It's been a rough week around here. Monday morning I was awakened by my 12 year old son telling me that our pony was lying down in his stall and wouldn't get up. If you know much about horses, you know that's not a good thing.
When we moved here back in 1998 we had more backyard than we needed. My wife had horses while growing up. She had always wanted to get another, but that wasn't a great idea for our previous neighborhood. But here in the country, we had the room and at the county fair we found the horse. Pony, actually. A Welsh pony named Cracker Jack, just a little more than a year old. He was big for a pony, almost the size of a small horse, but he wasn't big enough for my wife to ride. But once he was trained, he could give our boys rides through the yard.
A few years ago we bought a cart and taught him to pull. He caught on quickly. It wasn't too long before he could pull the four of us down the road and back without incident. When my wife became pregnant the last time, she couldn't do the training anymore and we ended up selling the cart. Since then, Cracker Jack spent most of his time grazing in the pasture or even keeping the grass short in the yard. My four year old daughter would get a ride every once in a while too.
He was more like a dog than a pony. If I would walk by him on the other side of the fence, he would come up to me and follow me down the fence row. He'd even sneak up behind me and slide his big head under my arm and jostle me around, wanting to have a little attention.
We spent all day Monday trying to keep Cracker on his feet. Oftentimes a horse or pony will have abdominal problems. Sometimes the intestines will get blocked or even twisted around and knotted up. We knew that if Cracker's insides got knotted up, he wouldn't recover. So the best medicine was to keep him up and walking. I also brought an injection home from the vet to help relieve the gut pain. It was the first time I can remember having to give anything a shot. I guess I did it right.
I kept my 12 year old out of school on Monday. My wife had to work and I had my four year old at home. Figuring it would be hard to walk the pony outside while she was alone inside, the boy got the day off school. He did a great job walking him and even getting him up all by himself after Cracker had stopped to lie down. The vet even made a house call to give another shot and check his belly.
Things looked a little better Tuesday, as Cracker stayed on his feet. He didn't seem to want to lie down, so it wasn't necessary to walk him as much as the previous day. I gave him one more shot that evening, as he still hadn't given us any evidence that his intestines were in working order.
Wednesday the vet tried to lubricate the digestive system by running a tube down Cracker's nose and pouring in a mixture of oil and stool softener. After the vet left, Cracker got very restless. He wouldn't stand still. My wife walked him for about a mile. He laid down near the house and the two of us got him back on his feet. He was miserable and wanted us around. He would whinny at us when he caught sight of anyone outside.
Finally I left at 3:30 to get another injection. This time they gave me a tranquilizer, figuring that Cracker's insides had tied themselves into a knot. The vet must have been right. By the time I got back home at 4:10, Cracker was lying dead in his stall.
The family's reaction was varied. I was probably the most prepared, as I had been talking with the vet about what was going on. My 14 year old figured out what had happened before I could tell him. I think he was expecting it too. The 12 year old who had worked so diligently all day Monday then again Tuesday evening, was really broken up about it. My wife was sure that he was going to die Monday morning and remained convinced all week. But when the end came, she was the most broken hearted of all.
Finally it was time to tell my four year old girl. She looked at me for a minute, taking in the information. It wasn't the first time one of her pets had died. Finally she asked me, "How did he die?"
"He was so sick that his insides couldn't work right and he died."
"Oh, okay." The answer seemed to satisfy her. Later in the evening, she looked up at the starry sky and told me, "He's up there with God and Jesus." Isn't it amazing how a four year old can understand death? She told me that she would like to see him again and ride him again in heaven.
"Someday," I told her. "Someday."
I don't fully understand what happened with Cracker. The vet says that it's likely we'll never know. He also reminded me that there was nothing we really could have done, short of trucking him a few hours away and spending thousands of dollars on treatments with low success rates.
As I type this, I am waiting for a man to come to take away what's left of Cracker Jack. I can't bury him in the backyard as I have with all the other pets we've lost over the past few years. Ponies are different. But at the same time, they're so familiar. I remember those same feelings of helplessness, wanting to take away the pain from a sick child or needing to comfort my pregnant wife. I was reminded of the times when we had a sick infant who couldn't talk to tell us what was wrong. Once again I realized that I cannot control so many things around me.