Thank You, Davey

Thank You, Davey

Last month, in my article about animals understanding what we say, I talked about Davey, an elder paint pony whose care I had taken over a month before. (The article is now on my Website.) Well, it grieves me deeply to say that I lost that dear creature on the evening of December 28. His gut got twisted up, and we had to let him go. We believe Davey was 30 years old.

I met Davey three years ago, December 1, 2006, when I moved my two horses to Davey’s barn. He was living alone and had been for quite a few years. The owners of the property used to breed Trakehners, but they had long since retired. Davey had been the wife’s driving pony; he was a show pony, a very successful one.

But the woman was now suffering from many physical ailments and was housebound. Her husband, I’ll call him Eric, took care of Davey and is the one who leased me five acres on their 20-acre property.

My heart immediately went out to Davey, who that winter was stall bound sometimes days at a time. Eric said Davey was old and fragile and that he couldn’t go out when it was too cold. I suggested a blanket, explained that moving around and having plenty of hay would keep him warm, as would being with other horses (mine), but my suggestions fell on deaf ears.

Finally, after witnessing Davey being confined for five days in a row, I did manage, however, to convince Eric to let me put Davey in the indoor arena with the front doors open on days when he couldn’t go out, so at least he could get some light and fresh air, and put his head over the gate to survey the front yard. I took on the jobs of setting him up with water and hay in the morning, and mucking the arena in the evening—before he had to go back in his stall.

About a month after my horses and I moved to Davey’s barn, Davey began to change. He had been so shut down and depressed from his years of isolation that he walked through his days in a kind of fog, but now he was getting feisty—dragging Eric down the aisle to his paddock and back. Eric didn’t understand what was going on, but that was OK. I gave him tips for walking Davey safely, and soon all was well.

I continued to advocate for Davey for the three years that I knew him, sometimes with positive results, sometimes not. I knew that he was laminitic, and tried to convince Eric to stop letting him out on pasture all day to gorge on grass and an overabundance of clover, but Eric didn’t understand the connection between sugar and laminitis. I also suggested he stop feeding molasses-laden pelleted feed, but again Eric didn’t see the problem even though Davey’s soles were prolapsed (convex instead of concave), his coat was oily and dandruffy, and his neck had a floppy crest.

But I did manage to get Davey’s feet tended to by a good barefoot trimmer. And I did groom him and talk to him and clean his water bucket and generally try to be a good barn mate. Last winter, when Eric (who has hip problems) couldn’t get through the snow and ice from the house to the barn for three months, I took care of Davey for him.

Then, early last fall, Eric told me that they were putting the place up for sale. When I asked what they were going to do with Davey, he said they weren’t sure. I convinced him to let me take Davey with us (me and my two other horses).

Come late October, Davey was failing. While in his stall at night, he barely drank any water and barely ate any hay. What little hay he did eat, he was quidding. His feet hadn’t been done in months, and Eric had gone back to a farrier who just wasn’t doing a very good job. Davey’s feet were long, unbalanced, and cracked, and his again prolapsed soles indicated there was a great deal of inflammation in his feet (and probably his whole system). His eyes had become very runny, and his coat felt even more oily than before. And that floppy crest . . . I couldn’t stand by any longer.

I knocked on the door of the house. “Eric,” I said. “I’m taking Davey with me when I go.”

“Yes,” Eric said.

“Well,” I said, “I can’t take him if he’s on his knees. I have to start caring for him my way now.”

And from that day on, Davey was my pony.

I’d always liked Davey but hadn’t allowed myself to bond with him. But the moment I stood with him in his stall, kissed the top of his sweet head, and told him he was a member of our herd, our hearts connected.

Within days, I had his feet properly trimmed and his teeth tended to. I washed his eyes every morning with calendula tincture and water (which helped to reduce the running). I picked his feet every night and treated the frog fungus with apple cider vinegar. I changed his feed from sweet feed to a highly digestible, sugar-free feed. I replaced his clover-rich hay with grass hay. I shared Reiki with him and gave him short neuromuscular retraining sessions. After two sessions, I saw him stand square for the first time. Eric said he couldn’t remember ever having seen him stand square.

I couldn’t turn him out at night with my two for a few reasons: The shed I’d had built was only big enough for two, Davey was losing his sight in one eye, and he was used to lying in shavings, not snow. But I didn’t want to confine him to a stall, so I set him up in the arena at night. Each evening, I’d turn my two into the arena with him for about half an hour. Gradually, he regained his self-confidence; he went from standing in a far corner of the arena to standing within a few feet of Tara and Fuersti while they ate hay. When he’d glance over at me, I could see he was pretty proud of himself for that.

