A truck turned into the farm’s driveway in North Ghent, PA. Donna backed Lady out of the trailer and turned her loose in the pasture. The horse stayed at her parent’s farm for several years until Donna joined Roshs’ Stables on Wolcott Hollow Road. Donna had another horse she stabled there as well, Ember, a registered half Arab. The State Game Lands #239 located just across the road from the stables provided a great place to ride. The game lands rested on top of a large hill nestled between open pastures dotted with hedgerows and farm houses on the periphery. The wild remote countryside teeming with wildlife offered Donna and her good friend, Tom, a beautiful place to ride on pleasant sunny days. Donna rode Ember and Tom, nicknamed Sugarfoot, rode Lady.
Tom and Donna enjoyed the thrill of dashing across the countryside, racing each other on horseback at full speed. Ember always won. One day they raced along the edge of a huge open field. Ember pulled ahead by five lengths when a long branch appeared ahead of Donna. She ducked under holding close to the saddle and shouted back to Tom “duck”. He bent but not far enough. When they stopped and looked back at the branch it was violently swaying in the air. They laughed as the summer sun traveled lower in the sky. Tom wasn’t hurt so on they rode enjoying the rest of the day.
Another time, they rode to the game lands, stopped at a grassy expanse and sat in their saddles while the horses nibbled on long lush, grass. Tom rested his arms across the saddle’s horn admiring the scenery. Unbeknownst to Tom, Lady stepped through the reins; finding herself trapped she flung her head upward pulling off her bridle. Donna informed Tom that he was sitting on a bridleless horse. He sprung off Lady, threw his arms around her neck and retrieved the bridle. Luckily, the horse stood quietly for Tom to bridle her without running back to the barn.
Fall brought displays of brilliant color and cooler weather. The woods were alive with animals and near twin ponds in the game lands Tom and Donna rested for a moment. Lady was nervous. In the pond an enormous bass jumped into the air, grabbed a bug and fell back into the water with a huge crack and a splash landing on its side. Startled, Lady jumped forward over a 4 foot evergreen tree, pulled up short and spun around headed towards the barn. Tom reined her in, she relaxed and they rode on.
When the Roshs sold the stables, new management came in 1995 and the place was renamed Round Top Stables. Donna felt it was time to move on and took her horses to Ballentine’s Horse Heaven a few miles down the road. Tom and Donna continued riding together on the gravel roads and trails at Round Top Park.
Within a few days of each other, in May of 2003, the farrier shod Lady and the vet administered shots and floated her teeth. Days later, the horse developed a mysterious illness. Lady couldn’t move. She stood in one position for about 3 or 4 days and ate very little. Her feet appeared cemented to the floor. Donna called the vet, Elaine Johnson, who examined the horse but had no idea what was wrong with her. Elaine prescribed Banamine twice a day. Banamine contains a potent anti-inflammatory drug, Flunixin meglumine, which reduces lameness and swelling in horses. Donna injected Lady early in the morning and in the evenings. After a week she began to see results. A small movement, Lady shuffled her feet sideways. Donna looked down at the deep indentations left by the hooves in the sawdust. Gradually, the horse’s muscles loosened up and she began to walk but refused to go outside. Donna led the horse up and down the road, encouraging her to walk and return to the pasture.
A year later, Donna received a telephone call from Johnn at Horse Heaven. Ember had colic. He rolled in the pasture during the night twisting his intestines. The horse stood in his stall in great pain. Donna called the vet but by the time he came it was too late, there was nothing the vet could do for the old horse. The vet euthanized Ember. He was 26. Lady’s good friend and pasture buddy was gone. The days passed and Donna bought a new horse, Socks, from a friend at the stables.
Lady was ridden for a year or two after Ember’s death until 2005. Her body began to show signs of age. Too frail to carry any weight, swayback and thin, she spent her days in the pasture, until one day she developed severe arthritis. Lady’s stiff joints made it hard for her to move. She had trouble lying with her legs tucked under her. Lady lay down stretched out on her side, and when she tried to regain her feet to stand up she had great difficulty. Often she would bang her head against the stall. Her knees and hocks suffered abrasions from struggling to get up. Donna duck taped bandages on the scrapes and cuts. Lady’s pain and suffering made her feel she should euthanize the horse. Donna called the vet, Andy Wilcox, from Laurel Hill Veterinary Service in East Smithfield. Andy suggested that she use a compound called Cosequin with glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM to repair cartilage damage and fight osteoarthritis. Donna mixed the compound into Lady’s grain and within 7 days noticed a significant improvement. The horse moved with less effort and before long Lady regained her feet from a laying position without staggering and hurting herself. She tucked her legs under when resting without pain.
