Thursday, March 1, 2012

Death of a Horse / Mistral's Last Fight

(May 18, 1982 - February 9, 2012)
Reg. Arabian #0258947 Kara Kazi
grandson of the famous stallion Sur-Neet

Gradual decline toward an unwanted death, fighting all the way. This sums up the last six months of a dear friend's life.

It wasn't until the later part of his 29th year that Mistral began to lose weight and muscle mass and this was after back to back traumatic episodes of once again being violently hazed and attacked by the younger males. He, who once was the supreme ruler of Ravenseyrie, (even though a gelding) made it plain to Kevin and me that he was ready to give up the wilderness life and take refuge in a more limited environment.

Kevin made a separate 10 acre pasture for Mistral, Zeus (an aged Thoroughbred gelding totally devoted to Mistral) and Silvestre (the two year old colt out of Ciente by Altamiro) who also had been brusquely hazed and attached himself to the elder domestic geldings.

Mistral, Zeus and Silvestre

In late November, shortly after Silvestre was gelded and released back out on the range where he was finally accepted into the rag-tag group of offspring expelled by Altamiro from the family band, we moved Mistral and Zeus over to their winter quarters in the small holding pasture on the east side of the house where Kevin had built a small run-in shed inside the corral area.

And so it came to be that for the past several months Kevin and I had been pampering well the old Polish Arabian gelding (and Zeus, too.) They were fed four times a day, received warmed water, presented with numerous treats and enjoyed knee-deep straw in their shed. When we began to notice Mistral was no longer able to chew the mixed grass hay, we purchased for him ($19 a bag!) a special "complete" processed feed designed for geriatric horses with degenerated teeth. He sure loved that feed!

Given the pampering and specialized feed, I hoped Mistral (who had always been an "easy-keeper) might begin to put some weight back on, but he never did. It was astonishing to see this once well-rounded steed reduced to hair over skeleton and yet continue to be so vibrant and bright-eyed and demanding. His atrophied back showed no movement when he walked. To touch him along his back and rump was like touching something mummified--there was no spring to the flesh and unless I fluffed his hair with a brush, it lay flaccid and unresponsive to changes in weather--yet curiously he never seemed cold. Mostly he seemed indifferent to the weather, taking to his shed when he felt it was appropriate, but also standing out in wet snow if he wanted to as well.

Before his decline, Mistral hated confinement and any manner of pampering, but that changed during those last months and though Zeus would often look longingly off in the distant fields where the free range horses roamed, Mistral seemed completely oblivious to any world outside the holding pasture and shed--excepting, of course, his attention was often riveted on the house as he monitored our whereabouts in anticipation of the next meal or the next treat. We felt bad for Zeus, because in the last days, Mistral mostly ignored him, or when he did interact with his devoted friend, he did so with rudeness.

Mistral was never a warm-hearted fellow, rather, was always the frosty tyrant who didn't much go in for mutual grooming or comforting bodily connections with his herd mates, yet demanded they be nearby. He would never take naps laying down, even during the last days. It occurs to me, only now as I try to write about these matters, Mistral had serious trust issues even among his own kind all throughout his life. I don't know what Zeus saw in him that caused him to be so devoted, perhaps, like me, he admired the strength and beauty of the highly independent (sometimes crazy) Arabian, even though he was so often difficult. And in his own way, Mistral not only accepted me and Zeus and Kevin as his friends, but was equally loyal and faithful to us--if he couldn't bring himself to trust us 100%, he gave us an approximate 95% and we were keen to never abuse it or take it for granted.

Zeus and Mistral

When something wasn't right in his world--at least by his manner of thinking--Mistral coped by pacing. Other horses might crib, or kick, paw or stand in stilted sullenness--not Mistral, he always had to be definitely on the move, even when he had the run of 360 acres, he would take to pacing the fence near the house when it was time for his breakfast. In the last months, he continued to pace whenever it got near to feeding times and adding to that determined walking of the fence line--back and forth, up and down, drone-like--he would pause and stridently whinny to punctuate his desire that we get on with things sooner than later.

The day that he died felt like a normal morning as Kevin and I worked in the feed shed, packing up toboggan-loads of hay and putting together twenty-two pans of breakfast for nineteen equines, however, when Kevin went over to bring Mistral and Zeus their pans (they were always fed first) something was definitely amiss. Mistral was pacing, truly drone-like this time with little recognition that it was time for breakfast, not interested in the pan of special feed at all, not really recognizing Kevin, nor Zeus or even me when I came on the scene. Mistral seemed focused outside the fence, where the others were patiently waiting for their breakfasts--but he wasn't really seeing them either--his attention was beyond all of us, somewhere in a different world, and clearly he was hoping to find a way out of the holding pasture and get to where he thought he ought to be. In addition to this not quite "with us" mental state Mistral was in, he was also becoming ataxic, stumbling and weaving in frightful ways, catching himself from falling into the fence just in time.

