Animals

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I had to put my horse down yesterday. It has been a hard couple of weeks, and I am a cauldron of conflicting emotions right now. My horse—her name is Emmy—has been a huge part of my life for almost twenty years. I’ve had her since she was six and I was eleven, and in many ways she shaped the human being I am today. It is, both literally and figuratively, a bigger deal than a dog or a cat dying—which as any pet-owner will tell you, is more like losing a family member than a mere animal.

I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. I took a few lessons when I was four, but as my family lived in the Bay Area at the time, actually owning a horse was impossible. Then we moved to the country. This was in 1993, and I am told I would wander around singing “Somewhere out there, a horse is waiting for me…” to the tune from the American Tail song.

At that time, on the other side of the continent, a little sorrel filly came into the world. Half Quarter Horse, half Appaloosa, she was registered as the latter under the name Empress of King and eventually shipped off to the World Show in Texas. There she was purchased by the woman who had, by that time, become my riding instructor. Three years later, when she went up for sale, my childhood dream came true, and I became the owner of a very real, very opinionated horse. We have been together ever since. Until now.

Now it is sixteen years later, and for the first time in my adult life I am facing a world without Emmy in it.

It is always difficult when someone you love dies. With horses there is the particular difficulty of when to call it a day and have them euthanized. There are a lot of reasons to do this, ranging from the coldly practical (one cannot afford the treatment necessary for their continued survival) to the pragmatic (the horse is terminally ill and will die a slow and painful death otherwise). Nothing is easy and everything hurts, and even though I’d seen other horses die, even though I’d watched other horse owners go through this, Emmy was my first and only, and the experience was a new and frightening one.

But not unexpected. Over the course of her respectable life Emmy has pulled numerous stunts that left me sick and shaking and wondering if This Was It. Whether it was the chronic lameness that affected her left forefoot (the result of an injury sustained from show jumping and the reason she got to spend the last thirteen years of her life as a rambling trail horse) or one of her recurrent bouts of sand colic could have easily culminated in that last critical visit to the vet. They gave me the opportunity to think about the inevitable end, and consider of the few options that were within my control, what I would want to do.

Knowing what you want to do is different from actually doing it, however. The doing is harder. And it was a bittersweet consolation that nothing that I could do something about actually got her. It wasn’t her problematic feet or testy gut that proved her downfall, but that unavoidable killer: a Sudden and Unexpected Cancer.

What began as a mysterious infection that defied diagnosis was eventually identified, after a biopsy, as cancer. When the word came, Emmy was already on serious painkillers and steroids, and it was mostly a confirmation of what we already suspected. We had known something was wrong since late April, but by the time we had the diagnosis it was clear she didn’t have much time left. Which stung, because she was still very much Alive and spirited and full of the Emmyness that made her such a difficult horse for some people—and the perfect horse for me.

It is a particular kind of horror to see the end approaching. At the same time it gave me the chance to get a jump start on the grieving process, and it helped that the person I was grieving was still around to nicker at me and blow snot on my shirt.

It came in waves. One moment I would be fine—the next a fountain. It hurt, but in that sharp, pure way—like cleaning a wound. The weekend after we got the word I went house-sitting for someone with an outdoors bed. It was a strange kind of comfort, getting to sleep under the stars and step, for a while, out of my own life.

I spent more time with Emmy during the last week of her life than I had since we were showing. Even in the country I was obliged to board her, and lately my creative work has impacted my time such that I could only ride her once a week. At the end, however, she needed medication twice a day, and lots of help keeping cool in our California summer weather. The eleven-year-old me would have whined incessantly and thrown fits over the amount of work involved. The twenty-seven-year-old me was downright thrilled to have the excuse to see so much of Emmy.

