Benali's Macaroon


31/32 Arabian, 1/32 Morgan

27 years old
June 13, 1977 – August 16, 2004

I am making myself write this.  It has been one year to the day since
I lost my boy.  Lost really doesn't even begin to describe the hole in my life.  I can't believe I haven't seen that beautiful face, taken the tangles out of that beautiful black mane, been backed against the wall, ever so gently for one more rump scratch, heard that unmistakable nicker.  You were my gift, my miracle.  Nothing could stop you when you put your mind to it.  The last year has been a blur, so many "if onlys" and so many times I wished I could have fixed it, like you asked me to.  I am so sorry, I just couldn't fix it this time.

Your whole life was a tribute to the unbreakable spirit.  You overcame odds, time and time again, nothing could ever break you.  And in your struggle to overcome whatever life handed you, you took me along for the ride.  You made a little girl believe she could do anything because you could do anything. I first saw you March 4, 1980.  I was an 11-year-old girl with only a mild interest in horses.  My sister found you starving to death in a pasture full of 60 horses, almost invisible.  To this day I have never seen a thinner horse, most die before they get to that point.  You couldn't stand, so a rubber tire sling held you up.  Your hip bones wore through your skin from struggling to get up and the tire wore your girth area raw.  You had a garbage can full of worms in you and the vet didn't give you one ounce of hope.  Yet you beat all the odds.  Despite colic, strangles and months of living in a sling, you survived.  You were only 2 years old, but to our horror, we found you were stolen and starved once before this.  Yet you survived.  I was told to put you down, you would have brain damage, but you proved them all wrong.  Your intelligence was only surpassed by your will to live.

You grew stronger, from that poor little scrub of a horse, into a beautiful, graceful, bay Arabian.  Yet there was never one minute when you acted any less than the magnificent, invincible soul you were.  No matter how your body looked on the outside, it did not define you, or stop you.  That never changed for your entire life.  It took a year for you to fill out and grow.  By 4 years old, the only outward signs of your struggles were scars on your hips, legs and girth and continuous abscessing from your hips from infection in your bones. You were beautiful, now not just to me, but to everyone. Your first leg problems began at 6, I wish I knew then what I know now, not that it would have made a difference.  Long pasterns and poor nutrition gave way to a pulled suspensory tendon on the left front. We worked through it and for many years we enjoyed trail riding, 4-H, long summers, swimming in the slough, so many private conversations that only you could understand.  You were there for me, when my entire dysfunctional family failed me in so many ways, you never did.  You were the one stable element in my life.  Through high school and college, you provided the foundation for responsibility in my life that could have gone the other way like my other relatives.  All my boyfriends had to pass one test, be able to jump on you over your rump.  You were the litmus test, the standard by which all would be judged, poor guys.  When the man I would marry came along, you were there too, forever immortalized in our wedding pictures.  He loved you, too.  How could you not be affected by a personality such as yours?  It was your way or not at all.  I guess I learned that early on.  There would be no "telling" you what to do, I could ask, and you would consider it.

Your mannerisms are all with me today.  The way you licked with the underside of your tongue, how you got up backwards for so long, like a cow because that is the way we had to get you up into your sling, how you ate an entire nectarine, worked it around in your mouth for a few minutes, then spit out the pit, your taste for Captain Crunch cereal, potato chips and peanut butter and jelly and how for 24 years, you never once liked having your blanket put on, no matter how cold or wet you were.

When you turned 17, our luck with your legs began to run out.  Your suspensories began to fail and your retirement began.  I didn't care, as long as you were happy.  For a few years things were fine, but then the injuries began.  Just being turned out with other horses and the stupidity of careless boarders and facility owners started you on a downward spiral.  You bowed your right deep digital flexor in January of 2001 and it looked like that would be it for you, but no, you beat the odds again.  The day I found you leaning against the wall, trying to deal with the pain, and then handed your leg to me, over and over again, saying "fix it", I knew I had to find a way.  I quit my high-paying job to stay home and look after you, I would have done anything to save you.