We began to herd him away from the electric fence that separated him from the other horses and the open range and tried to direct him toward the corral. Mistral did not seem to recognize us as his human forms who were asking him to move to a specific area, rather he moved around us as if we were some object in the way, like a tree or a fence post. Seeing his friend mentally compromised and moving in such an erratic way was causing Zeus to feel threatened and as a defense, anytime Mistral weaved his way toward him, Zeus would emphatically kick out. Thankfully, before any of those double-barrel kicks connected with Mistral and before he crashed through the electric fence, we managed to get the obviously failing, neurologically compromised gelding into the safer space of the corral. Immediately, Mistral began pacing the circumference of the corral, stumbling into its walls from time to time as he seemed to search for a way out.

As soon as Mistral was in a secure place, we quickly got all the other horses fed. Zeus, however, would not--could not eat. He was getting more agitated and uncomfortable as Mistral continued to behave so strangely. When the other horses finished their breakfasts and moved off to farther areas, Zeus began running the fence line, calling to them--a sound of desperation. His frustration rose the further away they went and he began rearing and bucking making Kevin and I worry that he would soon attempt to jump or barge through the electric fence. We felt the best thing we could do was let him go and hope that the other horses wouldn't horribly haze him as they had done when he was with Mistral. He ran away from his old friend and never looked back.

Standing there with Kevin, watching Mistral pace and weave and stumble, often crumbling to his knees before regaining composure, we both knew (having experienced it before with other beloved equines) this was it--the death march, or in Mistral's case the pace against death. It was extremely difficult to know what to do. I did not want to see Mistral injure himself and suggested we call for the neighbor and ask him to bring his gun. Kevin disagreed, pointing out to me that while it was difficult for us to watch, Mistral was already in the zone, but fighting it all the way, like he fought pretty much everything all his life. Kevin felt to give Mistral an easier end would be denying him his right to face death as a fighter, to see it through in his own way. This might not have been the right answer for every horse who's bodily systems were shutting down in preparation for death, but I knew Kevin was right about Mistral. Knowing what Mistral had really seemed to want was to be out in the big wide open among the young primitive horses we discussed turning him loose--but we stopped short of that. If Mistral wanted his end to be by brutal attack from Altamiro and the others, well that was just too much for us to agree to. While this moment in time was all Mistral's and we desired to support him, our feelings deserved a certain consideration, too...we allowed him to fight death if he wanted to, but within the confines of the corral.

Mistral was in constant movement for over four hours. There was no consoling him, he was not mentally present in our world anymore, the best we could do was carry on with our chores but watch him and step in when it felt right to do so. I remained on the outside looking in, except for twice going in to pick up manure that Mistral passed--perfectly formed, but dark with the rank smell of finality...

It was incredibly mesmerizing to watch him periodically come back to a certain degree of lucidity. At those moments, his erratic pacing and stumbling gave way to a highly collected trot in near perfect 10 meter circles or tight voltes--as if he remembered his days as a dressage champion. Then he would neurologically crumple again, return to the erratic pacing and stumbling. The times he fell to his knees he would hover there, almost yielding to the forces, almost letting himself go completely down--but like some resilient prize fighter, he would groan, pull himself up and continue battling. Mistral always had an indefatigable capacity for energized movement and he was demonstrating this now for the last time. It was just after noon when he went down and stayed down.

Down, but not out. We went to him, he seemed to sense us and know us, though his eyes, glassy and unfocused were elsewhere. After several minutes in the resting sternum position, he lay completely out, his body for the first time all morning, relaxed, his breathing soft. The sky was clear, the sun had warmed our snow-covered world up above freezing and an almost springlike breeze teased Mistral's mane into a light waves. He was somewhat focused now, looking off in the distance from his prone position...what was he seeing? Whatever it was, it completely altered his facial expression, he seemed like a young boy, full of wonder, at ease and full of hope. It was an expression I never saw him wear before--not when he was a three year old youth when we first came to be in each other's lives and not ever during the nearly 27 years we spent together...It was the most tender state of beingness I have ever seen Mistral express and I found myself weeping for being able to witness the beauty of it all.

