Her Hour of Departure

The Choctaw Princess lay down and died mid-morning on the fourth of June. She had appeared stable and in good shape this spring. The only thing that was really off was that she had been eating plants this spring that she had not touched before.

I had wondered why she was eating the mullein down to ground earlier this year when she had totally ignored it last year. What I had not caught was that she was eating black locust tree suckers as soon as they poked a few leaves above ground. I have been battling the black locusts since I inherited this property a decade ago.

I had resigned myself to an ongoing battle as cutting down the mother tree causes truly impressive and widespread eruptions of suckers. Since the mother trees are sickly, infested with some sort of beetle that feeds the flickers and thrashers, I left them to feed the wild birds with the hope that they would die off on their own. But, I did resort to spraying brush killer herbicide to beat back the thickets of thorny suckers that sprouted all over after every rain.

Unfortunately, there have to be enough leaves to carry the herbicide to the roots or it doesn’t work. It has been exceedingly dry here and the black locusts did not come into leaf until the last week in May. Even though the Choctaw Princess refused to touch them last year, this year she nipped the new shoots off before I ever saw them.

The NM State Forestry department hands out black locusts in bare-root bunches of twenty-five, so there are a lot of them around this area. But my horse vet had never seen a case of black locust poisoning before. Between us, we have decades of experience with a whole lot of horses, so we were both taken aback to have the Choctaw Princess demonstrate unequivocally that yes, black locust toxins are deadly to horses.

I am now wondering if there was more degeneration in her central nervous system than was obvious. Something was driving her to munching on plants she would normally reject and ignoring tasty ones she normally ate. And eating weird things is one sign of problems with the central nervous system.

Regardless, the Choctaw Princess did do things her way to the very end. I panicked when her symptoms first appeared. She did not do a whole lot of thrashing, although she did spend a lot of time lying down glaring at her belly. But she was extremely sore-footed, with episodes of muscle tension and spasms. I was ready for the vet to put her down immediately, but she did not agree.

It was not a typical colic but her behavior was worrisome enough that I had the vet come out to put her down twice. Both times, she did her very best to impress him with what a fine healthy specimen of a horse she was. As soon as he was headed our way, she got to her feet and walked around eating and drinking completely normally. When he arrived, she was alert and willing to socialize.

The Choctaw Princess Looking Forward

And, as soon as he left, she would begin to retreat into herself and all her symptoms would reappear. We finally agreed that I would do my best to keep her comfortable with electrolytes, banamine and bute. But, it was really up to her to decide whether and when she wanted to die. And when she did, she lay down and went out without fuss.

Now I feel equal parts of sadness that she is gone and relief that she is no longer suffering. She seemed content enough for the year and a half she was here, despite the various problems we dealt with. And I do not think our time together was wasted. A slightly modified version of the famous quote from the Little Prince comes to mind:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;

what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,”

 the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your horse that makes your horse so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my horse–“

said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.

“But you must not forget it.

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

You are responsible for your horse . . .”

“I am responsible for my horse,”

the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

I have to admit that in that short time she was with me, the Choctaw Princess did re-engage me with the Colonial Spanish Horse scene. Only a couple of thousand Colonial Spanish horses are currently recognized, and many populations have become so poorly managed and inbred that they are endangered.

My eruption of posts on the subject last spring did not make me any more friends now than the same arguments did decades ago when I was an active breeder myself. But, this time around, my writing appears to have provoked a sea-change where the various groups of breeders are beginning to work with each other.

Acknowledging where the founding stock came from and what the various strains have in common supports breeding for a healthy gene pool. Breeders ar even discussing focusing on producing horses that are actually ridable. Those are long over due and positive steps towards these rare and exceptional horses thriving as they should.

The Choctaw Princess maybe gone, but in as much as I am responsible to her, I hope that her relatives and their descendants now have a better chance of keeping on.

5 thoughts on “Her Hour of Departure

  1. Oh Sara, my heart goes out to you! It’s always hugely emotional to lose a horse, although her passing, like that of my Starboy last November, seemed as good as a passing could. Still . . . you are brave to have written and posted so soon. Please take care of yourself, and keep us posted on how you are dealing with it all. Sending you love love love! Dawn

    (The Little Prince is a treasure — you got that so right! Are you familiar with Kinship with All Life, by J. Allen Boone, another of my life-long favorites, copyright 1954).


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