Boot City and I made the decision a couple weeks ago to end Pablo’s, our donkey, suffering. He’s been increasingly lame over the past few years and had gotten to the point of spending nearly half his time laying down. We had Pablo for 16 years, but we don’t really know how old he was when he came to live with us. He was given to me by a coworker who had to basically trap him to get him into a trailer and bring him over. It was another year before we could touch him and while he became quite affectionate, the moment he saw a halter or any type of “equipment” he became nearly impossible to get near. Someone had clearly been mean to him and donkeys do NOT forget.
So, Pablo was euthanized on a hot Thursday evening and a local animal cemetery (I call them the pet undertakers) picked him up.
Side note. People often comment about how idyllic our lives must be living on a farm. Let me tell you, it is not idyllic in the way that people who have never lived it think it is idyllic. We take our animal husbandry very seriously and believe wholly in making difficult decisions when it isn’t always the easy thing to do. We have seen a lot of death in the 16+ years we have lived on our tiny farm.
On Friday morning when I was doing my morning chores, I noticed that Jaguar was less interested in his breakfast than usual. I actually had been noticing for the past month or more that he’s had a smaller and smaller appetite. He had lost a bit of condition, but nothing alarming. He was showing some small signs of discomfort (not eating, standing in a corner, not as lively as usual) but these signs were not terribly obvious. I knew in the back of my mind that he was just getting closer to his time.
The moment my car crested the top of the driveway on Friday evening, my heart sunk and I exploded into tears. I knew before I got out of my car that he had been colicking and it looked like for quite some time. His face was scraped up from thrashing. He was covered in sand and sweat. His sides were heaving and his nostrils flared. He was exhausted and in a tremendous amount of pain and it was 105F. The next few hours were surreal. Calls to the vet. Calls to Boot City (who was on his way home). Calls to my Mom. It was an easy decision to end his suffering. The rest of the logistics that surround the death of a thousand pound animal are not as easy.
Our property is nearly solid limestone and doesn’t allow the burial of any of our animals. I’m grateful that I live in a place where services exist to easily remove a dead horse (or goat, or dog, etc.). The man who picked up Jaguar was incredibly kind and understanding and I’m forever grateful to him for doing that terrible job.
I didn’t feel like I could really grieve until his body was gone and even now, days later, I feel like I’m walking around with this clearly obvious gaping hole in my being. But I’m not, at least not physically. And people who see me don’t know that I’m grieving for a partnership that lasted three decades. I want to wear a t-shirt that says “I’m sad, my horse just died”, but I also want to be alone with my grief and not share it. I need the people I’m close to to understand just how hard it is to process this grief, but anyone who has been through it already knows.
And yes, I get it, he was just a horse. I understand that the love of an animal isn’t the same as the love of a human. I know that the privilege of having horses is a luxury. However, that doesn’t make my grief any less real. In many ways the loss of an animal is harder because it is a decision that I made. It is an accumulation of decisions I’ve made about the care and well being of my horse for the past three decades. I know I did right by Jaguar. I know that he knew to the very moment his life left his body that I loved him with all I had. His eyes pleaded for us to end his suffering and so we did.
The loss of Jaguar is the final stage of my grief for the loss of my Dad. Jaguar was the last tangible thing that was just between Dad and me. Of course I still have my Mom and my Brother, but it was different with Jaguar. Jaguar connected us in a way that was different from anything else and that connection lived on in Jaguar’s every nicker, his adherence to a schedule and to every new and different thing he was willing to try.
I am a better person to have loved and been loved by Jaguar Juniper, 1993-2022.
I’m absolutely terrible at taking photos at my own parties. Terrible! We had a lovely gathering of horsey and not-so-horsey friends over to celebrate Jaguar’s retirement. This year has been so hard, I needed something happy to happen at the farm and this was just the ticket. I’m sure many of my friends and family think I’m a little bit nuts because I tend to mostly have parties for my animals. Not birthday parties like normal people with animals and not kids have, but Sip and Sees and horse retirement parties. However I’m beyond grateful that they indulge me and attend said parties.
Jaguar in his Retirement Party stall decorations
I attempted to decorate his stall in my hunts colors, but last minute planning and the lack of the correct hunter green at the local Dollar General resulted in a shamrock green, but it still looked festive and Jaguar was very interested in his balloons!
Checking out his loot and eating carrots
Jaguar was showered with lots and lots of fantastic gifts and there were even a few for his assistant (me)! He got mostly carrots and horsey treats plus a bottle of Stella Artois to indulge his taste for beer and a Jolly Ball for his stall. I got bottles of champagne, vino and a couple lovely home accessories.
