We present a special guest-post from my good friend Lindsey Bowers Tatum, owner of Tatum Stables. Long-time readers might recognize her, as she wrote the introduction for Stay in the Game (but you still don’t get a pony) — that’s Maggie on the cover.
I know it’s time. He’s losing weight. His feet hurt, his body beginning to feed off itself. He’s sweating in pain, the spark in his eye gone. He looks at me as if to say “Help me. Please help me.” I tell Taylor the time is near; she must choose who will end his life.
She chooses Doctor Violet — a familiarity and a sense of compassion exists we know we won’t find elsewhere.
I email him and explain our predicament. “Call the office and set it up with the girls. I would be happy to oblige. I am so sorry.” I called. I scheduled. And I cried to the receptionist.
The next day Taylor begs me to throw one more birthday party for Four. We invite the boarders and a couple of her safe people. We buy a cake and the lady asks me what the occasion is. I tell her — our horse is dying; we are celebrating his birthday early.
The tears stream down my face as I try to swallow the lump in my throat.
Four o’clock hits and we begin his “party.” For the first time in my life, cake doesn’t taste good. Fast forward to Thursday, May 26th: I make the mistake of giving Four extra alfalfa, grain, and beet pulp. I personalize his situation, thinking if I was dying, I would definitely want one hell of a meal.
The last supper had officially been served.
As bedtime approaches, I find myself needing to be alone as I am restless, unable to sleep. I begin praying that God will let me know I’m making the right decision. I think of Jesus as he goes off to pray late in the evening following the last supper with the disciples. He needs quiet and solitude as He knows what the next morning brings.
I get up and send Wes a late night email. “I’ve never actually been with a horse when they’ve been put down. What do I need to know in order to prepare myself? Will he just fall? I know they can’t curl up like a dog. Please, if there is any information you can give me, please tell me.”
At nearly midnight, I receive a reply: “Hi Lindsey, I understand your concerns. As you probably realize, in 35 years of practice I have put down many, many horses. Usually it goes like this:”
I listen to your horse’s heart with my stethoscope to determine heart rate and any possible arrhythmias. The horse can be led to a quiet area outside close to the grave. I then sedate him very heavily to induce heart block. Finally, I inject a very large dose of barbiturate into his jugular vein. I try to guide the horse to the ground as best I can so they do not fall over. The horse usually passes away very quietly with little to no struggling. Don’t worry yourself too much — I know how much he means to you all. See you tomorrow.
May 27th: D-Day. I close the barn because the last thing I want is company; I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. That morning, my mother and I take the girls for one last ride. We gathered around him uttering our love, our faithfulness, and apology for choosing to end his life.
Taylor kisses him goodbye and enters a world of hurt and utter confusion; something no eight year old should go through.
Mom packs up the girls and they leave.
The time is near.
Jamie arrives home and we sit with dad on our barn bench. No words spoken, we simply swing back and forth, listening to the constant squeak of the old bench.
A short while later, Wes pulls up and completes a quick exam on Four. I think he knew we needed to act quickly, as I was close to changing my mind. He was flattered by Four’s loving demeanor and his need for attention even when he was tired and feeling weak. “Awe man, he’s a good one. He came right up to me. Ugh.”
After checking his heart rate Wes said it was time to go. I clipped Four’s lead rope on and we headed out for the back pasture near the freshly dug grave, the quiet tractor ominously stationed nearby. As I was walking, I felt sick. I felt like I was leading my best friend to his deathbed. In reality, that’s exactly what I was doing.
I began praying for comfort of some sort. “God, let me know this is right. Let me know that I am not doing this prematurely but that this is the right time for this. Give me strength, peace, and whatever it is I need to do this.”
As Four and I walked through the trees, my thoughts quickly changed to Jesus. I felt like Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross up the hill before the crucifixion. Simon knew what was happening and I am quite sure he felt fear and anguish.
We get to the “spot.” I kiss him goodbye and I hang on to his lead rope for dear life. He looks at me, he knows what is to come. A big sigh and his eyes lock mine for the last time.
Wes grabs the rope as Four’s life ends.
I fall on my knees, cradling his head in my arms, telling him I am so sorry. I am so sorry I did this. I am so sorry that life is full of sickness and disease and we can’t all live forever.
I laid with Four for a long time after he died. As the minutes crept by, the flies came, a perfect picture of death’s sting. It was finished.
Taylor requested I pull Four’s shoes. Seeing the nails in his hooves served as an instant reminder of Jesus on the cross. Although the nails were soon removed, the holes in his feet remained, a very surreal moment for me.
As I went through the rest of the day, I felt like I was being insulting comparing the death of our Lord to the death of our horse. There really was no comparison. The guilt for finding these similarities was weighing heavily upon me the following days as I continued to find so many parallels in Four’s death.
God took that guilt and turned into something different. You see, I loved that stinking’ horse. We all did. He touched every life he met. He was the love of my daughter’s life. He taught her everything, he loved her, he took care of her, and she knew she could trust him every single time she saddled up. He carried her. That’s who Four was and that’s who our Jesus IS!
Today is the day, it was finished, but Sunday is the day it all begins! Rejoice my friends. Rejoice!