I thought he was then and there walking that "Rainbow Bridge" and I was so happy for him, that he had made it, that his last moments were so blissful--but somehow, somewhere in that storehouse of indefatigable energy my old Arabian fighter pulled back from the light, his body stiffened, his limbs began erratic thrashing and he attempted to get up. "Because I could not stop for death..." When he could not get up he fell back with a groan and began "pacing" again--this time while laying prone on the snow--his expression looked angry, his eyes unfocused, he was again somewhere in another realm, fighting.

It was awful.

The next five hours where like this, broken by periods of rigid immobility. Kevin took care of all the other things that needed doing in a typical day at Ravenseyrie and I remained with Mistral, thinking each time that his "pacing" stopped, he would go to that blissful place again. Kevin returned to join the vigil, equally disturbed as I...both of us wondering was this really the right thing--to let Mistral move toward his death as a fighter? We both admitted, this was his journey, not ours...we were here to support, but supporting the dying of one whose transition through the various planes of consciousness was so determinedly resisted was disturbingly difficult. How do the Hospice people cope in similar circumstances?

Kevin had a few more chores to complete before nightfall and as he rose to leave, I got up too, telling Mistral I was sorry, but I couldn't watch him fight like this anymore...but before I could rise completely, Mistral picked his head up and though his eyes were glassy and unfocused, somewhere in his in-between realm where he was wrestling with death, I could feel him tell me he needed me to stay. Kevin stayed as well. After that, Mistral's head fell back to the snow and I kneeled by him, rubbing his ears, stroking his cheek, weeping...

The "pacing" ceased and his legs remained rigid, with intermittent spasms. His breathing became less laboured, slower, softer, his eyes, no longer angry, simply looked altogether absent. A few gulps for air, the jaw opening and shutting, one last exhale and off Mistral went to those greener pastures.

Purebred Polish Arabian Gelding, Mistral and Lynne Gerard
The only professional photo ever taken of the two of us back in the days when we were competing in long ago, I don't remember the year (perhaps 1991 or 1992?) or the name of the photographer to give the credit to.

Mistral was my first horse, my first equine love--he was difficult, he was a fighter, but he forgave me so many times and was willing to let me be his friend, perhaps, in some curmudgeonly way he even loved me, too.

Mistral enjoys the cooling breeze of Lake Huron while dozing on a summer day with Zeus and the Sorraia Mustangs, Animado and Fada

Mistral received many special treats over the for our tyrant King...(appeasements for the god?!)

There was a time when Mistral and the Sorraia stallion, Altamiro had a mutual acceptance of each other and like two kings meeting in neutral territory, they would sometimes meet for amicable conferences.

But over the years, Altamiro became increasingly intolerant of Mistral and their periodic meetings turned into egoistic battles, though even these were generally ended without loss of pride or injury.

One such battle, in the spring of 2010 escalated into definite bloodshed and had Kevin not noticed the fight was different than the prior clashes and intervened, these many surface wounds Mistral sustained may have been just the beginning of the end for Mistral that day. Kevin told me that even after he broke the fight up between them and Altamiro was walking back to his family band, Mistral charged at him, desiring to continue where they had left off, even though clearly (Altamiro was completely unscathed) the old Arabian was losing the battle that day. This was the type of fighter Mistral was--never a quitter, never willing to give up.

Mistral's physical wounds healed, but mentally, he was never quite the same and little by little began to take on the appearance of an aged horse.

Mistral's body was yielding to the forces of nature, but like this old dying maple tree out in the north sector, his spirit refused to give up. In the end, though, the release had to come and the essence of Mistral now mingles with all the elementals of Ravenseyrie and beyond.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
--Emily Dickinson

While attempting to support Mistral through the stages of his death, it occurred to me that what we did was similar to the end of life care Hospice workers provide humans. This made me curious...was anything like this being established for animals, specifically horses? Death, like life, is a part of the is up to each individual to determine what they feel is the best way to participate and support loved ones who are in the process of leaving this world. I googled an assortment of keywords and a couple helpful links came up which I thought I might share for those who are maybe looking for an alternative to euthanasia for your dying animals.

"Hospice recognizes that death is a natural part of the cycle of life, not a failed medical event, and does not have to be feared or avoided; the focus is 'intensive caring instead of intensive care,' without prolonging or hastening death."--Ella E. Bittel and James C. Armer

Further thoughts:


One nameless reader left a particularly important commentary after reading Mistral's story, and while it is often difficult to receive criticism that is especially condemning, I am taking it as an opportunity to reflect upon the points of contention and to offer additional observations and information for those who find themselves faced with a similar end of life drama.