Very well packaged horsey and horsey assistant gifts.
I am still pretty sad about not being able to ride the old man any more, but I look forward to a new kind of bonding with him. He’s got so many treat bags as gifts that he should be able to do every trick in the book you can teach a horse using treats. We have already been working on bowing and making great progress. He’s very careful with his hurt leg, but is still game to try most anything it takes to get a cookie.
Last Sunday was an eventful day for me, one with a LOT of happiness. I rode Coco for the first time and she was a dream! I also rode Sterling that morning, after a failed attempt at a trail ride the day before, and I rode Jaguar that evening. Since Sterling was now 100% a failed trail rider I would need to get Jaguar legged up for the remaining trail rides with my hunt friends for the summer. Riding an old horse cold turkey on long trail rides is not nice. They need many more rides to be fit enough to work on an ongoing basis. When I rode Jaguar something was off. He wasn’t lame, but there was a hitch in his gitalong that didn’t feel right. We only walked and trotted and I took him over a few low cavallettis, but I could feel something weird with his hind end movement. The right side had a bigger jerk to the movement and the left side was much softer. Had I been a betting person I would have guessed he was off on his right leg.
Fast forward to Tuesday. Sterling needed a shot so I thought I would have my vet look over Jaguar while he was there. I made an appointment for Tuesday afternoon when I was returning from a work trip. My thought was that Jaguar was going to start needing some kind of joint injections, a pain management regimen for arthritis, or something similar to one of those options. He’s no spring chicken being 23 years young. He definitely is showing his age more than he had a year or two ago, but he had a fantastic hunt season and I love riding him on trail rides because he’ll do most anything I ask of him. My vet called early in the afternoon that he was already near my house so I told him to just go ahead and stop over even though I wouldn’t be home. He’d call me when he was finishing up.
This phone call has affected me far more than I would have dreamed it would. There isn’t really a name for what is wrong with Jaguar’s left hind leg, but there is something decidedly wrong with it. My vet thought for sure I would be able to tell him of a very specific event in which Jaguar had injured his left hind gaskin a few years ago and it was just now showing the full symptoms of what age and injuries combined will do to an animal’s mobility. The thing is, Jaguar has never ever been lame. Ever. Never had a hoof abcess. Never a pulled shoe that caused an issue. And never an acute injury requiring him to come out of work at all. Until now. My vet has diagnosed Jaguar with an injury to his left hind gaskin where it meets his hamstring and his stifle that will most likely not respond to any type of treatment and will require him to be in full retirement. No more riding Jaguar.
Jaguar and I at the Summer Slide in Denver in July of 1998. Just before we showed at the AQHYA World Championships in Reining
We are going to try a bute regimen for a few days to see if that might cut the pain a little bit. It will be promising if it does, but my vet sounded pretty skeptical of it working. The reality of it is that I will probably never be able to ride Jaguar again. He will now get his 100% deserved retirement.
Showing in reining at the MetraPark in Billings, Montana sometime between 1996 and 1998
I always thought that I’d know when I had my last ride on Jaguar. There would be some episode. Some illness. Some tangible reason when I would know that this was it. Not some vague nondescript injury that really isn’t that bad, but bad enough that it can’t be fixed and he can’t be ridden. I’m grateful that he’s otherwise healthy and I still have him, but I’m absolutely heartbroken that our partnership under saddle is done. No more fox hunts. No more trail rides. No more torturing him while I post without irons. As much of a mess as I am about this news I can’t even imagine how bad I’ll be when he dies. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every second we have together. He’s going to embark on his retirement with a weight loss program and focus on being the best damn pasture ornament there ever was.
Riding at a family reunion with my youngest cousin (who is in college now, this photo makes me feel really old).
There are some things that happen in your life and for no apparent reason they are burned into your memory. I remember taking Daughty to Colorado with my Dad in the spring of 1992 almost like it was yesterday. I remember how the barn where Juniper lived smelled. I remember that it rained. I remember meeting the Wolfs, who owned the farm where Doc’s Juniper stood at the time. And, I remember when, eleven months later, Jaguar was born. I was 13 years old. Yah, I know, I just gave away my age.
We had had foals before, but from the moment Mom and Dad planned to breed Daughty to Juniper I knew this one would be mine. They wouldn’t let me have a 2 year old in 4-H until I was 15 and when this foal turned 2, I would be 15. I was beyond excited. As a foal Jaguar was mischievous. He would run up behind me and put his feet over my shoulders. I thought it was adorable until Dad reminded me how not adorable that would be when he weighed over 1,000 pounds so we put a stop to the silliness. He bit. He bullied. He acted like a normal foal and I absolutely loved him.
