No matter how much you expect some things, they still come as a surprise. I suppose this is generally the case when the thing you’re expecting is not what you want. I had one of these unpleasant surprises last month when I went out to the pasture one evening.
My friend Sheldon and I had been working on making riding trails in the back part of my land. As sunset approached, we stumbled, hot and tired, back to the house. Lazy as I am, I decided it’d be easier to let the horses graze than lug hay out to their pens. Sheldon went to make the release while I secured hay and grain against equine marauders.
When I finished what I was doing, I looked out to watch the horses lope to the far corner of the pasture to where, in their minds at least, the grass is the greenest. They are such beautiful, graceful animals, I never tire of watching them. But immediately I knew something was wrong. My oldest horse, Camp, was literally stumbling along behind the others.
I grabbed a halter, called to Sheldon and we went after her. My heart sank. Camp wasn’t just lame her entire body curved to one side. From head to tail her spine traced an arc of a circle. Her hind legs seemed to want to go one direction while her head went another, resulting in an uncoordinated side-passing locomotion. When I put the halter on her she nearly stumbled into me.
I bought Camp for $700 fifteen years ago as a birthday present for my daughter Coral. Coral was eleven and Camp was thirteen. She was the perfect horse. Always calm, would do anything and go anywhere, never spooked and yet was willing to run all day if that’s what Coral wanted. Camp had the speed to make it worthwhile.
Over the years her smooth gaits and gentle disposition made her the perfect horse for kids and novice riders as well as the more experienced. A few years ago, I looked her up on the AQHA web site. I was surprised to learn she had an ROM (Register of Merit) in racing back from when she was a two-year-old. And she sold for nearly $20,000 as a yearling.
What was even more surprising was that her record was marked “deceased.” Further investigation revealed that the AQHA marks horses as dead when they reach twenty-five unless they hear otherwise. While Camp was starting to show her age, she was a long way from dead. Just last month she was under saddle with my son’s eight-year-old daughter on her back.
Then came her injury. Camp has struggled through the last month, making an amazing recovery. After last Friday’s vet check, our family let out a collective sigh of relief. On Sunday evening I decided she could go out to graze with the other horses, just as she was going to on the night she fell ill. But when I went out to release her, Friday’s healthy Camp had been replaced with the Camp from a month ago. She’d relapsed.
Now we’re waiting on test results that may, or may not, reveal what’s wrong. The options are four types of encephalitis--including
Twenty-nine is ancient for a horse. Even so we’re not prepared to let her go…not yet. We’ll try to see her through this. As long as her spirits are good and she seems happy, we’ll keep working. She’s done so much for us, especially for Coral, that we can’t fully repay that debt. But part of the payment is care for her current illness.
That’s the easy part. I hope we have courage for the hard part. We don’t want her to suffer and mercy is something we can afford our pets. If Camp knew it, she’d be glad she is livestock and not a human being.
Update 2007/06/28: Test results are back. Camp has a herpes viral encephalitis. There is no treatment and once contracted the horse has the disease forever. However it may go into remission but this is unlikely in a horse her age. We are starting her on oral steroids to control the symptoms. She's currently doing fairly well and as long as the symptoms remain mild, we'll watch and wait.
Photo: The last time Coral rode Camp was in July of 2006.
Photo: The last time Coral rode Camp was in July of 2006.Photo: Camp curving due to central nervous system problem this month. She still likes to eat.Photo: Camp in September 2004. She's red roan so she always had white in her coat.Photo: Camp in the bluebonnets, July 2004.Photo: Camp at around 16 years old.