After Mistral's death, I knew I would do what I always do when processing the joys or the sorrows that I have experienced--I knew I would write about it. However, I seemed faced with a "writer's block" and this story was a difficult one to let unfold. I "went with" the "writer's block" and gave myself the opportunity to fully "go into" the internal recalling of the many experiences Mistral and I had together. Also during this time, it happened that I only told a few people about his passing and did not relay much of the details. Because of how deeply connected I felt to Mistral, our long history together and the way his last day played out, his story is obviously very intimate and emotionally charged, and I suppose I was reluctant to share it, knowing that to the majority of people in my life he was "just a horse".

Something a friend wrote to me (whom I had not yet told of Mistral's passing) served as a catalyst to begin typing the the story, which I sent to him and him alone. His deeply moving reply gave me the courage to publish the story in the Journal of Ravenseyrie...knowing full well that there would be individuals, like the anonymous commentator, who would perceive the events of Mistral's passing from a different concept of what life & death, humans & animals and pain & suffering represent and find fault with how we handled the events.

I chose to share the story and welcome the criticism when it came because I knew, in addition to provoking knee-jerk criticism there would be a good number of people who would actually benefit from reading about how Kevin and I chose to support Mistral's natural death process. End of life and death are inescapable things for all of us and there are times when it is better to open a dialogue about it that encompasses supporting the positive aspects of allowing a natural death process, while also recognizing that euthanasia is just as acceptable depending on the situation and the people and animals involved.

We don't know what caused the ataxia and aimless pacing Mistral experienced, though we know it was one more symptom of an aged body in natural decline and to stress him with a battery of veterinary tests at that juncture seemed to us an needless invasion of Mistral's "space"...and knowing him as we do, having the freedom to keep his own space and have room to move was vitally important. Whether he had a stroke over the night and the ataxic pacing was the after effect, whether his liver was shutting down (also suspect when aimless movement is observed), whether some other factor was the culprit, one thing was undeniable and that was that mentally Mistral was not fully lucid--his mind was elsewhere. Was there pain associated with this mental disruption and physical agitation, both when he was upright and pacing or prone and gesticulating with his limbs for so long? Who could say what a horse feels better than those who have shared such a long history with him?

I've been scouring a wide variety of articles about end of life and death and have gleaned that if there has not been a prior diagnoses of painful illness or injury leading to the decline toward death, dying isn't, on its own, thought to be a painful process--is actually thought to be less painful for the body than birth is. We did not once get the impression that his actions were resulting from pain, though of course it was a question we visited because viewing this type of activity and knowing your horse is dying is not an easy thing to take in and one wants to assure oneself that the right support is being offered.

We believed Mistral was not in physical pain--he may have been mentally distressed or he may have been feeling nervous excitement as a result of the end of life processes he was experiencing. I interpreted his actions as a horse's own fight against death and that it was something he desired to experience in his own way...but as mentally absent as he was, he may have been beyond all that and his body was acting involuntarily on its own...I cannot imagine how one would ever know for certain. If he was feeling pain, it was of the sort that he would meet head on as a rival--he was never the sort of horse to let pain set him back, even if it was something we as humans were repulsed by.

How long do the end stages last before death occurs? It might be "weeks, days or hours" according to one hospice article. In Mistral's case it was less than ten hours.

I have subsequently read that there is an actual term for the type of agitated movement we witnessed with Mistral, which is: "Terminal Restlessness" and it can occur alone or in conjunction with delirium, as seems to be the case with Mistral, and may or may not be a response to physical discomfort or pain, and, depending on each individual situation may or may not be remedied by administering drugs. Each situation is unique and even more difficult to interpret when one is observing a horse rather than a human. One source relayed:

"It has been reported that as many as 10% to 20% of patients experience delirium at the very end of life requiring heavy sedation using narcotics, tranquilizers, or sleeping medications, but that percentage seems high to the author. Looked at from a different viewpoint, many practitioners suggest that delirium should be considered a part of the dying process which does not produce suffering and need not be treated at all unless required for the comfort of the family." [emphasis is mine]

Depending on the situation and the patient, elements of the non-pharmacological approach to coping with "terminal restlessness" and delirium are to "assure a safe, loving, supportive environment and avoid the use of physical restraints, catheterization or other impediments to ambulation" and "encourage activity if a patient is physically able."