It felt like coasting. Like the completion of some long, arduous project. Caring for a horse takes a lot out of a person, and it’s not uncommon for horses to be sold once the glamour wears off, or to be outright abandoned. Even if I hadn’t loved Emmy with all my heart I wouldn’t have done that to her. I was determined to be the best owner I could be, no matter how much it hurt or how early I had to get up or how unpleasant it was to force-feed her banamine paste. I cleaned stalls for lunch money for ten years and grew to resent it. Cleaning Emmy’s stall felt like a privilege. For all I was heartbroken that This really Was It, it came with its own strange sense of achievement. I had made it, in a way that many people didn’t. I hadn’t lost interest or given up or run away. I was still here, with my horse, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

If there can be an advantage to death by cancer, it is that it does give you at least a little grace period to say good-bye. To do the things that need to be done; to prepare. Strangely, as far as me and Emmy were concerned, there was nothing left to do. We had ridden the trails. We had jumped the jumps. Swum the rivers. Pictures had been taken and carrots had been eaten. We had been doing all the things we wanted to do for the last decade, and I could say with complete confidence that I had no regrets—save that the end had come rather sooner than I would have liked.

There were practical considerations to be taken into account: two things I had decided long ago: that if Emmy was to be euthanized, I was to be there, and that her body would not be burned or buried, but studied. Luckily my vet was more than happy to arrange both things, but it was still an added burden on top of everything else.

It made me feel sick to my stomach to think of taking Emmy (still so bright-eyed and perky) to what was essentially an early death. Even after she began to visibly decline it was hard. I have seen animals who are ready to go—they get a dull look in their eyes which tells you they are not so much going quietly into that good night, but crawling desperately toward it. Emmy never looked like that, which in a way was a good thing. The whole point of euthanasia is to prevent needless suffering, and it wasn’t as if she was in any way healthy. The only thing keeping her head up at that point was a lot of medicine that, in the last days, she absolutely hated.

It felt like going up against a cheese grater. Everything I had done as a horse owner up until that point had been with the aim of helping her get and stay better. To turn around and say “this is enough, it’s time to end,” felt like pushing my face into a torrent of ice-cold water. It was All Wrong.

It is one thing to know what you have to do; it is another thing to do it.

What I did was realize that my role was no longer that of her owner. I was now her psychopomp; her ferryman; her escort out of this world. Thinking of it like that allowed me to keep myself together long enough to fulfill my final responsibility.

We walked down to the gates of Tartarus together and I let her go on the banks of the Styx. I handed her off to a death that came softly, on a bright summer morning, before the air grew oppressively hot and while the birds still sang.

Death brings a lot of nevers. Never again will we gallop over the hills, weaving perilously between trees. Never will I crack my head open on said trees or take a fall. Never again will I greet her in the morning with a fresh flake of hay. Never again will I be interrupted from a peaceful evening with word that my horse is convulsing on the ground, and I must get over to the ranch immediately. I will never wash her tail again. I will never be struck in the eye with said tail. Never will I see her running, for she has fallen: I watched her go. Never again will I see her fall: for she is over, her fire extinguished.

She carried me, but in many ways she was also a burden, and one I was not always happy to bear. Now she is gone I miss the weight, and I find myself floating free and lonely, cut loose from my anchor.

Somewhere out there perhaps there is another horse—probably a mare—who is a little too temperamental, a little too opinionated, who likes things her own way and has a tendency to buck. Maybe, one day, we shall find each other, and begin the journey again.

But she will have to wait a while longer.

For now, I am finished here.

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This is a (very short) story I wrote one Sunday evening in September of 2012. As it is too short to publish on its own, and I do not have enough material for an anthology (yet), I thought I would share it here. Considering it is the Halloween season, this strikes me as appropriate. Enjoy.

—GO

DEATH AND THE CAT

There is a saying that a cat has nine lives. This is not entirely true: no cat has nine lives, but some cats do have nine deaths. That is to say, a cat must die eight times before the final one sticks.

It wasn’t always this way. In the early days all cats had only one death apiece, like all other creatures did, and when Death came for a cat it would go quietly—they were never frightened, for cats have always been able to see Death, and are quite used to him.

This is the story of how things changed.

