It’s only been twenty-four hours since he left us but I know this for sure: our farm, and our hearts…
They’ll never be the same.
She wanted a pony but thought we probably couldn’t have one. She’s always been so conscious of what things cost the family.
My thoughtful girl.
We had the minis…everyone was learning horsemanship. We had friends and lessons where she could ride big horses whenever she wanted.
But one night she said something at prayers that made her Daddy’s eyes water.
God please help me be happy for other people who have their own horses so that I won’t always just want one for myself.
And my husband whispered later that night…
We’re gonna get that girl a pony.
We brought Beau home after a friend told us he’d be a great match for our girl. He was so big compared to our minis, he was a Clydesdale on the barnyard. It made my head spin when I first walked him.
He’d been a Pony Club pony. He had such good manners. His girl had trained him well but she needed a bigger horse to do the kind of horse activities she wanted to do, her mama said. Her legs were getting too long.
That mama cried when we pulled out with him in our trailer. That pony had seen her little girl grow up.
And when my husband walked up to my girl with that pony and gave her the lead rope, she cried too. She couldn’t believe she was a little girl who had her very own horse.
It was the happiest day we’ve ever had on our little farm.
Beau went from being a fancy pony to a farm pony, and while secretly this mama thought maybe our farm wasn’t fancy enough and that maybe a fancy pony is meant to be a fancy pony forever, a horse friend that knew him in both lives said “No. He fits here. I can see it. He’s relaxed. He loves this farm.”
So Beau was our fancy farm pony.
And my girl said, See that patch of brown right there on his flank Mama? That color right there is my favorite color in the whole world.”
He came out of his first winter here a little thinner and weaker after a bag of bad feed had us learning how to give a horse a shot, and our vet came to put his vet hands on him for us and he told us Beau was just fine and that sometimes a horse just doesn’t winter very easily, but that we’d learn exactly what he needs as we got to know him better. Just our love and a little medicine will have him back to his big old self in no time.
We had the love and we had the medicine, and we got him on a feed that was better for his body. He went to a horse camp with my girl that spring, and even though she learned that sometimes the circles of horse folks can be harsh and assume the worst of a person by the size of their horse, my girl and her pony had a great time at that camp learning new things about each other and they grew in trust and they grew in skills…
And our vet was right.
In no time at all he was back to his big old self.
Over years, my girl’s legs grew a little longer, and Beau grew a little older and they were partners and they were friends. On our barnyard, he was the big boss of the herd and even as herd boss, he was sweet. The minis doted on him, and in the dusk, they’d find shelter under his tall-to-them flanks. Twice a day my girl would feed and water the horses and because she was horse manager on the farm, she knew them well.
She knew that she liked them to go in order when the farrier came: biggest to littlest.
She knew that Beau didn’t like it when his minis were away from him, even for a minute.
She knew when her body was growing too big for a pony.
She knew that even though riding him may not be an option, she could still teach him and learn from him, so she decided that together, they’d start training to drive a cart.
She knew he would pick it up easily.
She knew how awesome it was that he didn’t even flinch when she started walking behind him with her long reins and teaching him Gee and Haw and driving him all summer all over the round pen and the yard and up the driveway.
She knew what a great teacher he would be for her younger sister and little brother and started teaching them how to work a pony in the round pen.
She knew that the biggest mini was a little like a toddler and that the littlest mini was like a friend feeling left out, and she knew that Beau would peek over the pony wall of the stall every morning to wait for his girl to come out and say hi.
She knew that he was gentle and that he was kind.
And she knew him well enough to know that something was wrong when she saw him standing weak at feed time, and she texted me immediately and got me coming home and on the phone with the vet. We got a shot in him right away, gave him his own room in the barn, and in the morning Doc came out and said colic was working on our boy. Told us to use our hands and our medicine to help him feel better.
He pepped up a bit midweek and his minis were glad to have him back with them in the big pen where he went right back to bossing and big-brothering them to whinnies.
His downturn was a surprise and before we could even celebrate that he’d been improving, we were camped out in the barn with him tucked into his blanket and us tucked into our Carharrts, him looking at us with big brown eyes puzzled at having his whole family sleeping in the barn in lawn chairs.