This is precisely what Kevin and I tried to provide for Mistral. If the weather had not been so lovely, we may not have been able to support him in the manner we did, but thankfully it really was a "good day to die" as the saying goes. Having secured Mistral in a safe environment where we could monitor and support him, though at times what was going on with him made us uncomfortable (well I think I wrote that "it was awful"--just as it always felt awful when he would pace to relieve anxiety as a young and healthy horse) we truly felt that there was not pain involved for Mistral, that he likely was mentally coping with the unfolding of his death process by physically fighting it--which had been part of his method of coping with certain situations all his life. And we felt allowing him to work through this process, rather than intervening by hastening death with euthanasia was in deference to his desires. This choice was made based on our own perception of life and death and our many years of understanding Mistral and his way of living life.

For other people, who have their own particular relationships with their animals and who perceive life and death according to a different philosophy, the choices they would make in a similar situation would be in keeping with what feels appropriate to them. There is no hard and fast rule on these matters and one set of beliefs isn't more right or wrong than another...each situation is unique for the animals and people involved.

I hope this helps those who would have euthanized Mistral straight-away understand the choices we made to support him through the end of life process and subsequent death.

This is a painting I did of Mistral almost twenty years ago. I had attempted to paint him numerous times and always the result was an attractive grey Arabian, but never "him". This painting, however, captured him perfectly--there is nothing about it I would alter...and when I married Kevin, he thought it so well represented my fiery equine friend that he decided I could not sell the original, and suggested we make limited edition prints of it instead and keep the original for ourselves. It hangs prominently in our home and has even more meaning now than ever before. The verse this painting and Mistral himself inspired says, "Search the Wind for your highest dream, then let your heart fly free...With courage and faith unwavering, be all that you can be."


Anonymous said...

Dear Lynne and Kevin,

I am so sorry for your loss of the beautiful Mistral. Mistral is the name the Bretons of France give the sea winds, I believe?
This is an astounding account of Mistral's death as seen through your eyes.
There is no way to know what the horse was actually experiencing.
One difference between Mistral's experience and 'palliative care' of hospice -- the last moments are often made easier for the dying humans through the administration of barbituates. Also, humans have can choose this end of life care.
This article makes me wonder what I would have done in this case. But there is no way to tell, because your thoughts, actions and decisions are all made in context of your life with Mistral. This is one thing no one else but Kevin and you will ever truly understand or experience in its totality.

Janet Ferguson

Annemiek said...

Dear Lynne and Kevin,

Thank you so much for sharing this intense emotional experience. It must have been very difficult to see your friend Mistral fight his death like this and trying to figure out the best way to support him through this process. We all know our animal friends age and will die probably before we do, but still, when the time has come, it is so very hard to let them go. You and Kevin did what you thought was in Mistral’s best interest and I admire you both for that. Your story is sad, but there is also beauty in it.

It seems Mistral was an extraordinary horse and I think he was very lucky to have so many years with you, especially this wonderful time at Ravenseyrie.

How is Zeus doing with his new buddies? Did you notice any changes in him? Did he seem relieved or sad? Maybe moving on is easier for horses than for humans…….

Máire said...

What a fighter he was and what a long journey you have had through life together as you had a long journey through his death.

It is a time when, as humans, if we witness it, we can reach a very raw place ourselves and I hope you have been able to gently come back from there.

His spirit will indeed live on at Ravenseyrie.

Anonymous said...

While I really do enjoy reading this blog and I am incredibly sorry for your loss, I freely admit that I am disgusted by your handling of Mistral's last day. You have written that he was in emotional and physical distress for HOURS before he finally died, thrashing about on his side in the snow unable to get up for what was it... 5 damn hours before he finally passed?!

For all of 'it's his journey' sermon you're giving, it's a horse, and I think that your actions accounted to a form of cruelty. Because you can anthropomorphize it all you want, but it is still a horse that you allowed to suffer instead of giving him a quick and clean death.

You mentioned early in the blog that you considered getting your neighbors gun but decided against it because he was 'on his death march'. Whatever, if he was still mobile I guess I can understand your reasoning... kind of. But are you seriously so obsessed with the idea of creating humanity in a horse that you could not call for your neighbor during the 5 hours he was prostrate in the snow? A time that you said was incredibly distressing for you, imagine how distressing it was for Mistral!

All in all this whole post has just got me fuming, and while I do repeat that I am sorry for your loss of Mistral I simply cannot understand your reasoning for allowing that situation to progress in the way that you did.

Lynne Gerard said...

Indeed, when Mistral came to be in my life I changed his name from Kara Kazi to Mistral with France's Mistral wind in mind.