Death was bored. Because there are only so many ways a creature can die, the interesting parts were the circumstances leading up to the moment of death, but since that stuff happened while the creature was still alive Death didn’t have much to do with it. And when you consider just how long there have been things living and dying and living and dying, and when you consider how even much longer there have been things living and dying in an abstract way—for Death also oversees the death of planets, meteorites, stars and galaxies—you can understand that sometimes Death felt like he was just killing time until the Big One when the universe itself died and then maybe—maybe—he could have a nice metaphorical cup of tea and put his metaphorical feet up for a bit before the next big bang started the process all over again.

Point is: that is a lot of time. A lot of time to do the same bloody thing over and over again.

So Death was bored, and on his way from a public execution to a mudslide he stopped to see about the death of a tree that had been chopped down. But trees, bless them, have a way of hanging on by their roots when everything else is gone, and Death found to his surprise that he wasn’t needed after all. And finding himself in no great hurry he sat down on the freshly cut stump and listened to the wind whistle through his body. He did not see the other trees, growing, thriving, living, nor did he hear the songs of birds, or the little scuttle of insects across his bones. To Death the world was one big waiting game, and there was only one thing to do in the meantime.

“Mrrr.” said a voice from around his knees.

Death looked down.

“Mrrr-owwwow,” said Cat, rubbing up against Death’s bony knees and purring loudly.

I do not understand, said Death. It is not your time. What do you wish me to do?

“Mrroow,” said Cat, and nudged Death’s shin with her head.

And such was the universal language of cats that Death understood to bend over and stroke Cat along her back with his bony hand. Cat purred even louder.

So it was that Death, for once, lost track of time and was late to his next appointment—but he did not care; for the first time in centuries he had been entertained. Death was in a good mood.

*

Death was walking through a wood in winter, leaving footprints no hunter would recognize—if indeed human eyes could see them—and he came for a starving elk lying beside a frozen stream. He did not see the brilliance of the snow nor the steam from the elk’s last breath, nor did he appreciate the fractal patterns the evergreen branches made against the sky above.

“Mrr!” said Cat, climbing up Death’s robes, pulling the hood from his shiny dome and curling up in it, perched on his shoulders behind his neck.

Death froze.

“Prrrprrrprrrprrrrr-rrr…” said Cat, kneading at Death’s cowl.

This is most inconvenient, said Death, walking even more hunched than usual, so as not to disturb Cat. But awkward though it was, after a while Death became aware of something new seeping into his bones. Death did not feel things as living creatures do, but he knew about feelings, and this was a new one.

Warm. There was something warm behind his neck, and that warmth seeped down and down, to where his heart would have been, if things like Death had hearts.

Death is always smiling (his face cannot do anything else), but now he felt that, if he hadn’t been already, if smiling were not his default state, he would choose to smile now.

“Prrr…” said Cat.

*

Death was walking in a field, following a farmer reaping wheat, reaping the spirits of the wheat. It annoyed him that vegetarians claimed not to kill things; it is all very well to say you can’t kill a cabbage, but Death still has to come for that cabbage. Death does not like being taken for granted. He stalked behind the farmer, brooding on such sour thoughts, when—

“Mrrrroow!” cried Cat, darting between the wheat, chasing field mice and shadows.

Oh, hello, said Death. He paused in his reaping and bent to stroke Cat with a bony hand. Cat walked around in little circles, arching her back, her tail high. Death got so carried away with petting her that the spirits of the reaped wheat began swirling around them, not knowing what to do. Cat saw them and thought they looked much more fun than mice or shadows, and went leaping and chasing after them, batting at them with her paws. The spirits scattered, and it took Death all afternoon to chase them down; all the while Cat skipped about his feet.

The human farmer reaping wheat heard nothing, because the human ear is not capable of hearing Death laugh.

*

Death was on a ship taking sick men from their beds. He worked in the dank and dark belly of the vessel, bringing silence and stillness.

