Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In Memory of Promise 1990-2001

This was my mare Promise. This day, November 18, is always a sad day, because it's the day I lost an amazing mare, who had only been in my life for a little more than a year.

She was a Thoroughbred, never raced, who came to me when she was 10 years old. I had decided to buy a horse to show in the hunters, since my daughters, who were then 10 and 11, were spending a lot of time at horse shows, and I had started riding and jumping again myself. I already had Noble, who was my first horse when I came back to riding as an adult, but he was 20 and did basic dressage and was no show horse. Promise had been doing the 4'6" jumpers before I got her, so anything I would ask her to do was a piece of cake. She had lovely gaits and a nice jump, and if I rode her well (which basically meant staying out of her way), she often won her classes. I don't believe she ever refused a fence in the entire time I rode her. Here she is, jumping rather lazily, and with what we called "airplane ears", over what for her was a pretty small fence (please ignore my equitation - I've never won an equitation class in my life):

She was a glossy, rich bay, with lots of dapples, a perfectly symmetrical star and two matching hind half socks. She was a mare of strong opinions, most of which were correct, and she had a wonderful habit of greeting me with a nicker that was completely silent - her nostrils moved - we called it "doing nostrils". She was a big mare, 16.2, and robustly built - she looked more like a warmblood than a Thoroughbred. She was a horse that I could get on and ride, even at a strange horse show, without any lunging and without worry - she was always very forward but controllable. She never bucked, spooked or did anything else unseemly in the entire time I had her. She was the perfect amateur owner hunter and was a wonderful horse in every way.

In our 2001 show season, we won the divisional championships in Limit Hunter and Novice Adult Hunter, and came 3rd overall in Non-Pro Hunter. I hurt my back just before finals, and my older daughter, who was 12 at the time, rode her in Limit that day, and won her huge flat class. A young amateur at our barn finished out her Non-Pro season and also came 2nd on her in Medal finals. Before finals, she and I had been working towards out next show season, when we would be doing the 3'3" to 3'6" divisions.

After finals in October 2001, we noticed that she didn't seem quite right. She was a little bit off - not dreadfully lame but not sound either. It was hard to pinpoint what was wrong - there was no obvious swelling or heat, so we gave her some time off - only working at the walk and hand-walking rather than turnout - we were at a show barn where horses got at most 2 hours of turnout by themselves a day. She stayed her usual calm, relaxed self. At the end of October, my older daughter rode her at the barn's Halloween party dressed in full knightly regalia - borrowed from a friend who used to work at Medieval Times - and won the costume class - my only pictures of that have gone missing.

Towards the middle of November, she seemed to be improving and the vet cleared her to resume turnout, but we kept to a walk under saddle. Then we came to November 18, 2001. It was a Sunday - the barn didn't do turnout on Sunday - so I went to turn our horses out for a bit. It was unusually warm, almost sultry, and there was some wind. After putting on her Sports Medicine Boots, I led Promise out - all the small turnouts had horse in them so I turned her out in the main outdoor arena. That's when everything went wrong. Although she had led out calmly, she bolted from the gate and ran, faster than I had ever seen a horse run in my life, screaming as she went. As she rounded the end of the arena and headed back down the long side, I heard a loud crack, and suddenly she was running on three legs. She kept going to the end of the arena next to the barn, and stopped and stood there on three legs, holding her right front off the ground. She stood there, head high, and I went to look. There was no blood, but she wouldn't put any weight on her leg at all - she would only, and with great effort, hop three-legged. I sent a passerby to find one of the trainers, who came out and got on the phone to the vet. We slowly got her to hop to her stall, which fortunately was very close.

The vet came, took x-rays and stabilized her leg in a tall PVC cast with a plate at the bottom, so at least she could rest it on the ground and take some of the weight off her other front leg, and gave her Banamine. The only good sign was that there was still no significant swelling. The vet called as soon as the x-rays were developed and the news wasn't good - she had fractured her large pastern (P-1) bone. He recommended that we trailer her to the clinic and have them evaluate her. We did that - she managed to load and unload. Although at this point it was late Sunday night, the vets met us and immediately did x-rays. It was worse than we thought - although the pieces of bone were not separated, she had multiple slab fractures and her P-1 was in 9 pieces. I saw the x-rays, and it looked as though someone had marked Xs in various dimensions across the bone. Neither joint was directly damaged, however, and since the bones fragments were not separated, the vet wanted to think about it overnight - we were hoping to save her at least as a pasture pet or for breeding.

