This won’t be a literary masterpiece as I have just sat down and got the words out as they flow, so apologies for my lack of proofing!
The reason that I have written about this, is that a lot of you who follow me on social media will know Pig, she featured in my Instagram short stories most days. I would have so many reactions to her stories and questions about her that I thought that I would write about our time together.
On Friday 27th September 2019 I had to face something that I had dreaded for years, I had to say goodbye to my beautiful girl Pig. I don’t want to just share the memories of the day we said goodbye I want to share more of our journey, so here we go...
I was 16 when Pig came into my life on 16th April 1997, she was 6. My parents had bought her for me as they had seen how ‘brave’ I was when my pony on part loan ‘Cherry’ was retired by her owners from the riding school I went to. I didn’t feel brave at all when Cherry went, I remember getting the phone call from my riding instructor saying that Cherry’s owner wanted her back, and cycling to the yard as fast as I could in floods of tears, I was absolutely gutted. I honestly hadn’t felt pain like it before. My parents offered to buy Cherry, but her owners wanted her to go to a retirement sanctuary where all their other ponies had gone. Time passed and I still felt so lost without Cherry, even though I had offers from friends to help with their horses, it just wasn’t the same. A while after, my parents kindly offered to buy me my own horse, which was a welcomed distraction.
The ‘white & chestnut mare’
I remember to this day walking into the office at the yard and seeing a note which read ‘white & chestnut mare’ with a phone number on it. My instructor had spoken to a couple who were local small time dealers and who had a horse that might suit me, at first when I read the note I thought it was to view 1 grey and 1 chestnut mare, but no it was 1 skewbald mare called ‘Cara’. The first time I saw ‘Cara’ (later known as Pig) was in a stable at their yard in Rowlands Castle, she wasn’t ‘underweight’ but she was much finer than the usual riding school cobs I was used to. I took Cara out on a hack with the husband of the couple, I followed behind him riding around the quiet roads. One of the things that really stuck in my mind from the first time I rode Pig was her trot, I remember how straight and rhythmic her tempo was, again not like the usual lazy riding school cobs I was used to.
The next time I rode her was at my riding stables, I watched the husband riding her in the school and remember the wife telling me how clever Cara was because ‘even if she picked up the wrong leg of canter, she would correct herself’ - she didn’t, she changed her leading leg but not her back legs so would end up in a disunited canter, she was unbalanced in the school and pretty green for a 6 year old, but it was ok, I really liked her nature and willingness.
On 16th April 1997, ‘Cara’ was vetted and we bought her.
When we returned from the bank and after everyone had left I remember standing with Cara in the stable and feeling very mixed emotions. I looked at Cara and felt so weird that she was mine, not just on loan but actually mine and yet I didn’t have many feelings for her. Whereas Cherry was only ever mine on part loan and the feeling I had for her ran so very deep. I hoped that I wouldn’t always feel this way.
‘Pig’ the early days
As time moved on Cara and I slowly bonded and I renamed her Pig (because of her silky muzzle..aka chops, then pork chops, then Pig chops, then just Pig - oh and she liked her food, so it all made total sense!).
I was so close to being ‘over horsed’ with her, she was sharp, safe - but knew her own mind and sharp! It took years to be able to put my leg on without her speeding off and even more years after that to get her to move off the leg. She taught me so much and helped me develop a love for ‘proper’ riding and schooling, It wasn’t uncommon that my friends and I would ride our ponies bareback…facing the wrong way…while jumping!
Pigs forte was endurance and jumping, her natural stamina was unbelievable, she was so bold, she would tackle any colour or shape fence without a thought. We did a little low level eventing and jumping which she loved but I felt that she needed to get her ground work better, so always came back to schooling and dressage much to her annoyance! I am sure that she would have loved to have been at an eventing yard who could have taken her further.
Occasionally I would have (healthy/sane) ‘F**k-it!’ days, where I’d just wake up and have the urge to do things I usually wouldn’t and Pig was always up for those days! We’d jump picnic benches and set up some crazy jumping combos in the school, she loved it and would really come alive!