“Mroowww,” said Cat. She was sitting on the steps leading up to the deck, silhouetted against the pale moonlight. When Death went to pat her she turned under his hand and trotted up on deck. Death followed. Cat was sitting beside a barrel, looking expectant.

I do have work to do, you know, Death said.

Cat flicked her tail.

Death sighed and went over to the barrel and sat down. Immediately Cat leapt into his lap, turned around three times, and curled into a little ball of fur, her claws digging into the fabric of Death’s robe. Death set his scythe aside and held Cat. He scratched behind her ear and stroked her back, and when Cat’s purrs had dwindled to faint snores Death looked up at the night sky and, for the first time, saw the stars.

Death had to admit, they were very beautiful.

*

Death came for a mouse whose neck had been broken. Cat looked up at him sadly.

Are you going to eat that? Death asked.

Cat batted at the corpse, which flopped limply.

So Death tore a swatch from his robe and tied it to a piece of string, and he made the cloth dance and jerk while Cat leapt about, trying to catch it.

*

Death walked through a town stricken with Plague. Death didn’t like Plague. Plague was arrogant and made a mess with his boils and fever and oozing sores. Then Death had to come in and clean up after him.

Cat was sitting on the doorstep of a stricken house, washing her paws. Death found he had to stop and pat her for almost ten whole minutes, and by the time he went inside Plague was annoyed and impatient. Death’s grin, if possible, got even bigger.

*

Death sat hunched over the bed of an old crone who kept swinging back and forth between living and dying. Cat came and sat on his shoulder. Death decided that the waiting was maybe not so bad.

*

Death sat in the bedroom of a dying king. The king kept revising his last statement, kept thinking of new things to add to his will. His counselors were quite astonished at how he clung to life. They could not see Death sitting in the shadows with Cat on his lap.

Cat was purring again. Death waits for no man, but Death was discovering that he could be distracted by Cat, and that he liked it.

*

Death was taking fish from a poisoned lake. Cat watched him disconsolately.

There, there, said Death, pausing to give Cat a scratch behind her ear. There will be more fish later.

Cat looked at him with wide, beseeching eyes, and Death found himself compelled to bring them to a different lake, where a fisherman was pulling in his haul. One fish couldn’t possibly be missed from so many, and along with all the spirits Death took a body, fried it over the death of a fire, and put it on a little china plate for Cat, who ate it with much happy gobbling and gulping noises. And Death felt that warm feeling in his chest again, even though he wasn’t holding Cat.

*

Then, finally, one day Death came for Cat.

“Meep,” she said weakly, from where she lay in the gutter.

Death shook his head.

You know, Cat, nine times you have found me when I was at my most despondent. Nine times you have diverted me and brought me joy. Because of you I know what it means to feel happy. So I have decided to give you a gift in return: I cannot give you another life, but I can give you another death. I shall give you nine deaths, in fact, for the nine times you have cheered me. And all your children, and your children’s children, and all their descendants shall share in this gift.

And Death reached down and stroked Cat gently with a bony finger. Cat pressed her head up against his hand, and began to purr. Then she got up, licked herself vigorously, and trotted off, her tail held high.

Death kept his promise (Death always does), so Cat lived a remarkably long life and had a great many children. And even today the descendants of Cat (not all cats, but many of them) appear to have nine lives, when in fact they have nine deaths, for the nine times Cat came to Death and cheered him with her warm and happy presence.

Death still gets bored (there is a lot of time left to go), but he finds it is not so bad now. For there is a lot of Cat left in the world.

 

THE END

Notes on the Story:

This story began with a picture. The picture above, in fact. I had wanted to paint a picture of the Grim Reaper with a cat riding on his shoulders. As I drew it I began to realize that there was a story behind the picture, so I wrote it down.

Death in this instance was heavily influenced by the Death of Discworld, as readers of Terry Pratchett have no doubt already noticed. I do not think they are the same Death, but they are certainly related.