The little heater for ice fishing kept people and pony from freezing, and he stood on all four feet and drank water and nibbled hay and the doc said keep doing what you’re doing because that’s what’s keeping him here. He put a tube in our pony that night and gave him oil in his tummy to help coat things and protect him from the environmental toxin he suspected our boy had in his system. Our extra warm winter…our very early spring thaw…it’s messed with the soil and plant life this year and horses in high numbers are colicking all over he said.
But I told myself that our pony was strong and he’d be okay every time I put my hands on him and I’d pray to God, the one who created horses. Father please help us keep him strong enough to heal and we’ll keep on loving this pony all his days.
Our pony’s girl, my girl, she’d be dozing through the middle-of-the-night hours, tucked into the little pallet bed she’d made out of pillows and sleeping bags all folded up into the garden cart attached to the four-wheeler over in the corner barn.
We played the radio soft and she told us to keep it on the country station because that’s what he liked the best.
His same low nicker every time he’d see his girl was like music on the heart.
Shock after the nasal tube panicked him and I had Doc on speed dial while Matt set up flood lights over the paddock and neighbors came and friends brought stethoscopes and we monitored his heart rate as he sweat his panic out and mouth-breathed and coughed up blood clots like pudding. I never would’ve thought he was going to make it through the night but each time he coughed, he’d settle a bit more, and then at 2 a.m., he coughed up one last clot and calmed.
The doc set aside his morning and came to see him and said from the sounds of his night, he was surprised to come out and not see a dead pony. But our boy was on all fours and blinking his big brown eyes softly at Doc, and if it weren’t for his heart rate still being high and the bloodstains on the straw and on the gates and on his nose, no one would ever guess our little pony had been on death’s door just seven hours before.
We took him out into the sun and he napped like he always does on spring days.
We wondered if we’d know when it was time. Doc said his heart rate needed to come down and if it didn’t, we’d probably know which way things were going to go by noon or so. But noon came and went and Beau stood with his face in the sun and my husband said God can heal ponies too and if Doc said it’ll take 36 hours for that oil to kick in, well, we’ll give him every minute of that 36 hours to get better because it’s not fair to Beau if we don’t, and that’s our job as his people, to give him every chance he has to fight.
We kept a little bit of hay and a lot of water in front of him and we encouraged him to lay down and rest a bit, but he insisted on doing what he normally does, take the occasional sugar cube from his girl and kick his back leg in some, all while blinking a napping blink and bobbing his head lazy like in the sunshine with his minis slinking around him and stealing bits of his hay.
His heart rate came down some when he was in the sun. So for two whole days of daytime hours, he lived with his sweet face pointing south in our front yard, the Alaskan spring sun warming his white blaze and black forelock while his kids and his minis and his chickens went around him…next to him…under him…with him…
We slept in the barn again for the third night and even though his 36-hour mark had come and gone, our boy was still not showing signs of being in big distress. We still felt like if we cut his time short and opted to euthanize now, we would be giving up on him since he was still fighting so quietly and valiantly.
But there was no doubt that he was starting to weaken.
When a call to an equine vet with a clinic four hours away through the mountains gave us disbelief that our pony was still standing after almost three days with a heart rate that would’ve killed any other horse after just one day, we wondered if maybe we should load our little boy up for some big city care.
We consulted with our vet and another vet closer to home, and she showered us with words of love and kindness, having been through this with her own animals and knowing all too well the pain of trying to decide when it’s time to relieve our animal friends of their burden of illness. She confirmed what we were feeling: yes an elevated heart rate indicates trouble; he was definitely a sick boy. But being a pony, his heart rate would be a little higher than a full-sized horse, and without a baseline on him, we didn’t know if he normally ran a little higher regularly, and most of all, if he is still standing on all four feet and seemed peaceful enough to fight it out, why not give him every chance we could to let him do that?
When making a game plan for that night and weighing our options -euthanization, continuing to sit vigil, trying to load him quickly and haul him up north for specialized care- my thoughtful girl thought about it, then came to me and said she’d like to keep her pony at home where he’d feel safe and not have to be scared on top of being sick. His minis are here. The ride would be long and scary for him and she couldn’t ride in the trailer to help him not be scared, and he might not be able to stand that long and he wouldn’t want to lay down.
This is his home Mama.
