“Do you know who I am?” she said,
“I’m the one who taps you on the shoulder when it’s your time
Don’t be afraid I promise that she will awake
Ever since I came back to work last week from holiday, Friday was looking bad. He was lame again in his right hind leg- which had suffered suspensory ligament damage in January- and now his left hind hoof was also pulsating with heat. Any movement was done in extreme agony. The best I could offer him for the time being was a gram of phenylbutazone (a NSAID commonly called "bute"), stall rest, stable bandages, and a call to his owner.
"Is there anything else you'd like me to do for him?"
"No, not really... Though I guess you could offer him another dose of bute. Are you sure it's not an abscess or anything like that?"
Friday's hooves were virtually like granite. She knew that. So did I.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. He's behaving just like he did when his right one went bad."
Big sigh. "Okay. Well, I can't come up today. I'll have a look at him when I come up tomorrow. Michelle will be coming for her lesson at 10."
"That's fine. See you then."
I have come for the Beekeeper
I know you want -
You want my Queen -
Anything but this
Can you use me instead?
I knew the pattern that was about to begin. Friday's owner, my boss, is a woman who uses optimism as a form of denial. A big fan of the "wait and see" method, she usually ends up getting burned emotionally and financially for it. Not that I blame her in this instance. She's known Friday all his life. Her cousin's family bred him. He's been hers since he was thirteen, and he's twenty-nine now. He's been a top dressage horse. There's not a student in that barn that hasn't ridden him. He's been a teacher, a therapist. He was her children's favourite. He helped children with disabilities discover the joys of riding. A real "super horse" in her eyes. However, given his age, and the fact he has Cushing's syndrome, she shouldn't be expecting any miracles.
By Thursday morning, Friday was looking more upbeat. He was still limping a bit, but at least he didn't look as if he was going to fall over each time he moved laterally. I wasn't really surprised. He had done this back in January as well. Dead lame one day and 85% sound the next. My boss was pleased to see this. She theorized to me that he probably overdid it on the grass, as it is rich this time of year. We agreed that he should be on "bute therapy" (1g bute with every meal) and his time out on grass should be reduced.
The next day was as if nothing had ever happened. Friday was allowed to go out, but I gave him a gram of bute. I also kept his wraps on as a precaution. He and his buddies were turned out in an all-weather paddock where there is little grass and their forage (hay) consumption is monitored. Predictably, my boss was very happy to see he was outside. She informed me that the vet was coming next week to do vaccinations. He would have a look at Friday then.
I cannot accept that she will be taken from me
Saturday comes and goes. I return to work on Sunday. As I'm going through the routine of feeding breakfast, I can't figure out why Friday won't get out of my way as I enter his stall. It's not until I begin to turn him out that it begins to click.
He can't move.
Upon closer observation, I see that he is also shaking and sweating with the effort just to stay standing. I make the call.
"Hello, I'm calling to give you a Friday update.",
"Oh dear... Is he bad?"
"He can hardly walk."
"And you gave him some bute this morning?"
"I can't come up there today. I just- can't. My whole family's sick, and I've really got to work on my billing."
"That's fine." The little voice in my head is screaming at my overly patient nature. No, it's not 'fine'. Your horse is suffering needlessly and this is not right.
"Give him a large dose of bute now, and again at dinnertime. Call me tomorrow if there's no change. I'll call John and see what we can do. I'll let my kids know in the meantime. I know they're going to be upset."
"I'm sorry to dump this all on you. I know it can't be easy for you either. I've only known this horse for nearly thirty years. It's going to take me some time to prepare."
The holiday weekend brought extra riders to the barn. They'd look at Friday and shake their heads.
"So what's she gonna do?"
"The usual. If nothing changes by tomorrow, she'll call the vet. He's coming Thursday anyways." The words felt weak.
"That's not right. He should be put down."
I must see the Beekeeper
I must see if she’ll keep her alive
Monday arrived and nothing had changed. I cringed as I added the mega dose of bute to Friday's feed. It's recommended that no horse should ever receive more than 4g of bute in a 24-hour period. He was getting six; 3g twice a day. He didn't even call out as his friends walked by him on their way out to the paddocks. Once again, I was on the phone.
"Okay, I'll call John right now. I'm almost done my paperwork here. After dinner, I'll bring my family up to see him and I'll decide then what to do. I know they're going to be upset, especially Geoffery."
"I know, but I think seeing him like this will be more upsetting."
Tuesday morning I arrive at the barn earlier than normal. This was due largly in part that I woke up at 12:15AM, then again at 2:30, again at 3:40, and by 5:55, I gave in and got up. Friday remained the same, though by now, the painkillers were giving him a spaced out look. I notice the note in the log book my boss had written last night:
Gave Friday 10cc flunixin meglumine (Banamine) at 7:30pm.
He looks really bad.
Lady, you're preachin' to the choir, here. The phone rings.