Cat’s character is mostly modeled off two of my own cats: Nyx (who, sadly, has used up all her deaths), and Boss, who is still very much with us.

This story is set in that fuzzy, timeless land where all the best fairy tales take place.

Notes on the Illustration:

The painting that inspired the story was done with watercolor and ink on 9″x12″ vellum bristol board.

I drew Death as a pretty straight forward human skeleton, with the addition of glowing blue eyes (again, an influence from the Death of Discworld), and the subtle elongation of his teeth. It’s not so grotesque as to be immediately noticeable, but it’s enough to make his face seem just a little bit off. His scythe was referenced from an old scythe I found in my garden shed, since googling “scyth, images” tends to bring up lots of scythes from videogames that do not look much like real scythes at all. I know it’s fashionable for Death to wield a fancy scythe, but in my mind I felt it would suit him better to have a more down-to-earth instrument.

Cat was modeled after one of my own cats, Mook, though her character was based more on Boss and Nyx.

This story and related artwork is © 2012 by Goldeen Ogawa, all rights reserved.

Goldeen Ogawa will be exhibiting the painting for this story and others in the art show at the World Fantasy Con this November in Toronto. Lots more of her pictures can be found on her deviantART account, and more of her stories can be found right here. You can email her at goldeenogawa@gmail.com or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

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As I have already mentioned elsewhere (not so far on this blog), my beloved cat, Nyx, was run over by a truck last month. I decided not to write of it here, not right away, because I want to keep this blog an interesting and pleasant read, and I always find outpourings of grief to be something of a downer—though I can sympathize entirely. In fact, it is because I can sympathize that it makes me feel sad. I did not want to make you feel sad, so I kept my grieving to immediate family members and friends. Now it has been almost four weeks, and I think it’s time for me to write about—not the tragedy itself, but the strange surges of emotions that went through me in the immediate aftermath.

I am young enough, and have been lucky enough, that I have never lost an actual family member—except my grandmother, but I was too young then to fully comprehend what it meant. Since then we have lost pets. To date, these deaths have all been due to old age, degenerative diseases that finally swallowed up a spent life. This was sad. (It was very sad.) But it was the kind of sad that you see coming. You are bracing yourself for the blow, so when it comes it is almost a little of a relief.

This wasn’t like that. It was a beautiful day at the beginning of spring: all sunny and green with singing birds. The cats were running in and out of the house, and the only thing I was worrying about was getting all my painting done in time to fit in a bike ride before the end of the day.

Then a truck ran over my cat.

It was very quick—I think her skull was crushed—but I still had my phone out ready to call the vet in case there was something we could do. Up until that moment there was always something I could do. I have the mentality of someone who keeps looking for a way out even as the trash compactor walls are closing in. There is always something you can do.

Well, mostly always. This time, there wasn’t. In the blink of an eye my cat had gone from a lively, capricious, bouncing ball of fluffy black fur into a limp bleeding corpse.

At that point, the only thing my brother and I could do was bury it.

It took a long time for me to realize that there really was nothing I could have done. Except keep the cats locked up inside. (Which we do now: except for Scruffy, who is too miserable inside all the time, and has the best street sense besides.) But in hindsight really there was nothing. I got there as fast as I could—I actually saw the truck hit her, and when I reached her her body was still twitching.

But as advanced as our medicine is, there isn’t much it can do for a broken neck and a crushed skull.

My brother and I sat on the front porch for a long time, the body wrapped in a cloth, trading it back and forth, and crying and crying and crying.

A thought began to occur to me then. Behind the grief and the tears it was rather vague, but it’s been growing on me ever since, and the thought is this:

We don’t want revenge. Not really. We romanticize vengeance and the whole “eye for an eye” mentality, but that’s not what we want really.

We want our cat back. We want our father back. Our mothers and our siblings and our friends.

I think the reason the story of Jesus resonates with so many people is because he did come back. Mythical heroes mostly do.

