Farewell to a good horse.

Jake on Wickenburg MountainOne of my two horses, Jake, will be slipping into the forever sleep later today. We don’t know his exact age, but we think he’s about 30. He developed some serious and painful foot problems this past spring and we’ve been unable to reverse the process. Rather than subject him to more pain with a questionable quality of life, we’ve decided to put him to sleep.

I bought Jake as a second horse about 10 years ago. I had just one horse and Mike and I could never ride together. So I went with a friend to a local horse trader to see what he’d brought back from his ranch up north that spring. He was offering Jake, a sorrel Quarter Horse gelding. Jake had a swayback — his back dipped down and then back up to his hind quarters — and really high withers. The horsetrader claimed Jake was 11 — a magic age for horses because it’s neither too old nor too young — but the vet later said he was at least 17. I saddled him up and went for a ride with my friend and the horsetrader’s wife. Jake was extremely well behaved. At one point, the horsetrader’s wife said, “I wouldn’t be ashamed to ride that horse.” I thought it was a weird comment. I wasn’t ashamed at all. I bought him.

I could tell at once that Jake was very different from Misty, my other horse. While Misty was friendly and would come up to you to be petted or brushed, Jake was far more aloof. He’d obviously been struck around the face — if you approached him with your hand up, he’d run away in sheer terror. It took a long time to build trust in him. But as soon as you put him on a lead rope or put a saddle on him, he was yours. He had a ranch horse work ethic and would do whatever you told him to, without hesitation.

Jake became Mike’s horse. My horse, Misty, another sorrel Quarter Horse, later developed serious front foot and leg problems. After months of pain, I made the decision to put her down. It was heart-wrenching. She was only 19.

I got another horse, a pretty paint Quarter Horse named Cherokee. Cherokee was a spoiled brat who really make Jake look like a prize. Jake was alpha male — the boss — who protected his food and space from Cherokee with pinned back ears and bites. Cherokee never gave up trying to steal Jake’s food. Recently, he was starting to succeed.

Jake and Cherokee at Howard MesaWe’d often bring them to our summer place on Howard Mesa, where we’d set them loose in our 40-acre fenced-in lot. When there was good grass, they’d graze together. Sometimes, Jake would wander off without Cherokee noticing. When Cherokee realized he was alone, he’d call out to his friend and prance around until he found him. We’d ride around the mesa on the two of them, enjoying the warm sunlight and high desert terrain so different from the Sonoran desert at home. Jake was always at ease and never spooked; Cherokee was always freaked out and, in those early days, taught me how to fall off a horse.

Jake’s teeth were the first to go. They got to the point where no amount of equine dentistry could fix them. We switched his diet to mostly pellets that we’d soak down with water. One vet told us that was keeping him alive.

Then he started coming up lame. We took him to the vet and had his front feet X-rayed. Navicular disease. It’s caused when the navicular bone gets kind of porous and puts additional pressure on the nerves in the horse’s foot. ALthough there’s surgery that could ease the pain — I know it well because Misty had it not long after I bought her — Jake was too old for that. We decided to go with pain medicine and special shoeing to ease the pain. But nothing really seemed to help and yesterday, Mike made the big decision, which I know was hard for him.

Animals are lucky. They have us to spare them from a long, painful, lingering death. Jake will go to sleep later today and not wake up. His pain will be over.

And we’ll miss him.

7 thoughts on “Jake

  1. Sorry to hear about having to put Jake down. It always hurts to lose a close animal friend that you become attached to when they become a member of the family.

  2. We don’t have horses since we fulltime in our rv, but have 3 cats instead.

    We have had to put to sleep 3 of them over the years and it is very hard on me.

    I can’t be the one going to the vet to be with them when it is time. The wife has to do it for me.

    Somehow, I can’t imagine the vet staff seeing a 240 lb 6ft 1 in guy blubbering in their office.

    I think my cats (maybe outside of my wife) are the only things that can make me cry.

    Sorry for your loss. We really bond with our animals, don’t we?

    Probably cause they don’t care how we look in the early morning. They just want our affection.

  3. Maria, I realize I’m late commenting, but thought I’d pass something on to you that I learned from my vet. A few years ago I had to put down my 33 y.o. mare. She’d been stablemates with her son, a gelding, for the past 20 years–ever since he was born. I knew Tempest would miss her terribly.

    We put the mare down in her paddock, and the vet said to let Tempest see her and sniff her. She said that in his horsey way, he would realize she was dead, and it would cut down on his calling and racing around looking for her. She said this is the way it happens in the wild.

    She was right. Tempest settled down the next day. I’ve been through this with other horses, but never let the stablemate see the dead horse. This resulted in prolonged stress for the remaining horse and for me.

    Blessings on Jake. May he rest in peace.

  4. One of the saddest things I ever saw was at my friend’s corral. One of her horses had died suddenly during the night and I’d gone over at dawn to comfort her. The horse lay dead in the corral and the other horses didn’t seem to take notice — at first. Then the youngest horse went up to the dead horse and made some noised. I thought my heart would break when he reached out a hoof and gave his dead friend a poke, as if to say, “Hey, wake up. They’re feeding us.”

    I was not here when the vet came so I don’t know how it all went down. I do know that Cherokee was here until my neighbor took him over to be with her horses for a few days.

    Cherokee cried for about two days when he was back home alone. Then he settled down. He’s fine in the lower corral, which is a fenced in area of a sandy wash (like a dry river bed), during the day. At night, we bring him closer to the house, to a smaller corral near our chicken coop. He can see my neighbor’s horses from both corrals and I think that comforts him.

    When we move him from one corral to the other, we don’t need a lead rope. He just follows us. We’re his herd.

    I’m trying to sell him, but the economy has made keeping horses too expensive for many people. Many folks are starting to just GIVE their horses away. We might take in a horse for the winter to give him company and give us another horse to ride. But I still hope to sell him or give him away by March month-end.

    I’ll miss him, but I really can’t give him the attention he deserves during the summer months when I’m traveling.

    Thanks for your comments and comforting words.

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