I began watching The Walking Dead on January 8th, 2013, the day my beloved horse died. Her name was Rosie. I had the privilege of riding and caring for her for 10 years. On the day that she died, I was standing in her stall with her veterinarian, Jim Williams, and he was examining her eyes when suddenly she began to sway and stumble and a moment later she collapsed onto the side rail of her stall, eyes rolling back in her head, mouth frothing, legs rigidly moving. Stunned, I said to Jim, “I think she’s having a seizure!” He said, “Yeah! Give her room.” It lasted for a couple of minutes and left me and Jim completely shocked. Witnessing a seizure in any species is disturbing, but to see a horse in a grand mal seizure is frightening. I could tell we were thinking the exact same thing, when he turned and said, “Jackie. This isn’t good.” A few weeks earlier, Jim looked at her because she had torn a groin muscle, which wasn’t a typical injury for a horse like Rosie. She was 30 years old, in very good shape, excercised regularly, but never too rigorously. About a week later, I was feeding her a carrot and it looked like she had bite marks on her tongue. I still hadn’t put two and two together until now. It registered, and then Jim confirmed it. “And this isn’t the first seizure she’s had. I bet that’s how she tore that groin muscle.” Rosie stopped seizing but lay in a state of semi-consciousness for several more minutes. The railing was bent and saliva was hanging from the side of her mouth. I leaned over and stroked her face and neck, wiping the drool from her mouth. By this time, Monte, the owner of Willow Tree Stables had come over, hearing the commotion of the other horses around Rosie. “What happened?” she asked. “Rosie just had a seizure,” Jim replied. We all stood there speechless. Monte, Jim and I eventually coaxed Rosie back up on her feet. We all knew what this meant. She was 30 years old. It was most likely a brain tumor. The seizures would start coming more frequently and she had already had at least a few. Someone could be seriously injured by her or Rosie could get seriously injured and then I’d be scrambling for a vet at god knows what hour and watching her suffer while waiting for someone to arrive. Over the next 5 minutes, Rosie recovered from the seizure. During that time, we remained quiet but I could almost feel what everyone was thinking. So I finally said it. “She needs to be euthanized.” Monte and Jim confirmed that this was really the only alternative. I shook my head in desperation, “I can’t have her go to a rendering plant. What about cremating her? Or burying her up at our ranch?” Jim told me to take a few hours with her and that he would return with his neighbor’s truck to haul her up to our ranch after she was euthanized. I was devastated,relieved and grateful, all at the same time.
I had come out to the stables that morning as part of my routine. It’s what I did. I drove my children from our home in Sausalito to school, kissed them goodbye , and I continued out to Rosie. Most days lately, we would hike together on a 5 mile loop, just the two of us. Other days, I would ride her on the trail part of the way and then hike with her on the downhill. The last few years, it became uncomfortable for her on the downhill because of her arthritis, so we would just walk slowly together. She was like a reliable old friend. In those last few hours, we walked around the stables to the grassy areas where I let her graze. She had many people come and pay their last respects with a carrot or a handful of hay. Rosie was a well known and well loved horse out at the stables. She was the mare that had been out at Willow Tree the longest and was one of the oldest horses there as well.
I had many magical moments with that horse, like cantering bareback through a fern and redwood forest that looked as if it was part of the set for Lord of the Rings. We would soar, she and I, and there were days where I could feel her laughing, saying, “Isn’t this fun? Let’s go faster!” We had no fear and we would go wherever we pleased, trail or no trail. One day, I saw Bambi’s father at the fork of a trail and we came within two feet of him and his magnificent antlers before he leapt over us and disappeared between the trees. We’ve had bobcats and foxes cross our paths, mother deer with their new born fawns, even cattle. But the best moments were those times of Zen serenity alone on the trail with Rosie, spring mornings, usually, with newly sprouted wildflowers and green moss and slivers of sunlight. This was my heaven on earth. We trusted each other and I truly loved her. I had not anticipated having to say goodbye to her and I was feeling the joy being sucked from my soul through a straw by some unseen force. To this day, I’ve never gotten that joy back. It seems a chapter in my life that was written and read and then I had to move forward with the next chapter.
Jim came back, with the truck. And the pink juice. I’d been present for the euthanasia of my little dog, Gryphen, and our beloved cat, Bella. I would be present for the euthanasia of Rosie. The thing that’s so difficult is realizing that they have no idea what’s coming. In the case of my dog and our cat, they very quickly die in your arms, painlessly and with no trauma. It is as if they’re rapidly going to sleep. In the case of a horse, I knew what would happen, but had never witnessed it. They collapse. Jim explained exactly what would happen and that at the moment when he would administer the phenobarbital, I would not be able to stand close because in rare circumstances the horse bolts. But I was able to embrace her and say goodbye moments before, through tears and sobs…”Goodbye, Rosie…we have so many memories together…and I love you so much…goodbye.” And then I stepped away.
A friend from the stables, Natasha, held me and said, “You don’t have to watch,” and I said that I wanted to see her. She stood one moment, and then keeled over and hit the ground hard. It took my breath away. Jim bent over with his stethoscope and I came over and bent down, stroking her neck and mane. She was so beautiful. I think all horses are magnificent. Jim was listening to her heart and then said, “She’s gone.” Yes. Gone. And now what?
My husband met Jim and Rosie up at our ranch outside of Cloverdale. Our tenant Dallas had dug a large whole with the backhoe up by our pond. I wasn’t there when they buried Rosie. I needed to pick up my children from school, make them dinner, feed our dogs. At the end of the day, I put on my pajamas and sat down on the sofa in front of the television screen. And now what? I suddenly felt overwhelming grief at the loss of my beloved Rosie, and devastation at the loss of purpose and routine. I curled up on the sofa and cried. Both of my boys came to check in with me. “Are you okay, Mom?” “I’m really sorry about Rosie”. At the ages of 14 and 16 they had begun to detach from me which is completely natural and expected. But I was always searching for ways to engage them or reconnect somehow. And I cherished these moments when they seemed to care. “Thanks, guys. I’m okay, just really sad. Maybe I’ll watch something on TV.” Then I remembered they had been watching some zombie series, and there was a scene with a horse in it. So I asked, “What was the name of that zombie show you were watching?” My younger son said, “The Walking Dead, but I don’t know if you wanna watch that…it’s violent and people die in it.” “Okay. I’ll think about it.” They both said goodnight and when they left I decided I’d watch the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. At least it would give us a common topic for discussion. I found it ‘on demand’ and watched it from beginning to end. There was a horse that died in episode 1, and it did reminded me of Rosie. But this horse was anonymous, and it died while being ripped apart by zombies. I couldn’t help think about that poor horse…had it been loved like Rosie was loved? What was its history? How long had it lived? Of course nothing really happened to that horse. Zombies didn’t really eat it while it was still alive. But I wondered about it all the same. When the pilot episode was over, I watched the second episode. I spent the next week on and off the sofa binge-watching The Walking Dead and mourning my horse. There would be several other horses featured in The Walking Dead. None of them had very big roles, but I noticed them and thought about them. And I have to say that The Walking Dead has served as a legitimate platform for discussion with my sons, now 16 and 18. We watch it together and we talk about it together. Tonight is Season 6, episode 7. I doubt we will see any horses in this episode, but I’m hoping we find out the origins of the voice calling for help over Daryl’s radio. Of course my boys and I are hoping it’s Glenn. Aren’t we all?