by Donna Taylor, Puylaurens, France
When I bought Blanche 18 months ago I knew that she was an old pony with quite a few medical problems, which I was prepared to accept. What did bother me was knowing that she wouldn’t be around for too many years. As a lot of readers know, it broke my heart to say goodbye to Sweetheart, my wonderful American mule, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to undergo the same experience with Blanche.
I really didn’t think she would make it through the first winter with us, but all my neighbors and friends say, “Donna, your equines are living in a 5-star hotel and restaurant, they aren’t going to leave that quickly.” And they were absolutely right. I also gave Blanche all the love and care possible, and this all helped to keep her going just that bit longer.
Blanche was about 25 years old and she had four major ailments: benign cancer, Cushing’s Disease, arthritis and cataracts in both eyes. I was assured by my vet Julie that her heart was strong and she wasn’t suffering, but because of these problems and her age, her future was very bleak.
However, just recently I started to notice slight changes in Blanche. When I took her for her walk around the village, she was no longer interested in eating grass in my neighbors garden, but wanted to get back to her field and friends as quickly as possible. She was still eating all her breakfast and dinner, but she ate a lot slower and she spent a lot more time alone in her stable. She also became more easily stressed by little things such as unfamiliar noises.
One Saturday evening we had invited four friends for dinner. We had just finished our first course when I went to check the girls as there was some noise outside. Blanche seemed really stressed. It was only a noisy motorbike circling around the village, but as Blanche can’t see very well, she was obviously frightened and getting more and more stressed. I could tell there and then that it was time for me to let my girl go.
Colin was cooking dinner that evening and I rushed into the kitchen, broke down in tears and told him I had made my decision about Blanche. I didn’t want to go and sit down with my friends as they would be asking lots of questions and I was too upset to want to try to explain it all to them. So I went to my room for the rest of the evening and just cried.
Poor Colin had to finish preparing the main course and also explain to our friends that I had gone to bed. I know they had no idea what was going on so Colin just said that I would explain everything the next day.
With all my animals, I try my very best to keep them for as long as I can and do everything I possibly can to keep them healthy and happy. But one thing I have always said is that I don’t want to see them suffer, especially if there is nothing more I can do for them.
We rang Julie, our vet, the next day to talk about my decision, and she wanted to confirm that this was really what I wanted to do. She then said that she could come that evening. I was a little anxious when I knew that I would only have a few more hours with Blanche, but I also realized that waiting a day or two would be very hard.
I spent that afternoon with Blanche, Lucy, Lottie and of course, little Fiona. I gave Blanche a lovely groom and a huge dinner and spent a few special but sad hours with her.
In France, there are no facilities for the cremation of animals such is equines, and for environmental reasons, it recently became illegal to bury them on your land. All animals weighing over 40kg (88 pounds) must now be taken away by a specialised licensed company (called an equarrisseur) for disposal. The main problem is that you may have to wait several days for the equarrisseur, particularly if it’s a weekend or a public holiday.
I know many readers will be dismayed by this, but there was nothing I could do about it, apart from choosing carefully where to have Blanche put down.
We decided that the best place to have her put down was in our driveway in front of the kitchen. We could close the shutters so that I couldn’t actually see her, and I could leave the house via the barn to avoid having to pass her. From a practical point of view, it was the best place for access for the equarrisseur’s truck. We would also be able to close the gates to that entrance and cover Blanche with a plastic sheet so that neither I nor friends and neighbors driving by would have to look at her body.
When Julie came, she said that she could see a difference in Blanche’s health, and she thought that one of the tumors had probably developed further. I was with Blanche whilst Julie gave her the injections to put her to sleep. I wanted to be the one to hold Blanche and talk to her when she fell down and to make sure the procedure would be as stress-free as possible..
As soon as Julie left, I went straight over to my neighbors house to sit with them for a while. They knew that Blanche was being put down and I think they just wanted to comfort me.
Colin was also brilliant. Whilst I was with my neighbors, he brought Lottie and her foal, Fiona out of the field to see Blanche. Neither showed much interest and soon started to eat grass as normal. He then led Lucy over – she spent much longer looking, moving her head up and down to see from different angles and approaching very close to Blanche’s body. After several minutes, Colin took her back to the field. I am sure that Lucy knew what had happened because she was really subdued for a few days after Blanche had gone. But we had been told by a previous vet that it’s better to let the other equines know that their friend is dead instead of leaving them to wonder why she has disappeared.
So, I spent nearly all of the next day in bed as I didn’t want to go outside. Luckily the equarrisseur came the morning after. Again I stayed in bed and put the radio on loudly so that I couldn’t hear the noise of the truck. Colin then said that she had been taken away and it was all done very professionally with very modern equipment which at least was something.
It took me many months to really get over Sweetheart after she was put down. But with Blanche, I knew that she was an old girl and that I had given her the best 18 months she could ever have. Yes, I miss her so much, but I now feel happy that I had totally spoiled her and given her so much care.
People say to me that I shouldn’t buy old horses because they aren’t going to last that long and it’s so hard for me when I have to have them put down. Of course it’s sad, it’s like losing a member of my family, but I personally feel so happy to be able to look after any equine, young or old.
I would like to buy a riding horse/mule/donkey but I’m in no hurry at all. Blanche has left me and I have such wonderful memories of her. Now, of course, Fiona has come into my life so suddenly and just at the right time. It’s almost like fate.