You are quite right that what I shared about Mistral's death is relayed through my perspective and this holds true from anyone else who has been or will be in a similar situation and we each do make observations and decisions in the context of who we are and what our beliefs are and what our relationship is to those in our lives.

I am quite certain this is not the way some other people would have perceived the situation (and I see just now an anonymous comment has arrived confirming that)--be that as it may, it is important to offer different perspectives and options for those who are interested.

I appreciate your comments, thank you for reading and writing.

Lynne Gerard said...

Thank you for your comments and for inquring about Zeus. He was chased off by the others when first turned out, but allowed to hang out on the paramenter and by the next day was eating with them, though still not fully accepted--but by day there he was truly an accepted member of The Tribe.

On a couple of occasions he came back to the holding pasture and stood looking in the direction of the corral where he last saw his friend.

We are pleased to see him able to be back with the alternate group and enjoying lively stimulation--he was quite suppresed while sticking it out with his old chum. I think moving on is easier for horses, if they have something better to move on to.

Lynne Gerard said...

Maire wrote:
"It is a time when, as humans, if we witness it, we can reach a very raw place ourselves and I hope you have been able to gently come back from there."

Pain, suffering, death--these are sure delicate matters and the way each individual perceives them affects how they cope. It is a raw place and I understand why some people aovid going there.

I have to say, I agree with Annemiek, it was sad but there was beauty there, too, for Mistral as well.

Thank you for sharing your comments, Maire.

Lynne Gerard said...

A nameless reader wrote:
"All in all this whole post has just got me fuming, and while I do repeat that I am sorry for your loss of Mistral I simply cannot understand your reasoning for allowing that situation to progress in the way that you did."

Absolutely I expected that not everyone would view the way Kevin and I chose to support Mistral through the death processes and I understand where your point of view comes from.

It was a lovely day and laying in the snow was very pleasant--I know, I laid there with Mistral. In hindsight, both Kevin and I would have done this the same way.

It is okay that we disagree about certain elements of how to support end of life transitions as well as probably living life according to different philosophies.

Thank you for taking the time to relay how this story affected you.

Anonymous said...

My first reaction as I read the account of Mistral's death WAS the same as the 'nameless reader,' I have to admit. However, having never owned a horse as an adult nor euthanized one, I searched inside my conscience and knew I had no background apart from early training that would allow me to feel right about judgement of your actions. Whether the "standard' is euthanasia among people who consider themselves to be good 'owners' or 'guardians' I do not know. One assumes it is, but then again, only statistics on this issue, provided by vets, would tell the story. Perhaps there are many who DO allow a 'natural' death. I know many people who let their pets die at home rather than euthanizing them. I never understood that, because I could never do that myself. However, I allowed for a 'grey area' in my thinking that accepted this reality with the certainty that no two people are the same.
In the case of Mistral, there is no difference. He was a pet and your doting care, empathy and sympathy, and, indeed, your ability to allow him his own character (spirited and dominant) characterized your relationship. You accepted his unique personality, and "accommodated" it as your relationship grew. This came to create a separate relationship which would exist till death do you part. This was forged not only with your human heart, but with your understanding of what you and Kevin were able to provide for the horse. The key element is that you did not 'sell him off,' or 'send him to the glue factory' but you made a commitment for life to this beautiful Polish Arabian gelding.
Your own first instinct was to call the neighbor. I believe on further thought, it Nameless Reader will look into their heart, they will realize that this was probably one of the few times in this horse's life that you DID 'anthropomorphize" him -- YOU would not want to suffer, therefore, you did not want HIM to suffer -- such as a Mother's love or perhaps a friend might feel toward anyone.
The difference is that you chose NOT to intervene. The past years -- building the shelter, the special food, the special protection of the fence (from himself, of course -- I know -- I had a dog, Buddy -- just like that who would take on an Army) shows you knew he was a horse, that he was unable to reason out why he should not fight; that he didn't understand his own limitations -- this was protection and care.
Unless you have had an animal of that character (a fighter) in your life, it is difficult to understand the extent of their way of being, and and essential part -- my vet actually told me that my dog Buddy would be the same whether he was 'fixed' or not. That it was in his character -- it was just 'him.'
Before this rambles on indefinitely (any longer, that is) I will just finish by saying I do not believe it was cruel or animal cruelty. While I 'put Buddy to sleep,' part of my decision was based on several other very important factors, such as my own safety in caring for him when he was in so much pain (after pain pills were withdrawn due to beginning liver failure) and his size (his falling, hurting himself, and my ability or lack thereof to carry him or move him) and also my belief in the 'good death' for a 'simple animal' which was so ingrained in me from childhood. As it was I often wonder if it could have been different but I know that I had met my own limitations in caring for him during long years of decline.
Whether it is about philosophy or just about being so close to Mistral all one's life, you and Kevin followed your very best instincts and your very best intentions for the horse.
I have had two close family members in hospice and can tell you -- even with the best care, death is a still a mystery, and who are we to say it is not also, a journey?
Janet Ferguson

cross1celt said...