I spent weeks searching the internet and found a company that would attempt orthotic braces for Mac's front legs.  We had to cast each leg in plaster and then send them to the east coast for the braces to be made.  The casting nearly killed him, as sedating him caused him to relax and put too much strain on his front legs.  We waited in agony for the braces to come, but when they did, they worked, for awhile. They allowed the bowed tendon to heal.  The suspensory ligaments were a mixed bag.  For so long, I had resisted doing anything permanently supportive for them because it would weaken them and make him dependent on them.  However, they were almost useless now anyway, so we had nothing to lose.  Mac wore the braces for a few months, although they were high maintenance.  They weren't adjustable, so he had to wear stockings and socks as the bowed tendon reduced.  Skin irritation and rubbing were constant issues.  But we dealt with them. I also was dealing with having to sit with him all day at the boarding facility to keep him from getting hurt again.  The owners of the place were irresponsible and indirectly caused repeated injuries to him. So, although Mac liked the place he had been for 4 years, I made a huge mistake and moved him to a new place, so he could be pastured with a 34-year-old horse, so he wouldn't be alone.

The new place ended up being terrible, but we were stuck.  Mac had deteriorated to the point where we were afraid to move him again.  The owner was the most evil person I had ever met.  Jealous of the way I cared for Mac, she did everything she could to make my life miserable. Mac needed new braces, as he had shrunk out of the new ones on the right, and then banged his knee against the new stall, trying to get out, making it too swollen to wear the left one.  The brace company disappeared, leaving me stuck with no braces.  Left with only wraps, Mac's pasterns began to drop at an alarming rate.  I sought out another company to try braces, which they did, but their learning process of trial and error meant it was many months of failures before they had any brace of usefulness, that we designed for them.  We tried everything with Mac during that time.  I sought out every possible remedy, Chinese herbs, miracle poultices, chondroitin, cold hosing 30 minutes twice a day for 2 months, whirlpooling, you name it.  We did find a chiropractor/acupuncturist that did make him feel better.  She had him on 7-8 different kinds of herbs that helped.  She was the only vet he ever wanted to see.

We decided that me sitting at a boarding facility for 8-12 hours a day for over a year was crazy so we decided to buy a place to keep Mac at home.  It was hard to find a place that was flat for him, but we found one that summer, but could only afford to build from raw land.  So as that project began in late fall, in the cracks of time left when I wasn't at the barn.  Mac's injuries continued to plague him, I couldn't leave him for even an hour without someone doing something stupid to spook him and hurt himself.  He got to the point where his small injuries kept stacking on themselves, never really healing.  He wore the new braces when he could, these braces were steel and made him sound like Robocop when he walked around.  At night, he wore pillow wraps on all 4 legs, as he stopped laying down at night since we got to the terrible new place.  He only laid down a few times in the 9 months we were there.  We had his hocks injected twice, but the weight transference and arthritis were taking over.  His low doses of bute over the last few years had made him immune and he began the longest run of banamine I know of.  He was on it for almost 2 years at 1-3 tubes a week, the standard use is 5 days.  He was in constant pain, but didn't let it stop him.  I think he somehow knew that was part of his life and he dealt with it.  He did become anxious.  At 25, he would get very attached to other people's horses.  When the nightmare facility decided to shut down at the end of the year, we were stuck.  Our new place wasn't even cleared but we were afraid to move him to another place.  Also, as the other horses moved, Mac freaked out and tore himself up.  He would scream and sweat and run himself ragged trying to get back to the other horses.  He was killing himself, running through fences so we got him a goat, which he tried to kill.  Then we got him a mini mare, named Belle.  It had to be a mare, Mac always like the girls.  She wouldn't take any garbage from him and in a few days, they were inseparable.

In an act of desperation, we bought a 39-foot trailer and on December 27th, moved the horses and ourselves to our wooded lot.  We had a 12X16 portable stall that we had bought for Mac, so he had the room to get up, when and if he laid down.  We moved that and the horses in one day.  My husband tore down and rebuilt the stall in one day by headlight until 11:30 that night.  No power, it was 26 degrees at night in the trailer.  It froze the next night, no water.  It snowed the following night.  We lasted 5 days, the worst of my life.  The horses were miserable and so were we.  On January 1, 2004, we moved to a facility a few miles away.  It was a terrible place, too, but at least the horses were warm and dry.  We stayed there for 8 months, Mac got to the point were his pasterns were so dropped, almost at right angles, so he couldn't wear the  braces, just wraps.  We built a small pen for him in that mud pit of a facility that we maintained so it had no mud, as his wraps couldn't get wet.  I used ski gators to keep them as dry as I could.  It was a long walk to the pen, but Mac and Belle, which now shared a 12X24 stall, could go out to graze.  It was difficult walking them both, but we managed.  I was still spending all my daylight hours at the barn, but it was worth it to see them happy. We were ok for awhile, Mac was getting about $600 a month in meds and treatments.  He was in pain but never gave up.  I would spend hours letting him graze on the way to his pen, just enjoying being with him but wishing he was well enough to run and lay down, roll and mostly rest.  He had been standing almost non-stop for over a year, too much for any body to take.  On June 13th, his 27th birthday, we gave him every goodie we could think of.  His legs were getting worse but he was still so tough.  And he just loved Belle.  She would lay down at night and he would stand over her, watching out for her.  She was his pony.

