Endurance Riding

Apr 05 2016

I Couldn’t Save Her…

Published by under Endurance Riding

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I usually give myself a few days after any event — happy or sad — to formulate my words and process. Usually, when I sit down to write immediately, the words that come out are much more suited for my journal, because what comes out are choppy sentences, irrational phrases, and often I don’t even find healing in that kind of writing. But, today, I just decided to write this blog post, without holding back, not caring who is going to read it, who might judge me for my words or decide that I am, in reality, a horrible writer. I don’t even care to edit this post, so forgive me if I misspell a word or forget a period.

So, that’s my disclaimer.

And now I want to yell out to the universe, FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK FUCK YOU!

My last two blog posts were about losing horses. Why? Why am I writing another? There is a huge gigantic hole in my heart that I don’t even know how I am going to begin to fill.

Fifteen months ago, a young gal from my endurance family called me up. I still remember the first message she left me. I was in Orange County, visiting family. We were at Disneyland with the boys. I remember being really intrigued by her message — because while I knew her, I didn’t know her well, and wasn’t sure what it was she was calling about, but it was obviously for a very specific reason.

When we touched base, I discovered she had a little Arab mare she had grown up riding — the mare she completed Tevis on as a junior rider. She was looking for a new home for Ember and thought she’d be perfect for my students and my schooling program.

When Ember arrived on January 2, 2015, I thought she was just the sweetest, cutest pony ever. But after she bolted with my son on the trail — and ran all the way back home — I had my doubts. She head tossed too much, and she was quite possibly too forward for my young, beginner students. But I decided to give it some time…

I don’t know what happened, but Ember became one of my favorites around here. She was the least intimidating horse in my herd, she was so easy to groom, and to teach the kids how to pick hooves. She would just follow the horse in front of her on the trail. She rarely spooked. She tolerated all those who were still learning their balance, who maybe pulled on the reins at the wrong time, and those who didn’t quite know what to do around a horse. She was always healthy and sound, one of my easiest keepers. She never got herself in trouble, and she was just the sweetest. I never worried about anyone’s safety around her.

Ember wasn’t just an incredible asset to my business, she was also my friend and a fellow teacher, my partner. I trusted her, and was constantly in awe of how well she took care of my students. I loved having her around.

Last month, when a schooling horse I was trying out for my business didn’t work out, I remember thinking, I still have Ember. I thought that when Forest died. I still have Ember. When Lady died, I still have Ember. I always had Ember. Ember was mine. She wasn’t going anywhere. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t as old as Lady. I always, always had Ember. Every time another free horse was offered to me for my business that didn’t work out, I still had Ember. She was the free horse that worked out. I still had Ember.

I don’t have Ember anymore.

I don’t have Ember anymore. And the hole in my heart is so big right now, I fear my heart might just stop. I am so broken. I am so lost.

I do not understand. I don’t understand Forest’s loss, I don’t understand Lady’s loss, I don’t understand Ember’s. Why all three? Why all three in less than a year? Why Lady and then 18 days later Ember. 18 days. 18 fucking days. FUCK YOU, universe. 18 fucking days.

It was a nightmare watching Ember suffer. It wasn’t a peaceful death like Forest’s, it wasn’t her time like Lady’s. I caught her colic early. I called the vet immediately. Between myself, my family, a few special students, and Haily, Ember’s beloved previous owner, she was never left alone. I was in constant contact with the vet — I had her out twice in a 24 hour period. I made the best use of my nursing skills, constantly monitoring her vital signs, administering oral, IM, and IV meds. I spiked fluid bag after fluid bag, bolusing her with LR just like I’ve done in the ICU with my human patients. For more than 37 hours, I tried to save her life. I didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Moments when she was too quiet, the silence woke me, and I’d check just to make sure she was still breathing. When she wanted to walk, I either walked with her, or stared up at the sky, listening to each hoof beat pass me. Every time she peed, or her behavior changed, or her vitals were different, or I treated her with medication, I wrote it down, recording every little note of her progress, or lack thereof.

The first night, Nyah and I lay under a star laden sky in the arena with Ember. We could hear the sound of the rushing Feather River behind us, down in the abyss of the canyon that called itself home across the street from my house. I tried hard to manage Ember’s pain with the best veterinary medications money can buy, though I don’t know how successful I was. Ember moaned, she sighed, she groaned, her lips and muzzle curled up tight. But I was hopeful. Five years ago, I had gone through an impaction colic with Forest, and after 4 days of fluids, Forest recovered and never colicked on me again. I didn’t believe that after Nyah just lost Lady, we could possibly lose another horse so soon. I’m a nurse. I have a great vet. We can figure this out.

