The Cook Peak Review, June 2009 – Edited February 2018
In the last issue of The Cook Peak Review, Elizabeth described her personal experience with the death of her free horse, Silverado. Shortly after publication, a generous reader gave her another free horse, an Arabian mare named Amber to join Tulsa, our free gelding. They were a happy senior pair.
Tulsa began limping after a ride and was diagnosed with ringbone. His leg bone had pushed down through the inside of his hoof. Barely able to walk, he dragged his leg behind him, trying to keep up with Amber. Tulsa began losing weight, and his health declined fast. We needed help.
The vet made a ranch call. It was 100 degrees that day, and Tulsa was laying in the full sun, unable to get up and move to the shade. The vet listened to his heart, shook his head and said the humane thing to do was euthanasia. Coldly, he climbed into his truck and said to hire a backhoe and call when the hole was ready.
After everyone left, I sat next to Tulsa and cried. I told him I loved him and how awful I felt for what had happened. Stroking the side of his head, I searched his eyes and asked if he was ready to go, something I had always done when an animal faced death. Tulsa seemed to impress upon me that it wasn’t his time, not yet. At that moment, I promised to do everything I could to save his life even though I knew going against the vet’s advice would mean going ahead alone.
Over the next few months, we nursed Tulsa. We researched equine health and first aid. We applied topical treatments, wraps, and tried various supplements. We talked with horse rescuers in Los Angeles. We changed his diet, spiking his senior feed with corn oil to help pack on weight and used aspirin to manage his pain. During the worst of it, his hair fell out in chunks from his skeletal frame.
Our Ferrier examined Tulsa and recommended euthanasia. A neighbor walking their dog stopped to reprimand me for my lack of horse experience and my stupidity, and I agreed, but despite all the negativity, we fought for Tulsa’s life. It didn’t matter to any of us that he would never ride again. After all, Cook Peak was his retirement home, a safe place where he could live out the rest of his life with no expectations.
A year later, Tulsa’s progress was remarkable. He whinnied in the mornings when he saw me and trotted to his bin for breakfast. His limp had disappeared, and the ringbone was in remission. And finally, his brown coat was full and shiny.
I believe there are three reasons why Tulsa survived his injury: 1) We refused to give up; 2) We listened to the patient; 3) We relied on father time and mother nature to heal.
Tulsa lived a happy retirement at Cook Peak. It was colic in his old age that ended his life on yet another scalding summer afternoon. We borrowed a horse trailer and drove him to the emergency vet hospital in Bakersfield where they immediately pumped him full of morphine. It was strange to see Tulsa so relaxed and peaceful after witnessing the grueling dance of colic. There was nothing anyone could do.
Saying goodbye to Tulsa was heart-wrenching. I looked into his eyes and asked if he was ready to go. We both knew the answer. Bawling, I hugged him for the last time and went inside to sign the paper.
We drove away with an empty horse trailer as big as the void in my heart. Tulsa and the vet stood on the lawn and watched us leave. Once we were out of sight, Tulsa was laid to rest in the shade of the Mulberry tree.
There is no such thing as a free horse. Every horse costs money in feed and care. I know what “free” means. It means you’re the one who gets to love the older horse to the last day of its life, and you do it freely.