On July 8th, Mac's right front leg finally gave out.  The suspensory ligaments and deep flexor ligaments had stretched to the point where his pastern was touching the ground, and his left leg wasn't far behind.  We called the vet and he tried to brace it but he just couldn't do it.  For the first time, after 8 emergency calls and dozens of phone calls and trying every type of medication known, from naquazone to stem cells, our kind-hearted vet was telling me he thought it might be time to give up.

I had never thought it would come to this.  I don't know if it was the innocence of a little 11-year-old girl, or Mac's will and strength and ability to beat the odds, but I always thought he would live to be 40 and die of old age.  Now, although struggling with this every day for 3 years, spending literally every day at the barn not letting him out of my sight for fear of injury to him, watching him struggle and never give up, I was facing my worst nightmare.  The inevitable no-win situation.  I guess it would have been more bearable, maybe,  if he was ready to go.  If he had for one minute, let me know it was over, I would have somehow, someway, made it happen.  But not my beautiful, beautiful boy.  Over the next 5 weeks, his legs melted away.  Huge pressure sores appeared on the bottom of his pasterns from walking on them, despite wraps and pads.  Each day I washed his pillow wraps and disinfected his wounds.  The temperatures reached into the 90's, and I did what I could to keep Mac cool, sponging him down several times a day.  Some days the pain was too bad to go outside, almost unbearable in that airless barn.  On good days we would slowly work our way out of the barn, I would take a chair as it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get to the paddock.  At some point we stopped making it to the paddock.  Just slowly going as far as we could, grazing along the way. The inconsiderate and unkind looks from some other boarders did not deter us.  Mac was Mac, this body was just a vehicle to him, it did not define him.  Others were more kind, touched by his spirit and by our bond.  I often wondered how the cruel ones justified their love of animals.  If Mac had been my human son, in the hospital with a terminal disease, bled dry financially by attempts to save him, no insurance, by his side each and every day, would that somehow be different?  Spending as much time with him as I did, I grew to understand more deeply the unspoken world of horses and his strength and determination.  I learned more about myself, how deep I can dig and how much the spirit can endure.

My world as I had known it for 24 years ended on August 16th.  At 8 am I got the call I had been dreading, Mac was down in his stall.  I got dressed as if in a dream, hoping this was going to turn out ok, but knowing the only way for Mac to be released from his constant pain was to free him from his body.  How would I ever give the ok to kill my horse?  How?  I called my husband to meet me out there went to the barn.  I swallowed my rising panic as I looked in the stall.  My beautiful boy was stretched out, head by the door.  He hadn't finished his dinner and had probably been down all night.  His precious little Belle, waited quietly in the corner.  I knelt down next to him, kissed him, crying I asked him what he wanted.  I knew he didn't want to go. His legs were so stiff from arthritis and pain, couldn't even bend enough for him to sit up.  My husband and friend showed up, we put a blanket under his head and tried to get him away from the wall.  We called the vet, who was at another emergency, and waited.  I talked to my boy for the next 4 hours, waiting for the vet.  I thanked him for being my son, for loving me, for showing me strength beyond reason.  I asked his forgiveness for my stupidity and weakness and misdirected anger.  I asked him again and again what he wanted, but only felt stubborn determination in response.  As the hours dragged on Mac grew worse, lack of water and continued pressure on his already weakened organs caused him to begin to colic.  He would lift his head enough to point at growing pain in his side, but that was all.  He never once tried to get up.  I wished I could be anywhere else but there, suddenly the hours I spend wrapping and hosing and crying seemed infinitely preferable to what I had to do.  I knew Mac was never going to give up, never.  I also knew I couldn't ask him to stand on those miserable legs again.  If I asked, he would try, but I just couldn't do that to him.  Even if we did get him up, how long would it last?  I just couldn't do that to him.

