I have not written a lot about Dream here, save for the first year that I had him. Some of you may remember us, some of you may not. I do hope that our story together touches you, either way, and that there will be a lesson inside of it to be learned by all.
I came upon Dream 4 years ago, at a horse dealer'* place in Orillia. The original ad read that they were having a herd dispersal sale of two year olds, $500-$800. I'd wanted a horse since I was 7 years old, and I had finally gotten my first full time job out of college....a career, and so I could support a horse. My sister and I planned to split on buying one, and we had only been riding for 3 months. He did not jump out of us within the field of horses right away. One thing I did know was that I wanted a black horse. It is one thing I have dreamed about for a very long time. We first noticed him standing at the fence looking out at us with the two year olds wistfully. When we walked up to the fence, he was shy and trotted away, only to stop and turn and stare at us. With some carrots and coaxing, he came back. We decided we wanted to try him. He rode around quietly for the seller bareback, he was quiet for being tacked up, and walked and trotted and cantered (a whole 2 steps!) quietly. I should say here, that he was about 15 years old when I got him.
I did not have a lot of horse knowledge at the time, but I knew what I liked. He was black, he was not overly tall, he was quiet, he liked treats and being brushed, and soon he was mine.
He was sick when I got him. He had a respritory infection, he was very skinny, and the day he came home, i wondered what I had done or if he would live. Good care won out, and yes he got better. I can remember spending entire days at the barn with him, just watching. I got to know him inside and out, I got to know what he would do before he would even do it, and in all kinds of situations.
There were many ups and downs with Dream. There were times I wanted to scream, times he made me cry, times he humbled me and put me in my place, but more memorable are the times he made my heart burst with joy. Watching him gallop around, or even trot about, with his tail high and his neck arched, his eyes shining and proud was enough to make my heart burst and rain joy inside of me.Test book wise, his conformation may not have been perfect, but whenever I caught a look of him standing there, he looked perfectly put together to me.
When we went to our first horse show together, I can remember how amazing he was. He was a perfect gentleman for me, never put one foot out of place. We placed in every single class that year. It was rare for him to be out of the ribbons.
I wish I could say we looked like that always. We didn't, but that year was magical for us. We were on a winning streak and everything was perfect.We won our first ribbon together that year; a 4th place in the pleasure class.
Another horse came into the picture at this time. I purchased a little belgian x qh cross mare at the auction on a whim. Something in her reminded me of Dream, her soft kind eye, her lovely head. He took her under his wing and grew her up, so to speak. He taught her about being a horse, having manners, protected her out in the herd, and gave her comfort in her first days with me, when she was scared of humans. Earlier this year, when I began to ride Harvey (the little mare from auction) more, it gave me less time with Dream. That is something that, in hindsight, I would do differently should it happen again. Not that he was neglected at all - far from it - but when we lose something, we are able to look back and scold ourselves for not spending more time with them when we had the chance.
Dream got a part boarder at this time. He was not an easy horse to find a part boarder for. He was very humbling, and had no issue with putting someone in their place if they got on him thinking they were hot shots and could ride. He was dead quiet for raw beginners, and gave advanced riders a ride worth their time. The part board went well for a year. They did jumping, western gaming, hunter pleasure, equitation, even dressage shows. Dream tried his hardest in everything, and *knew* when he had won a ribbon. He would always puff himself up and lift his knees a little higher when a ribbon was pinned to his bridle.
Harvey was sent away for training, and it was arranged to Dream to be mine again for the winter. I am sorry to say I never did get the chance to ride him again. The last time I rode him prior to that was in a lesson, over a month before. It was a good lesson, at least. They all were with him.
It happened one day when I was gettng him ready for a lesson. I got the bright idea that I would lunge him because he seemed excited that day. He cantered around the arena a couple times, then stopped and the coughing started. I won't go into the gory details, but there was lots of blood and tears and fears. I was foolish and naive that day, thinking that if we stopped the blood he would get better and everything would be ok.
Of course I followed it up. He was scoped to find out WHY this had happened, and had the vets stumped. The best they could come up with was possibly an abcess in his lungs burst, and hence the blood. Blood work was done and showed no signs of anything strange other than being Anemic. Nothing to worry about I thought. Naive again. The recommendation was for him to go Guelph University to have his chest x-rayed.
I went to Guelph armed with two good friends, and with high hopes. Dream had been eating better, licking his feed bin clean, picking up every stand of hay, and draining his water bucket daily. I was hopeful, full of life and love for my horse and confident everything would be ok, because he was a good horse, and I did my best to be a good owner. I can clearly remember walking down the hall to the washroom and seeing the vet step out of a room. The look in her eye, the tight line of her lips gave it away. When she asked me to come into a room, and told me I should sit down, It was then I knew, though I did fight the thought for almost 2 hours with tears and tissue and rationalities of how he could DO it.
