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When Is It Time To Mourn? Val's Story

Milk MaidAnyone that’s had animals, no matter what species it is, has had to deal with letting that beloved pet go. Ya’ll know what I’m saying. Having animals on the homestead, it’s a given. Just like us, if they are born, they will die at some point. Being in my 50s, I’ve seen plenty of it in my life. I can’t count how many of my personal pets and livestock have come into this world, gave me plenty of laughter & affection, and then their lives were over. Some died way too early to the point that I felt cheated cause I expected them to be with me for many years. Others have lived very long lives and even though I had to make the choice to end their pain, it still slapped me in the face when I had to say goodbye.  

I’m writing this the day after loosing my 23 year old Arabian mare, Val. She’s not the first horse I’ve had to put down, and won’t be the last as I have her only foal. Darlyn is a 13 year old and has her buddy Lacy, who is a Paint mare and a Mac truck in build.  I’m sorry if this should cause pain for some but if you have animals & have never gone though this part of life with them, believe me, that day will come and I hope this helps you to see it in a different light.  

There are those animals in our lives that grab & hold onto our heart. It being their personality or they just bring you laughter, consol you when you are feeling down, the one that no matter how much you tell them to go away, they understand you are feeling sad and they want to help you by allowing you to pet them. It is very good therapy and you don’t even know it. But they do. They let you cry harder while hugging them and you get it out of your system.  

Two weeks ago I was looking for a New Zealand rug (winter horse blanket) for Val as I knew the winter weather would be harder on her this year and I sure didn’t want her being cold. She was the one that I could do anything to without having to put her halter on. When I called for the horses to come to the barn she would answer me and the sound of their hooves pounding the ground was music. Now there are a few notes missing. She told me every year how our winters would be depending on her winter coat. If it started in August it was going to be a cold one.  

 Val at 21 years old in 2010 

Val at 21 years old in 2010 

Even though she had not carried the burden of me on her back in 11 years, due to a truck accident which I broke my neck, she understood I longed for our rides in the woods. She would allow me to get on her while she was lying down and would stay there so I could enjoy the feel of being on her again, putting my face in her mane to fill my lungs with that horse scent. Oh, if I could only bottle it! There is nothing like the smell of a horse. In her prime she loved it when I grabbed the halter and lead rope, jumped on her bareback and we headed for the woods. She anticipated the thrill of the game, “How fast can we get to the other side.” It always amazed me when she knew the western saddle meant a slow workout and the English one meant she could extend her trot to her full potential by gliding over the ground as only an Arab can while swinging her head in the air when I gave her full rein. There were times I had to look down to see if she was really touching the ground. The best memory of her was the night she went into labor with Darlyn.  She was a week late and that morning she was dripping milk so I knew it would be that night. The barn is open on one side and I had 6 big bags of shavings spread out so the 3 sides were banked. I was in a sleeping bag as most times a mare will deliver in the early morning hours. This was one delivery I was not going to miss.   

Val was very calm and it was still a few hours till she was ready. Silly me, was thinking I’d be able to get a few hours sleep before the event happened. Val had other plans for me though. She was bound and determined that I was not going to sleep if she couldn’t. Every time I got comfy her muzzle would move the covers off and she’d go to nuzzling my neck, a feeling that made chills go down to my toes & make me giggle. At one point she even put a hoof on my shoulder and shook me. She got the hint to leave me alone after I looked up at her and said, “Knock it off Val” with a growl in my voice. She turned and sulked but I noticed fluid dripping from her back end. She knew better than I did that it was time. Up in a flash, I wrapped her tail and went to wake up our then, 7 year old daughter as she wanted to see the foal come into the world. I ran back to the barn and she was down, then up, then down. A gush of water later and there were 2 hooves. Although I know better, it was a breeze and Darlyn was here, the image of her dam in color (Chestnut) but with a star and skinny stripe. These are the memories we live for with our animals.  

 Val and Darlyn when she was born 

Val & Darlyn, her first day of life.    

Last Friday when feeding in the morning I noticed Val’s walk was staggered and there was a bulge on her belly. She had been losing weight for 5 months but she looked so old now. The bulge was half the size of a football in shape. I knew right then, it was getting close to “that time” for her. I stopped at the vet’s office to see if she could come put her down. She was booked solid and I told her it was not an emergency. So, we made an appointment for Monday afternoon which came too fast to suit me. The time spent with Val before the vet got there will be in my mind till it’s my time. She loved to rub her head on my back and legs and I let her do it all she wanted, having to hold the fence so I could stay still for her.   

As I watched a calmness come over her as her pain drifted away, her daughter and Lacy were running outside the barnyard screaming. The vet told me to let them in to spend some time with her when it was over. Then it clicked, horses greet other horses by sniffing noses and blowing in each others nostrils. The vet said “There won’t be a reply from her. If it helps them fine, if not, it helps you.” WOW, that ton of bricks was lifted off of me at that moment. As she was taking her last breath I told her she’ll forever be in my heart, and then, her pain was gone.   

Alone, the 3 of us - Darlyn, Lacy and I - had our time with Val. Lacy is the lowest in pecking order and to my surprise called for Val the most but she was the first to go and breathe in her nostrils, no reply, so she turned and started to graze beside her. It took 15 minutes for Darlyn to go to her mother. No reply. She tried 2 more times with the same answer and then both mares trotted out the gate to the pasture. As our animals don’t ever read what we write about them, I believe they know more than us and we just think we know more, silly us. As for my question, when is it time? That’s for each person to know in their heart. I can’t tell you when it’s time to let them go. I knew in my heart that Val was not going to make it and I can’t be selfish and try to keep her alive to die on her own, in pain, on some cold, nasty, icy winter night, shivering.  

After the mares left the barnyard I walked to the gate to go to the house and wash up. As I walked past the barn, I looked in and saw Darlyn being born again. With tears in my eyes I burst out laughing as this is the best memory Val could have ever given me.  

 Val and Darlyn 1 day 

Mom & daughter at one week old.  

There’s one thing to remember & it is the most important. When we have animals & they die, in all the sorrow that comes with it, please keep in mind that as long as it’s in the barn & not in the house, life will still be Ok. This means that when a beloved pet dies, it’s not life altering as it is when a family member dies. The loss of a spouse, child or parent will always have a larger impact on the rest of your life.  

Suzy Minck and her husband live on Milk Maid Ranch in Stephenville, TX