Hello Lynne,

I have followed your blog from nearly the beginning- happy to simply enjoy, vicariously- what you have achieved in this wonderful refuge for the Sorraia.

I have treasured and rejoiced in the births, mourned the deaths- all that it means to be Sorraia as they are allowed to express themselves in their own way.

First, let me extend my profound sympathy for your loss. That you have allowed us all such access to this painful time speaks volumes for who you are and how you relate-outside the box- to your treasured 4-footed family members.

We are all creatures of the natural world. In the wild, 2-footed and 4-footed, winged, scaled and all else expire in a way according to "how it is".

There is no judgement there. It is just how it transpires. I am grateful for your offering such intimate access into what was such a sad and emotional experience. I feel the richer for it.

I hope that, in time, your sadness will be replaced by the many happy memories that such a remarkable relationship has forged.

Thank you for all you do- most sincerely.

Lynne Gerard said...

Janet wrote:
"Unless you have had an animal of that character (a fighter) in your life, it is difficult to understand the extent of their way of being, and and essential part --"

Janet, it means SO much that you took the time to share how you processed the myriad of thoughts Mistral's death story brought forth in you and shared also how you handled the passing of your dog, Buddy and how difficult it is to reconcile all that they may or may not be experiencing with what we can feel and cope with on our end as we handle their end of life.

Likewise, "Cross1Celt", the way you shared your thoughts was especially appreciated as well, demonstrating you, too, understand there is no one way to approach these matters.

All the comments so far upon this particularly intense journal entry have been in my thoughts recently and prompted me to write some follow up thoughts within the entry itself on the blog, hoping to elucidate further why Kevin and I followed the path we did for Mistral.

Thank you all for reading and sharing your comments.

eva said...

Because of how deeply connected I felt to Mistral, our long history together and the way his last day played out, his story is obviously very intimate and emotionally charged, and I suppose I was reluctant to share it, knowing that to the majority of people in my life he was "just a horse".

Lynne, it takes guts to chronicle the final hours of your friend in a public forum, and in a culture that criminalizes assisted suicide while animals, especially horses are "put down" every day for the simple reason that they have outlived heir usefulness to the human. And all too often the decision is rationalized with reference to "quality of life". Whatever you do in such a situation is bound to offend someone. It cannot be otherwise.

I cannot fathom what i will do when the time comes for Shadow, but I when death came to claim Dennis, I did not know in advance what i would do the next day. What do we know about how animals experience pain? How they process their life during their final hours? Two times I called off the mercinary, because i felt very strongly, even after his stroke, that he was not "done yet" with his life and needed more time to process what was happening to him, disengage, to take it all in for the last time. Was i unduly extending his suffering? How much is enough?

I read all those articles about end of life support, for humans and animals, and they did not help a bit. When an animal is so close to us that he literally lives next to our heart that very connection makes it all that much harder to separate our feelings from theirs and for both to let go.

Mistral was an extraordinary equine, in life and in death. I am glad I got a glimpse of his existence brought to life through your stories and images. I love the photo of Mistral surrounded by thousands of lights. And your painting captures so much of what you saw in him.

Thank you for sharing his story.

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva wrote:
"When an animal is so close to us that he literally lives next to our heart that very connection makes it all that much harder to separate our feelings from theirs and for both to let go. "

Though there are many whose cultural shaping and philosophy of life do not acknowledge that emotional and spiritual considerations important to humans are likewise experienced by animals. However, this was not the case in the ancient past or with most indigenous cultures, nor is it the case for many of us in the present day and I agree with Eva that these very real mutual connections make it hard "for both to let go"

While sitting and laying by Mistral during those last hours, I had ample time to (just as humans do with parents, children, friends who are dying) tell him how much I loved him, how much I treasured the time we had together and learned from all that he had taught me. I also told him that while I would feel rather empty and lost without his corporeal form walking beside me, I would feel consoled knowing our spirits would remain connected, perhaps even in a stronger, all encompassing way.

