I’ve been trying to figure out if I was going to blog about this here or not, but I think I want to. So here it goes.
On October 1st, I put my 22 year old Thoroughbred gelding Calvin down. There were a lot of things that led up to this, but ultimately, it was the best decision for both of us. I met Calvin for the first time in October 2005. This weekend, in fact, and I signed the contract and took ownership of him in July 2006. I’d had him eight years.
He was never an easy horse. He was a deeply anxious horse, prone to flat out panic attacks and given the sheer size of a horse, those could be frightening. He occasionally displayed fear aggression, something you more often see in dogs and cats than horses. He had no inhibition to standing up, or to laying down completely regardless to the safety of those around him. What was fine to him one day might trigger a meltdown the next day. I figured out most of his buttons and with a lot of work, he turned in a horse who trusted his people. Me, my barn owners over the years, a few select barn workers, my best friend.
He’s the first horse I’ve put down in my 20 years of riding horses and my 13 years of horse ownership. When they put a horse down by euthanasia solution, it hits the brain so fast that when the horse falls down, they’re already dead. But it’s incredibly dramatic. The horse is standing up, and then his eyes rolled straight up and his legs went completely rigid. He groaned and fell straight sideways and hit the ground with a thump that made my heart slam against my ribs.
Some horses buckle first. Others thrash for a few minutes. He didn’t. It was as my friend who went with me said the stillest he had ever been in his life.
I got to kneel next to him and touch his face. He was beautiful then, even there on the ground, gone. I only knew Calvin for the last ten years of his life and the twelve years that came before that are sketchy at best. We know that he ended up at auction more than once, that someone tried to foxhunt him, that he raced at least five times and placed at least once. I know he was mishandled, misunderstood, mistaken.
Grief’s a tricky thing. In the last week, I keep waking up, or thinking that perhaps I daydreamed it. Maybe it was a nightmare. Maybe he’s still waiting for me at the barn, with his deep nicker he reserved just for me, waiting to shove me with his nose. Maybe he’s still waiting for us to go play in the ring. He’s been retired for five years, but he’ll trot around with me in the ring, over poles, and we race each other up and down the long side of the ring.
Spoiler alert, the former racehorse wins.
Tenses. They’ll trip you up in loss.
I keep thinking it didn’t happen. And then I go home, or go downstairs, and there’s his tail they cut off for me. And it’s long, and glorious and smells like him. And I know that it’s real.
I know that you can’t build homes in people. I learned that a long time ago. But inside of that horse’s heart, I built a sanctuary. And I’m no longer sure what to do without him. I’ve lost the safest place I had on Earth and I’m never getting that back.
So I’m putting on a brave face for the internet and in real life, and for the most part, I’m okay with the decision. Being okay with the decision is totally different than being okay though. And I’m not okay.
Thank you to everyone who has been so kind and generous with their love and empathy in the last few weeks.