No one expected to hear what they did that day, and a huge part of it seemed so unreal. Dream was much, much sicker than anyone had ever anticipated. X-rays showed his lungs were around 3/4 full of fluid, riddled with abcesses (and here was a possibly they were cancerous tumors) with extensive lung damage, scarring, and the cavity around the lungs was filled with fluid too. In layman'* terms, he had double pneumonia with a high chance of lung cancer. In the best case, it was double pneumonia with several abcesses which would be ticking time bombs before they would burst like the other, and he would have another bleeding episode.
The cost of surgery was high, though in the end it would not have mattered. I would have done anything I could to afford to save him, and even the thought of selling Harvey if I had to, to save his life came to mind. The odds, however, were highly stacked against him. He was an older horse, approximately 19, and his body had not yet responded to the infectious war being waged inside his body. His white blood cell count had been normal all through the blood tests. The vet had even gone so far as to tell me when I first sat down, that she was surprised he was alive. I wasn't though. I would like to think that he was hanging on, fighting with everything inside of him for me. Life was good when were toghether, and life has not always been good to him, anyone could have been able to tell that from seeing him at first.
It was a hard decision I had to make, and I won't pretend to be brave or noble about it. I was selfish, I wanted to keep him for myself, I thought that, given that he has faught so hard to here, given that he is trying to stay alive and putting on such a good show about feeling "Ok", that he MUST have the will and the want to live, and therefore I should fight for it for him.
Reality is a bitch. His odds of survival were around 40%, and his chances of being a fully functional horse and being "normal" again were around 25%. Not favorable odds. Despite this, the surgery was very painful, and there was no gauarntee that he would have lived.
When I think back to the times I was happiest, I think of when he would gallop and trot around, tail high and flagged, head high and proud. He could never be that horse again...and he deserved the right to be able to be proud of himself, to show himself off to the best of his ability, and continue to outrun all the other horses in his pasture.
It is, without a doubt, the hardest decision I have EVER had to make. My body felt (feels) like it was ripped into two. It wasn't just one decision either. I so badly wanted to take him home for the weekend. Hole up in his stall with him, pray for a miracle and hoped he got better. Sitting in the room, with the xrays in front of me, with these thoughts tumbling, spinning, and colliding in my head, I could feel the life literally drain from me. My chest went tight listening to my thoughts, the playing retuns in my head. It was as if a metal band were cutting off my air supply. It was hard to breathe for several moments, and once I almost came upon the verge of panic, struggling for air that was not mine to have. I went to him then, and my heart slowed and I was able to take a deep breath again.
As strange as it sounds, I really feel he did that for me, so that I could better understand the way he felt, and the pain he was in. Resting my head up against the bars and gazing in at him, tears gushing down my face, I said to him that I didn't want to do it, it was so hard, it wasn't right, I didn't know what to do. He looked at me with his liquid eyes, and did his little nose bob. When he does this, he stretches his neck out and flips his nose up in a gentle fashion. It is as if he is nudging something and saying "look over there..." That was my answer to the difficult question. It was as if he saw something beside or behind me, and telling me to look at it. The peaceful feeling that came over me was all the answer I needed. It didn't last long though.
There were lots of tears shed. My face was raw, my mind weighed with indecision. My poor father, having to see me like that and knowing there was nothing he could do. Some dads aren't even interested in their kids' horses. He wasn't one of those dads. He trailered me places, came to watch me ride, even nicknamed my horses "the mules" with all fondness intended. He was one of the very few men Dream did not fear.
There was one point I recall saying I couldn't go through with it. I was ready to put him on the trailer and take him home, screw what anyone was saying, I would MAKE it be ok. Fortunately, I was, in the end, able to be strong and do what was best for him. Seeing him one more time before I finalized my decision was something I needed to do. He was there, yes. His eyes were open and there was life in them, but it was clouded with pain and there was no spark. He ate grain in his last moments, he had me squeezing him and hugging him and wiping my tears on his neck, telling him what a good horse he was and how much I loved him and would miss him. I remember telling him how much I loved our first gallop together, and how sorry I was that I was too chicken to do it again, the same with jumping. He took care of me and made sure I was safe and I was too scared to do those things again...now I will never have the chance to retry.
Saying all this, I would like to remind everyone to go and hug your horse, your cat, your dog, your friends, family, or SO. Never take them for granted, or figure there is always tomorrow, or always next year to go on that hack, to win that ribbon, to spend time with them. Tomorrow always comes, but those times may not be within reach then. I am amazed at how dumbfounded I was, how oblivious, and how shocked I am that there won't BE a tomorrow for Dream and I. There won' be a next week to go for a gallop, there won't be a next month to try jumping again, there won't be a next year to show and win ribbons and just BE together.
He passed at 7pm, January 26, 2007. May he rest in peace, may he agree with the decision I've made, and may my heart, one day, stop breaking.