Suddenly, yet very weak, I heard her call and there she was lying in a thicket too heavy to see through as she lifted her head just enough for me to see but it was evident that she could not get up. I knew she was in distress and I hurried to her with her lead line, hoping I could get her up and get her to the barn to check over and water her likely parched lips. Once up, I checked her over and noticed she had been sweating profusely and her normally pink gums were pasty white, both signs not being good ones. I slowly began to walk her toward the gate to the barn but at about half the distance to cover, things began to change in a disastrous flash. Suddenly, she lunged forward, racing away with amazing energy, only to soon falter, and run angularly to her right and roll over with her left hind leg locked tight and swinging back and forth like a baseball bat in the hands of the batter next up at the plate. She made a horrible noise, her front hooves pawed frantically as if to help her stand up, then she went limp and her eyes only showed their whites. Her breathing stopped and she was gone. Her mouth was wide open and her dark pupils began to turn white.
I said a quick prayer, then hurried to the barn to get hay and water filled buckets for the other horses because they would have to stay in this day. The only horse in the barn who didn't know Fiona very well was Jammer, the former racehorse, a gelding. But the other two in their stalls were Hailey, the Boss Mare, who had been with us even longer than Fiona and then there was P.J., a younger mare who was the foal of Fiona, so I knew there would be some mourning going on once the two mares realized what was happening. They had, of course, already noticed that the pasture mate was not with them in the barn, so it wouldn't be long. And it was at that moment that I realize I had another big problem: too much rain.
As I mentioned, Florida has been beset by very heavy thunderstorms, particularly in inland North Florida where the big storm masses from the Gulf and the Atlantic collide and the cooler ocean air, coupled with the natural high humidity coming across warm inland areas generates massive thunderstorms. This has been made worse by the just previous tropical storm which dropped nearly seven inches of rain and the ground is fully saturated. The bottom line: coming just before Fiona's death it meant that the poor old girl couldn't be buried and the entryway couldn't handle her removal so she had to be the victim of the scavenger buzzards picking her bones. But there was more bad news.
Just a few days earlier, the air conditioning went out and it is a major problem. So, it hasn't been fixed yet and we are surviving the Florida "Dog Days" relying on several large box fans. They help with sleep but little else and so the windows have had to stay open. Imagine a rotting carcass being devoured by buzzards emanating the foul smell directly into the house with the southwest wind which is prominent in the summer afternoon in North Florida. All I can add is thank goodness for Vapo Rub or it wouldn't have been intolerable.
As for the other three horses, they gave wide berth to that area on their treks in and out and on that first visit back to the pasture on that fateful Thursday morning, P.J. mourned loudly for her mom and Hailey just stood nearby as if she was saluting her friend. But it is amazing how quickly they move on, natural evidence of God's desire that we just get going again with living life. For life is for the living, not the dead.
The other thing this event has shown me directly is how sometimes we are beset by multiple problems at once and we don't know why. Yet having at least become reasonably accustomed to Florida weather, we are surviving and I'm thankful my wife gets to spend her days in an air conditioning office. And we now have a little good news because someone has graciously lent us an inside air conditioner which will make the sleeping hours much more manageable and in the meantime the buzzards have almost eliminated the cause of the aroma of death. They just do what God's nature has tasked them to do. But it does make me sad that our dear old Fiona had to end this way for we've never had such a sad experience with the loss of a horse.
I do have the memories of her nearly twenty years with us. She came as a totally untrained horse from an auction and became a fixture on the farm. With Hailey, the Boss Mare, as her closest compadre, the two of them broke me in as to what one must do to successfully handle a twelve hundred-plus pound animal. Those early days in Jacksonville were my break-in days with horses, and I quickly learned to watch the placement of your feet and the telltale signs of when a horse is about to get frisky. And Fiona taught me why it is not a good idea to grasp a lead line too tightly or try to manhandle a horse. A lot of lost skin on the hands is the end result. But Fiona quickly went from a beast to me to a sweet and quiet horse and she will be fondly remembered by the two of us here. Will we see her again in the Land up Yonder when our days are done? I have a good feeling that we will, along with all of the dogs, cats, horses and even the birds we have had on the farm. So, farewell, Fiona, and you'll be remembered. But now it is time for life to go on.
"Hey, Jammer, what in the world are you doing over there?" And the beat goes on.