It has always bothered me how any story that contains a resurrection is automatically assumed to be an allegory for Jesus. Specifically Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. Now, I don’t know what C. S. Lewis was thinking when he wrote that. For all I know he could have been making a Jesus Christ reference, but I have never seen it that way, and even if it is true, I know I never will.

Because the desire for resurrection—for the rolling back of time to undo a disaster—is a dream we humans have had since long before Jesus Christ. And we will feel it long after he has been forgotten. It is fundamental to our nature. It is the first response: before grief, before sadness, before anger, we just want our cat back. We just want the truck, or the bullet, or the cancer or the heart failure not to have happened. We want them to get back up, and get better. We want that deeper magic, from before the dawn of time.

Sadly, our universe does not support this level of magic. And science hasn’t advanced far enough to reverse death (except in very special, very rare circumstances).

So we are left with a dead cat cat (or grandmother, or father, or friend, or…) and because humans are reasonable creatures we want to find a reason for this pain we are in. In any way we can we try to assign blame to the thing we feel caused this death. And when we find it, we want to punish it.

I think the desire for revenge comes, not so much from feelings of anger against the killing, but from the devastating despair at not being able to do anything. We couldn’t save our cat (or mother or father or…), and we couldn’t bring them back to life. The preventive and constructive options having failed, only then do we resort to the destructive response.

Mostly we get there very quickly. Because it is so obvious that there is nothing we can do, we jump straight to the one thing we can do: revenge.

It’s not good to go this way, I think. Revenge, even in the ideal sense, generally ends badly for everyone concerned. And if there is no one particular thing or person we can focus our revenge on (if there is no six-fingered man), some people turn that anger inwards on themselves in the form of drug use and alcoholism and debilitating grief.

Which is why I think revenge is not really a good thing. I am reluctant to call anything inherently bad (except for mosquitoes), but I think revenge, and all the baggage it carries, is something that should be avoided.

I remember reading about the Nazi war criminals the Allies were able to catch and bring to trial after World War II. What was so frustrating was that the really nasty ones, like Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, got away with committing suicide. This is always a let down. If you’re going to be a villain, have the decency to let the heroes catch you when you’re beaten.

Thing is, I don’t think any of the leading Nazis thought they were villains. Real villains seldom do; it’s part of what makes them so evil. (The ones who realized what awful things they were doing and tried to do something about it, like Erwin Rommel, ceased—in my mind—to be real villains.)

Because of this I think it is even more important for the sake of justice—justice, not revenge—to catch them. Catch them and try, at least, to confront them with what they’ve done. Because no punishment we can devise, no imprisonment or torture or even death, can punish a villain the way they can punish themselves, if they can just be made to see what they did wrong.

So as I read about this general and that SS officer being found guilty and executed, I found I did not feel at all happy about it. It wasn’t satisfying that they were caught and tried and hanged… because what did that accomplish? In the end, all it did, I think, was drag the Allies down a little more to their level.

In the end I think maybe Himmler and Goebbels and Hitler did us a favor by killing themselves. Because if we couldn’t catch them and make them see how evil they had been, at least we didn’t have to stoop to their level and kill them. They had already done so much worse, it is of no pain to me that they took their own lives. Maybe it was the only decent thing they did.

It may be frustrating, and poetically disappointing, but in this real hard world, without the deeper magic, I think it is better.

We are all going to die, anyway. I am an atheist, I do not believe there will be a reckoning, so I am in no hurry to push anyone towards death. If a villain is to be punished they must be alive to be punished. You can only suffer, you can only be redeemed, as long as you are alive.

When I was a little girl I loved The Princess Bride. I loved it even though Buttercup is absolute rubbish and an insult to heroines everywhere—I can’t fathom what Westley saw in her—not that I blame Robin Wright Penn, it wasn’t her fault. But I admired Westley all the same. Characters like Westley were what first interested me in acting, because though I knew I could never actually be like that in real life, I could at least pretend on stage or in front of a camera.