As time passed our bond developed, there were the occasional days that I’d go home and moan to my husband (then boyfriend) about how she had been stubborn or awkward in a schooling session which would leave me feeling so frustrated! But that was the learning curve, she taught me to stay calm, move on to an easier movement and end on a good note, then face whatever we were in loggerheads about next time with fresh minds!
The main thing that made our bond so strong was that I knew I could always depend on her, there were numerous times I remember being in a bit of a situation and she knew how to handle things.
She also had a sense of humour, I remember going to catch her in from the field when she was a teenager and she started walking off, I could tell that she wasn’t being naughty, she had obviously seen another horse being a sod to catch and thought she’d see what the fuss was about. I remember humouring her and chasing her around the field as she had her ears pricked thinking it was a great game for about 15 minutes, then I simply said to her ‘right Pig that’s enough of that game, lets go’ and she just walked up to me and I put her head collar on.
On 6th October 2016 Pig was diagnosed with Cushings, I noticed that she seemed a little ‘footy’ (which now I know was a bout of very mild laminitis) and thought she had bruised her sole, then she became really withdrawn and her energy levels dropped off, in the space of a week she had dramatically changed so I got her tested for Cushings. When I got the results back confirming that Pig had Cushings I was relieved! I was so worried about the changes in her and just wanted to know how to fix it, I knew if it wasn’t Cushings I’d have to spend time looking in to what else it could be and didn’t want to leave her feeling so bad, while I tried to find an answer. I had looked into the treatment for Cushings while her bloods were being tested, I researched in to the best way to manage a horse with Cushings and decided to start her on Prascend. I joined the Facebook Cushings group and found that while Prascend seemed to be a miracle pill for many it had drawbacks - mainly it seemed with getting horses to eat the pill! We were so lucky, Pig ate the pill out of my hand and the improvement in her was amazing.
Accepting she wouldn’t always be there.
When Pig was diagnosed with Cushings I decided to start drumming it into myself that one day Pig would’t be around. As Pig got older even before the Cushings I dreaded to think about how I would cope with having to say goodbye and worried about how the end would come. I knew that above all I wanted quality of life for her, I wasn’t going to keep her for my sake or try to reach another milestone. As long as she was relatively pain free (as lets face it very few people are totally pain free) and enjoying life, that was good enough for me!
One of the symptoms of Cushings is that the ligaments and muscles can relax and stretch, I noticed that pretty soon after starting her medication her shape began to change, she looked a lot more thoroughbred/mare-ish. Pig had had 2 foals before I bought her, so I think that didn’t help in terms of her muscles being weak perhaps from when she was pregnant.
When Pig was younger I would sometimes ride her bareback, I found that she preferred it, her saddle fitted her fine but I don’t think she liked the girth being tight around her, she never pulled faces when having the girth tightened but I just think she liked the freedom of not having it, like when she didn’t like my leg on in the early days of schooling. Being able to ride her bareback proved useful as when her back started to dip I could still keep her supple, she had started to develop mild arthritis in her knees so keeping her limber and being able to do lateral work really helped.
In October last year I remember picking up canter on the left rein and feeling like I was a beginner, bouncing all over the place and feeling like I was about to fall off! I brought her back to trot and tried cantering on the right rein, which seemed ok. I tired again on the left and it was a no no, again, I felt like I was going to fall off! She wasn’t disunited or on the wrong leg, I got off straight away. A few days later I decided to lunge her and I could see that she wasn’t tracking up great and it looked like her back hooves weren’t falling were her front hooves had been. From then I decided that was it, she would be fully retired, I had only kept her in light work for her mental and physical health and if that was now putting a strain on her changing frame then we would stop. Pig was happy for the time she was retired, she enjoyed her life and routine and was relatively pain free, enough so to have good quality of life.
I think that caring for the elderly be it animals or people can really put things into perspective. Very few people live pain free, lots of people have aches and pains, but they still have quality of life. I knew Pig would have aches and pains, so she was on 1 bute a day in the summer when the ground was hard to help with the arthritis in her knees, she would trot over to me with a more nodding head than other days but I could see in her expression she was happy.