Ember couldn’t take anymore after 38 hours. Her gums turned bright pink, her breathing was irregular, she had difficulty swallowing, she started drooling foamy white drool. Her abdomen was so distended it looked as though it would just pop like a balloon. It wasn’t until I ran my hand down her neck, trying to comfort her with every stroke, that I realized she was sweating. Haily was holding Ember, and when I looked at her, I knew. I knew. After 38 hours and 30 minutes, I knew I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t put her through anymore. I couldn’t let Haily see her childhood horse like this anymore. I frantically called the vet; she was already on her way up, but I wanted to see how far out she was.

When the vet arrived, I asked her to re-assess Ember, even though I knew. I knew. But still, I had to have one last assessment. I had to hear the vet say it. It’s time. This wasn’t a simple impaction colic — something else was going on. Ember was dying from the inside out. Every time she breathed out her nostrils, a rotten smell filled the air. I had smelled that smell the night before; it wasn’t quite so strong as this morning. Necrotic bowel. I knew. I knew. I can’t fucking save this horse. Just like I couldn’t save Forest.

Ember was given a lethal dose of medication to end her suffering. Haily and I were by her side, as she went down and gasped for air. She gasped and gasped, as I stroked her face, quietly telling her that it was okay to go. It was okay to let go. It was okay. She died under the great madrone tree in my beautiful field. Under that great fucking madrone tree.

Haily and I laid with her body for a long time. Haily cried and cried into her neck, finding it difficult to catch her breath. I bedded down next to her front legs, lying up against her heart girth, her beating heart no longer there. I stared blankly out into the field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, and all I could think of was the first patient that had died on me when I was a brand new nurse. One minute she had been talking to me, sharing stories and smiling, the next she was bleeding out, a violent, terrifying death. We tried for hours to save her life. I hung fluid bag after fluid bag, I pumped blood transfusion after blood transfusion into her. Suddenly, her blood pressure dropped until it was no longer there. The doctor took off his gown and walked out of the room. Just like that. It was over. I was so overwhelmed with grief that I sobbed and sobbed as two other nurses helped me clean up her body before her husband arrived.

As I sat in that field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, I thought about cutting down the great madrone tree. That great fucking madrone tree. I thought about violin and painting and dance and all the other things I could have chosen instead of horses. I thought about opening a shoe store or a music shop or a breakfast cafe, where losses would just be merchandise, not living, breathing, soulful beings.

I sat there, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, condemning myself for choosing horses. And the more I thought about selling all my horses, and closing my business, the more I realized I didn’t chose horses. They chose me.

Ember 1Ember 2Run Free, Sweet Ember. You will be remembered not just by me, not just by Haily, the first girl to love you, but by every student and child you taught along the way. You are missed so.


30 responses so far

30 Responses to “I Couldn’t Save Her…”

  1. Lynn Costaon 06 Apr 2016 at 11:33 am

    I am a big fan of Jaya’s open-hearted, raw style of writing. I stumbled upon one of her blog posts last year and thought to myself, “Now, that’s a very gifted young woman.” I’m honored to know you, Jaya. And blessed to have been a part of sweet Ember’s life that one weekend in February. Peace and love to you and your family.

  2. Jen McDonnellon 06 Apr 2016 at 3:52 pm

    JayaMae, I’m so, so sorry. I’m sobbing right now, after reading your powerful, horrible words. I’m so sorry. I wish I could hug you. But you have to know that your horses and your students and your family are so lucky to have you. You do everything you can for everyone you know all the time. That’s who you are. Your horses know who you are, babe. I’m so sorry you’re struggling and that you’re questioning your life path because of it. Stay strong, keep loving, keep teaching, keep accepting the horses that choose you. They know what they’re getting into. ♡

  3. irishhorseon 06 Apr 2016 at 8:58 pm

    I’m so sorry for your losses. I would be mad too. There is no denying it: it’s not fair. It sucks. And still we have to go on without them, and a big hole in our hearts. Ember sounds like a lovely mare, who did all she could for you. And then you did all you could for her, including the hardest, correct decision any of us can make. My condolences.

    I hope you can write about better times soon. But if you can’t, that’s ok too.
    irishhorse recently posted..small

  4. Nicole Chappellon 07 Apr 2016 at 8:57 pm

    I am glad you write. You are so beautiful inside and out. Truly a gifted woman. Anyone including your animals who touches your life will remember the raw real you.

  5. Veronica Ann Dyeron 12 Apr 2016 at 10:14 pm

    You have me in tears. What a heart-wrenching story… Sending love and hugs. Your words also help me, in reinforcing my decision to save my dog’s life yesterday via surgery from a 5″ impaled stick, despite the fact that I am absolutely broke. Yet I am so glad he is still here breathing tonight. Animals are the most precious beings…. Such wonderful souls.