"Hi there. I talked with John last night, He can't come today...he's booked solid. He's coming tomorrow. I'm coming up around 10 or so. I'll bring you a coffee."
When she arrived, we talked about what would happen. The vet would come to put Friday down at 3:00pm. It was a rather morbid scene; here we were, standing in front of Friday's stall, watching him eat, as we sip our coffees and discuss his pending death. Not like he particularly cared. At that moment, he was higher than Timothy Leary.
"I always said I would do it when I knew for certain it's his time. It's his time. I thought about waiting until after the weekend, so all the students could get a chance to say goodbye, but you know, I think it'll be a lot easier to tell everyone after it's been done."
I merely nodded and sipped my coffee.
Flaxen hair blowing in the breeze
It is time for the geese to head south
Wednesday morning dawned like all the other days this week had dawned- cold, cloudy, and misty with drizzle. I went though my morning routine as I have had countless of other mornings before. Everyone would go out- including Friday. I figured why not, what's it going to do, kill him? I've barely begun my morning when the phone rings.
"I was thinking... Well, John's coming tomorrow, and I'd hate to have him come all this way twice... Plus Joanne will be running the therapeutic program at the same time, and I don't want to upset any of them with the sight... Well, what do you think, can he handle another day?"
No. "Well, let me see..."
"Tell you what, I'll let you think about it for a bit. Call me back in about ten minutes or so?"
"Sure." I had already made up my mind, however. I wasn't going to let her put us all back on that emotional rollercoaster again. I continued with my turnout.
I saved the old man for last, knowing that leading him out would take time. Not just for him, but for myself as well. His first dozen steps came easily, and then he stopped, the pain finding a crack in the drug-fog shield of his brain. I coax him along gently, telling him all his friends are waiting for him outside. Their paddock is out behind the arena, and we must walk through it to get there. We walk through the darkness out into the relative lightness of the outdoors. His friends are at the far end, and as they see us come, they all raise their heads and watch. All the horses in the neighbouring paddocks do the same. I let him go and he eagerly joined his friends. In that moment, I knew that is how it would be in the end for him. He would find himself walking out towards all the friends that have gone before him, who are waiting for him on the other side.
I made the call. "It's time. I don't see the need to keep him going just for convenience. It's not fair to him, or us."
"Allright... I'll let John know nothing's changed."
I left for lunch just as my boss arrived. I told her that I had turned Friday out to be with his friends one last time. She said she would bring everyone in while I was at lunch, so she could take Friday out for a few final moments. It was 1:30pm.
I returned at 2:15pm. Only two horses were left outside. I went to go get them. On my way I passed my boss with Friday grazing on the lawn. I asked her if she'd like a cup of coffee.
"That would be great."
"What do you take?"
"Double cream, one sugar."
I brought the remaining two horses in and went to the tack room to make her and myself a cup of coffee. I didn't even hear the vet's truck drive up. I walked out the barn and around to the side where we had agreed would be the best spot for Friday just in time to see him go down.
Maybe I’m passing you by
Just passing you by girl
On my way
On my way
I’m just passing you by
But don’t be confused
Euthanasia of horses via lethal injection is a two-step process. First, the vet intravenously administers a tranquillizer, in order to drop the horse to the ground. Once he is down, the vet then injects the lethal dose of barbiturate. Done correctly, it is the least stressful method to both horse and human.
"It was absolutely amazing. Friday just kept right on grazing until he dropped."
Friday grunted a bit as the vet squeezed the barbiturate home into his neck. Afterwards we sat and chatted. We talked mainly about bad drivers for some odd reason, as we waited for the drugs to do their work. About ten minutes passed, and the vet checked for a pulse.
"Well Friday, I think you're dead."
We got up and walked over to his truck. My boss thanked him for his work. He was rather pragmatic.
"The fact is, we're all going to end up like that one day whether we like it or not. We're a lot kinder to them than we are to ourselves. If I'm ever diagnosed with cancer or something incurable, I just hope that in my last moments, I have enough strength to get to this." He waved the bottle of barbiturate.
We said our goodbyes and he was off. I told my boss that I would get a pair of scissors for her to collect some hairs from his mane and tail. That way she could have a few moments alone with Friday before the dead stock removal arrived. While she did, I would busy myself with the task of removing his nameplate and putting another horse in the stall.
"I can't be the only person this is hard on, is it?" she asked, trying to smile through her tears.
"No, no you're not the only one," I remember the scene from this morning, of Friday walking to greet his friends one final time. "but what I think- what I'd like to think- is that he's with friends. Wherever he is, he's with friends."
This morning, I thought I would be a wreck the moment I'd walk in and see Doobie, not Friday, looking out of that stall. Doobie seemed to sense this and was very solemn with his greeting. The whole barn was, in fact. We all had been reminded of our mortality, that nothing lasts forever. But life goes on, and no one can say when their time will come.
One day I’ll be coming for you…
Small text is excerpts from Tori Amos "The Beekeeper." The Beekeeper, 2005