The next year, Lady developed Choke. Choke occurs when a horse gulps down food or eats very fine or dry food that becomes lodged in the esophagus. The muscles in a horses’ gullet which move food from the mouth to the stomach can’t move the jammed mass. The food soaks up lubricating secretions from the lining of the esophagus causing the gullet to dry out. Again, Donna called the vet from Laurel Hill. He sedated Lady, passed a tube down her esophagus eliminating the blockage and the horse recovered.
The years passed one after another. Lady spent her days with the new horse, Socks, grazing in the pasture or resting in her stall. The excitement of dashing through open fields or traversing wooded terrain were gone, however, Horse Heaven provided a quiet retirement home for the old horse.
On August 19, 2011, Donna whistled to Socks and of course Lady came in too. She put the horses in their stalls, tossed a cookie treat in Lady’s pail and began grooming Socks. Donna saddled Socks for an evening ride when she noticed that Lady was having trouble swallowing. Lady put her head down to the ground between her hooves. She pawed hard in the sawdust, coughed and a green discharge oozed from her lips. Lady’s coat was covered in sweat. Donna knew the signs of Choke and began to worry.
Karen and I turned at Murray Creek Road and headed for the barn to unsaddle our horses after our ride through the park. We put our equipment into the tack room next to Socks’s stall. Donna’s horse was saddled. She had her helmet on ready to leave for her ride, but lingered next to Lady’s stall.
“I’m concerned about Lady. I think she has Choke, “said Donna.
Karen and I walked over to the horse’s stall. Lady’s breathing was labored. She stretched out her neck, a green thick liquid ran out of her nostrils, occasionally she coughed and restlessly moved around her stall.
Karen turned to me and said, “I’m going to stay with Donna. Maybe I can help.”
“Ok, I’ll stay too,” I replied. I thought to myself, ‘I hope I’m not going to be underfoot.’
“I think I better call the vet,” said Donna. “Lady doesn’t look like she is getting any better.”
It was Friday night and the vet was paged. The sky we saw through the big barn doors gradually turned from dark blue to black. Lady still couldn’t swallow and stood with her head hung, downcast and solemn. We waited as the vet traveled through the lonely countryside on narrow back roads to reach the stables. Finally, we heard a truck pull into the driveway and a tall man in blue coveralls came into the barn. He carried a black bag, pails and other equipment.
The vet took out his stethoscope and listened to Lady’s heart. “She has a heart murmur,” he said turning towards Donna. “It’s possible she might have colic.”
“I’m sure its Choke. She had the same thing about 5 years ago,” replied Donna.
The vet ran his hand down Lady’s neck and said, “She has a weak heart. A sedative could kill her, to be on the safe side I would run the tube without a sedative.”
Lady coughed trying to rid the blockage and Donna replied, “Do whatever you think is best.”
“I’ll need someone to hold the pail and the pump,” he said taking out a long clear plastic tube about 3/4th of an inch thick.
“I’ll help you with that,” said Karen. “I’m a nurse at the hospital and have helped with esophageal dilatation on patients.”
“We’ll need two people, one to pump and the other to hold the pail. Is there somewhere to get water? We’ll need to fill the pail about half full,” he replied handing Karen the pail.
“Sure,” she said taking the pail and walking to the bathroom near the tack room.
Donna stood in Lady’s stall holding the lead rope. Karen hurried back with the pail of water and the vet placed a hand pump in the pail. I held the pail and Karen held the pump. The vet gripped the tip of Lady’s nose and slowly feed the long tube down her nostril and into her esophagus feeling with his hand along her neck for the tube’s passage. Finally, the tube came to a stop at the blockage.
“Get ready to pump when I tell you,” he said blowing air into the tube. He paused and felt the horse’s neck. Again he blew air into the tube hoping to dislodge the obstruction. “Ok, pump the water.”
Karen used the hand pump while I held the pail. The pump was hard to push so we took turns pumping. Periodically, we stopped and waited as the vet blew more air into the tube or adjusted the tube’s connection on the pump. Donna held tight to Lady’s halter so the horse wouldn’t move. The process was slow and calculated but finally the food stuck in Lady’s esophagus was freed and passed into her stomach.