  6. Shara Llewellynon 12 Apr 2016 at 10:22 pm

    I can’t articulate anything near to what you did, but I felt every word you wrote. I’ve felt it everyday since I can remember. These beautiful animals that have no voice need someone to listen to them and speak for them. Everyday I try my hardest to make them better. Because I can still remember when I couldn’t.

  7. Cindi Faulconer Floryon 12 Apr 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Wow very powerful words. You are such a great human being. The horses that get to be in your presence are very blessed indeed…. You JayaMae Gregory are a wonderful person…..

  8. Melissa Marquez-Formicaon 12 Apr 2016 at 10:44 pm

    It’s not fair Jaya, it’s not fair. Thank you for sharing this. I hope it helps others find comfort through these difficult experiences. Hugs to you and Haily.

  9. Shannon Constantion 12 Apr 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Your post brings me to tears. I’m so sorry to read about this situation. So genuine & straight from the heart!

  10. Caroline Milleron 12 Apr 2016 at 11:13 pm

    The whole thing is so heartbreaking and so unfair. Brought tears to my eyes. I’m sorry you’ve had to experience such a tremendous loss in such a short time. Hang in there.

  11. Brandon Zamaripaon 12 Apr 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Oh my gosh, Ish.. I’d be lying if I said your post didn’t make me cry – but I don’t want you to think that my tears are some huge takeaway from this story, or anything nearly compared to what you have been through. I am just so proud of you at your strength and heart. I am so sorry for your loss and my heart breaks for you. More than anything I just hope you are okay.

    I can’t believe I never knew what an amazing writer you are. Your post was not only beautiful and eloquent but it was poetic, yet at times raw. I know that your talent in writing is also not the main takeaway from your post, but I just wanted to tell you how blown away I am. This piece, however heartbreaking, was also beautiful. I hope that writing like this is, at least in some small way, healing and therapeutic for you – and it’s great that you have it to look back on. I also think it’s great that we can learn more about you through your writing, and what lengths you went to, and what you went through. From the technical: your nursing skills, administering IV meds… to the emotional: what was going through your mind, looking at the tree. This blog entry you wrote really is a piece of you and you really bared your soul and that takes a lot of courage, and strength, especially while still mourning.

    Anyway, again, I am so sorry and I love you so much. You are in my thoughts. Rest easy, love. heart emoticon

  12. Willis Mccarthyon 12 Apr 2016 at 11:26 pm

    The only words of solace I can provide is knowing that any good animal, hominid or equine, finds a better place upon her/his death. And Ember is no different. The suffering is over and the Arab has found a much better and peaceful place. JayaMae, you’ve done good and that’s all anyone can do in this life.

  13. Michele Turneyon 13 Apr 2016 at 12:00 am

    You know JayaMae Gregory I usually stuff my shit down-never talk about it, dont even think I can express it anymore-so I admire your ability to let it out. I cried at the “fucking madrone tree”. Life and death and the ability to get through it all is the struggle.(((hugs)))

  14. Dena Ramsayon 13 Apr 2016 at 2:41 am

    You are an amazing writer..!

  15. Mae Chase-Dunnon 13 Apr 2016 at 3:22 am

    Thank you for sharing Ember’s story. Sometimes I think us horse-lovers are masochists…but then I remember that horses have also brought me some of my most joyful moments. From the pits of despair to the heights of euphoria. They are such magical animals in that way. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss.

  16. Pamela Britton-Baeron 13 Apr 2016 at 5:03 am

    Oh, my dear, sweet friend. You are an amazing writer. You speak from the heart and you can never go wrong when you do that. I, too, have felt this pain. I lost my mom and dad and my two little dogs and my horse all in the space of two years. I remember railing my fist at the universe, too, and crying so hard spit and drool and what felt like every ounce of spirit poured out of me. Why? Why does God test us like this? I don’t know, but I have to believe it’s for a reason. I know I appreciate things so much more these days. I still ache, but I am grateful for the good. ((((Hugs)))) I know you. I know what an incredible human being you are. Keep the good close to your heart. And if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, you’ll be the first person I’ll call because, man, you’re one bad ass person!

