You can't save them all
Carla Lawson - Monday, November 9, 2015
A very dear friend and supporter of equine rescue.
You can’t save them all, sometimes all you can do is love them as hard as you can. You try so hard but, there isn’t anything you can do. The damages are done, all you can do is give them a fighting chance. I am talking about equine rescue. I am ready to tell Prancers story.
Often try as hard as we do, sometimes you cannot just break the barrier of a broken system. Wether it is from a bad case of parasite infestation, injuries from accident or abuse, or the horse has figured out that all humans are just evil and they want to kill you. This isn’t Prancers case. Prancer is one that just couldn’t retain information. For two months I worked with her twice daily on the same routine. Feeding, grooming, cleaning the stall. She would watch me work other horses right in front of her. Each time I had to halter her it was ten minutes of back and forth trying not to get my head kicked in (Prancer never once offered to kick me NEVER ONCE! I want that known! BUT IT ONLY TAKES ONE TIME!) I always ask my horses to turn and face me in the stall. Every good horse person wants the horse to face them in the stall because better a head than two back feet. Prancer could not catch on to this idea, Face first then we move to groom, clean and do what ever else needs to be done. Turn out for exercise etc. She was here for five years, I tried over and over to get something to be retained. The closest thing I could do was offer a treat at the end of my fingers and looking away from her. That was the extent of our five years of training. At some point before she came to us she was halter broke sort of. She sort of understood some form of the halter and being tied. That was the most I could get from her limited knowledge. Prancer existed on the edge of trainable and mentally challenged. I have not much history of her other than the owner who previously had her has less mental capacity. I say this because in her mind a three year old filly does not get pregnant when exposed to a stallion 24 hours a day for three consecutive days. In her previous owners mind that is her thinking. I will let you do the math here. Had Prancers owner done some more thinking perhaps Prancer would not be buried next to my barn leaving me to grieve and wonder “Did I give her everything I could have given her? Because my mind is always going to be filled with doubt.” Beside my barn until I have it no longer I will always be reminded of “What if?”
I am going to be grateful for what If’s. They will make me try harder, they will make me think things through. What if’s are going to make sure that the next one, and the next one and the next one and the next one and the next one have a better outcome than Prancer did. Prancer did what I expected of her, she tried. I could see the cogs, screws and wires working in her mind, I could see it but she was like a five year old kid being faced with an equation of quantum physics and the light would dim so quickly. Each time my heart would sink. A year ago Prancer got a nail in her foot. It took thirty minutes of her hobbling around in the pasture in 100 degree heat, sweat dripping off both of us for me to get close enough to catch her. Then unsnapping my bra and using it as a temporary halter until my husband walked the length of the pasture and back to bring me a halter good enough to walk to the barn. Another thirty minute ordeal as she was hurting pretty bad. When I removed the nail a good amount of infection had been setting in. Removal of the nail gave her instant relief, but there was after care. It required heavy sedation in two phases. First a feed through sedation so I could at least give her a shot, then the shot itself which will not work well when adrenaline kicks in, it is counter productive. After the third day of treatment I had had enough I had a busted nose, broken knuckle, rope burn and various other bruises and bumps. I called my contact and told them the problem. I was told give her Dormosedan and euthanize her. I did the opposite. I opened the door and let her go bidding her good luck. In several days she was no longer hobbling and keeping up with the herd. She dodged the bullet so to speak.