Early the next morning, I talked to the vet by phone. The bone was so badly fractured and it so many small pieces that it was going to be very hard to surgically repair it - she was insured and they would have paid for it - and the only option would have been to cast the whole leg from the knee down - probably for at least 6 months - with no guarantee that she would make it through - the risk of laminitis in the other front foot was high - and in the end she wouldn't have even been pasture sound - she would never have been able to run again, or even walk well, and probably couldn't have been safely turned out with other horses. I made the decision to euthanize her, and was there that morning to say goodbye and see it done. It was one of the worst days of my life and I was very depressed for months afterward - it was so hard to have her there and then the next minute she was gone.

With the benefit of hindsight, could things have gone differently? I felt an enormous amount of guilt over what had happened. Although she was deceptively calm leading out, I suspect that she might not have been added back to the turnout list, and just went crazy from the lack of turnout - I never tried to verify this since I wasn't looking to cast blame. Should I have checked before I turned her out, or lunged her to see how she was? Was it the weird weather? Should I have even turned her out in the large arena? - which had an area that was uneven and with not good footing just where she put a foot wrong. Was that odd lameness in October a sign that something more serious was wrong? - we never had x-rays. Should I have had her euthanized immediately that evening rather than subjecting her to the trip to the clinic and the overnight wait? We had also seen on her x-rays from when we got her that she had a bone chip in her right knee, that had healed completely. I've since learned that in studies of racehorses, horses with prior bone chips have a much higher chance of incurring subsequent catastrophic fractures - apparently the bone chip is a warning sign that there may be structural weakness in the bones. Promise's full sister, who was 2 years younger, also had to be euthanized the next year when she fractured her shoulder standing up after surgery for a hoof abscess. So there may have been some genetic component leading to bone weakness.

I'll never know for sure - all I know is that I lost a fine horse in the prime of her life, and hope to never have that sort of thing happen again. It was years before my daughters or I could watch horses run in turnout with being afraid for them. But with horses there is always risk - be sure to enjoy your horse on every day you have him or her. I will always remember her with gratitude and joy for the brief time we had together.


  1. Kate, given what I do I have been present more often than I would ever want to be when a horse is euthanized, and they have occured for a variety of reasons. What I have learned is DO NOT second guess yourself and your decisions. She probably had been getting her turnout, the injury prior was probably unrelated. I have learned with horses that freak accidents are normal and we can't do much to prevent them. It sounds like your vet team was very caring and thorough and you did everything you could have done. She was certainly a gorgeous mare and sounds like she was a real athlete as well. You two did your share of winning together! She will always be with you in your heart, and she was lucky to have someone in her life who will always remember her.

  2. Kate,
    Horses . . . so bittersweet. Some of the purest moments of joy I have ever felt have been with the herd, and some of my most darkest moments of despair have been when one has been lost. I have grinned so wide watching them play, or walking among them, hearing them, smelling them; I have cried so hard as death has come, frustrated and enraged at unjust endings. The guilt, the 2nd guessing is sometimes so unbearable days, month, even years after that it overwhelms me at times. But not for very long.

    You and I, we have our herds to take care of. They look towards us for support, for comfort, well . . at least for a treat! There are horses to feed, and to groom and to train . . and sometimes just to hang with. We are their caregivers and through all the hi's & lo's that brings, there's no better place to be.

    It's the little things, like 'doing nostrils' that are the most precious.

  3. It's such a shame when we lose our friends and it always seems much to soon to say goodbye to them. She looked like a wonderful girl and I'm sure she lives on in your heart.

  4. She sounds like a special mare. I'm sorry that she went too soon. You did your best for her and it really sounds like it was something that couldn't have been avoided. I love her long ears and her pretty face in that picture.

  5. In my life I've lost several special horses, I don't think anyone ever stops second guessing their decisions or feeling as though they should have done more. In the end, I think you just have to console yourself with the knowledge that you did everything you could and made the best decisions given the information you had. For myself, I think that the day I stop second guessing and blaming myself is the day I should stop working with horses because it shows that I have stopped caring.

    She was a beautiful mare. As long as you treasure her memory, she will never truly be gone. She lives on in your thoughts and in this beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  6. Thank You for sharing the story of Promise. You brought tears to my eyes and I can only imagine the heartache that you and your girls went through with her loss. It is difficult sometimes to not lay the blame at our own feet when tragedy strikes one of our beloved animals, I think it is human nature.

