Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Memory of Clay

Yesterday was another sad day for us, we had to say goodbye to Clay. Last Wednesday when Clay was eating dinner he was eating very slowly. Aside from that he was acting completely normal, including trotting in from the back of the pasture with his friends when called up for dinner. His temperature, pulse and respiratory rate were all normal. His capillary refill was normal. Despite all of this, given that Clay was just shy of 33 years old, we called the vet clinic and told them we were bringing a patient. It seemed like overkill at the time, but when anything is less than perfectly normal with an elderly horse it is better to be safe than sorry. Always the perfect gentleman, Clay self loaded on the trailer and we drove to the clinic.


Clay was examined immediately upon arrival at the clinic. All vitals were still normal and he had excellent gut sounds. His bloodwork was normal and indicated he was fully hydrated. However a rectal exam revealed an impaction. It was only about 12 to 18 inches in from his anus. The vet removed as much manure as he could and it all looked normal. He said the impaction felt pretty large but the good news was everything else seemed to be working normally. The hope was that with the assistance of IV fluids and some oil and water administered via tubing that Clay would pass the impaction and carry on. There was certainly a question mark as to the cause but things were looking very good for recovery.

Clay grazing with Fuzzy and Chili

Thursday morning another rectal exam revealed more manure in the exact same area. The vet again removed the manure. Same thing again that afternoon. By Friday afternoon all the manure had been removed and there was no more impaction. At that point, once the area was clear, Clay's vet said he could feel a large abnormality upon palpation.

such wise eyes

At this point things became more clear. Clay was scoped through his rectum and a large tear at the area where the manure kept backing up was revealed. The tear appeared to be old and chronic. As the vet said there was no blood in the area, not fresh blood, old dried blood, nothing, so it was not anything recent. The tear did not go all the way through the colon, just the first few tissue layers, creating a large pocket. There are no good guesses as to what caused the tear other than an aging body beginning to wear out. Is is assumed that something happened to stretch the tissue around the tear and make the compromised area even larger, creating the pocket where the manure would get packed in and back everything up.

trotting through the snow with Fuzzy

The plan was to keep Clay on IV fluids and continue giving him fluids and oil through a tube as well to make his manure as soft as possible. The hope was that with super soft and wet manure Clay could pass it on his own. If that was the case we were all hoping he could come home and carry on with life with a modified diet.

grazing with Fuzzy

The waiting game began. Clay did not pass any manure Saturday but still seemed comfortable. No more Sunday either but Clay was still comfortable. Then he got uncomfortable Sunday evening and the vets had no choice but to remove manure through another rectal. The manure had stopped at the usual spot around the tear and packed in.

Clay, Fuzzy and Chili

During all of this the surgeon on staff was exploring surgical options for Clay. Unfortunately due to the size of the tear and the location, along with the already weakened tissue that a 33 year old horse has, she determined that Clay was not going to be a good surgical candidate. As if that news was not bad enough Clay's vets also were confident that Clay had nerve damage in the stretched areas of tissue and that was the main reason why Clay could not evacuate manure on his own. In the end we were left with one reasonable and humane choice for Clay, euthanasia. The staff at the clinic gave Clay a big pile of alfalfa hay to eat since he had been on a severely restricted diet the last few days. He munched on his alfalfa. Jason hand picked grass for him and brought it to him in his stall. Then we said goodbye and Clay passed peacefully. Everybody involved, us, his vets, the staff at the clinic, were devastated.

Clay, Chili and Fuzzy

When you were around Clay you knew you were standing in the presence of a wise old soul. He always had a serene aura about him, and he was one of the smartest horses I've ever worked around. The entire time he was at the clinic, with the constant rectal exams and nasogastro tubes, Clay was a perfect gentleman. He never needed to be sedated or restrained. He just stood there while someone held the leadrope. His vet said it was as if Clay knew they were helping him and could not believe that for several days in a row Clay stood quietly for each procedure. Jason and I were not surprised at all. We already knew Clay was a wise old soul.

Clay and Chili

Clay had lived with us for several years. Jason and I were reminiscing about the first day we met him. Clay walked off the trailer and we put him in a stall next to his buddy Chili who had travelled with him. Clay stood in the stall with his legs trembling, probably from a combination of nerves (he had not been on a trailer in 10 years) and being tired from his long trailer ride. We gave Clay some paste electrolytes and stood outside his stall watching him anxiously. Jason made the comment "It will surprise me if he is with us six months from now."

