'He was a good horse, as horses go ... and as horses go, he went.'
Mr. Lawrence, ch. g., 1991, out of Sister Sunny Quogue on the left, and Mr. Lawrence on the right, with Judy the Gypsy in the background
He was foaled in the late Spring of 1991, just three months after my now late husband, Jack Lawrence, suffered a serious but thankfully not fatal stroke. It was the vet's suggestion that we keep with the 'family names' tradition we'd started with his dame's previous offspring, she herself named 'Sister Sunny', for Jack's oldest married sister. We'd already two fillies from her - one named 'Mrs. Newell' (Sunny's married name), the other called 'Mrs. Skilton', for Jack's younger married sister. This gawky suckling colt - so very long in the leg, and with a long face, seemed to fit the name 'Mr. Lawrence' very well - and besides, it made him the namesake of all the males from the Lawrence family patriarchal line!
He was the tallest yearling we'd ever bred - and as a yearling, he quite accidentally threw me. I was in an old - very, very old - 'jump seat' exercise saddle - more than the 'postage stamp' of a racing saddle, and with skirts a bit more forward than the typical exercise saddle - but still, none of the 'security' of a typical riding saddle. He'd undergone all the preliminary ground work in the stall without so much as a snort. Accepted saddle and girth, bridle and bit, with nary a nicker. He was nonchalant on the lunge line in the sand paddock, and never gave a grunt, when Mark hoisted me over the saddle, whilst in the stall. Mr. Lawrence's relaxed attitude caused me to be far too lackadaisical, myself - it was a warm morning, and I was in - gawd help me - a cotton shirt, shorts and a pair of leather loafers. I'd not taken much care of the leathers I'd attached to the saddle, when we were ready to take Mr. Lawrence outside under the clear blue sky for his first ring work under saddle. My brother, Mark, was my 'ground man', and a better help I've never had nor seen. Mark is a good sized fellow, perhaps just 6', and perhaps 190# at the time. Mark is not given to 'chatter', nor quick with his temper; but he's very quick with his wits, which makes a perfect combination of qualities for working with young Thoroughbreds. With Mark's kind and quiet left hand on the lunge line, he gave me a leg up with his right, and I landed lightly on Mr. Lawrence's back. Mr. Lawrence's near side ear cocked ever so slightly toward Mark, as Mark put the near iron at my left toe. I fished with my right foot for the off side iron. When I found it, the problem began. To 'adjust' the saddle and the new weight therein, I stood in the irons - and the off side leather promptly broke at the stitching near the buckle, causing a startling shift of the burden Mr. Lawrence was bearing, to the off-side. He didn't exactly 'buck' - Mark did have his head up - but Mr. Lawrence went upward on all four - more of a 'prop' than a buck - and I went FLYING. It seemed in slow motion - and I thought I'd never reach the ground! Mark quickly calmed Mr. Lawrence - who looked completely nonplussed by the entire event - as if he was trying to figure out how I'd gotten on the ground, without him noticing. It took me a moment to roll to my knees, then rise - just the distance from Mr. Lawrence's back, plus the few extra 'air' feet, caused the wind to be knocked from me. It then took Mark and me over 5 minutes, to find one of my shoes, as it went flying, too! We walked Mr. Lawrence back to the broodmare barn (which had the largest stalls with the highest ceiling), we pulled the leathers and irons off the saddle, and Mark gave me a leg up in the stall. Mr. Lawrence just walked around the stall as he'd done before, with not so much as a sign he'd connected in any way his 'prop' with my ... shall we say, 'untimely'... dismount.
When he reached his second birthday and was working willingly and quietly under saddle, carrying a rider around the foaling field, in company and being ponied, he was ready to begin race training. We shipped him to the Finger Lakes Race Track, in the care of trainer Bill Berry, where two of his half siblings, Quogue and Mrs. Skilton, were already racing. Mr. Lawrence was still gawky and growing, so his second year was spent mostly getting accustomed to life at the track, and life at the farm in Canandaigua that winter. During his third year, when his training resumed, it was noticed that under exertion, his breathing would become laboured. An examination showed that Mr. Lawrence had a problem, in the structures of his throat - not uncommon in 'tall' horses of early 'growth spurts'. He was sent to Cornell, and underwent a surgery for Laryngeal Hemiplegia. He recovered well - but it took him a long time to recover his voice, and at that, he afterward always had a 'high' and faint whinny, for a horse his size. Still, he went on to race, winning his second start 'by daylight'.
