Sunny was nearly 30 years old when he came to SAFE, a badly neglected Arabian gelding with terrible teeth, an enlarged knee, and a tendency to choke. A diet of extremely wet mush made from beet pulp and senior grain helped him regain some of the weight he lost so that we could get his loose tooth extracted and his teeth floated.
Although he had been treated so poorly in the past, he was a very proud horse, who tried his best to keep the upper hand over the younger geldings around him. I suspected that he was a very dominant horse in his prime, possibly a stallion, because he really didn’t back down to anyone, even if he didn’t have the physical ability to back it up. So I kept him safely on the other side of the fence, so he could still believe he was the top dog without letting him come to any harm.
He was a very vocal horse, who nickered loudly and often…whether asking for food or just saying hello. He was pretty quiet most of the time but every so often, when he was startled or just feeling extra good, he would transform into the most beautiful Arab.…head high, ears pricked, nostrils flared, and tail flagging. He must have been so spectacular as a younger horse.
Sunny was rescued in July, and made good progress through the rest of the summer and into the fall. But as the weather grew colder, his enlarged and arthritic knee began causing him a great deal of discomfort, and he started limping pretty badly on it. His “good” knee was starting to undergo arthritic changes as well, making it even harder for him to get around. In November, his left eye became swollen, hot and runny, and that was causing him quite a bit of pain. He began to seem distant, and was not the interactive, vocal horse that I knew. And it did not help at all that the weather has been so utterly miserable, wet and cold.
So the decision was made to let Sunny go. He was humanely euthanized on an afternoon in November. He went peacefully and quietly. And amazingly, when it came time for the vet to arrive, the rains stopped, the clouds parted and the sun came out. So at the moment that Sunny passed, the world around him was beautiful, quiet, and warm. It seemed like a sign from above that the time was right to let this dear old man move on.
When Sunny passed away, I was there to hold his head and tell him not to be afraid, to tell him what a good horse he was, and to cry for him as he left me. But it made me even sadder to think that he didn’t die in the arms of someone who had known him for a long time, someone who had had a life with him, someone he knew well and trusted. It made me sad to think that this horse had served someone well during his life, and that person wasn’t there to say goodbye to him.
So in memory of Sunny, I ask that you think very hard before sending a beloved companion off to live with a stranger when they are no longer of use to you. I’m not talking about selling a sport horse that has years of competition ahead of him. I’m talking about sending a horse away after old age or an injury ends their career. Ask yourself whose face you want to be the last thing that your horse sees at the end of its life. And if it rightfully should be yours, then do the right thing. It’s the last gift you can give to a horse that has given everything to you.