Clay and Snappy

Clay rebounded quickly and within a few hours he was happily eating hay and settling in. Happily he beat Jason's worried prediction of six months by several years. Clay quickly made it clear that while kind and gentle to both people and horses, he was no pushover either. He quickly rose to number two in the order in his group. The joke was that Clay walked around with an air of quiet self confidence that said "I have been there and done that."

enjoying a good roll

Clay had been owned by his family for almost twenty years. He started out life as a race horse on the Quarter Horse racing circuit. He won $18,000 at the track. I have always said that this part of his history surprises me. Clay was so smart and not spooky at all, and had this vision of the gates flying open and the bell ringing and Clay just standing there going "what is everyone in a panic about?"

Clay enjoyed the retired life

After his racing career he joined his family and became a trail riding companion. His mom said she had been devoted to Clay ever since one day out on the trails when he saved her life. She had been trail riding with her daughter who was on her pony and they had been out for several hours. They were riding in the mountains and she had lost her way. She kept trying to to get them on the right path home but without success. Finally, scared and trying not to cry in front of her daughter, she dropped the reins and said to Clay, "Clay, please get us home. "

Clay felt you could never roll too much

During that ride she never picked up the reins again. As it turned out they were almost 10 miles off their trail and at over 10,000 feet elevation in mountain lion territory. Clay picked his way along, sometimes at the walk, sometimes at the trot and canter, through the dark on the narrow, steep and twisting trails. A few hours later he got them back to their base safely. She firmly believes that Clay saved her and her daughter's lives that day, and as she said she has been devoted to him ever since.

Clay with Lightening and Chili

Unfortunately Clay had to be retired from riding a couple of years later due to navicular at the age of 12. Clay enjoyed 21 years of retirement, the last several with us. As Jason pointed out yesterday Clay really should have had no complaints in life. He essentially retired at the age of 30 and got to lead a pampered life that someone else paid for until he passed at 95. I don't know anyone who would complain about that. After 22 years of retirement Clay certainly does not support the oft repeated refrain that horses "need a job" in order to live a long and happy life.

Slinky and Clay

Clay leaves behind his close friend of almost 20 years, Chili. Fuzzy was also especially attached to Clay. We have been watching them closely since we took Clay to the clinic last Wednesday. As we have always seen in the past Chili and Fuzzy have been just fine and acting their usual happy selves. As for us, well we have not been just fine. It really hit Jason today when were preparing breakfast for everyone this morning and filling up feed bags. Before he realized it he had filled Clay's feedbag. He stood there with Clay's feedbag, fully absoring the reality that Clay was permanently gone. It was a heartbreaking moment. We miss his kind and gentle presence.

Clay's dad said it well when we were telling him the only humane option left was euthanasia, "goodbye to a good soldier." Clay was a wise old soul and good soldier. May he rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

I am so sorry and my thoughts are with you both and his owner. I lost a horse at 38 and still wasn't ready to say goodbye. He was a beauty and had such a good life. RIP.


Lori Skoog said...

Once again I thank you for the quality of life you offer all these retired, sweet horses. Rest in Peace Clay...you were a beautiful boy.

Bif said...

So sorry for you and his family; thank you for sharing him with us!

His pictures from this summer~ still so handsome. He didn't look his age (I've known born retirees that don't look as good at 25).

IsobelleGoLightly said...

Your loving tribute to this beautiful horse only shows (again) how wonderful your retirement farm is.

Holistic Pet Help - HPH said...


amy324 said...

Rest in Peace, sweet Clay. I'm going to miss your big white blaze-y face. My sympathies to Melissa and Jason, and Clay's Mom and Dad.

Anonymous said...

I am very sorry for the loss of a fine old horse - I'm so glad he got to enjoy his last few years with you.

MyLight's mom said...

"Clay, please get us home". How could ANYBODY read that and not get teary eyed.

He is in heaven now...bless his heart.

Cousin B said...

I also got teary eyed with that story of Clays bringing them home. Rest in peace buddy....
Bless you for giving him such a wonderful life....

lara said...

I'm so sorry and you're in my thoughts! He was such a wonderful horse - and yes, such a wise soul! I always loved visiting with him when I'd hang out in their field! Such a nice boy. So sorry for you and his owner.
I agree with Isobelle, too: The love you have for the horses in your care is so wonderful. Thank you!

Funder said...

Hugs to you both. What a remarkable old fellow!