However, things were about to change, on the home front. Mr. Lawrence returned to Long Island in the Autumn of his 4th year, to stable at Belmont with a friend of Jack's, John Sheringham. Joining him at Belmont was his younger half sibling, Bella's Day, a bay of 1993 out of Sister Sunny. The two geldings were both training well enough - but in January, 1996, Jack suffered a second, massive stroke, and passed away just a few days later. I was not in the financial position to keep horses at the track, and it was Jack who was the professional; so the horses all came home to the farm in the early Spring of 1996. I had then a total of 14 horses of various gender, age and occupation, and needed to find suitable homes for them. Mr. Lawrence, however, was not what one would call 'a looker' - he'd not the nicest hocks, and his lanky over-sized frame never held much flesh.
It took quite a bit of time and feed, to put even a light coat of flesh over Mr. Lawrence's ribs - and he never showed much development over his haunches, being 'blessed' with his dame's 'goosey' rump. Still, he was an agreeable mount with a dependable disposition, and for a short time I loaned him to an acquaintance who was interested in beginning level dressage. However, he lacked the hock strength required of more advanced collection, and his rider sent him back, and then took a considerable amount of money to Germany, to import her next 'project' horse. Mr. Lawrence gained from the basic dressage, of course - teaching a big horse to collect is never an easy thing - but never a bad thing, either.
Mr. Lawrence was happy on the farm, enjoying the easy life as a paddock ornament; but it's always nice to have the individualised attention of a regular rider. I already had brought his brother, Quogue, and sister, Mrs. Skilton, home from the Finger Lakes, and found Quogue to be the horse of my dreams. Mrs. Skilton was a grey - and I'd always envisioned myself taking up side saddle (in a casual way), with her. But Quogue, once he realised that he didn't need to be under constant motion just because there was a 'rider aboard', settled into the best park horse, ever. He could go for hours, he could go barefoot, and he was just the right amount of energy to make a four hour jaunt in the park a pleasant challenge, but never a danger. With Quogue as my favourite mount, and my chestnut mare, 'More Frills', as the 'safest' but prettiest of my 'companion rider' mounts, I found that I was 'over-horsed'. Happily, a friend, Dawn, knew of a young rider who was at the time horse-less, but who would love to have one or two to work in the 'hunter-jumper' discipline. That's how Mr. Lawrence and his half sister, Mrs. Skilton, came to be in Virginia for a few years, with Katie.
Those may have been the very best years for Mr. Lawrence and Mrs. Skilton - but Katie's life changed, too. She was planning on leaving Virginia for Florida, and would not be in the position to keep horses right away. I'd already moved off Long Island, to a new and not quite 'horse developed' property in Elkton, Maryland. I was keeping my two 'riding' Thoroughbreds, Quogue and More Frills, along with little Judy the Gypsy (an aged Shetland pony I'd adopted in 1996), in stalls I'd built in the walk-out basement of my new home. The other two 'large ponies' (Noel, a Haflinger, and Assapanick (aka 'Nicky'), a Chincoteague) had cover from the weather in a large run in shed that I'd divided into two 'open' stalls. As I'd not a good enough set up, here, for another TB, I asked Katie if she knew of anyone in the Virginia area that might be interested in either Mr. Lawrence or Mrs. Skilton. Katie found someone for Mrs. Skilton - but not many were impressed with lean Mr. L.awrence He'd always 'made noise' when breathing, from the surgery he'd had as a youngster - and people mistook that for being wind-broke. Plus, he was not an easy keeper. It took way more feed to keep weight on his 17 hand frame than it did for his half brother, Quogue; at 16h 3", Quogue was only an inch shorter than Mr. Lawrence, but he had more ... substance. It was like having a Jimmy Stewart (6'3") next to a Cary Grant. (6'1½"). Both were grand actors, but that long lanky frame made Stewart look a bit malnourished near the slightly shorter but more robust Grant. Also, while Mr. Lawrence, like Jimmy Stewart, had a certain 'home spun' charm, it was Quogue, like Cary Grant, who exuded that certain 'savoir-faire'. With no good prospect for a new owner, for him, and no place to stable him, here, I paid field board on Mr. Lawrence, and he remained in Virginia. But, once I had a 3 stall shed-row barn in place here in Maryland, the economics of keeping a horse 'turned out' in Virginia was not as logical as keeping him home. The people who were keeping him felt his lean (ribby, really) appearance was due to his 'heaves' - but fact was, Mr. Lawrence was never 'heavey' - I've never heard him cough, here. He just needed far more from the grocery cart. As I was only paying for 'field board', getting plenty of groceries was not a reasonable expectation. I knew that if I brought him home, I could pick his weight up by giving him three feedings a day of a good balanced pelleted food. It took about 6 months - and I'm not saying he was ever 'fat' - but finally, he showed a nice layer of flesh over his ribs. The ribs could be found easily enough, but didn't catch shadows as they had, when he first came home. He went to a twice a day feeding schedule that matched his farm-mates.
