost her appetite and with that her weight and body condition declined. She had gone down several times in the past 2 years, but had surprisingly recovered each time. This time there would be no recovery. She told me she was done. It was time to let go.

The tears continue to flow this morning.  Why?  Not because she is gone, not because there are regrets, not because I feel I made the wrong decision to end her life. But because I loved her. What is it about these animals that gets so much under our skin? I can’t imagine life without them in it. They give so much more than they get from us. For that I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

So in Mitzi’s final hours I took off her blanket, revealing a body thin with age and illness. Stroked her coat, hair still soft but long and faded in color. Gave her a final grooming, her favorite thing, buried my face in her neck & took in that lovely smell one last time. I talked and cried and Gary stood guard in the adjoining stall.  The vet came, a kind man with a difficult job. I walked her unsteadily from the barn for the last time. I said goodbye, the injections were given, she dropped to the ground, her breathing stopped. Today the sun is out and Mitzi is being buried on the hill behind the barn. Another very kind man, my husband, digging her grave and carefully placing her in it. Daffodils will be planted on top and the scar on the ground reseeded with pasture grass.  You are home my sweet Mitzi.  Rest in Peace.

2 old horses relaxing in the sun
2 old horses relaxing in the sun

8 thoughts on “An End of An Era

  1. So very sorry for your loss and I understand all the feelings you are dealing with right now. They are not animals, they are family. May God grant you His peace and comfort.

    I am also dealing with a llama girl that is 20 years old and having health concerns. It is never easy.

    Love hurts sometimes.

  2. I am so deeply sorry. I could feel your love for Mitzi as I read your moving post. I care for all of my animals as you do, and your words touched me. It sounds like Mitzi had a wonderful life. Thanks for sharing her story. Thinking of you.

  3. I am so so sorry. It is never easy, no matter how many time you have suffered such a loss. I am so happy that she found a safe forever home with you and that you gave her such dignity. Not all horses have that. You two were lucky to find each other. 🙂

  4. I had to go back and read this again. Very touching, and you’ve blown life into Mitzi’s story. I can tell she’ll be in your thoughts forever. What a beautiful bond.

  5. It’s heartbreaking to lose our animals. I’m so sorry. Sounds like you gave her a wonderful life and I have no doubt that she is up above watching down over you and the farm.

  6. A heartfelt Thank You to all of the people who responded to this posting both here, on facebook and in person. It meant alot to me. Mitzi continues to touch lives even in her death.
    I terribly miss her welcoming nicker every morning and her empty stall leaves a lump in my throat… but life moves on.
    Her pasture mate Gary misses her also. For days he called for her and was constantly looking out the window hoping she was still there. He is slowly adjusting and is considering making new friends. The cows on the other side of the fence might be good candidates!

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