About my horse, Ladi.
| She was one of those animals where she was so ugly, she was gorgeous. She was to me, anyway. She had the biggest, brownest eyes I’ve ever seen on a horse. They were also the most expressive. Her head was too big for her body, and her ears were almost as long as a mule’s. A big white blaze ran down the center of her face. She had a furless patch on her shoulder from wearing a cart harness for too long, and her hindquarters had white-scarred whip marks all over. Her body was thin, and abnormally under-developed because of years of abuse and neglect. Her creamy colored mane stood out against her light orange fur. Her name was Ladi, and she was the most beautiful horse I’ve ever known. Yes, Lady with an “i”—we wanted her seemingly generic name to be as unique as she was.
I only had Ladi for six months, but I think those were probably the best six months she’d ever had. An older couple had given her to us because they could no longer take care of her. They’d rescued her from an abusive man years ago, but the signs of what she endured were still evident all over her body. Every time I looked at her, my heart broke just a little. I couldn’t understand, and still don’t, how even after all of the terrible things she went through, she still trusted me.
Every morning she’d approach me and give me the deepest, oddest sounding whinny. She would clumsily rub up against me, and I’d grin and scratch her forehead. We were inseparable. She depended on me, and I on her. She made me feel so happy every moment I was with her. Her quirky personality made her easy to get along with, and a lot of fun to be around. Everything was an adventure when it came to being with Ladi. She was not a well-trained horse, and obviously hadn’t had much human contact.
I still remember how confused she was when I offered her an apple off of one of our trees. Her soft lips snuffled over my hand, and over the apple, but she didn’t eat it. Instead, she stepped back and cocked her head toward me so that I could see her huge inquisitive eye. I realized that Ladi had probably never been given a treat before, and I found it both funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I ended up spending the next hour or so carefully pushing little pieces of apple in between her lips, and showing her how to get it out of my hand.
Now Ladi was not the most coordinated animal I’ve ever met, so training was a challenge. She was fine with having a rider, and walking forward and all that. But not backwards. I was never able to get her to back up, no matter how hard I tried. Once I had my cousin Molly get on Ladi, and I would tell her to back up from the ground, while Molly gently gave the command on her back. That did not go over well. Ladi, in all her innocent confusion started thrashing her head from side to side, and right into mine. Her large metal bit slammed into my head, and I was seeing stars. Needless to say, we didn’t really work on backing up after that.
I had many adventures with this little mare, even though I only had her for six months. I will never forget the day she died. It was November 2005, and the weather was wet, raining, and overall terrible. I was in the seventh grade and in Mr. Crouch’s tutorial after lunch. Nothing unusual had happened that day and I was just sitting in my seat studying, when the phone rang.
The minute the phone rang, I knew it was for me and I knew it was bad. It was as if the connection Ladi and I shared was so strong, I could feel her sickness wash over me with each ring of the telephone. Sure enough, Mr. Crouch told me my mother was waiting outside to pick me up.
I fumbled with my weighty textbooks, shoving them into my backpack. I raced down the shiny halls, my tennis shoes squeaking on the slick floor. I pushed the swinging doors open, and I was greeted with a rush of cold, moist air. I fell into the front seat of my mom’s hunter green Ford Explorer, and looked at her warily, hoping with all my heart that I was wrong. I asked her what was going on, and she told me. Ladi had gone down, and my dad couldn’t get her up. It didn’t look good.
My heart sank. I could feel tears welling up, and flowing hot down my cold cheeks. It wasn’t fair. Ladi had been through so much. She didn’t deserve to have something this terrible happen to her. Even though I was only 12, I knew that when a horse went down, especially one as weak and small as Ladi, that the outlook was grim.
