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In Loving Memory of Utah, 1996-2010

June 30, 2010

 I nestled my head on Utah’s smooth toned shoulder, feeling the last rise and falls of his breath, hearing his final heartbeats as he slipped away from me.  We had battled to save his life through the night, the angel veterinarian Brian Peck  from the Great Basin Equine Hospital cared for Utah with such tender grace that I know that God was taking care of us from the minute we left Santa Cruz to those final minutes in the meadow when Utah’s life ended here on this earth. 

I finished packing the trailer that morning with the joy of a grade-schooler anticipating summer vacation.  The hour had finally arrived.  I would be on my way to our house in Idaho with my horse and my dog to spend 5 1/2 weeks.  A local builder was completing the finishing touches on Utah’s shelter and my new tack room.  I said a happy goodbye to Whitney, Laurie, Julio and

Ready to Go

Brian, among others at the ranch, and drove off to adventure.  Our first stop would be in the Sierra on Highway 88 to do a short ride on a trail I know well, before finding a campsite further down the road at the Blue Lakes.  I had decided to take the trip slower this year, spending two nights on route, only driving about five hours a day.   The drive through the valley was easy and we arrived at our first destination without incident.  I pulled off on a paved former picnic area since I was unsure about dirt road conditions.  The ranger I phoned earlier in the week told me to be careful of mud from the late snow melt. 

Utah munched on his hay as I saddled him and my dog Zephyr was antsy to hit the trail.  We needed to go cross country to reach the Thunder Mountain pack trail and we picked our way around snow patches, over rushing streams, past downed trees and freshly exposed tundra.  When we intersected the trail, I made a mental note of the physical markers so that I would remember where to turn.  I didn’t want to take the trail all the way back, because we would end up right near the highway and my dog was at liberty.  Utah shied away from the snow patches and we skirted each one until the trail narrowed and avoidance was impossible.  I dismounted and let him across the first one, his feet testing the crunch as he gave me his typical look of ‘are you sure?’  After a couple more crossings, he was a pro and I could tell that he was proud of his new skill as he braved right through sinking drifts.  We turned around after about 30 minutes.  It was only a stretch-our-legs kind of ride. 

My Buddies

All of a sudden, Utah began to lower his nose to the ground, not looking for a patch of grass to grab, it was different, not right.  The worry that began as a single thread, began to throb and I was so rattled that I missed our turn and trucks on the highway hummed just beyond us.   I know our trail was to the left, so we wandered in that direction, looking for familiar landmarks.  Utah picked his head up and looked  behind us, so I dropped the reins and let him lead us.  He picked over snow, rotten logs, between deep holes in boggy ground, all the while seeming to know just where he was going.  I was near tears, but not from fear.  I was overwhelmed by Utah’s sense of taking care of me, which is the thing that has defined our relationship out in the backcountry.  He led us to his hoof prints and soon the trailer was in sight.  We crossed the last creek and Utah trotted up to the trailer. 

The first thing I noticed is that he didn’t touch the hay bag when I tied him.  Utah is an eater.  Then he started to lift his hind legs and kick at his stomach.  There were mosquitoes, so I gave him a quick spray on his underside.  It was only another moment before I faced the reality that Utah was colicing up here in the middle of nowhere.  I untied him and we walked  for a couple of hours.  He seemed to feel a bit better, taking drinks from the stream, nibbling on a bit of food.  I thought we might be okay, so I rigged up the high line.  The minute I fastened him to it, I knew he was not okay.  I threw everything into the trailer and loaded him up, deciding to head down to Minden, Nevada instead of going back to Jackson, CA.  I figured my chances of finding an equine vet were much better in that horse country.   We wound down the mountain as the last bits of daylight gave way to the night sky, my heart in my throat.  I stopped to check on Utah and was encouraged by the way he stuck his head out and gave me a little nicker.  The first thing we saw when we came out of the mountains was an emergency vet hospital.  I pulled in and rang the after hour door bell.  Someone was there.  A young woman let me in and as I described my problem, she immediately phoned an on-call equine vet.  There was an equine specific hospital just a few miles down the road.  Even though Utah seemed better, there was even poop in the trailer, I decided to have him checked for good measure. 

