WITH A HEAVY heart, I said goodbye to Sunny, my light-colored palomino last week. Horseplay readers may recall Sunny came into my life after she was given to my niece, Brooke Stromberg (see my column of July 8, 2018 HORSEPLAY: A rider rediscovers her passion after addiction | Peninsula Daily News.) My niece, an addict who was clean at the time, and Sunny began racing together to great success. She was then gifted Sunny, but soon after fell back into the trappings of an addict and Sunny became mine to care for, and I grew to love her. My niece is living in California and I hear is no longer using.
For the past few years Sunny, who was anywhere from 28-30 years old, suffered with from Winter Diarrhea, a condition similar to colitis, that can come on late fall when fresh pasture grass is no longer available and the switch is made to eating 100 percent hay. I wouldn’t describe her previous bouts as chronic and she always recovered quickly.
This fall it seemed bad from the start, quickly turning from loose stools to liquid squirts that flew all over everything —including feed bins and walls — within a few feet’s range.
I’ve done the research: I wormed her for tape worms in the fall, I feed the horse’s a combination of Timothy hay and alfalfa (both low sugar, low structural carbohydrate.) I soaked the hay 30 minutes prior to soften stems and to further lessen the sugar content.
When Leitz Farm Supply got a load of Teff hay in, I started feeding it to both. Sunny’s stools were firmer, but the constant squirts continued. I gave Sunny Omeprazole and Pepto Bismal to try to sooth her tummy (she did like the taste). Both medicines I shot into the side of her mouth, through a large syringe.
I have a warm water hose bib so I was able to wash the runs of manure out of her rear end, tail, hocks and fetlocks on a regular basis, for which I could tell she was grateful. She took a lot of pleasure when I dried the area with a towel and warm hair dryer.
No to debt
Did I call a veterinarian? No. Because that would involve tests and more money than I had to spend. In my own mind, I have a set monetary limit to spend, and that doesn’t include helping to prolong or save a life when cancer is involved. I greatly love my animals, and have gone into credit card debt before when trying to figure out what was wrong and to save a much beloved pet — only to have the pet die. Never again.
I view it as the circle of life. When young, our pets are sources of joy, and frustration. Middle age they become our own perfect family member. When illness or advancing age sets in we become more of their caretaker; they need extra care, empathy and kindness from us. We grieve their passing. I’ve learned several times over that, while we will never replace that special, beloved family member, we can gain another special, yet different, relationship with another dog, cat, horse or goat or even a person.
With Sunny, I hoped her body would recover, but it seemed as if as the weather warmed up her health just spiraled downward faster until I could tell her body, her vital organs, were beginning to shut down. That’s when I put a call into the Olympic Game Farm asking for help in putting her down.
Apparently, Sunny wasn’t the only horse to have a difficult winter because it was three weeks before the farm’s expert marksman could come to the house to put Sunny down. And that was OK. They had emergencies and other animals on the list before me. The game farm provides a very valuable service to us horse and livestock owners. Death by shot gun to the correct spot is instant. Sunny went down next to my horse trailer, and away from Lacey’s view, happily munching on pellets. Her body was then winched on to a trailer and taken back to the game farm where her meat would become food for their predator animals.
Lacey, who’d been pacing and whinnying for her companion, upon hearing the shot got quiet and stood still. I think could sense or smell Sunny was no longer with us, because she after the body was pulled away she grew anxious again, but her whinny was much quieter. I let her out to smell the blood and matter left on the grass before washing it down, and let her freely wander around from paddock to front pasture at will.
This, I believe, helped Lacey to accept Sunny had died and was no longer with us. She wasn’t hauled off in a horse trailer to never be seen again — which I’ve seen can make a horse anxiously search for their companion for days, or even weeks.
Thankfully, it the sun was shining that day and the weather warm enough to give Lacey a nice warm shower, dry her and brush out her shedding coat. Then I put a bareback pad on her and we had a nice walk through the neighborhood.
Horses being herd animals, I worried about Lacey being the only horse for the first time in her life. At first I decided to just leave the gates open and let her wander where ever she wanted. She’d always enjoyed hanging near my back door and dogs.
While she wasn’t actively looking for Sunny the ensuring few days, she did get more cantankerous toward me; pinning her ears back when I touched her, and even turning her butt towards me a couple times, acting like she was going to kick me.
To that I gave her a quick swat on her hind end, a stern look and a hard, “NO! Bad girl!” Even with her loss, our loss, I could not allow that kind of bad behavior to escalate. Still, it was concerning.
I gave my friend and fellow horse owner/lover Zorina “Z” Barker a call for some feedback. She, too, had a horse suddenly left alone after the other had to be put down.
Z thought Lacey might be feeling distressed and fearful over suddenly being alone. That got me thinking of the word “boundary,” and how, by leaving the gates open to roam the entire three acres at night I literally left her with no boundary or place to feel safe in. That’s when I began closing her inside the paddock and shelter at night. That seems to have helped her because she’s been nicer and calmer since then.
I’m getting older (mid-60s), struggling with osteoarthritis and advancing Multiple Sclerosis, and with the increasing costs of food for all creatures great and small, I’ve no plans to get another horse.
And I am just plain tired. Frigid temperatures (which we experienced almost daily here on the Peninsula late October – March) affect my personal symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis; it causes all my muscles to become as tight as a drum, which makes it difficult and painful to bend and move, so providing that extra, loving care for Sunny (which I felt important to do), along with filling the water troughs and draining the hoses each time so they wouldn’t freeze, feeding and picking up manure exhausted me, leaving me with little energy to do anything else.
So as I rest and regain my energy, I plan on spending the upcoming warmer weather — which will hopefully come soon — riding Lacey around the neighborhood and on the trails around me.
To view TicTok videos of Brooke Stromberg and Sunny barrel and pole racing go to https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRcu7mKj/ and https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRcumx6S/.
On Wednesday, April 10, 5-7 p.m. Neon Riders 4-H is hosting a McTakeover fundraiser at the McDonalds, 1706 E. Front in Port Angeles.
A portion of proceeds from every purchase, including coupon books, goes to help support local horse 4-H and their shows — including the cost of showing during the Clallam County Fair! Please do stop by in to support our youths!
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at email@example.com at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.