When I looked at her, it felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I felt shaky all over, and I couldn’t control myself. Here was my little Ladi, hurt and sick. I can’t even describe the horror I felt when I opened that stall door and saw Ladi, just laying there. Her delicate legs were curled underneath her frail body. Her white blaze had turned pink with blood dripping from a cut over her left eye. Shakily, I called her name. She lifted her head and nickered excitedly to me, her entire body shaking with the effort. I raced up to her, and collapsed next to her head. I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face into her mane. I whispered all sorts of useless promises into her ear, hoping that they might come true.
The vet came to examine her that afternoon. He moved all of her legs through their full range of motion to make sure nothing was broken, and he also examined her back to be certain there was no damage there as well. When he came out of her stall, his face was grim.
“It doesn’t look good. She’s been down for so long,” he explained to us, “I took a blood sample to test to make sure everything is working the way it should. I will call you when I have the results.”
“Thanks, Dr. Olsen,” I said weakly, wishing the news had been better.
Dr. Olsen nodded before saying gently, “I’m sorry there isn’t anything more I can do. I will leave you with an injection of painkillers, but the rest is up to her,”
I spent most of the night out there with her. I laid on the wet, cold ground with her. I started making up stories of how she was going to get better. I told her all of the wonderful things we could do if she’d just get up. I promised her that I wouldn’t give up. I also sang songs to her. Any song I could think of- nursery rhymes, hymns, and songs I’d heard on the radio.
“Come on, Ladi. You have to get up,” I begged through my tears, “I promise I’ll take good care of you. We can go riding all the time and I’ll let you eat anything you want. You have to get up!”
She just rested her huge head in my lap, and slept. We had put a large Salamander heater in the doorway to try to warm her up, but to no avail. Her legs felt icy to the touch, and she became listless. My mother came outside near midnight, and had to coax me away from Ladi and into the house for the night. I tossed and turned all night; I couldn’t stop thinking about Ladi. I wasn’t sure if she’d make it through the night. My mom, dad, and I all took turns checking on her throughout the night. Nothing seemed to change; she just rested on the cold ground wrapped up in blankets.
I went outside later the next morning to check on her. My parents were already in the stall with her. My dad had taken a rusty yellow tripod and a winch used to tie down cargo into the stall. They placed a pad under her bloated belly, and wrapped the winch strap around her. Attaching the strap to the tripod, my dad slowly started to raise her up click by click. After a few tense moments, we aided Ladi onto her own four feet.
Our elation quickly turned to horror, however. As my dad loosened the strap, Ladi couldn’t support herself. Her back legs were hanging, and useless. It was at that moment when we all realized that she wasn’t going to make it, and that we were going to have to say goodbye to that little horse.
I went inside and started to chop up apples and carrots, and soak oats in hot water until they were shiny and swollen. I mixed it all together and poured it into a plastic Ziploc baggy. I walked back to the barn, and quietly let myself in. I called Ladi’s name in her favorite, sing-song voice, and her large ears pricked immediately. She let out her goofy nicker, and I sat down on a hay bale next to her. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, knowing that nicker was probably going to be the last I ever heard of Ladi.
I fed her the mixture of apples, carrots, and oats. I watched her take them eagerly from my hand, and I smiled. I thought back to the day that I had to teach her how to eat from my hand, and I thought about how much we’d learned together, and what kind of life she had in the last months of her life.
The vet came shortly after she had finished eating her final meal. The vet told us that we had done everything we possibly could have done for her, and that he couldn’t believe how hard we’d tried to save her. He said he didn’t know many people who cared that much for their animals. He assured us that her passing was swift and painless, and that she wasn’t suffering anymore.
After the vet left and my parents went inside, I walked back to the barn. I peeked into her stall and saw her lifeless body just laying there. Her eyes had glazed over, as they always do in death. I could feel my heart breaking, but at the same time, I found peace in her death. The look upon Ladi’s face when I peered into the stall was not one of pain or suffering, but one of contentedness and grace.
There are still days when I think of her, and I still miss her terribly. I visit her grave, and leave her a large red rose. I think of all of the wonderful and trying times we had together, and I can’t help but smile. I know Ladi’s in a much better place now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.