  7. Kate, you did your best for her and followed proffesional, instruction. There is no end to the "shoulda coulda woulda's" that we put ourselves through when we lose a young otherwise healthy animal.You honored her in life and now in memory. No matter how long they are with us , they leave us changed and enriched. hugs to you

  8. I'm sorry to hear this. She sounds like she was a lovely horse, and I understand you missing her. Don't beat yourself up about it, though. You did the best you could, and when you found out the prognosis, you didn't make her miserable just to keep yourself happy. She couldn't have asked for a better person.

  9. Given the circumstances, I think you made the right decision. There is something to be said for a horse's quality of life...and if her only movement would have been a strained walk -- then what life would that be? Horses are such noble animals. I am certain I would have done the same thing in your shoes.

    I feel your pain at having to make such a hard decision. A catastophe such as this always leaves unanswered questions....questions that roll around over and over in your mind and can beat you up with guilt if you let them.

    It's hard to think of the positive things-
    Promise had a home where she was cared for and loved. You were with her on that fateful day (rather than discovering her hours later). You acted quickly and things were made as comfortable for her as possible. ....and finally, you made a decision that perserved her dignity and ended her further suffering. There is no way of knowing if she would have survived and even if she had- what would she have had to go through if you had tried to keep her going (I keep thinking of Barabaro and his fight with laminitis...and we know that he the best care money could buy and he still did not make it).

    Huggs to you Kate <<<<>>>>> on this sad day. Promise sounds like she was a wonderful mare, and beautiful too! Be sure to spend some time with your other horses today. Give them each a hug and tell them how much you love them. They are just as lucky to have a great home!

  10. Hi Kate, I read your post with tears in my eyes. I lost my best pal when he was nine. Similar circumstances, very quickly, an accident in the field.
    We try to do the best we can for our horses and make decisions in the horses' best interests. We can only do our best and sometimes that's not enough. Having read your blog for a while now, I realise that all your horses are very lucky to have the best care possible. Sending hugs over the ether. x

  11. Oh Kate, you can't second guess your decision. As everyone states above, you did your best. Just as Promise did her best. I don't know what else to say except any of us who love another, whether beast or man, hurt forever.

    Hug all your other horses. Whisper 'Promise' to them.

  12. What a horse she was Kate! They all take a special place in our hearts but one so special as her leaves a lifelong mark.
    I'm rubbish at saying the right thing so I'll leave it there, thanks for sharing some of your treasured moments with us.

  13. She was beautiful. And like everyone else has said, don't second guess yourself. xx

  14. Such a tough thing to go through, I have had to go through it myself and it just breaks your heart. It seems so unfair that we are destined to outlive the amazing creatures that bring so much to our lives. I second everyone else's words of comfort and hope you can focus on the good memories you had with her. She sounds like a mare with a heart of gold.

  15. Heavens Kate, just heartbreaking for you even after several years. Every horse will teach us something no matter how short a time they're in our lives, treasure those good times with her.

    As everyone else has said, don't waver on the decision you made. As long as we do our best for them as they do for us, that's all our ponies ever need from us x

  16. Oh Kate...I am so, so sorry. What a horrific thing to have happen to such a magnificent animal. Your Promise was a true beauty - in her picture she looks so elegant and regal, and hearing you tell about her, I can tell that you loved her deeply. There just is no way that you could have possibly known that something like this was going to happen. You did what any of us would have done, you led your horse out for a little free time, and when tragedy did what you thought was the best thing at the time for her. I would have reacted exactly like you have done - felt remorse and guilt for something over which I ultimately had no control. Please forgive yourself and know that you loved her and provided for her in the best possible way you could have. I'm sure she knew that. I think horses always know, even when we don't.
    Rest in peace sweet Promise. Thank you for sharing your story with us. She really was a lovely mare.

  17. What a lovely horse, and how incredibly sad! I can only repeat what others have already said: remember the good and don't second-guess too much. Accidents can happen anytime; there's not always a reason.

    But I also understand. My first horse was also a sad story, and I still wonder if I made the right choices.

  18. Kate - I am so sorry about Promise. She is so lovely and your memories of her are too. I am here sobbing after reading your post. These unbelievable creatures are strong, yet more fragile than we realize. When something goes wrong, we think and re-hash and double think. Try to find comfort in the fact that you love horses and you always do what you think is the best for them. That's all we can do. Thanks for sharing your Promise with us. She shared her "doing nostrils" with you to make you and your daughters smile forever.