I only left him once during that whole time, to get the address of the facility for the cremators.  I walked around the corner for 1 minute and when I came back, he nickered.  He didn't want me to leave him. He then bit me lightly in the arm.  He was always cranky, even as a young horse, wise beyond his years, an old man in a young man suit. As he aged, he got more cranky, probably a combination of pain, frustration, stubbornness and a sense of entitlement.  I had been the recipient of many such bites, with the scars to prove it.  This was the one bruise I wish had stayed.  His final attempt to put me in my place, snap me out of my downward spiral and show me who was in charge.

The vet finally showed up, poor guy.  He started in trying to devise a plan to get Mac up.  After all, every other visit had our, my and Mac's, united front to press on.  This time was different.  I heard someone else's voice come out of my mouth saying, "I just can't make him get up on those legs anymore".  That set into motion the events that haunt me to this day.  I remember signing the papers giving them the right to "humanely euthanize" my son.  I remember a vial with blue liquid in it.  I remember the catheter being put in his neck.  I remember them sedating him and trying to close his eye, but it just snapped back open.  I remember crying over and over into his neck, "Thank you for being my boy, thank you for being my son".  I remember the assistant saying, "He's got new legs now".  I remember asking if this was it.  I remember burying my face in his beautiful mane. The vet told me there would be some motion as he passed away but that he wouldn't feel it.  I don't know what to believe.  I tried to prepare myself by reading up on euthanasia.  So many people have told me how their horse just drifted away.  Well, Mac went out fighting, just as he had his whole life.  His legs began kicking as they euthanized him.  I threw myself into the assistant's lap as his front legs began kicking the wall.  I felt my head spinning as suddenly I was running out of the barn, with the sounds of my boy's last movements banging against the walls.  I could not let my last memories of my vibrant, fearless, beautiful son, be of his lifeless body.  I hope you can forgive me for that, my beautiful boy.

I remember leaning on the fence and gasping for air.  It was 1:15 pm and my life would never be the same.  None of this was how it was supposed to be.  I somehow gave the ok to end my boy's pain, but was it really what he wanted? No peaceful goodbyes there, just regrets and a hole in my heart that will never be filled.  The vet hugged me and cried with me and in a moment we were in the car, driving towards the mountains.  Driving anywhere, trying to get away from what had just happened.  A huge part of me was gone.  How was I going to go on without him?  It had been years since I had had the freedom to leave the barn during the day.  I had learned not to drink much since most of the boarding places didn't have bathrooms.  I ate in my car and read books and lived outside to protect my horse during those years. I don't regret what I did, only that I couldn't take away his pain. The braces gave him a few more years and because of Macaroon pioneering equine bracing, many other horses will live better lives. I found a small spot of blood on my arm later that day.  Must have been from the catheter.  I kept that spot on my arm for as long as I could, anything not to let go.

I spent the next two weeks on the couch, staring at the tv, I think. I suddenly had time on my hands.  But it was different time.  We still had a house to build.  Two weeks into construction, the whole reason we were building this place was gone.  It was a horrible project, filled with problems that stem to this day.  As I sit in the house that I have lived in for 6 months now, it still doesn't seem real.  I miss my boy as much today as a year ago.  I vowed I would give up horses, 24 years owning only one horse, how could I go on?  I had seen unspeakable cruelty from horse people and was fed up.  Belle, the mini was a care lease, and could go back.  But something stopped me.  We met some kind people and moved Belle to their place.  I had a lot of problems going to see Belle for awhile but when I started going out there I noticed something.  For the years that Mac could no longer run around, he would toss his head as Arabs often do, to show their feelings.  Although Belle had never done this in the 9 months we had her, she suddenly began tossing her head and does to this day.  We decided at 3 years old, Belle was a remarkable little horse that stayed by Mac till the end and for that alone she will be loved for the rest of her life and doesn't owe us a thing.  Sometimes I wonder if Mac is following her around, nipping her in the rump and getting to finally play with her.

I don't have answers, just sadness and regrets about Mac's passing. He was a fighter until the end, that is the only thing I know for sure.  And that I miss him.  I started writing a book about him and his amazing recovery from starvation.  I started it before his decline and now wished I had finished it then.  It takes on a new dimension posthumously, but my pledge to you Mac, is that I will finish it. Your miracle life story will be told. And as the title says, "God Never Created A Sick Horse".  I love you, Macky, my angel with beautiful boy.


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