Loving Cherokee

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In July of last year, Cherokee, my prize Curly-Quarter Horse cross gelding, developed a bony growth on his cheek. The lump seemed to come overnight. I look my horses over daily and make sure they are in great condition, so the bony growth was unexpected.

Cherokee, summer 2015

That same summer, Cherokee, who always had a semi-wooly coat — an inherent characteristic of the Curly breed — grew a coat that was so thick I had to trim him twice within six weeks. I knew something was wrong.

By August, Cherokee was experiencing breathing problems and would stay in the barn all day, over the water tank. Fans did not help. Hosing and soothing him with cool water did not help. Cutting his double mane that flowed to his chest did not help. Cherokee was miserable.

I immediately called my veterinarian, Dr. Abfall. The blood test for Cushing’s Disease came back negative, but Cherokee continued to show all the symptoms; lethargy, heavy coat, and respiratory distress. My veterinarian prescribed medication. The medicine helped a little, but Cherokee was just not himself. When the bony growth appeared, my vet said to call Dr. Jeff Reiswig, DVM, one of the top equine dentist’s in Ohio.

The first time Dr. Reiswig came to my barn, he brought his experienced assistant and a veterinarian intern from Ohio State University. The three looked Cherokee over and, after thorough probing, Dr. Reiswig diagnosed Cherokee with equine periodontal disease, another symptom of Cushing’s Disease.

Dr. Reiswig removed two of Cherokee’s teeth to relieve the pressure from the growth, hoping the growth would subside and return to normal. The skill and finesse that Dr. Reiswig used when treating Cherokee will always be appreciated; when your horse is ill, it’s heartbreaking.

Dr. Reiswig DVM vetting Cherokee

In October, Dr. Reiswig returned, sedating Cherokee once again to look into his mouth. “He has signs of periodontal disease on the other side of his mouth as well,” Dr. Reiswig said. “We’ll have to remove those teeth soon.”

With continued medication and cooler weather, Cherokee seemed to be getting better. Through November and December, he was almost back to normal. Almost.

January came and Cherokee was getting along okay. Then, one day, overnight, he stopped eating. He always enjoyed his food, was a good eater, but nothing could make him eat. It was Sunday. I thought if he could make it through the night, he would be okay. Denial. I was in denial.

I placed him in a stall by himself with a scoop of feed and plenty of water. I knelt and prayed that God would surely give us a miracle. I reluctantly left Cherokee Sunday night, standing in his stall, eyes glazed and far away.

I couldn’t sleep that night and returned to the barn at 4 am Monday morning. Cherokee was my good friend and pal. I had him for only six short years; he could never leave me.

He was down. I couldn’t get him up. He was trying to get up. I placed a blanket under his head and called the vet. “I’ll be right there,” Dr. Abfall said. On Monday, January 25, 2016, Cherokee crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was 26 years old.

My mare and I still miss Cherokee. He is buried along the fence line of his favorite meadow. Tears flow easily remembering his beauty and kindness. Even now, when I pass his grave, my heart breaks. As Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” All the clichés and quotes about loving and dying are true — even for horses.