The Story of Dancer

The night before my beloved horse Dancer was scheduled to be euthanized, I came home to a deep freeze that had been mysteriously unplugged.  Normally this would have sent me into a panic or at least given me a reason to go on a twitter rant for a few ranging “how the hell did this happen!” tweets.  Instead, I was thankful to have something I could follow a logical path and methodically fix.  Piece by piece, I picked the warm and soggy food out and placed it into garbage bags.  Scoop by scoop, I took out the liquefied lemon and cherry juice that had leaked out of the bags and dumped it down the drain.  Wipe by wipe I cleaned out the remnants of food littering the bottom and sanitized the inside.  But when I was done, there was no feeling of accomplishment. Instead the sadness crept back in.  Logic had helped me to clean the freezer but there was no logic that would help me heal my heart.


I got Dancer when I was 25 years old, newly married and newly owner of 5 acres on the side of a hill. While I knew when I married Steve that kids were in his “marriage contract”, he knew that a horse was in mine.  We were property rich but trying to scrimp and save to build our house so cash poor.  When my friend mentioned that her friend had a horse for sale I mentioned it to my parents.  My mom, a horse lover herself, told me she would buy it for me.  How lucky could I be?  When I rode him, I was hooked.  Dancer was a Peruvian Paso and they are one of the smoothest rides out there.  It’s like sitting on a flying carpet.

Of course, being the ignorant 1st time horse owner I was, I didn’t think to ask questions when the horse I rode was dripping with sweat even though it was in the middle of winter.  When I got him home, I quickly found out that this horse didn’t want to be caught for his life, hated to have his foot picked up, and was hugely barn/herd sour.  BUT, his sweetness couldn’t be denied.  He loved to be loved on and loved to be with people.  Up until the day he passed, when the family wasn’t home, I would go down and just sit with him in the pasture.  He would hang his head by me with his eyes half closed and we would just breath.

Over the next few years he and I would create a huge bond.  We never did end up doing a ton of riding but when we did it was wonderful (after we worked through the barn/herd bound issue).  Then he went a little lame…  After some off and on healing/not healing, he was diagnosed with DSLD (Digital Suspensory Ligament Disease), a hereditary disease common in Peruvians (and other breeds).  I was devastated.  No more riding and a possible short time frame before it would get too bad for him to go on.  I stopped riding, used the recommended supplements, changed his diet, and generally allowed him to be a happy pasture potato. That was 10 years ago.

At the ripe age of 22, he started to once again seem stiff and not move as much as before.  Even with joint supplements, slowly over the next few years, his quality of life decreased as the DSLD got worse.  Finally, a few weeks ago he dislocated his pastern bone and despite my best efforts to help him, I knew he would never get better.  This is where the logic of medical options did not help me and only my heart knew what to do.  This is the responsibility we take on as animal caretakers as hard as it is on our hearts.

Dancer was my companion for 14 years.  He was my friend and my confidant in a way only he could be.  I can only hope that I gave him the life he deserved and the pain free ending he needed.

My view on so many lovely evenings



Filed under Horses, Musing of Life

4 Responses to The Story of Dancer

  1. Catherine

    Oh how this made me cry- I can so empathize with you. Whether a horse, dog, cat – whatever the companion is – the unconditional love they give . . . It’s a beautiful thing. I am so sorry for your loss. God bless you!!

  2. Amber Vanderpol

    I’m so sorry to read this, Val! I can vividly remember spending a couple weekends with you and Steve way back when you were in the trailer and watching Dancer for ages with little toddler Emma. I’m glad you were able to give him such a good life and have that gift of knowing him for so many years.

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