Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Memory of Spike

Today we had to say goodbye to OverDrive, more affectionately known as Spike. Spike had been with us only a year and a half, and made the trip from Victoria, British Columbia to join us for retirement. Spike was a beautiful horse and a very big boy, topping the measuring stick at just over 18 hands.

Spike lived with a systemic connective tissue disease known as DSLD (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis) or ESPA (Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation). There is still a lot that is unknown about DSLD/ESPA however it is believed to be genetic. As the disease progresses it can affect almost every part of the horse's body, not just the tendons and ligaments.

When Spike arrived after his long trip he was very worried and very nervous. His first few weeks we sometimes wondered if it had been the right decision for Spike to travel to our farm. He was by far the most sensitive horse I have ever known, and we learned over time that it was very important for him to have a lot of trust and confidence in not only his horse friends but his people. Spike's lifelong preferred method of letting you know that something was not right in his world, and the something could be anything from physical pain to uncertainty about something in his pasture, was to not eat. He spent his first few weeks with us not eating more often than he did. To say this was stressful for us and his mom would be an understatement. I remember joking in our early days with him that I was going to start stealing Spike's GastroGuard so I could take it myself.

I consider Spike one of our best success stories. Not only did he make the transition, he blossomed. We had the pleasure of watching him transform in almost every way. He not only made friends with the horses, he was so confident he became second in command in the order. His soundness did nothing but improve. I remember his mom asking me one time if I had seen him canter. It shocked her when I responded that we saw him canter all the time, in fact we did not realize there was anything special about it. Spike would canter and gallop through the fields with his friends, often in the lead, and often throwing in a buck or two as well.

His first few months he would always watch anything new or different in his pasture with suspicion, be it a change in water troughs or a new hay feeder. Spike completely changed in this respect as well and after awhile nothing bothered him. A huge flock of wild turkeys walking through the pasture - not even worth lifting his head. A new horse in his group - he would be the first one to introduce himself. His habit of not eating when anything bothered him disappeared. In fact he became an absolute chow hound. He was always fed first in his group and anytime it was near meal time Spike was at the gate, sometimes banging it with his hoof, demanding that he be fed now.

When we moved Spike to the new farm last December of course we were nervous. Despite the fact that he seemed to have completely transformed himself into a new horse we could not help but worry about how he would handle the move. He put our fears to rest by walking up to the gate and demanding his dinner the day of the move. I said to Jason that Spike demanding to be fed after we moved him was the best Christmas present I received last year.

Jason and Spike had a special bond. They had a game that they played together after meals. When the "new Spike," the one that was a chow hound and loved to eat, finished a meal he would arch his neck, flap his lips, and make a grunting noise. It was Spike's way of saying "that was so good!" Jason would often perform Spike's post-meal routine with him. He would nod his head up and down and make a grunting noise along with Spike. After awhile it got to the point where Jason could walk up to Spike at any time and start performing the post meal ritual and Spike would do it with him. I always meant to take a video of Jason and Spike doing the post-meal routine together but I never did. I am really regretting that today.

We had settled into an easy rhythm of life with Spike. Sure, anyone could look at him and easily see the classic symptoms of DSLD/ESPA with his dropped pasterns. But they weren't slowing him down and Spike was living life to the fullest. Even though we knew he had advanced DSLD/ESPA it was easy to think that the day that it would catch up to him was at some distant point off in the future. How could you think otherwise when you were watching him cavort around the pasture?

We all know that life is precious and Jason and I were reminded of that the last few days. A couple of days ago Spike had significant swelling around one of his hind fetlocks. He was still being Spike but it appeared to be an ominous sign. We took pictures and let his mom know of the change, as in our past experiences with this disease we did not have a good feeling about where this was heading. The vet was out the next day to examine Spike. He was pretty certain that one of the branches of the suspensory ligament on that leg had failed, and it was time for some hard decisions.

We are so appreciative that his mom agreed with us and the vet that it was time to let Spike go. None of us wanted to wait until the entire suspensory failed on him. The arrangements were made for this morning.

As usual Spike was waiting at the gate for breakfast early this morning. The swelling in his leg had increased significantly. He ate his breakfast just like it was any other day. He finished eating a few minutes before the vet was due to arrive. As the vet was driving up to the barn Spike walked a few feet away from his friends and laid down, all the way down, flat out on his side. We had no idea what to make of this except that it was very, very strange. One minute he was perfectly normal, eating every crumb of his breakfast, and the next he was down on his side.

Spike hated all vets and could spot one from a mile away. Just yesterday he had been trying to get away from the vet while we examined him. He did not get up when Jason and the vet, the same vet he had seen yesterday, walked in the pasture. In fact he did not even lift his head. It was time and Spike could not have more clearly told us it was ok. As I said earlier he was the most sensitive horse I have ever met, and it genuinely seemed like he was telling us he agreed, he was ready. There is no other explanation. Spike passed easily and quietly. The whole time the vet was administering the tranquilizer and then the euthanasia Spike never lifted his head, never tried to fight the vet, never tried to get up. It was his last gift to us.

Rest in peace Spike, we will really miss you. Thank you for making this as easy on us as you could.

Spike and his mom

Spike with his family in British Columbia

Spike and Thor

Enjoying one of his frequent afternoon naps

Spike loved to groom with other horses; here he is grooming with Lucky, one of his most favorite friends. We used to joke that Spike's favorite saying was "with my friends Lucky and O'Reilly I can do anything."

Dozing on a lazy winter afternoon after a nice roll in the mud

Grooming with Lightening

Spike with some of his friends


RuckusButt said...

A beautiful tribute Melissa. It must make his owner and you guys feel great that you could help Spike have some worry-free years. I had chills at the end.

Bif said...

So sorry for Spike's mom and all of you. Thank you so much for sharing him and his story with all of us :}

lara said...

Your account of Spike and his message to you is so moving. What a very special horse. I'm so sorry for the loss.

lytha said...

i'm agree, what a sad and beautiful story. i also had chills at the end. what a wonderful horse to be so aware of human feelings.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that he had the time he did with you to enjoy himself. My deepest sympathies to you and his family.

desertsandbeyond said...

What a beautiful, yet sad story. It's always hard to lose a horse, but you have written a wonderful memorial to him.

Minus Pride said...

This brought tears to my eyes as I sit at my desk at work. You give such good tributes to all of the horses who stay with you.
Spike sounds like an amazing horse.

Laura Crum said...

What a beautiful tribute and what a great horse he appears to have been. Thank you for posting this. It especially touched me because the last horse I put down did the same thing, more or less. I had been agonizing over whether it was time (this horse was growing steadily more lame from a variety of interconnected reasons and was 25 years old--had been a pasture pet for ten years), and with the vet scheduled for the next morning, I gave Pistol his painkillers and his equine senior. I watched him eat, wondering if I was doing the right thing, wishing the horse would tell me. And Pistol finished his feed, looked at me, walked ten paces to the middle of the field, looked at me again, and lay down, flat on his side, exactly as you describe. He remained that way for five minutes more or less, then got up, looked over his shoulder at me and walked off. I always felt he answered my question....and he died very peacefully the next morning. It is amazing what horses know.

Cousin B said...

That was a beautiful post, and I thank you for sharing Spike in such a memorable way. He was blessed to have such a great mom and to be in your care in his last days. This makes me cry just thinking about it.....Rest in peace Spike.

Lori Skoog said...

What a beautiful post. My deepest sympathies to you two and his Mom. Last December the same thing happened with our 30 year old pony. She went down on her own and left us very peacefully. So sad, but so sweet.