I looked down at his massive head buried in my chest and shuddered. He radiated pain with every fetid exhalation. What unkind quirk of evolution would doom a majestic creature to suffer so unbearably from abdominal pain? Approximately ten percent of horses will colic each year and symptoms will vary from mild to acute, with the prognosis progressing from recovery with help, to surgery or death.
Woody loved the pond. He would spend hours in there each day, splashing away and snorting his pleasure. A large standardbred, he had flunked harness racing 101 and was doomed to face the final trip across the border to a slaughter plant. I’d gotten him and a few others from out of the kill pens and had them transported down here. Woody was a gentle soul enraptured by a mare who rode the same truck down here. Val tolerated his following her around although she was quick to set the boundaries. He was allowed to trot alongside her and could eat in the next stall but was never to expect her to join him in the water games. He shared his pond with the mules and some of the appaloosas. None of the other standardbreds ever went in there to play.
The week after I returned home with Glass I woke to a three a.m. mule distress bugle outside my bedroom window. There are three fences between the herd’s night pasture and the house but they are no more than a hop away for a mammoth draft mule. Jack had come to get me and his tones told me I was needed right now. I shrugged into some clothes and went outside. Jack proceeded to hurry me to the back field, huffing his impatience as I had to clamber through the fences he elegantly popped over. I peered through the darkness ahead trying to see what had Jack so agitated. I heard Woody before I saw him. He was in the cove of trees and the thud of his hooves hitting tree trunks as he struck forward punctuated the night. I called his name and he thundered toward me. He slid to a stop and buried his face against me as he cried from the pain consuming him.
Jack escorted us back to the yard, waited as Woody and I transversed the gates then stood and voiced encouragement to us as I checked Woody’s vital signs. A shot of painkiller and call to the vet’s emergency line slowed our load into trailer and trip down the road by mere moments. I thought I heard Val scream as we drove off and rounded the bend to see the whole herd plastered against the fence at the end of the property calling their get well wishes to Woody. Val was closest to the fence with Jack lending her his massive side to lean against. Sup, another standardbred, was on her other side. “She will be kept safe by the others” I thought as the night wrapped around them obscuring their forms and finally fading their sounds.
My vet is a man with a heart that must extend into the fourth dimension, it is surely too large to fit in his chest. He battled the pain with all his skill and Woody and I fought to stay together this side of the final curtain. Eleven hours and a failed surgery consult later Woody told me it was time. He was so weary as he laid down and the blessed oblivion flowed into him through that last set of shots. I held his head and whispered love to him as he slipped away to dance with the others that had gone before him. I could barely see my vet’s tears through my own but felt them drop to join mine on Woody’s head.
Pulling into the driveway at home with an empty trailer was hard. Staring at the waiting herd, unbearable. I went out into the field to tell them and they quietly sniffed the air around me and knew. I was patting them and trying to assuage their loss when I noticed Jack, Val, and Sup turn from the comfort of the others and head to the front pasture heads down. I followed and then stopped in disbelief. Jack headed into the pond Woody loved so and turned to call the others. Val, and Sup walked in and stood next to Jack. All three pawed the water once then looked up and tracked something that passed by them unseen by my tear filled eyes. I choked up as they called welcoming nickers and then peered into the sky and sang my own heart song. My eyes never did see but my heart knew. Woody detoured through here on his trip towards tomorrow and eased our pain with his gesture. May the grass be sweet and the water run clear and there be a pond just for him up there.