Going home to Alabama for the Thanksgiving holiday had been everything I had wanted it to be.
Most of my family had mustered itself back together at the family farm, and we had a day filled with festivities. We watched football, played music together, and ate until our bellies popped. (I just about ate an entire pecan pie!) We went on a long hike through the woods and then finished the night with a movie.
Our bellies were full and we were happy. But just outside in the pasture, a life-and-death drama was unfolding.
The vet arrived at 10 a.m. I was aware that Annie, one of the older horses, had been sick and wasn’t moving well. Because I had been away at college, I was unaware of how serious this had become.
The vet had been called in to examine Annie about a month prior for a wound on her left front leg. She treated it with two rounds of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Each round was ten days. After the leg didn’t heal, the vet did some blood work, and Annie was diagnosed with lymphoma. So it had been a little over a week since then and Annie was taken off the antibiotics. Now her whole leg was swollen, she was going down, not eating, and just kind of dull overall. I learned that two days prior, after she went down and they couldn’t get her up, the owner and the vet decided the time had come to put her down.
My job was to get on the backhoe and dig the hole for Annie’s grave. I went up to Blackjack Ridge, where horses from the past as well as a few barn dogs had been buried already, and got to work. We bury all of our animals here because it’s on the top of a hill, and we are able to dig much deeper. (Plus it’s a good idea on a farm to have all your dead things in one place.) I dug a hole about 8 feet deep and returned to the scene, which was going to be a new experience for me. I had dug holes, carried bodies, and buried animals before, but I had never been present when a horse was euthanized.
The original plan was to put Annie on a trailer and drive her to the hole we had already dug. It would easy to transport her that way. However, the owner thought the horse was too unstable, and that there was potential that she could go down in the trailer. And it is a very difficult process to get a horse in her condition up, and she did not want the last few moments of Annie’s life to be a struggle.
Since Annie had become unable to walk, the owner decided that she wanted to euthanize Annie where she was. She said that she believed that Annie knew it was her time and had picked that spot–probably the most pleasant spot in the whole pasture. It was a very grassy area at the bottom of a hill, and she was right underneath the shade of a tree.
Annie wasn’t able to eat, so she had no special last meal. However, the owner and her did spend 20 minutes together as the owner prepped emotionally and said her goodbyes. Annie was a 28-year-old quarter horse, weighed about 900 to 1000 pounds, and was around 15 hands. The owner bought Annie when she was 4 and had seen her grow. It was a very emotional moment for her. They had only been at our farm though for a little less than a year, so it was much easier for me than it would have been if it had been one of the other horses in our care for years.
After the owner had said her goodbyes to Annie, the vet injected her with 120 cc’s of Pentobarbital into her left jugular vain.
Pentobarbital is a sedative and basically the vet just gave her a massive overdose. Sometimes it can take 5 minutes for horses to fall to the ground, and in some cases, they have to be given even more. I could see Annie begin to sway in the back a little bit as the shot was being given. She started to lay down and then then she just fell over and was dead by the time she hit the ground.
After she fell, we left and let the owner have about 30 minutes alone with the now-deceased Annie. When she came back inside, we headed back out. I took the backhoe into the pasture and laid the bucket down by the body. I then got out and we rolled Annie in. We then put a tarp over the body, because we didn’t want the kids at the barn to have to see her as we drove by.
The last thing I wanted to do was hit a bump and have her fall out, so the drive across the property to the top of the hill was extremely slow. When I arrived at the top, the owner was not there, nothing was said, we just dropped her in and then everyone left me alone to bury her.
As I drove back to the barn, I could see the owner start to head out to the fresh grave site. I don’t know how long she was there, I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.
When I arrived back at the family cabin, my family was all there waiting on me with the table set for lunch.
We had a big meal–full of Thanksgiving leftovers. It helped me to put the day’s events in perspective.
There may have been a death, but it is the season of thanks and there is so much life to be thankful for. Memories are a precious thing.
Annie had lived a long life and her owner was there at the very end.
My whole family came together as a happy company. We spent quality time together, and created memories that will forever be cherished. This is how our lives should be lived–together with the people we love, giving each other precious moments of our lives while we still have the chance.
Annie reminded me how to live.