About one year ago, Dante and I started his battle with cellulitis and lymphangitis in his left hind leg. Cellulitis is not a terminal disease, and can be managed. But it ended up being Dante's undoing. I often look back on it, thinking to myself, "What more could I have done to keep him here with me?". I think it is natural to feel guilty when you elect for euthanasia of your beloved, but it is also fair and even benevolent when their quality of life has diminished.
I know there is more I could have done to keep him around. I know that if I would have pumped more money and time into him, he would still be here right now, nearly a year after his death. But I also know in my heart that it would not have been the right thing for him. Would I be out kissing his face and grooming him right now? Yes. Would he be comfortable? No.
Many people have asked me, "What happened?" or "Why did Dante get put down?". It was not because of his cellulitis, but at the same time, it was. The rest of his body was so banged up, it really could not cope with the trouble in his left hind leg on top of everything else. The demise of my sweet Dante, my best friend and confidant for nearly a decade, was a culmination of many injuries - the first of which happened when he was just a year old.
Dante didn't come into my life until I was 12 years old, and he was 13. Obsessed with my pony and interested in his history (and of course, finding foal pictures!), I searched his breeder on Facebook, as well as his previous owner, whom I had never met, since Dante was purchased from a sale barn. I sent them both messages, but much to my dismay, did not receive responses from either of them. Well, not right away at least.
About 4-5 years after I sent my original messages, I heard back from both Dante's breeder, and the owner he had before me. I gained so much insight on his life, and just how special (and loved!) he was.
One of the greatest questions I had was why he had a huge scar on the top of the right-side of his haunch. When he first came to me, somebody told me it was because he had gotten caught in a fence, so that was the story I stuck with for years. It did not hinder his movement too much for the first several years I had him, but he was mechanically lame at the walk when he wasn't pushed to stretch out. At the trot and canter though, he was lovely, and had no limitations. (He passed a vet check, don't worry!)
When Dante's breeder, Peter, got in touch with me, he told me what really happened - he had not been caught in a fence.
Dante was a yearling, and it was feeding time. He was living in a barn with a roof that was lower on one side. When the feeding truck came around, Dante was excited, and bucked so high, he sliced his hind end open on the metal roof of the barn. The vet was called on emergency; Peter was in the Midwest when it happened, and had to get the next flight back to Reno, Nevada to care for his injury. Dante healed, but with a huge indentation in his glutteal muscle. It was never quite right, and as he aged, the right side of his haunch atrophied significantly, eventually causing more problems for him.
Peter also sent me some baby pictures! I cried.
When I heard back from his previous owner, Kerry, it was a few months later. Kerry and I formed a bond over "our boy", and she even stopped by to see him in California when she was visiting - even though her & her husband live on the East Coast! With Kerry, Dante had no injuries that she recalled. I got a few more pictures of him from when he was hers.
With me, Dante was steady for years. Even with my horrible horsemanship. I insult myself and get frustrated with myself because I knew absolutely nothing about horse ownership when I first became Dante's owner. I often wish I could purchase Dante as my horse now because I would be the horse owner that he deserved. While Dante was fed and loved, I was never taught about proper grooming, blanketing, nutrition, farrier care, veterinary care, exercise regimes, or even disease protocols. I wish I would have been. I learned what I knew about horse care from YouTube videos for the most part. I wish I would have known about maintenance - He would have been on Adequan, fed supplements, and worked properly. He was incredible for going steady for so many years.
In late 2012, Dante was "off" for the very first time. I could tell as soon as I put his halter on to pull him out of his paddock that something was wrong. He was walking fine, but just seemed incredibly stiff and slow-moving. I had the veterinarian come out, and they radiographed his knees. He had severe - like, almost no range of motion - arthritis in his right front carpus (knee). Now, would I notice today if my horse had arthritis that badly just from looking at the knee from the outside? Yes. But as a 16-year-old girl, no. I really didn't know the difference. Dante was the only horse I looked closely at, so to me, his knees looked normal.
I found out at this vet visit that Dante had an incredible attitude and high pain tolerance for dealing with the arthritis without showing any obvious (well, to young me) signs that he was uncomfortable while riding. For the first time, Dante was given the joint injections he deserved, but it was too late for our riding career. They helped him stay comfortable, but never made him sound enough to jump again. Dante was retired from jumping and showing altogether (even though we only did low level things to start), and became semi-retired, all we did from then on was hack on the flat. He was only 17 years old.
Soon after, I moved Dante to a boarding stable about 10-minutes away. It was a casual barn for the casual rider. Dante and I became regulars at bareback hacking in halters, playing in the fields, and taking a lot of handwalks. Our life at this point was pretty perfect. I began researching and learning much more about horse care and how to make sure the rest of his life he was given top-notch care.
When I started college at UC Davis in the fall of 2014, I brought Dante with me to live at the UC Davis Equestrian Center. Two weeks after class began, I arrived at the barn to visit Dante and found him non-weight-bearing lame on his right-hind leg - the same leg with the glutteal tear on top. I panicked very quickly. I knew that an abscess could cause this level of lameness, but Dante had never had an abscess. Ever. At least not in my time with him. I called the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) on emergency and they showed up in about 6 minutes.
He was nerve-blocked all the way up his leg to his stifle. When his stifle joint was blocked, he was significantly sounder and would trot without hesitation. The veterinarian then took radiographs near his right-hind stifle joint, left me with Banamine, and told me they would call me with results.
I was still at the barn that night when they called me with results of his x-rays. He had broken his tibia, the upper leg bone in the hind leg. To this day, I still don't know how he did it. Surgery was possible, but several thousand dollars in price and could end in disaster anyways - horses do not do well with anesthesia. Dante was also 19, and his riding days were already mostly over. I elected to not go through with surgery; I did not believe it was fair to him. With that choice, Dante's future was unclear, and whether or not he would become sound enough to be a pasture pet was unknown. I was told that he might need to be euthanized, depending on how the next couple of weeks played out. I think I cried a lot. I remember the barn supervisor who was working that day (S/O to you Crystal if you are reading this!) came over and hugged me.
I became the most-dedicated horse mom possible, at the barn whenever I wasn't in class. I was not ready to lose Dante. We did Banamine, ice, cold hosing, and slowly (over the course of many days) as he felt ready, began hand walking in the barn aisle. When Dante was able to walk decently, we slowly weaned him off of Banamine. After finishing the Banamine, he was still able to walk decently, so we walked him across the street into the UC Davis VMTH two weeks post-injury to have an ultrasound of his leg. His veterinarian and the surgeon wanted to see how the tissue surrounding the break looked - if it looked okay, his chances of continuing his healing were good.
Thank goodness, we received a positive report from the surgeon. I walked Dante back to the barn, and we continued the rehab process. All I wanted was for him to be comfortable, so we could continue hanging out together for as long as time would allow. I did not care if I ever had the opportunity to get on his back again, as long as I had his friendship.
My second year of school, Dante went through several choking episodes where the vet had to come out to put a tube down his throat to get the blockage out. He had permanent scar tissue surrounding his esophagus from these incidents, and was put on a special soaked diet.
Also during my second year of college in late 2015, I noticed some swelling in Dante's left front limb. Luckily he wasn't lame on it, so I scheduled an appointment for the vet to come out later that week. He was diagnosed with check ligament desmitis. Honestly, not a huge deal compared to everything else we had been through so far.
I realize how incredibly long this story is - so I have broken it into two parts! Thank you for reading part 1 - and please get in touch if you have any questions, comments, or similar experiences you want to chat about.