Or, Love is possible at any age. . .
I want to say Cutter was sweet and kind. But he wasn’t. Gentle? Not so much (he broke our friend Jil’s finger one day while being “opinionated.”) He certainly wasn’t flexible or even well-mannered. What was Cutter? An ancient quarter horse, probably 36-years old, who was loyal, devoted, stubborn and yes, very opinionated. He made you earn his trust, but once you did, you had it forever. If, of course, you played by Cutter’s rules.
As far as humans went, Cutter could take us or leave us. Lucille, however, was the air that he breathed. A striking chestnut draft cross mare, she was his late-life-love-of-his-life, perfect in his eyes, those eyes that snapped out full sentences, often peppered with the language of a drunken pirate. But for Lucille, he only had goo-goo eyes dripping with complete adoration.
Truth be told, I was a little jealous . . .
Cutter came to us October 9, 2021, from a situation where his humans were unable to offer the specialized care required by a 35-year-old toothless gelding. The man needed to get some weight on his bony frame, he needed more shelter, and after living alone for 15 years, he needed a reason to live.
A former boarder of ours, Amy, had called to ask if we had any room in our sanctuary and I replied, no, but . . . what do you have? Only a very specific kind of horse would do for us just then.
Several weeks earlier our older PMU mare, Lucille, had lost her sweetheart, Joshie, who was almost 37, an unheard-of age for a draft cross to reach. Lucille was depressed and withdrawn, and while I didn’t want to take on another special needs horse, after my conversation with Amy, I felt Cutter might be exactly the medicine Lucille needed.
Days later, a trailer arrived, and Cutter unloaded into our driveway. Skinny, bumpy arthritic knees, lower lip twitching and curses spewing forth from his snapping black eyes. Oh boy. Just what we needed . . . and old man diva.
It turned out, however, that Cutter was exactly what Lucille needed. We walked the two of them up the hill to a grassy paddock, turned them loose and crossed our fingers and toes. Moments later, the pair had found a thick patch of blossoming clover and settled in, side by each, nibbling contentedly. Lucille’s sadness lifted, and Cutter’s eyes were soft and loving and always on his girl as they never left each other’s sides again.
For months, the two of them grazed and gazed, a perfect match, until one day in early spring, I found Cutter down in their paddock, Lucille standing protectively over him. He was cast, stuck in a minor depression in the dirt, unable to find an angle to get his legs beneath him. A young horse wouldn’t have an issue, but Cutter had left young behind about 20 years earlier; unless we dragged him to a better angle, his predicament was insurmountable. I yelled for my husband.
David and I have been doing this for a few decades, and we whip into action with clockwork precision. He came running with my “box,” a collection of meds and equipment that has saved more lives that I could possibly count. A shot of Banamine, another of steroids, straps wrapped around him . . . one, two, three . . . heave ho!!! Again! Again! We finally got him into a workable position, but poor Cutter had used up most of his strength already.
I called the veterinarian.
The old man may or may not be able to stand, but either way, we needed the help of a vet. We covered him with a heavy blanket to warm him, then sat and waited. His eyes were closed, his breathing shallow. A half hour crawled past . . . the vet was still a half hour away . . . when Cutter’s eyes popped open, uttered a few curses at no one in particular, then struggled to his feet while we grabbed the blanket from him so it wouldn’t trip him up.
Holy crap. The old man had done it!
David walked him down the hill to the indoor arena while I collected up all our supplies and followed. Lucille walked behind, no halter or lead, because she would follow her Cutter anywhere. We had now switched from a possible euthanasia situation to a medical one, with Cutter in need of IV fluids and drugs. Bless his stubborn, love-besotted heart, our Cutter pulled through, probably out of love for Lucille. We moved the pair into the indoor arena where the footing was smooth and level and never let them out on rough ground again. Which was fine because as long as Cutter had his gorgeous redhead by his side, humans-be-damned, he was just dandy. He adjusted to his new routine, redoubling his efforts to focus on Lucille and avoid human contact.
Which was not acceptable to me.
We needed to be able to handle Cutter during situations like the one we’d just had. But that boy, as old and crippled as he was, could still move a lot faster than we could when he wanted to avoid contact. I needed a plan . . . which I never devised. I did, however, accidentally find a solution.
As I do my morning chores in the horse barn, I sing. I’m not saying it’s worth listening to, but the horses seem to like it, and I have different songs for different horses. One day, while bringing hay into the indoor for the old folks, I happened to be singing Both Hands, when I noticed that Cutter was giving me the soft eyes usually reserved for his mare. Whoa Nellie! Was he an Anni Defranco fan? I slowly walked closer, singing softly, and he LET ME PET HIM. Only for a minute, but, how special was I? The next day was the same, only this time he let me give him a mini back massage. He didn’t swear at me once, as long as I kept singing. When I was done with Cutter, I’d move over to Lucille and do a repeat performance – it was only fair.
