BEST FRIENDS, FOREVER
Today, July 25, 2011, Debbie and Mary left the Golden Carrot. As they spent every minute here, they left together. I hope I can convey to you the story of this wonderful friendship between a little quarterhorse mare whose history is largely a mystery to me, and the dainty but tough Thoroughbred mare who loved and protected her.
Mary came to TGC in 2002 and was immediately friends with Inch. Her shining characteristic for her years here was her steadfast loyalty to her friends, and I believe her decline this year was directly attributable to the loss of Inch in November of last year.
Debbie came to TGC in 2004 and for a short time was taken care of by Orion. But when he passed away in November of 2004, Mary stepped up, and from that day forward, the two were never separated. I called them the Snippet Sisters, because they had such similar markings on their faces, including a little snippet of white on their noses.
Other than that marking, these two mares had little in common. Debbie was probably 10 years older than Mary. One was a quarterhorse, the other a thoroughbred (possibly Arab cross). One chestnut, one bay. One mare with extreme sex appeal (when she came in, we joked about "Debbie does Dallas"!), and one who was clearly irritated and embarrassed each year when she came into season and the boys started hanging around! One tired after years of a ranch horse’s life, the other whose history includes some endurance and show experience.
People who know me know that I consider friendship to be the most important of relationships. It is the one we choose. We choose our friends, and they choose us. We ‘get’ our friends, and they ‘get’ us, so we know the best and worst of one another, and love each other anyway. And there are so many stories of friendships that transcend gender, upbringing, social restrictions - it’s a powerful force.
My girls, Debbie and Mary, were friends, deep and true. There was a component of protection - Mary was always there to keep the herd from jostling the weaker Debbie. But Debbie steadied Mary, and gave her purpose. They were friends, bolstering one another’s weaknesses, to be stronger as two than they would be alone.
Debbie was always perfectly behaved. You could catch her, but you only had a chance at catching Mary if you had Debbie first. Debbie had clearly arthritic limbs, but always lifted her feet and held them up as long as necessary for the farrier. Sometimes I would tell him to put her foot down for minute as I could hear her breathing and see the tension as she struggled to hold it up. Mary was smarter - she would lift her feet, but when it hurt, she put them down! And then pick them right up again. For the first few years, we used Debbie for some child riding lessons, and she was perfect. Mary was more an intermediate ride, with lots of go. I might have ridden her despite her small size, but with those knees, I wasn’t willing to put an adult’s weight on her. So except for one quick ride with her sponsor a few months after she came here, Mary never worked.
Mary's last ride with Sarah.
Debbie LOVED to have a bath, but often did without because while she would inch closer to the bathing area, hoping, Mary would turn and thunder off if the hose turned in her direction. Sighing, Debbie would follow. Yes, I would catch her and bring her over for a bath, while Mary circled and suffered a long-distance hosing. Debbie was clearly grateful for her blanket in cold weather, but no matter how cold it was, Mary would stamp and snap when blanketed. They were both lovely about getting their wormer. But Mary, who so needed it, was fussy beyond belief about any pain medication. She would look at me with furious squinted eyes if I pasted bute down her throat, but if I put it in her food, she wouldn’t eat! And those collapsed hind pasterns, and those popped knees, clearly caused her pain. She also ‘endured’ massage, and fidgeted about having the fungus on her butt treated. Debbie just stood, patient and still, for any kind of treatment, and seemed confused at the massage. How different could they be? And yet, like Thelma and Louise, they ‘got’ each other. They were friends.
Last November, Inch died. Deb and Mary were by her side to the end. Inch had been the third Musketeer - and friend and protector of Mary. The friendship between Mary and Inch was one of equals, with a little bit of Inch protecting Mary. The friendship between Mary and Deb was equals, with Mary protecting Deb. So when Inch died, Mary was grief stricken, and stressed because now she had the sole responsibility to care for Deb, and I wonder if she felt no one had her back. Because from the day of Inch’s passing, Mary began to decline. She became horribly fussy about her food. She would eat for a day or two, and then leave half her meals. Every time I offered something different, she would eat for a day or two, and then go off again. I did the usual check of vitals; had the vet look at her teeth in case something was loose or in need of floating; and wondered if the miserably cold long winter we were bearing was too much for her. I blanketed her more (much more than SHE wanted me to) but nothing seemed to help. I began to believe she was only still with us because she took her responsibility for Debbie very seriously, and knew that Deb needed her. As early as April of this year I was already wondering if I needed to step in, but wanted to see if she might perk up with warmer weather. That never did happen.
And in May, Debbie suddenly began to fail. Flesh was falling off her before my eyes, despite her eating everything I gave her. I increased her ration, to no avail. She was taking in food and water, but it was doing her no real good. And my dilemma began.
My concern was that while, with her advanced age and failing condition, it was clear I would need to help Debbie onward before the end of summer, I wasn’t sure about Mary’s physical condition. But what I knew for certain was that losing Debbie would be brutal for Mary, emotionally. I waffled back and forth, afraid I was prolonging Debbie’s agony because I wasn’t sure Mary was ready to go, despite her continuing slower weight loss. I was helped out by new gelding Spencer, who became seriously attached to Debbie.
They are so much thinner here, on their last night at TGC.
Spencer’s attachment told me two things. One, that Debbie WAS as frail as I thought - he was clearly trying to protect her. But in his bumbling efforts, he was separating her from Mary, who hung as close as she could, depressed, eyes on Debbie. Seeing how distraught she was just to have someone standing between her and Debbie, I knew she would not be able to handle Debbie’s death. Losing her two best friends in 6 months? When she was already so poor that I would not consider letting her face another winter here anyway? No.
So today, I took on my most reluctant role, that of Mother Nature’s wolf pack. The pack took down the two oldest and weakest members of our herd, together, seconds apart. I also believe in the spirit that animates each of us, and I hope the girls’ spirits joined and ran blithely off, free of the burden of their flesh at last. Spencer, Beau and I, and their sponsors Sarah and Daria, will miss them, but they are still together....and I think that’s all they needed.