Thoughts for Barbaro
I cried yesterday when I heard the news that Barbaro, the injured winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby had to be put down due to laminitis. What a great loss for Thoroughbred horse racing. As I’m sure it’s true with all horse owners who have faced the same heart wrenching decision for their own faithful companions, it reminded me of times I have been involved in such a situation.
February 2, 2000 was a jewel of a day: rare and precious with unseasonable warmth and sunshine. I went to my barn to do my usual morning chores and found my 17 year old mare, Jazz, was down – on her side unable to get up. She’d been losing weight the past few weeks, but her eyes were bright and clear, her wooly coat was shiny and she was still eating, as usual. I’d taken her out for a ride about ten days ago and her energy level seemed undiminished so I mistakenly blamed her weight loss on the winter conditions and assumed she’d bounce back in the spring.
I called my trusted vet and he came as quickly as he could and treated her. He had to leave for another call, but promised to come back later, hoping to find she had responded and would be on her feet by then. She managed to struggle up off her side and get her legs under her, which gave us both hope. While he was gone, I sat with my girl, talked to her, pulled on her halter and tried to get her up. It wasn’t long before she gave me a look that said, “I’m just too tired,” and then flopped back down onto her side again. Her eyes dulled over with pain and her sprawled out legs began to “pedal” at the air. When the vet returned, I knew it was time to do the right thing. I knelt behind her, took her sweet head into my lap, looked her in the eye and said, “You are a good horse. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me. I’m sorry I was such a slow learner. God bless you. I’ll see you again someday.” The vet gave her the shot and while I watched, for a brief instant, the pain left her eye and then I sobbed as I watched the life go out of her, quickly and mercifully.
January 17, 2005 was a typical Midwestern winter day. A wild prairie wind was stirring up the frigid, below 0 F air all around us as we stood at the open end of a trailor around Morgan the Morgan, encouraging him to lift his stiff, arthritic front legs one last time to get into a trailor. When he walked, the pain was so great he was only willing to move his feet a few inches at a time, shuffling and limping along. Grazing had become a painful ordeal for him. While Janet and Chuck pulled and clucked to Morgan from the front, his vet and I grasped arms behind his rump and heaved, leaving him little choice but to bend his swollen knees and get in, which he finally did with a grunt and a sigh. Morgan stood patiently between Chuck and Janet as they looked at each other. Tears filled both their eyes they silently wished the other would volunteer to hold the lead rope. I stepped into the trailor and said, “I’ll hold him.” Relieved, they took refuge in the barn, hoping to get away from the wind and the sorrow. I spoke quietly to Morgan while the vet gave him the shot, told him he was loved deeply and that he would be missed more then anything. His head drooped, his legs wobbled a little and then he went down. When his two pasture mates, a pair of Palomino mares, heard the thundering crash his 1500 pound body made as it hit the floor of the trailor, they cried out. Their whinnying broke my heart, but Morgan’s pain was ended.
I know that the end must have been much the same for the great Barbaro. I don’t doubt for a moment that he was surrounded by people who loved him and respected him. I know they were the people he trusted to take care of him and to make the best decisions for him. And no matter how difficult it might become, they were the ones who had to do the right thing by him. I’m sure someone looked him in the eye at the very end and told him how much he was loved and how greatly he would be missed. And when they saw the pain leave his eye and the life go out of him, I hope they felt the compassion and sympathy of everyone who has ever had to watch a similar flame go out.
See you later, Barbaro. Say hi to Jazz and Morgan for me.