The retired life isn't bad, really. With paddock companions of his own species, in various sizes, Mr. Lawrence did quite well for himself. He and Judy the Gypsy (who 'crossed the bridge' in June 2010) became good buddies, and were like 'Mutt and Jeff' - she so small, he so tall - and he was 'her guy'. It's funny, as big as he was, his half brother Quogue and my mare both intimidated him terribly - yet Noel, my 10 yr. old Haflinger, who has Quogue and my mare terrorised, was subordinate to Mr. Lawrence. They would play together - but where Noel would chase Quogue & my mare out of the run-in shed, if Mr. Lawrence was in the shed, Noel kept to the 'other' side. It was actually a good 'paddock' triangle. But, paddock life and 'retirement' doesn't really keep a horse looking their best, of course. What he'd gained over his ribs, Mr. Lawrence lost along his top line and haunches. That muscle structure only keeps 'high and rounded' under regular exercise. Most retired horses, that don't 'need' the saddle work or regular exercise because of being otherwise confined, do lose muscular definition. Here, although the horses do have a 5 acre 'big' paddock, life is pretty laid back, and it's not often they'll get into a 'let's run around like banshees' attitude. Fit and firm, they are not. And aged, they all are - Mr. Lawrence reached his 20th 'official' birthday this January first - and would have been entering his 'calendar' 21st year in May. Still, although he always looked to be the oldest, he was in fact two years younger than his half brother, Quogue, and 6 years younger than my mare, More Frills.
Possibly because of his size, Mr. Lawrence always showed some chronic circulation problems in his hind limbs, particularly the near hind. It would 'stock up' overnight, in the stall. The fluid filling would dissipate within an hour or so of being outside, each day - and he'd come in looking fine. But by the next morning, he'd again be stocked up, behind. This was not due to inactivity in the stall - his was always the 'worst mess', just due to his movement around the stall, and his inattention to his 'elimination habits' - in other words, he'd walk as he passed manure. There was never in his stall an 'unbroken' pile of manure - it was always scattered throughout the entire stall. In late Spring, all Summer, and Early Fall, this 'stocking up' was not a problem, as the Thoroughbreds were only brought in for about an hour or so, twice a day, to eat their 'pellets'. This helped keep the stocking-up problem at bay. In retrospect, I suppose it might have been better to either build another run-in shed, for nighttime winter use in the paddocks; or to put stall wraps on Mr. Lawrence every night. But wrapping can cause it's own set of troubles, if you're not doing a regular stall check, throughout the nighttime. And life didn't seem to be that difficult, for any of the geegees here.
But, last week, Mr. Lawrence managed to injure this near hind - perhaps in play, with Noel. He came in from the fields sound, but in the morning the 'stocky' leg was much more filled, nearly to the hock. By the evening, it blew up on him, and he refused to put any weight on it. I was soaking it, in the hope that it was just an abscess, and would 'burst', but all the soaking seemed to do was cause irritation from the wet. I put him on Bute (a NSAID), but it was not having any appreciable effect. The strain on the 'good' off hind was causing it to 'stock up', too. He was off his full feed, eating some, but not all of his ration. He was also not taking in enough water, and was becoming dehydrated. He was not cleaning up his hay, either. Plus, he was miserable in the stall; but turned out, was spending way too much time on the cold, wet ground. Yesterday, he started showing a heavy mucus in his near side nostril - not a lot, and no cough, yet - but I knew that what was coming next would have been pneumonia. The ground, already horribly saturated here from the snow melt, will be so much more so by the end of the week, as the weatherman is calling for heavy rain on Friday and Saturday. There is no way he'd have been able to continue to take hourly rests, on the ground in the paddocks - and if he did go down, and not be able to get back up, it would have been a horrible ordeal to have to get a back hoe/front loader in, to remove him. I knew the time for the 'not so hard' choice was now. Pentobarbital overdose is not a bad way to go, all things considered. Donald Sinclair, aka 'Siegfried Farnon' from 'All Creatures Great and Small' ,self-administered a pentobarb o.d., when he'd decided he'd been here long enough (he was in his early 80's, recently widowed, and recently also bereft of both his brother Brian (aka 'Tristan') and his partner Alfred Wight (aka 'James Herriot').
