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Bittersweet

I had dreamed about having a white equestrian fence like this - on green grass - with no mud. We built it to allow our horses to have access to grazing, and give our poor wet paddock a rest.



The horses have loved their grazing sessions. We cannot yet put them out on it for a full day as the grass is so rich, that it could upset their digestion. So, we're working them up to it, a little at a time. They have done well, and I can't wait for next Spring when we can leave them on it all of the time! They'll make wonderful greeters when you arrive at the ranch. We'll also rotate the livestock - so there may be times when our baby longhorns are out and about, too!



That said, there will be one less friendly face...


Sometimes it feels like I cannot escape tragedy (though I am sure I am not alone in that feeling). Austin, our beloved gelding that we rescued from the NHSPCA was diagnosed this summer with EPM. Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a disease of horses that affects the central nervous system. In Austin's case, his rear legs were beginning to cross in front of each other, and his balance is disappearing.




The disease is carried by Opossums, and can lay dormant for years before showing symptoms. When we brought Austin home, I was 8 months pregnant, and not able to ride him yet. He was sound at the time however, with a sometimes slightly off gait, but nothing that got in the way of anything.




It wasn't until Mother's Day this year, that I fell as he stumbled during a turn on a trail ride, that we saw some really unusual movement from him. It seemed to have kicked in strongly around then - almost 2 years after bringing him home.



We quickly diagnosed him with the help of a blood test from our vet and went forth with the treatment that could possibly cure the disease. After a month of (not inexpensive) medication, his gains were minimal at best. The medicine has also affected his weight considerably, and without his balance, he isn't laying down to rest either. At a follow up appointment, we were told there was a significant uptick in EPM this year, but Austin was the worst case she'd seen.




One evening recently, we took the horses out to graze, and he could barely hold himself up. He was wabbling everywhere. His recent farrier appointment was the same - unable to pick up his hoof without significant support. In addition, the other two mares have begun to push him out, making strides to become the new Alpha-Horse in Charge - they can tell he is not well, either.

The fear we began to have was his ability to get up if he fell - especially as cold and icy weather approaches. What if he fell on one of us? What if he could no longer have his hooves properly cared for?





We knew, that evening after grazing, that it was time. We stood in the barn with him, his head hung low and nuzzling close to mine... As if to tell us it was alright.



At 18(ish) years young, with the sweetest demeanor and kind eyes and plenty of life left ahead of him, it isn't fair. We don't know where the EPM came from - here, or in his life before. He was rescued by the NHSPCA from a hoarding situation. A caring soul who could not continue to take in horses surrendered him and others. Based on other scars and marks, our farrier assumes he was at one point a western ranch horse, likely sent to a kill pen (maybe they knew of his EPM?), and then taken in before his surrender and journey here. Some speculation...




Where he came from matters not to me - I was so proud to have him here. While I would have liked to have traveled more miles together, and see more experiences "between the ears", while he was ours, he was loved. The Homestead Husband provided loving care and routine feeding to him when I was either pregnant or with our young children inside on cold days. Austin was a labor of love from start to finish. I will always appreciate the time we have had together.




I/We are not ready for him to go. We wanted to continue our paired quarter horse rides - Penny and Austin - together. The idea of another loss is so hard on our hearts... Austin is the first pet that we will have to put down together. While we may raise meat animals, it is not quite the same as the bond formed with a pet that has the intention to remain here.



Austin will be able to go peacefully, in the grazing pasture among his family, enjoying rich greens, and early fall air. The colors of Autumn will always remind me of his rusty red mane and tail. He will be laid to rest beside a young magnolia tree.

Austin's passing will live as a reminder in our minds that no matter the outcome, it is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all. We will miss him greatly.



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