Suddenly, Lady had had enough and tried to bolt out of her stall. With the tube hanging from her nostril, the horse tried to push by the vet and escape into the safety of her pasture. Karen, Donna and I held tight to Lady’s halter in an attempt to stop and return the horse back to her stall. In a panic, Lady hit her head hard against a support beam and blood smeared against the wall.
Finally, she calmed down and the vet removed the tube. Blood oozed from her nostril and her breathing was raspy. Donna put Lady back in her stall, but the horse hung her head. Lady stood quietly as blood continued to drip from her nostril. Then to our surprise, Lady collapsed. The vet bent over Lady, took hold of her lead rope and tried to get the horse to stand up. Lady couldn’t stand.
After a few minutes, Donna realized Lady won’t be getting up. “It’s ok. I don’t want to see her suffer any more. Just put her to sleep,” said Donna.
The vet looked away from the horse and said, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” replied Donna.
The vet walked out of the stall and retrieved his black bag filled with medications and equipment. He filled a small needle with a sedative and a huge needle with a clear liquid. As we watched, he injected the substances into a vein in lady’s neck. Instantly, Lady’s head fell back and she was dead. Without warning an instant later, the horse jerked her body straight up lifting her head and clamoring to her front feet.
“Get out of there!” Donna shouted as Lady jolted forward toward the vet holding the lead rope.
Then as suddenly as she had lifted herself, Lady fell back against the wall of her stall. The barn filled with a solemn quiet and the incandescent light bulbs cast everything in a soft yellow light.
“When she rose up I thought she had her fill of us and was seeking her revenge,” said Donna visibly shaken.
“She wasn’t really alive at that point. It’s a reflex, a reaction, which happens as the horse takes its last breath of air. I didn’t think she was strong enough to rise up or I would have given her a stronger sedative,” explained the vet.
Socks, Lady’s pasture mate, came to the barn gate and briefly looked in at Lady lying on the ground. He retreated to the outside corner of the pasture and began to whinny and whinny and won’t stop.
“Socks come here boy,” called Donna but the horse won’t come.
“Does he stay in the same pasture with Lady,” asked the vet as he gathered his equipment.
“Yes,” replied Donna looking out into the pasture.
“I’d keep an eye on him for a few days and make sure he’s ok. Horses can be pretty attached to one another,” he said.
The vet packed his equipment, loaded his truck and drove away. The three of us stood watching the dead horse lying up against the stall wall where she had fallen, one leg reaching forward as if she was trying to stand.
“I’m just going to move her leg. It looks so awkward and uncomfortable,” said Karen entering the stall.
She gently picked up Lady’s bent leg and dislodged the hoof, which was wedged in a weird angle on the ground. Karen tenderly pulled the stiff leg forward and brought it to a resting position beside the horse.
She looked down at the horse and turned to Donna, “Do you have something to cover Lady with. I hate to just leave her lie there.”
“Yes, I have a couple of blankets in the tack room which I cover my saddles with,” replied Donna.
Donna disappeared into the tack room for a few minutes and came back with the blankets. She and Karen gently spread one blanket at a time over the dead horse until Lady disappeared. The soft bedding hid the horse except for the tip of her nose. We left her body in the stall, turned off the barn lights and walked outside. The stars shone in the darkness and hundreds of crickets chirped as we climbed into our cars and drove away.
The next day, Donna called Sol Isenberg on Beaver Dam Road. He agreed to come to Horse Heaven with his backhoe and dig a grave. Johnn struggled to remove Lady’s stiff body from the stall. Sol came at 7 PM that evening with his backhoe and dug a deep pit in the pasture behind the barn. They lowered Lady into the hole. Rich brown earth was pushed into the hole to cover the horse and fill the abyss until Lady completing disappeared. The only thing visible was a gigantic mound of fresh dirt which hid the 31 year old horse.
Donna came and put flowers on the grave in memory of a fine horse. She stood for a moment and thought about Lady. She had been a good horse. At times feisty, she liked to prance and shake her head, but she had never bucked, reared, never kicked or bit. Donna turned away from the grave taking her memories with her. Sometime later, Socks and Niche, Lady’s pasture buddies, sniffed the fresh earth, ate the flowers and walked away to find greener grass.
2 Responses to Salty Gray Lady – Memories of a Fine Horse