So I feel quite satisfied in letting him speak for me when he says, in response to Inigo’s kind offer to kill Prince Humperdink:

“No, I want him to have a long life, alone with his cowardice.”

As an eleven-year-old I found this something of a let down after the so-satisfying kill of Count Rugen, but looking back on it now I see Westley was quite right, and I was right to admire him.

Sometimes I see a truck drive past my house that looks an awful lot like the one that killed Nyx. But I can’t know. At the time I wasn’t thinking about the truck. I wasn’t thinking about the driver, or of revenge, I just wanted my cat back. So I can’t be sure. And I don’t think I’m going to do anything about it.

Maybe, if I get the chance to talk to the driver, I’ll tell him or her to be careful. There are kids playing and riding bicycles in this neighborhood, as well as cats. But that’s all.

I will imagine he or she has a long life, filled with the normal joys and sorrows. And when he or she dies—as I know he or she will—I shall imagine that death, however it comes, as Nyx’s retribution.

For revenge is a poisonous dish, best left to age and time.

But I still want my cat back.

Goldeen Ogawa can be reached for comment at goldeenogawa@gmail.com, or pecked at on Twitter @GrimbyTweets.


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Since I hate to leave a story unfinished I thought I’d type up a report on my horse’s injury. For those of you with blissfully short memories, a few weeks ago I went to take the ol’ pony out for a ride and this happened. A tense weekend spent soaking, bandaging, and administering bute followed, after which the poor dear developed an ugly, puss-oozing sore on her coronet band, and the pain vanished.

Well, not quite. She still has some bruising on the sole of her hoof, which means she’ll have even more time off, but it looks like she’s cleared the abscess. She also has a new trim, thanks to my good friend Amy. Amy also recommended a pair of horsie boots for Emmy, which should help prevent bruising when I finally do get to ride her again. We’ll just hope she doesn’t developed another abscess in the mean time.

So that’s over with. Sort of. Thing about having a horse is you are continually awaiting the next disaster. You hope its something small, like an abscess or gas cramps, and not something serious, like founder or colic. Or chronic, like navicular syndrome or bone spurs. Sometimes I think I can relate to characters who are put on impossible quests filled with never-ending trials thanks to my experience with my horse.

And I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

In other news: I now have a goodreads account. Predictably, I am the only Goldeen Ogawa on that site, and hopefully I shall soon be linked with my author account. This move came recommended to me by a kind lady at Musa, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered; I am distrustful of things like Amazon Author Central accounts and such, as they seem like they could easily distract me from important things like… oh… writing. But there I am, and if you have a Goodreads account feel free to stop by and say hello.

I still refuse to get a Facebook. I have Dafydd for that.

Now, there is a Bouragner Felpz short story that is refusing to write itself. I must go see to that.

—Goldeen

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Today was a brilliant day. The first sunny day after a weekend of rain and clouds. I decided today would be a good day to ride my horse.

Sadly, it was not to be. As anyone who has kept horses will tell you: there are magical, wonderful days where you and the horse go galloping through fields and over fences and there’s wind in your hair and it’s all so amazingly awesome you can’t believe it’s real; and there are the days where you go to get your horse out of the pasture and she’s lying down. Or limping. Or stuck in the fence. Then it is not so awesome. Then it is phone calls to the vet and an exhaustive afternoon assessing damage, treating wounds, and so on. Usually it entails a good week or so of special treatment. Maybe penicillin shots if you’re unlucky. If you are especially unlucky it may necessitate a ride down to the vet, and then the stress (and bills) really start adding up.

Today it was a lame foot. Not the sort of subtle “is she limping? Is she not?” lame. This was the “Oh my god I have a three-legged horse!” lame.

Huh, I thought, I bet she has an abscess.

It is not uncommon for horses, especially in winter when the ground is wet, to develop infections inside their hooves. These are called abscesses. Typically you don’t know your horse has one until one day you find they are limping around their paddock on three legs. Then you have the vet out, and they poke around and try to dig out the abscess so it can drain. Some abscesses burst on their own. You can tell they have burst because smelly pus is spilling out of your horse’s hoof… and suddenly they are not lame any more.