  19. She was really wonderful, and certainly had a loving family to the end.

    It does sound like there was little you could have done - that massive a break sounds like it was something that was coming, and it just happened on that day.

    May the memory of her spirit be the strongest balm to the wound left by her passing.

  20. Thank you Kate, for sharing such an amazing mare with us. Keep her with you in your heart, always!

  21. Kate, Promise sounds like she was a wonderful horse. What you went through is every horse owner's worst nightmare. I'm sorry for the loss, but I don't think you have anything to feel guilty for, particularly not taking her in for the x-rays. You tried to do what you could, and if you hadn't, you always would have wondered if she could have been saved.

  22. Oh, this story is really heartwrenching. I agree with what everyone else had to say, you didn't make a wrong decision anywhere along the way. What a freak accident. You would think with all the pounding that happens on a horse's skeletal system while jumping that it would have happened then if she was predisposed to it. Thank god no one was hurt. I am so sorry for your loss, my heart goes out to you.

  23. It is so tough to lose them when they are so young and full of life. We all question whether we did the right thing when we lose one so suddenly...but we have to remember we did what we thought was the right thing at the time and in the end, that's all that really matters.

    Thank you for sharing with us the love you had for Promise. She sounds like she was quite a mare and you are lucky to have such wonderful memories of her.

  24. What a story, thank you for sharing it. I think you made the right decisions. And you shouldn't feel like things could have turned out differently if this or that happened. Sounds like a lovely mare and you always looked out for her. Very pretty mare too.

  25. Kate,
    As very very difficult as that must have been to share this very personal story, thank you. I can strongly relate to the sadness being, you know, I'm fighting so hard right the horrific disease of laminitis. I wouldn't wish that on any horse.
    Your Promise was a dark beauty, wasn't she? Just gorgeous and what a lucky girl to have owners that loved her dearly to the end. I'm sure I would second guess my actions, etc as well, but try not to. Accidents happen. They are so fragile. Almost glass like. I think you did what action/decision you felt was the best at the time, and that was the best.
    I'm so sorry for your loss, and may November 18th remind you of what fond memories you had.

  26. My sister's horse, Spirit, was lame one day, checked by the vet and brought in for box rest. The next morning his leg was broken, in his stable. It sounds so similar and incomprehensible.My first ever post was 'Broken Spirit-Horse quotes to heal your heart", Dec. 08

  27. That must have been awful. She was so young, you'd never expect to lose her that soon. I know I have often second-guessed my decisions when it came to euthanasia. With my best dog, did I wait to long? With my daughter's first horse, did I do it too soon? And others... But in the end you know they're not in pain, and it's your sorrow, not theirs. They've moved on. Whatever you believe... If you believe they go somewhere, I don't think anyone believes a horse goes to a bad place after death. If they don't go anywhere, they're gone, it isn't bad.

    One thing I couldn't help thinking as I read was that it was a good thing it happened the way it did, rather than later, going over a jump with a rider on. Maybe - well, this is really a silly thought - but maybe she knew she needed to have that one last run and go at that time rather than later when a person would be at risk. Probably not. But I do think it was a good thing it happened the way it did. I'd like to say "Don't feel bad for turning her out that day, it was meant to be the way it was," but in reality those are just words, and you'll feel what you'll feel.

    But wasn't it worth the price of the ticket?

  28. Kate - Now that I have wiped the tears away, of sadness for your loss and from happiness from 'the nostrils' I know that Promise is galloping around up there somewhere with my Strides and Jackie. We wish they were still with us but we must be greatful for the time we get to share with them. Sometimes it is breif but oh so worth it. :o)

  29. This was a touching story--what a great horse to have had in your life. I've been there myself and understand the questions--the what ifs and if onlys. It seems as if "the end" rarely comes easy and without much soul-searching. Every time I go out and see one "off", my heart sinks. Sometimes we get horse miracles and sometimes horse tragedies, and much of it seems out of our hands.

  30. Crying here.....remembering sweet, handsome Rojo who also died because of a broken leg just a few months ago. Reading about Promise brought all of that back again and my heart is breaking for you. I'm so very sorry for your loss. Promise was a beautiful girl.


  31. Oh my sweet, that is heart wrenching and so sad...Promise mare was such a beauty and how you describe her makes my heart so happy for her to have you !
    There was such a bond between you two.
    My heart aches for you dear...they never do leave us, these wonderful horses..and they are romping, as we tearfully miss them..I am sure of it!


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