  17. Marijanne Nicholson 13 Apr 2016 at 9:02 am

    I had to start reading this several times over… I couldn’t stop the flow of tears from memories just like yours that I went through… Not only with my horses but with my dog, cats and the hardest one… Losing my grandson to CF… I’ve often asked God, why if they will not suffer with Him, can’t He just leave them here with me because I love them so much I don’t want them to go away… Why couldn’t he just cure them for me, didn’t He love me too?????… I wanted Him to take me too… Love is an action, and letting it go took all of my will and then some… I didn’t understand and at times the holes in my heart literally had me gasping for air… I am thankful for the time I’ve had with each animal, and human… Their live and the love they gave me have given me countless hours and memories. At times those memories grip me and the tears flow but at other times those memories bring me a wealth of love that I never would have known if it weren’t for their time with me… Having them and letting them go also brought to me what I have now… Love is a moment in time when the heart stands still and looks you in the face and the reality of it leaves you breathless… I have that… And sometimes I lose it only to find it again…

    I hope you find another heartthrob soon to love you and carry your charges … Big hugs…

  18. Karen Battagliaon 13 Apr 2016 at 10:29 am

    Beautifully written & so close to my hole-filled heart. It never gets easier saying goodbye to horses, particularly the extra special ones.

  19. Steve N Lavena Healdon 13 Apr 2016 at 10:46 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss:( You wrote this perfectly JayaMae!

  20. Sherrion 13 Apr 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Dearest JayaMae,
    Tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat – I’m so sorry for the pain and loss you are enduring. I think, sometimes, the loss of the horses is harder than the loss of people. They are the purest form of joy, a gift from God to us I think. Horses and dogs, in particular, represent to me the love of my heavenly Father. You feel guilty for not saving them…you are a nurse. I heard a line on a tv show night before last. One man says to the other, I did my best, but I couldn’t save them – why do I still feel guilty? The other man says, if you can honestly say you did your best, then the guilt is there to convince you to keep trying, to make you understand your work is not done.
    So that is why you won’t cut down that great Mandrone tree, and it is also why you will never own a shoe store. And for that, I am grateful.
    Riding the Tevis for Christina and for Forest, Lady and Ember is totally fair!
    Hang in there and thank you for this post!

  21. Olivia Toepperon 13 Apr 2016 at 3:19 pm

    Your writing skills are amazing, and inspirational beyond belief!
    Being a student of yours has opended me up to so much more love of life! I couldn’t be more thankful to you, your horse kids and beautiful family! I look forward to reading more of your work! Happy you’re keeping the Madrone tree. I know it’s been rough.

  22. Crista Swieron 13 Apr 2016 at 4:33 pm

    You have a gift, and you have been able to touch the hearts of others with your writing. And your story speaks to my heart. Thank you, and I hope you find some peace in this journey with your horses. We have experienced tremendous loss in our family as well, and while it is painful, I feel that the experience, the pain and the healing will help make my boys wonderful men. ♡♡♡♡

  23. Traci Shelton-Zaccaglinon 13 Apr 2016 at 5:48 pm

    As I read the blog I felt your every word. My heart goes out to the both of you. I am so so sorry for your loss. I am an avid horse lover and I can’t imagine the pain from losing a horse. My heart goes out to you both. I’m sending prayers for comfort for you. Ember will forever be in your hearts

  24. The Equestrian Vagabondon 13 Apr 2016 at 7:12 pm

    I am sooooooo sorry. happy trails, Ember.

  25. Lauren Hornon 13 Apr 2016 at 9:26 pm

    You really described your thoughts and pain so well; tears are rolling down my check.

  26. Natalie Hermanon 13 Apr 2016 at 9:28 pm

    raw and right from the heart

  27. CMKon 14 Apr 2016 at 1:52 am

    So very sorry my friend. Life isn’t fair & there’s no answers to the question WHY? They come to us when they need us, & leave when the need is no longer. I believe they leave us when they know another is out there waiting to find us. Run free Ember, you’ve joined a wonderful herd of dearly beloveds.

  28. Jasonon 14 Apr 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Hey Elaine, I am not sure if you really captured the emotion behind her story, so let me put into a smaller format. Her horse fucking died, it’s the third fucking death she has had to deal with, and it sounds like she needed a fucking place to vent. So Jaya I applaud you for being real and vulnerable, life is fucked up sometimes and sometimes we just need to go tell it to fuck off. Thank you I am done

  29. JayaMaeon 14 Apr 2016 at 10:59 pm

    I love you… thanks for your comment! I have since deleted Elaine’s ridiculous comment… but thanks for sticking up for me, buddy! Not everyone is going to appreciate my writing, which is why I posted my disclaimer at the beginning of the post!
    ~ Jaya xo

  30. Jenni Smithon 06 Apr 2017 at 2:22 am

    Thank you for your post, Jaya. I’m sitting here with tears drying on my cheeks, realizing that reading about your loss – feeling your pain – in a way enables me to better appreciate the Ember in my life. While I have her. She will be so hard to lose, as I must some day. That is the trouble with loving, by necessity it always comes packaged with loss and heartbreak. But it’s still worth it.
    My sympathies.

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