I called the vet, and explained the situation. He agreed, what with the three strikes against him, this just might be Mr. Lawrence's 'time'. He'd try to be here around 3 p.m.. The vet also gave me a few numbers of people he knew that removed dead livestock, and did so with compassion. While I'd discovered it is actually 'legal' to bury a horse on one's property (provided the burial site is not fewer than 100' from any property line, and is greater than 300' from any water source, and that the site dug is deep enough to cover the entire carcass with not less than 3' of soil), digging in the paddocks right now would have been a disaster in itself. Last February, I'd had a hole dug for Judy, believing the 40 yr. old pony would not last another week - and the ruts left by the backhoe on the way to the driest site in the paddock are still evident. With Judy so small, the hole was not difficult to 'protect' with an old 'hay ring', which acted as a fence around the site. With Mr. Lawrence, not only would I have had to have a hole dug, I'd have also had to have post holes dug, and posts and rails installed, to create a fence around any such site. I was grateful for the numbers the doc supplied, and grateful to know he knew one of the service providers quite well, they having companion horses of their own. I called this number, of a woman, Janet Brown, only about 20 miles from the Elk River Ranch. She said she could be here around 4 p.m., possibly sooner. I told her the vet was expected at 3 p.m., and would be about a half hour or so, and 4 p.m. would be fine. She advised the cost was $250 - which is just what I'd paid my neighbour with a back hoe to dig the site for Judy, a year ago.
I went out to the paddock, haltered Mr. Lawrence, and lead him back down to the shed row barn that had been his home for the past 5 years. He followed me on mostly three legs, only putting the toe of his near side hoof on the ground, before jumping to the off hind. I put a bucket of water, a flat pail of pellets, and a flake of hay on the driest part of the yard, and let him relax, while I combed his mane, and brushed some of the mud, from where he'd been lying in the paddock, off his face. Doc was right on time, and examined his patient. He agreed that without intense efforts and expense, which he didn't feel would be particularly successful at any cost, Mr. Lawrence could likely succumb to pneumonia. Even in a dry setting, horses lungs fill up with fluid, if they can't get up and exercise. The vet felt the secondary filling in the 'good' leg was as much due to circulation shut down as to strain, and that like the well known 'Barbaro', there was a strong chance of Mr. Lawrence developing laminitis. It was not so hard to see the logic of the final solution to Mr. Lawrence's problem. The vet mentioned that this winter had been particularly hard on his older patients, and that he'd had to administer the 'final' solution more often than 'usual', what with the wet, miserable and cold season we've had here on the Eastern Shore. It's a sorry thing to admit, but the economics of keeping a horse alive at any cost are prohibitive. The vet told me what I could expect, with the administration of the massive dose of euthanasia solution - mostly sodium pentobarbital - that he'd be using, to 'put him down'. The same basic barbiturate product once often used for anesthesia in human surgery, pentobarb's a fast acting solution. Anesthesia revolutionised surgery - if you've ever been 'under', you'll know that it's the rare individual that gets past 8, when the anesthesiologist tells you to 'count backward from 10 ...'. The vet advised that, as the systems shut down, there might be "some snorting, some flinching - sometimes quiet, sometimes dramatic, never easy to tell how it will go, as, although the body will be not feeling much of anything, the reflexes will still struggle against the shut down."
I told the vet that I well understood. My husband Jack died in my arms, at home in the hospital bed I'd had delivered and set up in the sitting room of our ground level stable side home, back on LI. I remember well how Jack's body 'shut down', as his spirit finally took its freedom from the imprisonment of the his physical form. It is the way of all flesh - I saw it in Jack; and I've seen it in every companion critter I've ever been with, 'at the time of their crossing'. I was prepared. Mr. Lawrence stood quietly, as the vet went back to his vehicle for the needed syringes. When he returned, Mr. Lawrence did not so much as flinch, when the vet inserted the needle, and drew back the syringe plunger, to be sure he was in the vein. Then, with a steady push, the pink fluid in the syringe was emptied into the jugular vein, and the vet removed the needle. The vet took the shank, and asked me to just step back a bit, as it's never quite certain which will 'give' first, and whether the horse will fall backward, or forward. Mr. Lawrence stood for a moment, quiet - and then his knees buckled, and he fell forward, and on to his near side, without any awkwardness. There was no startling movement, just a slight shutter from his forelimbs, and quiver in his off side nostril. The vet administered a second dose of the phenobarb, in Mr. Lawrence's off side jugular - he said there's often enough circulation going to make the second dose useful, in being sure the job is effective, quick and quiet. Mr. Lawrence's pupil was fully dilated. The vet checked for any corneal reflex - there was none. It wasn't so hard a way to go, and I could not ask for an easier demise for myself.
As is true of his namesake, I'll miss him forever.