When I got home last night I found Pearl down on a hillside. Her hind legs were straddling the lowest of the boards on our white vinyl fence. Fear gripped my heart, causing my stomach to drop lower than my knees.
It immediately took me back to when my baby boy, Mac the Tennessee walking horse, used to lay down and be unable to stand up again on his own. He had that problem for years and I got to be quite proficient at flipping him over and bracing him so that he could get up again.
I did my best to soothe Pearl, and her blind best friend Cabernet, as I slid the boards out and tried to use the skills Mac taught me to roll her over. I struggled against her weight and gravity unsuccessfully. Hoping against hope that she was just laying down and not getting ready to transition to the next stage of life. At her age transitioning was likely, but this was the horse that snuck out to try and graze while I was moving her hay on Saturday. Spry and persnickety are her hallmarks. I called my parents to come home and help me, and then I got to work praying and trying to get her up on her sternum.
Pearl was whickering and flailing her legs. Cabernet was calmer than I have seen her in years. She is normally a basket case any time her "seeing eye horse" is more than three inches away from her nose. Mom and dad arrived within seconds of each other and we rolled Pearl over and tried and tried to help her stand several times. Dad volunteered to go get the sling and the tractor. Mom backed up and surveyed the situation. "Guys, she isn't trying to get up. That isn't what her legs are doing. She's dying." About that time her breath went arrhythmic and her neck arched back in the way that only means one thing. She had passed.
I went up to the large pasture, praying aloud that one of the horses there would step up to the plate and be a friend for Cabernet since Pearl had passed. Luna was the first horse up to me, and I buried my hands in her coat whispering to her how sorry I was that her momma had gone on while I petted her fuzzy yellow hair. Her half sister, Pissante, came up about three feet away from Luna's head and neighed a neigh I have never heard before directly at her. It was odd. I know the sounds for calling distant herd members, or weaning, or for food, or fear, or anger; but never anything like this. This whole thing was made even stranger by the fact that Luna and Pissante are quite frankly the two hardest horses to catch and work with that we have in that pasture. Luna is known to jump 5' tall cattle panels to get away from me rather than be touched, and Pissante, well let's just say she earns her name. But not right now.
I brought another mare, Zippy, down from the large pasture hoping that she would buddy up with Cabernet. She is one of the lowest horses on the totem pole out there, and I hope that means she is timid. All of the other horses I have tried over the last few months have been very mean to Cab: biting, chasing, and kicking. When I introduced them to each other Zip turned her ears back, which means that she wasn't too happy being sniffed all over by a stranger, but she didn't pin them down or try to hurt Cabby with tooth or nail. I'm taking it as a good sign. As Truly and Grin both went into kicking fits.
However, as soon as I turned Zippy loose Cabernet went to stand next to Pearl, who was awaiting my dad's removal expertise. Cab raised her top lip, scenting for her best friend, and then lowered her nose to the body. Slowly and methodically she started licking and nipping at Pearl the way she did with her foals when she was trying to encourage them to stand. I watched her as she groomed her friend methodically, stopping every so often to nuzzle for a few moments before returning to her licking.
Tears were streaming down my cheeks by the time I had to turn away. I think that horse is capable of more love and grief than I am. My heart breaks for her.
Whoever says that animals aren't capable of emotions should witness what I did. I have seen cows line up for funeral processions, and mares mourn for their foals, but never have I seen anything so heartbreaking as Cabernet licking and loving, and trying to get her friend to stand up.
This is the part of life on a farm that I hate. Frankly, death, even when it isn't tragic, sucks.