Damn, I was such a cool horse mama!
Until I got cocky and started trying out new songs on Cutter. Turns out he was only a fan of female song writers and if I tried to slip a little Billy Joel or Bon Jovi past him, he’d bump me on the butt with his head. We eventually settled on three songs – Anni, of course, Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, and Patti Griffin’s Moses. And even then, if I chose the wrong one for his mood, he’d head bump me to make me change songs until I’d hit on the correct one. It was like I was his own human radio, and he had learned how to change the stations. If a guy ever pulled that crap on me . . . wow . . . but this was Cutter, and who was I to deny him his every wish?
When you have an ancient horse, you are always on edge, especially when it’s one as unsteady as Cutter. As he became more fragile, I found myself peeking around corners to make sure he was still standing. He always was, but a few hours later, I’d peek again. Thursday, August 25, 6:30am, I peeked into the indoor and gasped. Cutter was standing, but HE WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE! He stood halfway down the north wall when he was always by the man door waiting for his music and massage session. This may seem alarmist, but a mama knows her babies. When I went inside, Cutter tried to walk towards me, but could only manage to walk in wobbly circles. He had classic neurological symptoms, a very bad thing in a horse as old as he was. CRAP! I already knew how my day was going to go . . .
“I’ll come to you, Cutter,” I said, and he waited. “What song today, handsome?”
I knew I needed to make that morning as normal as possible.
Cutter gave me his soft eye, and I started singing, “Both Hands,” using both my hands to massage along his spine.
“And I am watching your breath rise and fall, like the tides of my life and the rest of it all . . .”
Ouch. I had never thought of the song as a goodbye to a horse. Lucille came close and leaned her head against my shoulder. She knew what was coming, as well.
My poor sweet Lucille . . .
If Cutter fell down in his current condition, he’d never be able to get to his feet again. He barely knew where they were beneath him.
I sang Big Yellow Taxi . . . “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” Good grief. Then Moses, “Diamonds, Roses, I need Moses to cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain . . .” I hadn’t realized ‘til just then that Cutter had chosen all brutally sad songs about loss. I finished up, trying to hold myself together, then hugged both ponies before I called David to tell him to bring my box. A shot of Banamine would do Cutter some good. My next call was to the vet.
There are stages you go through when making the decision to euthanize a horse. Denial, begging, bargaining (just one more week? One more DAY? PLEASE???) but in the end, it’s all about sparing them needless suffering. If Cutter went down during the night and spent hours floundering in the dirt trying to stand . . . ugh. In the end, we couldn’t let that play out.
Dr. Stacey (Golub) agreed, and I sang Cutter one more song, and gave him one more massage. When Stacey injected his sedative, the reality and enormity of the moment overwhelmed me, and I could barely choke out the words, “I am writing graffiti on your body, I am drawing the story of how hard we tried . . .”
Dammit Dammit Dammit . . .
Lucille stood a few feet away, saying goodbye to yet another beloved friend. Poor sweet Lucille, whose heart was so often shattered by loss.
I always thought/hoped our losses would get easier as time went by, but David agrees, they actually become more difficult. We are no longer young, and we can’t afford to gloss over anything now that time has become so precious. We soak up every moment and cherish them as they happen now that we understand too deeply that our time with each of our animal friends is far too short. In the past, knowing Cutter was in trouble, I would have gone right to the phone and called the vet, then maybe a friend for emotional support. But now, I pause and decide what that moment, that little bit of time, needs most. That morning, it needed to be exactly the same as it had been for the three of us for so many months, an old man, his “mama” and his truest love by his side, singing and living every single second, feeling it all, being in love with that stubborn old man with the eyeball vocabulary of a longshoreman. I needed to be there with that ancient horse who melted every time I sang to him (which melted my heart, in return.)
David and I said our goodbyes, sloppy, tearful goodbyes, and Stacey administered the deadly pink liquid. When Cutter was gone, I snipped off pieces of his mane and tail and walked back to our house. I then followed the same routine as countless times before . . . I labeled a Ziplock bag with his name and the date, I lit a stick of incense and a candle, and set the bag of snippings in the fireplace next to the candle. Then I shuffled my tarot deck and pulled out a card. The Sun.
I smiled. Cutter had shot straight into the Light, where all horses go and where the singing of the angels puts my tiny voice to shame. But in my heart, I know how much our moments together meant to him, and to his ears, my singing was the sound of love.
Rest easy, old man. We will watch over your sweet Lucille. You are in our hearts and the day we crash the Rainbow Bridge, well, I swear they will hear us all the way to the edges of the universe, singing Anni Defranco with the angels.
And Cutter, I will hug you so tightly, with both arms.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by the animals of Locket’s Meadow Farm Sanctuary in Bethany, CT. Find them on Facebook for all the newest information.