This weekend we were reminded how precious life is, and how quickly it can be taken away. When you board retired horses you know you are going to experience loss, it comes with the territory. Some pass from old age related issues, some have to be euthanized due to soundness and quality of life issues. This weekend we lost Ivan, one of the Big Boys, very unexpectedly. We had the pleasure of living with Ivan for six years, and living with Ivan was nothing but fun. He was an incredibly smart horse and a mischief maker. Those personality traits certainly made for some interesting and memorable times with Ivan.
On Friday evening Jason and I stayed in one of the barns until about 8:30pm. There was a chance of severe weather and we wanted to make sure we were poised for action in case it was warranted. Thankfully we never had any issues, just some heavy rain, hardly any wind. Once all storms had moved out of middle Tennessee we made a last check of everyone before calling it a night. The last few horses we saw in our flashlight were Ivan, Levendi, Thomas and Elfin munching on hay at one of the hay feeders.
I just took these two pictures of Ivan on Friday with my cell phone. He was enjoying a nap with his buddies.
Then joined them as they all moved to another section of the pasture
Ivan having fun with Hemi December 2011
Needless to say it was quite a shock when Ivan was found deceased by the water trough the next morning. There were no signs of a struggle, and they would have been obvious on the wet ground, and no marks on him anywhere. His body was in his usual spot by the water trough where he always stood and waited for breakfast. He had not been gone long. It appeared as if he had been standing in his usual spot waiting for breakfast and just fell over dead, instantly. The best guess by our vet is either an aneurysm or a complication from one of the many melanomas Ivan had. Like many grays Ivan had quite a few melanomas on his body including on his sheath, under his tail,and on his neck, and undoubtedly he had them internally as well.
Ivan and friends grazing this past fall
The loss of Ivan was something that took awhile for Jason and I to process yesterday. Anyone who has followed our blog for long is familiar with the Big Boys. They are mostly young, and extremely playful and full of energy and life. As I said earlier loss comes with the territory but it never occurred to either of us that any of the Big Boys would be leaving us.
Ivan and the Big Boys striking a pose a couple of months ago
The shock was so big my comment to Jason was "I don't know how many more deaths I can take." I selfishly dwelled on that sentiment for a long time yesterday. However I realized that, in the end, I would rather have the opportunity to know and love all of these horses rather than not know them and thus not experience their losses. I can't imagine not having known Ivan, he was an incredible character.
Ivan grazing in his signature plaid blanket
Ivan retired with us six years ago when he was 14. He was a gorgeous grey Thoroughbred that had had a very nice career as a jumper, competing all the way through the Grand Prix level. His owners told us that they knew Ivan was going to love his life with us. He loved the company of other horses and lived for his turnout time. Often he would refuse to eat his breakfast until after he had come back in from turnout. Instead of eating his breakfast he would stand in his stall looking out his window, waiting for his turn to go out and play.
Ivan and the Big Boys having a good gallop. Ivan takes the lead at about the 32 second mark.
Ivan indeed loved his life with us. He was a big, mischievous personality from day one. Ivan liked life to be interesting, and if nothing was going on he would often find ways to get some action going. All new arrivals with us start on stall board. A few stay on stall board with group turnout, but most transition to full time turnout. Even when the plan is full time turnout they have to have a stall board transition period while we acclimate them to the grass, gradually lengthen their turnout time and just generally integrate them into life on our farm.
Ivan and the Big Boys playing in the pond, May 2009
On Ivan's second day with us I gave him and the others in the barn their breakfast and then went outside to continue feeding horses. A few minutes later I heard the clip clop of hooves on the driveway and turned to see Ivan heading out of the barn and ready to go exploring. He had let himself out of the stall.
Ivan and the Big Boys feeling frisky, November 2008
This became a game with Ivan and he was very clever about opening doors. He could open latches, snaps and hooks. A few days later my mother called me to let me know there was a horse standing on the front porch of my parents' house, looking in the window at her. I ran up the driveway to their house wondering what in the world I was going to find. There was Ivan having a good look around, staring in the windows of my parents' house, with a very satisfied expression on his face. He had let himself out of the stall again.
Ivan and Homer enjoying a grooming session
Needless to say Ivan made the transition to full time turnout quickly since keeping him in a stall not only made him unhappy, but was often impossible. He soon struck up a lasting friendship with Apollo and they remained good friends for six years. We always joked that Ivan was the brains of their operation and 18.1 hand Apollo was the brawn.
Ivan and the Big Boys grazing, fall 2011
Occasionally Ivan would open his pasture gate and lead his friends on a parade. Our saying for that was Ivan had lead everyone on a jail break again. He was never trying to go anywhere in particular, he would just get bored and start fiddling with the snaps on the gate until he got it open. Thanks to Ivan all of the pasture gates have padlocks on the chains if the gate is an external gate. Thankfully Ivan never learned how to open a padlock! Gates leading into the barnyard only have snaps as the barnyard gates also have padlocks, so Ivan could only take everyone so far on his "jail breaks."
Ivan and Levendi, summer 2011
We had settled into an easy rhythm of life with Ivan. I don't think Ivan knew what it was like to be in a bad mood or have a bad day. For Ivan the retired life truly was heaven. He had everything he wanted in life. He was outside with his friends and he could eat, play, nap, and lead jail breaks to his heart's content.
Ivan and Thomas napping together
As shocking and sad as it was to lose Ivan, I wish all of the horses could go this way. Absolutely fine and enjoying life one moment, then gone the next. No suffering, no infirmities of old age, just absolute enjoyment of life right up to the end. Ivan was only 20 when he passed, and he was still acting like he was three. No one, horse or human, can ask for more than that.
Ivan's first day with us, hanging out with the goats
Yesterday I was wondering how many more deaths I could take. Today I'm able to celebrate Ivan's life. He lived it to the fullest. I wish he were still here with us, but I know he is still galloping through green pastures and having a great time. I can only imagine him with his new friends he has surely already made, saying "hey guys, watch this!" And he unsnaps their pasture gate and leads them all on a jail break. Or maybe he's looking in the windows of another house, enjoying a good laugh as the person inside realizes there is a horse on their front porch, watching them.
Rest in peace Ivan. But knowing Ivan it won't be too peaceful as that would be boring. He still has a lot of practical jokes to play.
We miss you.
Ivan enjoying the retired life
he was probably thinking about making a jail break
Ivan relaxing with Tony and Elfin
Ivan having a look around from the run-in shed
Ivan and Apollo
Chance, Ivan and Leo going for a gallop
Ivan, Thomas and Baby on a fall day
Ivan, Homer, Chance and Apollo