3 Jun 2008, 5:13pm
Ranching and Animal Husbandry Rural Life
by admin

Animals whose behavior changes near their life’s end

by Julie Kay Smithson

Dear friend,

I don’t know the answer to your question, but I wanted to share something with you that happened to me more than eighteen years ago.

My dear old gray Arabian gelding, Smoke, that had blessed me with his company for eleven years, was in his thirties. For the last three months of his life, although he appeared as healthy as ever, things changed in the way he related to me. Always a camera hog, he no longer wanted his picture taken. Instead of coming up to me and hanging around (I had several other horses and he was always the most cozy), he’d greet me and then wander away.

No, it wasn’t anything like dementia. I think he was trying to prepare me for the separation by distancing himself a bit “before the fact.”

The morning I found him was the perfect spring morning, filled with the fragrance of spring flowers and bird song, balmy and calm, just at sunrise. He was lying in his pasture with three weanling foals sleeping all ’round him (as usual). My diesel pickup truck would always get him to open his eyes or lift his head (he’d never jump up and scare the babies), but this morning, he just lay there so peacefully.

My heart broke, but at the same time, I was relieved. You see, when I got Smoke on June 25, 1979, he’d been in the clutches of a very cruel “owner” that had hit him in the face with a baseball bat and broken his nose and jaw. He had cuts and gouges all over him from abuse and was standing in a boarding stable up to his ankles in his own urine and feces, with urine burns on his skin and the “frogs” of his hooves eaten up and infected by the constant wetness and contamination.

For the first and only time in my life, I cussed someone out and then the creep wouldn’t sell him to me. I had to get a friend of mine to buy Smoke for me, but we got ‘er done and the next year was spent in proving to Smoke that no one would ever hurt him again.

He gave me his heart and trust, but I was the only one. He liked people but did not trust them.

Now, why was I relieved when he died peacefully in his sleep? Because Smoke’s nose and jaw, after the fracture, were crooked and his teeth wore unevenly. If you know about horses, you know their teeth need periodic “floating” (filing with what looks like a large fingernail file) to keep the sharp edges smoothed) because their teeth constantly grow. In Smoke’s case, the teeth on one side were wearing down and were very short, while the other side of his mouth was long. I feared that I’d lose him when he could no longer get nutrients from his food (unable to correctly chew).

When he died in his sleep, he just slept and kept on sleeping and woke in Heaven with God. There was no sign of any discomfort or struggle. His beautiful white tail was fanned out on the ground, with one weanling’s head lying on it. Another baby was curled in the curve that was the underside of Smoke’s jaw and neck. I laid my hand on Smoke’s neck, under his beautiful white mane, and he was still warm there.

While it was not a day I’d want to repeat, it helped me understand why he’d been putting a little distance between us for the prior three months. I don’t know if or how this will help you, but wanted to share it, for the first time since Smoke died.

God bless you and your beloved pets!


Smoke, proudly, in 1981

Kicking up his heels in 1982

3 Jun 2008, 6:56pm
by Pati


I remember meeting Smoke in Colorado, and still have the picture of you and me up on the hill… you on Smoke and me on Babe, my big bay mare. We are the Mutt and Jeff! Both horses came to find a place of love and peace, and we will remember them forever! Thanks for sharing a beautiful story.

Your Friend, Pati

3 Jun 2008, 7:49pm
by Julie Kay Smithson

Pati, yes, I remember our visit to your “Little House on the Prairie” in the Wet Mountain Valley, not far from Salida Pass and Poncha Pass! With your kids, my mom, Allan and Marilyn Conder, we had a grand visit! We’ve sure had some wonderful chapters in our lives, with more yet to come! I’m so glad you commented! Love, Julie

3 Jun 2008, 11:15pm
by Sylvia

My Vissa is also “distancing,” I notice. He was 30 this past May, always beautiful and more so with age. Bought him at age 30 days and had his companionship since 5 mo. old. Thousands of miles together and his legs without blemish still. I, too, am “distancing” but will not help in the final scene. Thanks for sharing. xo Sylvia

4 Jun 2008, 4:44pm
by Julie Kay Smithson

Dear Sylvia, thanks for sharing about Vissa, too. Please do email me a photo or two of him and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers as the final scene approaches. Hugs from me and slurps from Wiggles



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