Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sudden Death

I got an alarming text last night as I was whisking my dad to his surprise birthday party (easier said than done, the man always sleuths out a surprise attempt.. ).  The text said that a horse had died out at the barn.
And it had died rather violently.

I'm thankful I wasn't there, but the basic report is that while bringing horses in, one of our (great) grooms had pulled a horse from a pasture and was closing the gate (to keep the second horse secure), when the horse in hand freaked out, reared, fell over backward and immediately started gushing blood from its nostrils.

Apparently there was nothing "out of the ordinary" that anyone around saw to spook the horse, and (thankfully), the gelding passed quite quickly after the fall.

However, when I arrived at the barn this morning, long after all the commotion ceased, the gravel was stained dark and the horses were decidedly still a bit... off.

***knock on wood***
I've never been around an unexpected death of a horse - and I really hope that I never am.  I remember reading in one of my social psych text books that civil war veterans often had a higher incidence of trauma over the recalled image of fallen horses, than that of their fallen comrades.  There's something mystically powerful about the notion and reality of a big, powerful horse, going down. 

My heart goes out to the owner, who - unfortunately lives on site and will have to gaze at that spot in the gravel drive on a daily basis.  So much heartbreak.

Of course I've run through the "what if that was my horse" scenario and thought process which ultimately ended up with extra carrots and kisses for my mare, but truly I can't help but wonder what the actual explanation behind the death is.  

Horses don't often fall over (unless a rider is doing their best to throw their balance), and it's even more rare for them to fall when unmounted, on footing with good traction no less..

it just. doesn't'. happen.

So what went on?

The quick death combined with the blood from the nose makes me wonder if something physical happened internally and that the horse's rear was a confusion/fear response from the odd sensation? Perhaps an aneurism, or a stroke?

Back in my Pony Club days I remember attending one event where a friend's horse seemingly plowed straight into a Preliminary level stone wall on cross country.  She was catapulted and the horse "died on impact" but a later necropsy showed that in point of fact the horse had suffered an aneurism, likely only a stride or two before the fence (hence a total lack of brakes/evasion/anything).

I was (thankfully) no where near the jump when it happened, but onlookers swore that it appeared as though her big, brave gelding just galloped full tilt into the wall.  Not exactly standard behavior, unless of course, he was physically breaking down in those last few moments and wasn't even able to stop his momentum to protect himself or his rider...

Ghastly for sure, but oddly reassuring for his traumatized owner to know that there was a fluke accident to blame rather than having to live with the thought that somehow she piloted her horse to his death.

It's hard for me to rule out a similar explanation for the poor chestnut who went down yesterday - but the rumor is that his owner is forgoing any necropsy or veterinary examination.  If it were my horse it would be incredibly difficult to say goodbye and never learn what trauma or injury led to such an untimely death - though I also acknowledge that all the diagnoses in the world won't bring her boy back.

Part of the joy of any relationship (be it pet or human) is the unpredictable path that it takes.  The unanticipated highs, the solace in the lows.  It's all part of the bond and the journey together.  But when anything plays out like it did yesterday, my heart breaks for the horse, the owner, and the groom involved at the time.

No one wants their story to end that way - and for that I will think fondly of the big red guy, his owner and be sure to hug my pony every damn day, even if she's stiff, or slow on her transitions or tunes me out.... both of the mares are still magical, wonderful creatures who I am lucky to spend my days with.



  1. So sorry to hear. We had a similar incident at our barn a few months ago. Completely unexpected, and one of the barn favorites. I had worked with the horse on occasion and found the best way to heal was spend time with my barn family and share our favorite memories of the horse - and of course, they'll be with you always in your heart.

  2. Poor guy. It does sound as though something like an aneurysm could be to blame.

    I was unfortunate enough to witness a similar death on cross-country as the one you described -- the horse, looking only a bit labored a few strides out, slithered over a skinny and crumpled on the landing side. The official ruling was a heart attack, and he was probably halfway gone before he even left the ground. It was rough to watch, but probably over much more quickly for him than it was for us.

    We do the best we can for them, but sometimes, we can't save them from the unexpected.

  3. So sorry to hear. What a scary thing to have happen. My heart goes out to the owner.

  4. Yep, classic aneurysm. I've known two that went like that... both were fine and had been ridden, both had riders on them at the time, doing nothing more than walking... and both out of absolutely nowhere freaked out, reared, fell over backwards, and bled out on top of their owners. Horrible stuff.

    1. Well that does sound mighty similar. My aunt suffered from one and the only reason she knew what was happening was incredible, blinding pain. I guess if I were a horse and felt that, I'd probably go up/away try to escape it...


  5. My heart goes out to your barn mate. As a vet student I've already unfortunately seen several horses die that way and it's horrifying. There might have been something happen to that poor horse to make it flip over, or perhaps it got stung/bit by a bee or something that made him rear up (that was the case in one of the horses I saw), but either way, at least he passed relatively quickly and hopefully wasn't aware of what was going on at that point.

    Give P1 & P2 an extra hug from me.

  6. Wow, heartbreaking.... I would go with the aneurysm explanation probably... a lot of horses rear and flips backwards but don't hit their heads hard enough to die, so my guess is it was the aneurysm that killed him. Me personally, I would have had a necropsy done (if I could afford it). I couldn't imagine not knowing for sure why it happened. :( I'm so sorry for the owner (hoping she didn't witness it....). Giving my ponies extra hugs and apples tonight too.


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