Showing as a yearling. We were Grand Champions at the county fair!
The 4-H colt program started when the horse was a yearling. You had to show them in hand to exhibit their training and cooperativeness. Much to my delight Jaguar was brilliant. He learned new things faster than I could teach him. We won nearly every class we showed in that year. He could do Showmanship with the very best. He never put a foot wrong and would square his feet in about 3 steps. It was so much fun to show such a smart horse. His smarts would also lead to many of his greatest difficulties. Our first such experience was taking him to the Montana State 4-H horse show in a one-horse trailer. He was fine getting in to head to Great Falls for the five hour drive. Coming home was a different story, and I can’t say I blamed him those trailers are terrifying! We nearly had to beat him to get him in that trailer. He learned a valuable lesson, though and he’s gotten into every trailer since without a moments hesitation.
Showing in bareback as a 2 year old.
His two year old year just continued to show his brilliance. He never ever took a step wrong when I broke him to ride. I was terrified of him bucking so I did all kinds of crazy things to him before I even acted like I was going to get on the saddle. I put tires on the saddle. I concocted crazy contraptions with whips and raincoats to simulate a person. I’m sure that by the time I actually rode him he was relieved to be done with the shenanigans! We worked very hard all year and he was a very broke 2 year old by the time we got to the fair. The judge, however, was horrible. She decided that there was no way I could have possibly trained him so well on my own so wouldn’t give us higher than a blue ribbon (Grand and Reserve Champion were the winners, everyone else got a blue, red or white ribbon depending on how they did) in any of our classes. I was furious and so frustrated. Jaguar was starting to show a lot of promise as a reining horse so my parents and I made the decision to quit 4-H and move on to only show in the American Quarter Horse Association and National Reining Horse Association shows. I learned young that people like to punish others for being better than them at something, even if it was legitimately earned. Nice lesson for a 15 year old kid, right?!
Sadly I don’t have any photos of Jaguar reining. They are all in Montana, still. He was a fabulous reining horse, but the same troubles would always bubble up. As soon as Jaguar figures something out, he makes it more interesting for himself. Like spooking at chairs by the arena that have been in the same spot for 3 days, but he just now noticed them. Or anticipating parts of reining patterns and doing them before he’s supposed to. After three or four years as a reiner he had to move onto a new career because he knew all of the patterns and there was no way you could trick him to wait for cues.
Trail riding selfie
My Dad used him to rope on at brandings and to sort cattle. My Mom showed him in some local shows and basically won everything they could possibly win. They finally told me in 2006 that I needed to take him to Texas. I couldn’t really believe my Dad had actually given me the option to keep him. He always sold my horses and never gave me any input on the decision. It was bittersweet when they brought him down because about a month after they visited Texas my Dad died from a blood clot that was a result of an injury from an accident he was in while riding a horse he had. For that and a myriad of other reasons Jaguar is one of the strongest living reminders of my relationship with my Dad.
And how many 34 year olds have pets (if you can call a horse a pet) that they had when they were 13 years old? Jaguar has seen me through ALL of major life events. Think about it; prom, my first boyfriend, starting high school, graduating from high school, going off to college, graduating from college, moving away from home, my first job, my wedding. He’s been in my life for every single thing. I can remember getting mad at friends or parents in different times in my life and going out to the barn and spewing my frustrations to Jaguar and the other horses I had at the time.
Jaguar the fox hunter!
Jaguar turned 21 last Saturday. I don’t know why this birthday seems like such a milestone, but it really does. I love that horse to pieces! My parents bought and sold so many of my horses while I was growing up that I learned quickly to never get attached to them. I still don’t really get attached to them (or at least I think I don’t, we’ll see when I actually need to sell one!) like I feel attached to Jaguar. He bucks on most every fox hunt and acts like an idiot for the first 45 minutes of every trail ride, but when push comes to shove he’ll always step up. I can put any inexperienced rider on him and he’ll be absolutely perfect. I was trail riding with hunt friends last weekend and we had an episode that caused Jaguar to spin around faster than I could stay on and I remember falling on the ground and him stepping over me so the other horse running by wouldn’t step on me.
So, cheers to Jaguar! Easily the best horse I will ever have the pleasure of riding! And he earns extra credit points for being the absolute best baby sitter of baby horses you could ever ask for. Just ask Coco.