The last few months I had noticed Pigs frame worsening. Pig wasn’t insured for the past 3 years as I felt there was no point, veteran plans were so restricting and I figured we could find the money for anything I felt it would be humane to put her through, so cuts and bumps (which I know can easily run into several thousand) we could have found the money. Surgery on the other hand - no, I wouldn’t have put her through it. And, that was it, I told myself I would not put her through any unnecessary suffering to make me feel better, to make me feel like I had ‘tried everything’ - at her expense. I am not against surgery or invasive procedures but you have to weigh it up, Pig was 28.
I knew Pig was starting to deteriorate in her body, she was starting to stand differently. On Tuesday 24th September 2019 I noticed she was lame on her front leg, it wasn’t just stiffness. I double buted her in the morning and then checked on her before the school run, the bute had not helped at all. One of my friends got down the yard to do her horse and I just burst into tears, I felt like an idiot, she wasn’t even that lame, but I knew she wouldn’t be with me for much longer whether it was this lameness that was going to get worse, or something else.
I had had a feeling that the time was coming, and it wasn’t that I was just going to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble, but I had promised myself that she would not suffer, if I felt things weren't looking good. I messaged my friend, the yard manager about getting together Pig’s ‘exit plan’, like a ‘birth plan’ I wanted to write down ideally how I would want her to go, I knew I wouldn’t be able to call the vet when the time came, or the people who would come and take her away. I had spoken to my friend before about whether she would be able to be with Pig, as I didn’t think I would be able to.
By Wednesday morning, Pig’s lameness had totally gone, I felt so relieved but still had a bad feeling. I stood in the field watching her eat her hay and noticed that she was standing worse than ever on her back legs, she was standing with her legs crossed over and one hoof really far forward, I knew it was the rotation of her pelvis that would be causing the problem which was a result of her dipped back. her back end was slowly swaying from side to side ever so slightly and I noticed that she had to keep readjusting her back legs to compensate the weight shift. I knew this was bad but all the time she was happy, enjoying life and had good enough control of her legs then that was good enough reason to let her carry on enjoying life.
When it got too much
I kept an eye on Pigs back legs and balance, which didn’t seem to be getting much worse. On Friday morning there were really heavy showers so she had her breakfast in her stable. She came in happy and jogging! Again, I watched as she gently shuffled her back legs while eating her hay, I felt really uneasy about how she was moving. I knew there would be no point in calling her vet, the problems she was having was due to issues that wouldn’t be able to be resolved, she was showing no sign of pain or distress and was actually very bright and happy in herself.
During the day I called my husband and said I didn’t think she would be with us for much longer. I went down earlier than usual to check on her as I had a really bad feeling. When I walked up to Pig in the field she turned to greet me with her ears pricked and the little happy noise she makes. To my horror as she turned her back end almost toppled over, luckily I was close enough to her to reach out and push against her hip quickly to help support her.
That was it, the time had come.
My friends were all more than amazing and I will never forget what they did for Pig and I. I can honestly say that Pig went out on a high. The vet said that despite how badly Pig’s walk looked she wouldn’t be feeling any pain, which I could well believe as Pig looked oblivious to the fact that her back legs weren't working properly. She was relaxed walking around and grazing. I had noticed mud on her cheek, so I can only imagine that during the day she had had a roll and made the issues with her back legs much worse.
I was understandably very upset but I just went into auto pilot and did what I needed to do for Pig, it may sound odd but I didn’t really comprehend fully at the time that by doing this I would be losing her. A lot of the key people were with her at the end, my friend Jo, who had been my instructor since I was 8 and was the person who came to view Pig with me. My friend and yard manager Allison who has always been so amazing and so supportive of Pig and I, and who also sadly lost her mare in July to similar circumstances. And, my friend Anni, who I share a barn with and who also has a veteran.
I was there to give Pig the biggest hug and kisses before, and after, and I can say that she had the best send off possible.
I would have paid anything to stop time, I would have lived the rest of my life with Pig in a heartbeat. She was such a special girl to not only me but a lot of people.
For 21 years she was part of our family and we were her little herd, and I honestly only feel joy and love that we got to spend those years together. I don’t regret a thing, I loved her and cherished her every day and I just feel lucky that I met and could call the ‘white & chestnut mare’ mine.