Sunday, August 9, 2009

Endings and changes

In the end, Rusty chose where he would lie. He had stayed up next to the shed, under the pines on the soft drying mud covered with old hay. At times, he would become momentarily cast against the fence or a tree trunk, but seemed to work his way to a position where he could get up without panic or help. But, he would go down again, groaning as the pain collapsed his hind end. Often he would lie flat out only to curl up on his back, head tilted, legs in the air, breaths shaking his strong chestnut body. He had greeted me at breakfast time with a sweet little whinny tinged with urgency and I saw him lying down next to the manure pile. He got up, but then went down again.

"Oh, no, Rusty." It was all I could say, knowing what was to come.

He had lived with us for several years, adopted from Ashley's Barn. Saved from the killer, Rusty had been adopted out to an older gentleman who adored him, but he had become unable to carry a rider, so returned to the rescue. In his mid twenties, Rusty's body bore the scars of a hard life. His back was swayed, his hind end weak. The bridge of his long nose gave evidence of abuse, as a black scar cut across it, most likely from a chain. The left side of his haunch showed what might have been a partially ruptured tendon. The right front fetlock carried a Y shaped scar typical of a severe wire cut. He was lame on this foot and showed definite neurological symptoms in his sacral area. His eyes ran and a tumor bulged from his thyroid. His lip was tatooed, so he had raced, and Dot felt he had been used as a Western working horse.

When I met him, he was well cared for but depressed and listless. Dot said he no longer looked to be adopted and had withdrawn into himself. He was pastured with a more dominant paint horse and seemed to want to hide behind his companion as we approached.

As soon as I touched him, he raised his head and turned toward me. His ears went up, his eyes brightening. He knew he would be coming to live with us, to keep Dime company in his retirement.

Rusty proved to be quite a remarkable horse. He established himself as the boss, accepting Dime's somewhat insecure clinging with patience. When Boo joined us, Rusty quickly stood up to her pushiness. He led the way out to the pasture in the morning and brought up the rear on the return in the evening.

Gradually, his eyes cleared, bright and eager. His rich chestnut coat glowed, his head held high. He was a horse who had a tremendous degree of pride and discipline. A war horse, Rob described him. A survivor, tough, wise, calm and always in control. He even began to show affection, tipping his head to nuzzle, accepting hugs and fussing.

Rusty got up from under the trees when he saw Greg arrive and walked shakily away from us toward the lower gate. Waiting for us to open it, he lay down again. With urging and gentle prodding, the old horse struggled to his feet one last time and led the way through the opened gate, down the path to the lower pasture. Across to the far end Rusty led us, Doug, Greg, Dime, Boo and me to a patch of soft grass, where he went down for the last time. Greg slipped the needle into his neck. Rusty lay quietly, gave a last great sign, raised his head and let go.

We who knew this horse are honored to have shared in his life. We will never know details about his life, but can certainly appreciate the heart which he must have lived it.

Thank you, dear Rusty.