After I’d put Tara and Fuersti back outside for the night, I’d play with Davey in the arena for awhile; I’d work on teaching him to come to me when I faced him and bent forward from the waist, teaching him to follow me at liberty, teaching him to back up and to give various body parts to pressure. Then I’d give him a treat. He had to come to me to get it, and each night he’d follow me around a little longer, but he’d never come quite all the way, choosing instead to walk within a few feet of me, stretch his neck as far as he could and then stretch his lips (aren’t horse lips amazing?) until he could gently coax the apple wafer out of my hand.

When I’d return to the barn in the morning, he would call to me as I got out of the car. He had always eaten his hay, had drunk a respectable amount of water. One morning, I noticed that his coat was shining; when I stroked him, I noticed that the oily feel was gone, that the dandruff was gone. When I kissed his neck in gratitude, I noticed that his odor, which had been very strong, was lighter and pleasant. He was doing amazingly well.

After about a month, and once the paddock and pasture were snowy instead of muddy or icy, I felt it was time to turn Davey out with his herd in the daytime. (He’d either been in the arena or in his own paddock up to that point.) At first he was tentative, kept his distance. When I’d return in the evening to bring the three of them in for dinner, Davey would hang way back behind the other two. But after a few days, he was only a few respectful feet behind them, and he walked into the barn, up the aisle, and into his stall without a halter and lead, like my other two. He was becoming one of us.

The night before Davey died, I went into his stall after he had finished dinner and bent at the waist, asking him to come to me so that I could put the halter and lead on and get him settled in the arena for the night. The first few weeks I’d done this, he just stood and stared at me. For the past few nights, he’d taken a few steps toward me. Progress. But on this night, he came all the way up to me and stood facing me, waiting for me to put his halter on.

When I’d finished my chores, spread hay outside for my Fuersti and Tara and put them back outside for the night, I went into the arena to say good night to Davey. As I had been doing for two months, I held an apple wafer in the palm of my hand and walked backwards away from him. He’d been following me for weeks, but still did his giraffe impersonation when it came time to take the treat. But tonight, the night before he died, he followed me around the arena and then walked right up to me, within a foot or two, a respectful distance, but close enough to nuzzle my hand and gently take the treat. It might sound like a little thing to some, but you horse lovers know that this was huge.

On the morning of the day he died, it was sunny and pleasant (near 30), and he was eager to go out. He kicked the stall door in anticipation, a bad habit I thought I’d broken him of. But I couldn’t reprimand him. His sweet face was so earnest, his eyes so kind. “Hurry up, please,” was all he’d meant to say.

I put him out first, let him find a spot to munch hay, then let my Tara and Fuersti back out. For the three years they had been in separate pastures (for reasons I do not understand, Eric would not allow me to put them together), Davey would always call to my two when they came out after breakfast. Since he’d been turned out with them, though, he’d been silent. My sense was that he was more concerned about being in an acceptable spot, respecting the herd hierarchy, watching his back, than with voicing a greeting.

But this morning, the morning of the day he died, Davey lifted his head from his hay pile and called to the others as they came into the paddock. My heart soared. We’d done it. He was a member of our herd.

Late that afternoon, when I went to the barn to collect my three for dinner, to settle Davey in for the night, I found him down, soaking wet. I asked him to get up, and he did, but then he went down in his stall. It is enough to say that the vet came, was there for an hour and a half, made him comfortable, checked and rechecked, cried when she said there was nothing to do. His small intestines were strangulated. She thought the culprit was probably a fatty tumor. (He had one on his chest as well.) He was much too old for surgery. And so we let that dear, sweet pony go.

While it’s true that I did a great deal for that pony over the three years that I knew him, the truth is that he did at least as much for me. Two months earlier, the night that I took over his care, the night I first told him he was a member of our herd, I placed my hand on his neck to share Reiki with him and was amazed by the intensity. He sighed, dropped his nose nearly to the floor, and closed his eyes.

We were one heart.

I said, “You are such a wise old man. I can’t wait to learn what you have to teach me.”

The night that Davey died, I called a horsey friend to cry with. I told her that when I’d taken over Davey’s care, I hadn’t been sure how I was going to be able to afford a third horse, but I’d known that I had to find a way. And the money had come. I told her that Davey had opened up a space, that now there would always be room for an elderly pony or horse in my herd.

I was saddened that he’d left too soon to teach me the lessons I’d hoped to learn from him. But my wise friend said, “He did teach you. You just said it. He helped you to open up a space for others, so that you can help them to regain their dignity in their final days.”

He did, indeed, do that. He taught me there is always room for one more. He taught me that by helping another to regain dignity, I heighten my own; by helping another to fit in, I enrich my own space; by allowing my heart to entwine with another’s, perhaps the two of us help to shine just a bit more light onto the world.

Thank you, Davey. You have taught me well. Rest in peace my dear friend.

Until next time . . .

Be well,


*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in March, 2010.

© 2010 by Pamela Sourelis