After, when I began reading more about the role of hospice in animals as well as humans whose lives are ending, I read that sometimes there is such a strong connection between the dying individual and those who love him, that the dying individual can feel torn between leaving and lingering in a state of near death, which can in many cases be the cause of agitated and difficult passings. Those articles stress how important it is for us to tell the terminal individual that it is okay to let go and assure him we will carry on--that they need not worry, etc.

Those articles also said it may be that a death comes with great difficulty because the terminal individual has their own unresolved issues that have nothing to do with us--and this is what I feel may have been part of Mistral's difficulties. My last impression however is that he overcame whatever caused his agitation and his last minutes were peaceful, harmonious and free from resistance.

"I love the photo of Mistral surrounded by thousands of lights."

I do, too, Eva! That was taken a few years ago, in the autumn, when a snow squall suddenly came up and then, just as quickly, went away. The next photo of him is just a few minutes after the snow stopped. It was a magical experience!

Thank you for reading and commenting, Eva, and for understanding why I decided to share this story in a public format.

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva wrote:
"Two times I called off the mercinary, because i felt very strongly, even after his stroke, that he was not "done yet" with his life and needed more time to process what was happening to him, disengage, to take it all in for the last time.

I meant to comment on this before as it made an impression on me that why wouldn't some animals need extra time to "process what was happening", to "disengage" and to "take it all in for the last time." I can imagine myself feeling this way while winding down the bodily savour one more time the smell of things through corporeal senses, to feel the wind against my skin and be wow-ed by the kaleidoscope of colours and the sound of my beloveds' voices. Such last touches with the physical world would be worth enduring pain (if there were any) and in all likelihood would negate any real pain or discomfort.

Thank you, Eva, for those words!

June said...

Wow. What a fighter indeed.

It reminds me a little of our Misty, who passed away, aged about 36, a couple of years ago. She fought (without panic) until the end, and I'm glad we let her find her own way out.

I've written on my own blog about a different decision my daughter made about her old West Highland white terrier. Our souls told us to leave her alone to find her own way to death, but our minds told us to intervene, and it was a mistake. Lesson learned.

The best death with an animal we experienced was my favorite cat, Silver. He was about 14. We didn't know there was anything wrong with him, but we came home one day and found him already becoming chilled and unresponsive. We took turns holding him on a cushion on our laps. He settled himself very deliberately, stretched once or twice, got up to turn around once or twice, and then just peacefully let himself gradually go. Such a beautiful thing. But no doubt Mistral's exit was beautiful in its own way.

Certainly there are times when euthanasia for animals is the way to go, but perhaps we've all become a bit too quick to take that route?

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote: "Certainly there are times when euthanasia for animals is the way to go, but perhaps we've all become a bit too quick to take that route?"

Many of us were raised to respond in that way. It is gift to see that this isn't always the thing that should be resorted to so rapidly.

Thank you for your knowing comments, June. I will pop over to your blog and read of your experience.

Almost every one of the cats we have had who have died, did so in much the same manner as yours. Definitely beautiful ends.

June said...

I wonder if that's one reason why the Egyptians were so into cats - because the Egyptians were very concerned with the next life and the passing thereto, and cats seem to be so at ease with the whole thing.

Sandra said...


I have been reading your blog for years, experiencing and enjoying the life of your herd through your beautiful stories and descriptions; the herd dynamics, the births, and now, the death of Mistral.

Death doesn't come easy and it is our instinct as humans to want to smooth the way, take the easy option, but the question is for whose benefit?

I was with my dad when he died from cancer, and he had two wishes. To die at home and to die without drugs. My dad wanted to leave life as he came in, unassisted and he wanted, in his own words, to experience it. I held his hand. It was hard. But it was his choice, his death.

I think it was not just brave, but also wonderful that you let Mistral go in his own way because you felt this is what he wanted. He got to live his life to the full. I found it incredible that you had the courage to share this story and I had to think about what I wanted to say to you. In the end, all I can say is that I was truly moved.


Lynne Gerard said...

Sandra wrote:
"I was with my dad when he died from cancer, and he had two wishes. To die at home and to die without drugs. My dad wanted to leave life as he came in, unassisted and he wanted, in his own words, to experience it. I held his hand. It was hard. But it was his choice, his death."

I cannot say how balanced and brave your father was during his life, Sandra, but what an amazingly insightful and gallant attitude he possessed during his end of life passage!

I don't know about you, but each time I am with a being (whether human or non-human) and am witness to that gallant--and typically graceful--attitude during the dying process, I feel I have been provided the means to embrace boldly the all of life , and to perceive pain and death as sensations to accept and explore versus numbing myself into a premature oblivion.

Thank you for sharing that intimate I, too, am moved.