One more night -even though we all knew he was getting on time to run out of time- we put on our layers and we boiled water for tea and we went to the store for another small box of sugar cubes and we put needles in our pockets for his shots and we freshened the clipboard full of our times and our notes about our boy and all his round-the-clock care.
Every walk, every pet, every shot, every movement…every moment…
Even my horse-scorning big boy who delights in telling his little sister how much he doesn’t like horses, he slept in the barn and he hauled water and he held her hand when we prayed and it’s different when it’s your little sister’s horse and shouldn’t a whole family hold out hope for one little pony?
My husband led us in prayer at every turn and we’d bow our heads and we’d cry our tears and we’d ask God to help Beau. To help him in his brave and courageous fight. To help him poop. To help his heart rate come down. To help his little body heal. To help our hands help him.
I came back to the barn from a house trip with hot coffee and tea at sunrise that third morning and there, right there over the barn was a huge arc-shaped cloud. I stood in the driveway and wondered if it might look a little bit like a white fluffy rainbow. It had that wispy cotton candy texture to it that the kids told me is called mare’s mane.
It took me a minute to realize that a shape was at the base of the arc and that if you looked just hard enough, and a little tear-stained and barn-weary enough, it could almost look like a little horse coming down to a perfect landing from a beautiful and arcing jump.
A fancy-pony jump.
And I knew when I saw it that it would be Beau’s last morning here on our farm.
He showed us that morning that his strong and courageous little body was growing tired of standing on all four feet and that our hands weren’t going to be able to help him win this one and that it was time for us to call the vet out.
Doc didn’t even have time to get heading our way. Not even a half hour later we were all cheering Beau gently and encouraging him through our tears to go ahead and lie down when we could see he’d decided it was finally time to get off his strong little feet.
He died minutes later, at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, and it was the saddest day we’ve ever had on our little farm.
Farm kids are tough but farm kids grieve and my littlest daughter brought Kleenex and my baby asked Why? Just why? and my menfolk let unashamed tears run down their faces and we all cried together and mourned the beautiful creature that God had sent our way. We loved that pony.
My girl asked her daddy if we could lay him to rest on our new land, a piece of simple north road we bought last year just a quarter mile away, a chunk of our future, a homestead we plan to settle in the upcoming months.
So the same Daddy that bought his girl a pony brought home a tractor to bury that pony. She chose a beautiful clearing under a tall birch, and while he dug, we watched and we fetched logs when he’d get stuck and we rested and we loved.
We were exhausted and we were sad and we were thankful…all at the same time.
Our girl’s fancy farm pony taught us so much in our four short years with him.
He taught us that being fancy was a good thing.
And he taught us that being farmy was a good thing too.
He taught us that friends come in all sizes and species and that sometimes friendship doesn’t look the way everyone else thinks it should look.
He taught us that a low rumble of recognition is a gift to be treasured.
He taught us to pay close attention because not everyone speaks loudly.
He taught us that good training is also a good teacher.
He taught us that true friendships adapt.
He taught us that a quiet fight is a strong fight.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the shock of what happened this past weekend on our farm.
I don’t know if the trauma of caring for an animal so closely that literally every moment is filled with them, -their breathing, their movements, their improvements, their subtle decline- and then watching the life leave the eyes of that animal as it falls to the ground after standing so bravely in hope is something I’ll ever be able to fully process.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk outside like I did this morning and not cry in grief when I see reminders of him on every inch of our barnyard. This morning it was the indent in the thick bed of straw that was the same size and shape of a miniature horse and was situated in the exact spot where Beau’s handsome head fell when he died.
I don’t know if I will.
The grief is so deep, this saying goodbye too soon to a friend of your heart…when you didn’t even know they were going to leave.
My daughter, -exhausted and processing our weekend like her pony did, stoickly, when I told our flower-bringing friend that the whole barnyard has shifted on end with the loss of one little-but-mighty pony- she said “Mama, it’s kind of like the universe. Everything effects everything else. One little change makes the whole universe different.”
That’s exactly what it’s like.
One little pony…and the loss of him…
It makes the whole universe different.
And it’s only been twenty-four hours since he left us but I know this for sure: our farm, and our hearts…
They’ll never be the same.
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
In loving memory of Beau, a brave and strong and courageous pony.