I knew I was going to have to make that call again. Prancer had never needed a trim while here. God blessed her long enough to keep her feet short so she had no need for trims. Prancer was living on borrowed time. When it came time that she would need any kind of major handling we decided that it would be better to have her euthanized than to risk the life of a farrier, vet, Rob or myself. It was reaching the time that she was going to be needing foot work. As the five years was catching up and her feet were growing out. There was also some other issues that we needed to contend with. Her back leg was swollen from a kick or some injury. I know I couldn’t get close enough to see what it was. It was with great pain Rob and I decided it was time. Let me tell you I came so close to telling the vet to call it off. The golden hour arrived and it was the most peaceful hour for just the two of us. I groomed her, I talked to her and I cried for her. I would swear she was telling me, It was okay and she was ready. I had never seen a horse be that calm and relaxed. I almost again called the vet and cancelled. I told her I was sorry that I wasn’t there for her in the beginning of her life that it would have been different for her. I was there for her when she gave birth to her beautiful daughter Vixen and Vixen was imprinted. Vixen managed to become a wonderful horse with a good mind and spoiled rotten! Prancer, her mind was just not connecting with anything. She just absolutely could not retain information other than eat, sleep, drink and get out of bad weather. Prancer did have one thing that set her aside from other horses. She loved to play in the water. She once had a very bad injury below her lower lip. She was cut to the bone. I could stick my finger in her wound and feel the bone. As odd as it was she was still nursing Vixen and when it came time to doctor her She loved being sprayed with the water hose. That was the only type of retention was she loved the water. After this incident she would play in the water trough splashing water. I have it on video somewhere. It was just the most funniest thing ever. She would just splash and splash. Often I would yell at her from inside the barn, Prancer would quit a few minutes then start splashing again. Who was I to tell her she couldn’t have fun? Prancer spent most of her time outside, beside the barn near where her beloved daughter was born. Maybe it was because it was a happy time for her, maybe it was just a good spot to be, maybe because she just felt safe at that spot. My last promise to her was I would bury her as close to that spot as possible. I made good on that one promise to her. I would have promised her the world if I could have had one shred of understanding how her mind worked. I tried to break through that barrier and I couldn’t, I tried so hard. We reached our stalemate and I didn’t think it was fair to her, to my husband, to my other horses, nor to the other horses that will eventually over time grace our barn or pasture to continue, It took everything deep inside of me to finally say “ I can’t win them all.” It took a good friend from Horse Haven to tell me “You gave her more than anyone else would have allowed, You gave her love”
I guess down deep I did, I gave her the love to let her live here in peace, I gave her love to chase her down in 100 degree heat to help her heal, I gave her love to make sure she gave birth in a safe environment, I gave her love by placing her baby with a wonderful family who made sure her baby got the best treatment and a future. I gave her love by reaching as far as I could with a treat on the end of my fingers, I gave her love by grooming her off before she left this world. I gave her love by snipping a few pieces of her tail hair so I could have in a bracelet so she will be with me, I gave her love by making sure she would be buried in her favorite spot, I gave her love by letting her go across rainbow bridge and wait for me, at last I gave her love by telling her story and giving her a last voice to tell people to please look at horses that need homes before you decide to breed animals. There are so many unwanted ones out there that need good homes. Had Prancer been handled properly she would have been a high dollar horse, she was a naturally Paso Fino gaited, She was beautiful. She was what they are looking for. Prancer should have been a better horse. The mental damages was far to great for anyone to reach. Mental damages run deep in animals, if you think humans damage badly animals can be even more damaged and the sad part they do not have a team of specialists they can depend on to talk them down off a ledge. They do not the drugs available to them to help a mental issue. Well I take that back they have mind altering drugs but they are not in the long run healthy or a solution. The only proper way to help a mentally damaged animal is patience, time and knowledge, sometimes that still isn’t enough. Sometimes it comes in the form of soft words, tears, prayers, promises and a needle of heavy barbiturates.
In the end I gave her ultimate compassion. I gave her back to the man who created her. I handed the lead rope back to him and said “Sir, I tried, I failed miserably, but I tried.” I saw her spirit leave and run with the rest of the horses. I know she waits in greener pastures, I know that she will never want for love, I know she will never feel a nail go through her foot, I know at last she is free and she is happy. That is all I can say. I cannot win them all, but I sure made a damn bit of difference to that one! Rest in Peace Prancer. I will miss you.
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Story's about equine that have come through the doors of two Tennessee equine welfare organizations our CEO founded/directed. Horse Haven of Tennessee 1999-2016 and Hearts of Horse Haven 2018-present.