Today I’m writing just before my Victor goes in search of his lost Sunny. Yes, he’s still standing in the paddock, head down, dozing until he trudges laboriously back to his stall and dinner. He’ll get extra carrots tonight. I soaked his foot a few days ago (that had an abscess that’s not closing and healing well), and wrapped it with such difficulty - my poor boy can’t bend that knee and stand on his other three unsteady pins to let me do a decent job. But I wanted his foot a little more comfortable, on these, his last nights.
My dear little grumpy Victor has been with me for 10 years now, and I don’t know how I can do what I have to do. I’ve come to believe that he’s patiently "doing his job", struggling out every morning, struggling back every night, while he waits for me to fulfill my promise to him. A while ago, seeing how he was declining again, I spoke with him. What I wanted, you know, was a sign. I wanted him to tell me he’d be ok with it, if I ended the whole ordeal. I told him I could do it if he let me know he was ready - and he stopped eating long enough to turn his head and look directly at me. Was he saying "hay, glad you finally figured it out!" ? I think, now, 10 days later, that he was. And he’s been kindly, patiently waiting for me to get to it. So let me remember my boy again, for you.
Victor was a little guy, a pale Chestnut with wavy mane and tail hair. This is Victor a few months after he came to TGC, standing with his first love, Malika.
Victor’s people contacted me about him, and after some back and forth, I went to get him. I could see right away he had a bum knee, and his front feet were badly shod (one with a lot of heel, the other with none!). The young girl who was riding him was jumping him. He kept making the jumps, but was starting to buck on landing so, he had to go. Never mind that they didn’t know enough to get him properly shod, it was HIS fault for not fitting their needs.
Victor, to my eye and experience, was a cowboy’s horse. He was perfect under saddle, patient, perfect manners on the ground in every situation. His real name was Victory Chick. But these folks were calling him Cody and jumping him. I’m sure he felt like a fish out of water. When I got him home, I called his name - Hay Victor! - and his head came right up. Yeah, NOW someone gets it!
Once his feet were properly trimmed, he never wore shoes again and gave many a ride to visitors to TGC. He was only 22 when he came in, after all. A little arthritic; a slightly bum knee; a grumpy distant manner unless he was working.
Those overworked quarterhorses kinda shut down emotionally a little - they rest when they can and wait for the next call to duty. And then they give it their all, as he did. I don’t know anything about his history before that last home. His first 20 years are a mystery. He was trained well, and never forgot his training. His broken down joints say he was worked hard. And I’m betting he took pride in his job.
But this fine boy ended up in the hands of horse newbies who couldn’t be bothered to learn what they needed to know to help him please them in ways that I’m sure were a surprise to him (I mean, cow ponies RESPECT fences, they don’t jump them!). But he still tried. And it wasn’t enough.
Look him in these pictures. So kind with little kids who know nothing about horses. He was tolerant and NEVER acted up, no matter what. Even my volunteers loved him and worked on his icky skin with a good will. And he really LOVED his baths.
In his time here, Victor had many friend. First, Malika. When she passed, Sunny, and her two followers Shine and Spencer. But he played with Remy, hung with Jeeps and Queenie. He was easy going but tough enough to respect.
Here, other than an occasional ride in the round pen, he didn’t have to deal with people much. And with horses, he was a protector. He took Malika under his wing at first, and when she passed, he moved to Sunny’s side, and never left it until she passed a few months ago.
Since then he’s stood alone, but I believe more from being sad and tired and not from disinterest in the other horses. He comes out of his stall every day and stands smack dab in the middle of the herd. He is alone, but not lonely. However, ever since Sunny’s death, while he’s holding on and determinedly doing everything everyday that he’d done for years, I can see how much of a struggle it is for Victor.
He has two popped knees, making it difficult for him to bend his legs and lift his feet for the farrier and I, and collapsed pasterns in the rear which make it hard for him to get up when he lays down, which he does more and more often. He’s been cast, and had enough trouble getting up on his own a few times that he’s damaged fencing and hurt himself. He’s getting sores on his hip and stifle areas, from laying down for too long, and those sores are healing more and more slowly. Cushings has also caused really bad skin problems that started healing when he went on pergolide, but are getting worse again as I believe now, with so many teeth gone, that he is simply unable to take in enough calories to heal. I’ve tried mush; only senior feed; small pellets. But Victor was always particular about how things should be. Mush is NOT acceptable at any level. Senior feed is nice, but he only likes the kind that is half grain, and isn’t thriving on it. He seems to hate rice bran. And he doesn’t seem to like the grass pellets, and can’t seem to take enough of the harder, alfalfa pellets in. I think like Duke he’s falling asleep in his feed. Geezus, what does it take for me to act?
Look at this face. Could you? I see this face every day. He never stays behind. When he’s down, he keeps trying to get up. Does he do it from a good boy’s sense of duty? I’m afraid that’s it. And since I’m not Dr. Doolittle, I can’t tell him it’s ok, he doesn’t have to anymore. It’s time for ME to fulfill my duty. Anyone who knows horses will understand why I do this difficult work. But the sweet nature, kind willingness to do whatever I want, courage and grace they all display also makes this the most horrible job I’ve ever had..
Even more distressing is the list of calls and emails I have of other Victors looking for a safe resting place. Am I making this decision for Victor to "make room"?? Don’t think I haven’t worried about that. But those of you who have supported TGC for a while know that I’ve been watching Victor for some time. He’s been in the top 2-3 horses I expected to lose anytime for almost two years. Right after Sunny left, I was sure he would give up. It’s a tribute to his strength and determination that he’s still here... still trying to do his job.
Finally, yesterday Victor was reluctant to leave his stall, although of course he did when I asked, and had left more than half of his dinner. I told him last night that today would be the day and he nodded. "About time!" This morning, he barely pretended to lip up a little of his favorite senior feed. So, I let him go. After 22 years of hard work, he had 10 years of golden carrots, and now, he’s due for some retirement in heaven, running healthy and sound with Sunny and Malika again. But I send him on with all my love and regret, and appreciation for the terrific guy that he was.... Another little guy who will leave a huge hole in my heart...