Regis was an incredibly stoic horse. I've only ever known one other horse that was as stoic as Regis. His stoicism allowed him to cope with the myriad of problems that he faced, severe ringbone and navicular up front, and off and on inflamed hind suspensories as a result of compensating for the issues in his front legs.
Regis did not have to make a big trip to our farm, he lived just a 20 minute trailer ride away. I remember the day we went to pick Regis up and meet him in person. He had a big banner on his stall that said "Happy Retirement" and he looked at us through the stall bars with his ears pricked forward and curious.
He walked to the trailer for the short ride to his new home and for the first time I saw him move and saw his level of lameness. Despite how he walked Regis did not act like he had a problem or a care in the world. He happily loaded on the trailer, his ears staying pricked forward the entire time. When we unloaded at the farm he stood for a moment taking everything in and taking special interest in the goats. He then walked to his stall and started eating hay like he owned the place.
Regis checking out the goats on his first day
Our first day with Regis was a true glimpse into this horse’s character. Despite all of his issues and all of the reasons he had to be grumpy, unfriendly and uninterested in life he was the exact opposite. If Regis were a person he would be one of those people with some type of severe disability that goes on to accomplish amazing things and making people marvel and wonder how they did it.
Regis lived life to the fullest, and despite his state of lameness once he was introduced into his new group of friends he established himself as the new boss in about five minutes. It seemed that every day we lived with this horse he did things he shouldn't have been able to do. He was also the type that knew no boundaries and when watching him play hard with his friends we would stand there wishing he would stop, knowing he would pay the price for his exuberance for several days.
This became the pattern with Regis, cycling between his good days (which any other horse would have considered bad) and his bad days. Pretty much everything that could be tried to get Regis comfortable had been done during the year prior to his arrival at our farm. Surgery, various special shoeing jobs, joint injections, daily pain medication, his owners literally spared no expense. Anything that anyone asked them to do they always said yes.
I mentioned earlier that Regis reminded me of some important things. I said to his owners yesterday that I believe that people and horses come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. There were two important reasons why Regis came to our farm and into our lives. One of them is that just because you think you can address a horse’s issues and get them to a better place it doesn’t mean that you should. I do strongly believe that if we had asked Regis to keep going as he was for 9 to 12 months while we made some key changes in his management that the odds were good that he would have gotten to a better place and could have had a couple more years of retirement. However life is about the journey and not the destination. The price Regis was paying and would have to keep paying for several months in order to get to that destination was just too high. It would have been wrong for us to ask this kind and incredibly stoic horse to keep dealing with the issues that had been plaguing him for so long.
Regis enjoying a nap in the sun on a sunny spring day
The other important lesson that Regis reminded us of, and it so important, is that not every horse gives you that clear signal that they can’t do it anymore. People often ask “how do you know?” Sometimes it is a clear answer, especially when the horse is going downhill not just physically but mentally. But sometimes, as is the case with Regis, they never lose their mental edge. They never lose their appetite, their spirit doesn’t dull, they still manage to keep up with their friends, and it makes it so tempting to keep pushing.
Regis and Noble
After much agonizing over the decision, Jason and I came to the agreement that it was wrong to ask this horse to keep going. After talking it over with his family on Friday, who thankfully were in complete agreement with our thoughts, Regis did something we had never seen him do. Jason had spent a few minutes petting Regis and afterwards, Regis walked a few steps away and laid down – and not in a relaxed way but in a way that said “I’m ready to not do this anymore.” I told his owners I might just be reading too much emotion into what was already an emotional and stressful day, but I do wonder if Regis picked up on the change in our attitudes and finally took off his game face and let his guard down. It was as if once we made the decision that he didn’t have to keep doing this anymore he was relieved. He stayed down most of Friday afternoon and evening, but he was back up and out grazing with his friends Saturday morning as usual. I will always wonder, was that his way of letting us know it was the right decision, or was it just coincidence and he would have done it anyway, causing us to make the decision?
Although I’m very sad I am also very relieved. Euthanasia is a way to take an animal’s pain away and make it our own. I’m glad that Jason and I and Regis’ family were able to give him that final gift. He had quite a name to live up to in Regal and Royale but he did it without even trying right up to the end.