Vet Adventures: BFFs to the End

Equine friendships can be every bit as strong as the human variety.

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Vet Adventures BFFs to the End - Horse and Pony in Field
Photo by Mariait/Shutterstock

In Courtney S. Diehl’s Vet Adventures column, she describes the loss of a horse she’s written of often and how he was BFFs to the end with a special pony.

Readers may remember the columns about “March” and “Linnea” (Easter, the horse and his owner, Caroline). Easter was an elderly Tennessee Walking Horse, and we could thank him for most of our gray hair: When Easter got sick, it was a dramatic event. Although he lived on well-soaked feeds and was carefully managed, a choke could make him gravely ill.

Caroline was usually able to prevent the chokes, but one time Easter had eaten the bedding in his loafing shed, and on another horrible occasion, a barn assistant had misunderstood his feeding instructions and given him dry beet pulp pellets, which he’d eaten with relish, causing a lengthy choke that I was certain was going to be the end of him. I’d even drawn up the euthanasia solution, but Easter let me know that it wasn’t his time yet. He was the master at defying death, and I secretly called him Lazarus.

Thick as Thieves

Lazarus-Easter shared a pasture with his companion and faithful friend, an elderly Miniature Horse named Prince Polkadot. There were other horses at the farm, but the two preferred each other’s company.

They would happily roam their field, and as neither had any teeth to speak of, they’d pretend to graze, leaving wadded up chunks of wet grass and hay as their calling cards. When Easter finished his twice-daily mashes, served up in a blue bucket that was hung on the wall of the loafing shed, little Prince would stand on his hind legs to polish off the leftovers.

They’d doze side by side, Prince’s little head near Easter’s flank, and they’d dream contentedly like two old men dozing on a park bench, coats buttoned up to their chins. Occasionally they’d get fired up and would race around the field like colts, snorting and whipping their heads and play-biting at each other.

But time was not being kind to Easter. His swayback, always present, had become more pronounced, and he’d begun to stagger in his hind legs. Despite different medications, he was worsening, and we feared that he’d go down in the field and be unable to rise. He’d sway frighteningly in place before moving off unsteadily, his hindquarters going one way, his shoulders and head another. Caroline had been dreading making the decision, but she knew without a doubt that his time had finally come.

The arrangements were made, and the hole was dug. The plan was to keep the old horses together while I gave Easter the final injections. I was prepared to sedate Prince if necessary, but we both felt it was better for him to be there for Easter’s passing rather than to separate them abruptly on this last day. We knew that Prince was going to grieve the loss of his friend, and it would be a hard day for him regardless of where he was.

The Moment Arrives

I arrived at Caroline’s house that day with a firm grip on my emotions. This was already going to be tough on her—she didn’t need her vet going to pieces, too. But I had to take a few deep breaths before I got out of the truck.

She was red-eyed when she greeted me, a coffee can full of horse treats tucked under her arm, and slowly we walked toward Easter and Prince, who waited for us with their heads together as though whispering to each other. They appreciated the treats, Easter’s ears in their usual pricked position and his liquid brown eyes soft and friendly. As I drew up the shots for the last time, Caroline fed cookies to Easter, who swayed unsteadily in place.

I sedated Easter lightly, and Prince watched as I gave Easter the final injection. He sank slowly to the ground, and his muscles began to relax. We sat with Easter while the drug worked through his system, and I told Caroline I thought that sometimes you could feel the moment when the spirit left the body, like something brushing gently past you.

I had no sooner finished speaking when we both felt something brush past us as Easter relaxed completely, and we stared at each other, wide eyed.

Sweet Sorrow

Prince, who had been standing close by, suddenly jerked his head up and called, then took off across the pasture and up the hill as though he were pursuing something. When he got to the fence at the top of the pasture, he stood with his chest pressed against it and whinnied loudly into the distance, over and over.

“Easter’s favorite place is just over the hill in the other pasture. Maybe he wanted to visit it once more,” Caroline whispered.

I watched the little horse neighing for his friend and wondered what he’d seen go past him in the field. I imagined a spirit version of Easter, young and healthy again, galloping away in wild delight. I wondered if he’d known to give a backward glance to his old friend who was left behind.

Caroline found another treat for Prince as she clipped a lead rope to his halter and led him through the gate. He was settling down, although he still continued to look in the same direction. As I glanced back into the lower field where Easter’s body lay, a dark smudge in the winter grasses, I knew he was truly gone.

Prince has a new companion and has adjusted to life without Easter, but he definitely moped and lost some weight in the first few weeks without his buddy. We’re relieved to see him content again.

I dreamed of Easter not too long ago, healthy again and running free, the sunshine gleaming across his coat. When I woke, I could still feel his joy. I think of our most famous Vet Adventures star often, and I believe that one day he’ll be there for Prince, who was his BFF to the end, when it’s his turn.

This Vet Adventures column featuring a story about BFFs to the end appeared in the April 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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