He was a horse of few words. After twenty five years of living with human beings, he didn’t find it necessary to call or greet us as the other Haflingers did when they were hungry. He stood patiently despite his voracious appetite, waiting his turn, knowing and trusting he would always be fed. He knew his family took care of him, no matter what.
Amos was a do-it-all Haflinger. He could be ridden, driven in a cart, taken on trail rides, jump in a show, and even was the platform for horse back gymnastics, or “vaulting.” He knew his job, did it well, and raised many children in the process.
One night, while I was heading to the barn for evening chores, my husband greeted me at the barn door with a concerned look on his face.
“We’ve got trouble. Amos is down.”
Sure enough, he was cast up against the wall of his huge double stall and, covered in sweat, and clearly had been there for some time. Incredibly, when he saw us, he nickered a “huh huh huh huh” greeting in his deep throaty voice. When we approached the stall with lead ropes ready to loop around his legs, it was if his “huh?” was clearly saying, “whatever took you so long?”
He lay still as we snugged the ropes on his legs and using every ounce of strength, we hauled him over. He lay on his side, breathing heavily, then pulled himself up, put his front legs out in front of him and staggered to his feet. Every muscle was quivering.
He had never had a bout of colic before so I called the vet as our daughter, his biggest fan, started walking him. He passed several loose stools but whenever he stopped walking, he was ready to lie down again, or would paw or kick at this belly. However, even with such bad cramping, he also tried to snatch at hay bales as he passed them and nibbled clumps of grass in the lawn.
By the time the vet arrived, Amos was not as shaky and looking brighter eyed. The vet was quite impressed by Amos’ strength for his age and was very amazed at his appetite in spite of being in pain. I reminded him he was dealing with no ordinary horse. This was a Haflinger. The vet chuckled, “I guess maybe he would be chewing during his dying breath if he could, wouldn’t he?”
Once the necessary medication was administered, we allowed him back to his stall to lie down and rest. He no longer needed to roll in pain. He was exhausted and wanted to sleep. I cut up some apple pieces and a few carrots from our garden and put them in his food bin in case he decided he wanted to have a treat to eat. Then we went to bed too.
At 2 AM I got up to check on him. When I turned on the barn aisle lights and started toward his stall down at the end, I heard his low nickering “huh huh huh huh” again. What a wonderful sound! And then I saw his velvety nose poking out of his stall window by his food bin, grabbing for apple pieces lying on the sill. There is no better sight than a hungry horse after such an ordeal!
He was absolutely fine for seven weeks when it happened again, but worse. This time, nothing the vet could do could turn things around for Amos. He remained in pain despite all our efforts, and the vet told us we were at the end. My daughter and I stroked his sweaty neck, seeing the fear and agony in his eyes, and knew the time had come. Amos took his final walk with us out to a grassy slope in the moonlight. We offered him a bite of grass; his big lips picked it up and held it for a moment, but then he let it drop.
He sighed, giving us one more “huh huh huh huh” as the vet prepared to administer the sedative. Soon he would be lifted to a place where the sun would forever shine warm on his withers, the tender spring grass was always tasty, and there would never again be a need for goodbyes.
Someday again we will see him galloping toward us, his mane flying in the wind, calling out with the few words he knows, as if to say, “whatever took you so long?”