In certain cultures, when someone important dies they tip back their heads and scream at the sky, not in grief, but in warning to the heavens that a warrior is on their way into their midst.
Late last night, I had to have one of my horses put to sleep.
I’d been in London at a meeting with a book publisher and caught the lunchtime train out of Paddington. The train was empty and fast, and even including a change at Exeter, I was still back in Barnstaple by four thirty.
Hungry and tired, I drove the twenty miles home as quick as I could. There’s nothing like reaching home after a stressy day, and even though it hadn’t been long since I’d seen my dog, he greeted me like I’d been away for months.
I heard the quad bike pull up outside and hoped Debbie would greet me just as enthusiastically. She did, but not in the way I’d thought.
“Pandora’s down!” Debbie yelled, even before she’d opened the door, the words pouring out so fast I could hardly catch them. “I thought she was laying down in the field but she wasn’t. She couldn’t get up. I got her up in the end and moved her away from the others into another field. But she went down again, and now I can’t get her back up!”
Still in my suit I threw on a coat, jumped into a pair of wellys and said, “Get help. Phone the vets. I’ll meet you down there,” as I ran out the door.
I found Pandy tangled against the fence almost upside down. She looked like a different horse, tucked-up and skinny – how can a horse suddenly look so skinny and frail? – and pasted head to food in thick mud.
Pandora came to us two years ago on loan as a companion for Georgie. Last week I introduced Alfie to them so they were a trio and they settled down into a comfortable routine. Georgie fell instantly in love with Alfie, and Pandy just let them get on with it. Pandy is around 30 years old.
With a friend we managed to get Pandy away from the fence, on her feet and smothered her in rugs to keep her warm. The vet arrived soon after.
The vet was wonderful, fussing and talking to her as he made his examination. There were a few problems and they were all related to old age. Still, never say never, he gave her some pain relief and left us for a couple of hours to see how she’d respond.
It was late. It was dark. It was cold and it was only fair the friends who’d rallied round went home. I was really grateful for their support.
So I stood with Pandy and talked to her, kept her alert and stopped her from going down. She even ate a little hay.
When the vet came back, it was clear the pain relief was wearing off and she’d deteriorated. It was just her time. She was old and tired and it was just her time. Earlier that day she’d eaten breakfast, was perky and happy and half a day later… If you’re going to go, and all that.
She slipped away just before ten with me and the vet talking to her, Dex my dog beside us, and an owl hooting in the distance.
I didn’t tip my head back and scream at the sky because I’m British and we don’t do that, but just the same, I want to warn the heavens that a warrior is on her way into their midst, and this warrior, this perky, brave little warrior, is called Pandora. Rest in peace baby girl.