This is more or less what happened today. Although the vet wasn’t able to pop it, she was able to pinpoint where the abscess was, and dug partway into the hoof so that it would be encouraged to drain down. Now it is a matter of soaking the foot twice a day in warm epsom salt water, and packing it with tincture of iodine for the rest of the time. We also give an oral painkiller called “bute” to make the horse more comfortable.

All this I’ve done before. In fact, apart from epsom salt and duct tape, I had all the necessary supplies for dealing with an abscess already on hand.

“That’s nice,” my vet said. “We still have clients who have either been very lucky, or just haven’t had their horse for very long, who panic at the first sign of an abscess.”

That is the thing about abscesses. Yes they are painful, and a pain in the ass to deal with, but compared to other common equine ailments they are remarkably low-risk and straightforward to treat. Unlike colic. Or chronic laminitis. Bone spurs or navicular syndrome. Or mysterious joint problems.

My horse, Emmy, has had abscesses in her feet at least twice that I can distinctly remember, perhaps more (they all blur together after a while). The first time it was in her front foot and I had no idea what was going on. The vet came up and punched a hole in the sole of her foot, and out came this truly nasty liquid, and she felt much better at once.

The second time she came down severely lame on her right hind foot… at a horse show… in Nevada. There was no vet, but the on-site chiropractor helpfully diagnosed it as a problem with her stifle, or knee joint. Stifle injuries are seriously business, and there were a tense few days until we were able to get her to our vet and their very expensive imaging equipment showed that her stifle was in excellent condition.

At this point my Wonderful Mother (I was only 13 at the time) took the initiative to call the man who would become our current vet. But his wife was having a baby. His sub came out instead. In the mean time Emmy had sprouted an odd, oozing sore on the coronet band (the border between the hard hoof and the furry leg) of her right hind foot. The substitute vet took one look at that and rolled her eyes.

“With lameness in horses, 97% of the time it is below the knee,” she said. And proceeded to dig a second drain so the abscess could drain more rapidly. Emmy made a speedy and complete recovery, and has never to date had any problems with her stifles.

Treating an abscess in the hoof is simple but not easy. One must soak the hoof in warm epsom salt water, either in a bucket, or with a special “soaking boot”. I had purchased a pair of these after the last abscess, when I had been repeated soaked with epsom salt water when my horse knocked over the bucket, and had not had to use them for over five years. I used one today, and it was infinitely easier.

Winter is abscess season here. No sooner had the vet finished with Emmy than my trainer had self-diagnosed an abscess in one of her horses. So my other soaking boot was put to use.

After soaking it is a matter of packing the hoof with iodine. The iodine is easy: just pour it over the affected area. Keeping it clean is another thing: I find disposable diapers, held in place and coated with an armor of duct tape, to work well, but they must be replaced at least once a day or they wear off, tear off, or fall off.

Once the abscess bursts it is only a matter of keeping the pathway open so it drains entirely, which takes anywhere from 24-48 hours.

“With luck,” the vet said, “she’ll be a hundred percent again by Friday.”

That is the plan, for now. Tomorrow morning I will be back over with the soaking boot, and more epsom salts. I hope she is better by Friday: if I have to wrap her foot for much longer than that I will need to buy more diapers.

The author with Emmy, at a happier time (they love each other, really they do).

In other news: Radio Grimbald is back online. This season I’m reading the first volume of the Bouragner Felpz Adventures, so why don’t you check it out? And if you can, buy the eBooks. Vet farm calls ain’t cheap.

Goldeen Ogawa has been a horse-owner since 1999, and has had only one horse for that entire time; it has been more than enough work. She loves all horses, but Emmy is special. They can communicate telepathically, just not very well.

Comments and/or condolences can be sent to goldeenogawa@gmail.com, or posted in your own blog and tweeted to @GrimbyTweets.

 


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