I thought he was okay here. My last picture of Utah

Dr Brian Peck  treated him for mild colic and all the indications from the exam seemed to show that Utah was pulling out of it.  We were so sure that it was passing that I urged the vet to go home and get some sleep.  He told me to pull my camper up next to Utah’s stall and check on him every hour or so.  I ate a bit of food, feeling lucky as I watched Utah gobble the small amounts of hay he was allowed.   It wasn’t ten minutes after I put my head down on my pillow before I heard him crashing against the metal stall.    I got him out and took him to a grassy meadow.  He immediately rolled and then curled up into his usual sitting position.  I sat with him under the million stars, the warm desert evening like a moment of wonder.  He seemed calm, happy.  Maybe he was just tired of standing.  I soon realized that Utah was getting worse and called the vet back.  The next 6 hours were a jumbled mix of hope and despair.  I really believed that Utah would get through this, so when Brian told me it was time to make my decision about putting him out of pain or going through colic surgery, the flood of tears that has been gathering behind my disintegrated optimism began to flow.  I think I cried for ten straight hours. 

Utah told me it was time.  Don’t ask me how, but after all we have been through, I knew.  Brian helped me so much.  He braided and cut a piece of his tail, gently guided me to brush him, held me while I sobbed uncontrollably and then finally asked me if I wanted to go out to that meadow.  Utah and I walked out, side by side, my arm draped over his neck.  When we reached the meadow, he curled up again and I sat on my knees and scratched his ears.  Brian waited for me to be ready.  I put my head against his chest, waiting for the shuddering breaths to cease and the calm to take its place.  I don’t know how long I stayed with him, but when my own sobbing lulled, I again kneeled and said a prayer for my dear friend. 

It has been a week now, since I started this piece.  I haven’t written a word in between.  I have let my heart grieve, let my memories flood and realize that I am so very thankful for many things. 

I am thankful that I was with Utah through the entire time, that we had that whole day together, that final magical ride and that we were together in the very end.

I am thankful that my husband supported me by phone all night long, that he had faith in me that I would make the right decisions.  I could feel his love regardless of the distance.

I am thankful that God put Brian Peck, DVM in my path.  His loving care of both of us, his steady stream of kindness and support will never be forgotten. 

I am thankful that I have such wonderful family and friends, all of who wept with me.  It is a gift I will always hold dear.

Finally, I am so very thankful for all that Utah has taught me.  I have grown so much as a human being in relation to the outside word.  We went through a lot, that horse and me.  No matter what we got into, he was always in it with me. 

Dynamic Duo

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn permalink
    June 30, 2010 1:42 am

    Dear Julie, I wish we were closer in miles so I could put my arms around you. I know how much Utah meant to you. Your writing is so beautiful that the tears just flowed. Take care, mom

    • Marin Tennefoss permalink
      June 30, 2010 1:54 am

      Dear Julie: What a wonderful life you and Utah enjoyed with a demise that couldn’t have been more appropriate if planned! The surroundings and with an equine vet so attentive to your and Utah’s needs. Your description of the event and your reaction and feelings brought tears of understanding. Much love, Marvin

  2. Mary Kline permalink
    June 30, 2010 11:43 am

    Dear Julie
    What a beautiful and moving tribute to your cherished friend!
    You have been in my heart all of this long week.
    Love and hugs, Mary

  3. tim permalink
    June 30, 2010 2:44 pm

    You are so brave. I am so proud of all you dealt with and how you have felt it, through and through.
    Forever wild about you,

  4. July 1, 2010 1:40 am

    Dearest Julie,
    I am so lucky to have been a part of your horse world, to see the bond that you and Utah had with each other first-hand and to know how much pure pleasure you both could have on your adventures together. This piece is so beautiful and full of love, it helps to calm my own troubled heart.

  5. Cesar permalink
    July 1, 2010 2:28 am

    Julie, dear, I know that Utah knew you were the best for him in every way. He took your love with him forever. This was one helluva RIDE. I am proud that you could give him so much and it only shows what kind of person you really are.

    Love, Dad

  6. Eva permalink
    July 2, 2010 7:06 pm

    The first time I rode Utah, I was off in three seconds! He was four years old, green as the grass, and full of energy and excitement! His brother Arizona came with him to the horse barn we were at, and I loved him at first sight. I remember it was a hard time in my life, going through middle school, a sibling with cancer, and all the drama of life. Utah was my only friend. I would walk down the barn way and he would nicker and put his head out of his paddock/stall. He was always looking for a treat!! The first way to Utah’s heart was food! 🙂 We had such a deep connection. It came time his owner was going to sell him, here I was, 12 years old, obviously did not have thousands that a horse requires on the ready! But as people started to test ride hime, Utah would look at me with these great big eyes full of sadness, and I couldn’t bear to watch. I decided that he had to be mine, there was no other way. So my mom helped me work out a plan that I would pay a certain amount a month to his owner until Utah was completely paid off. So, I got three jobs, and got busy. It was such a time of loving, learning together with each other. Utah was the kind of horse that would truly go any distance for you, he would jump anything, gallop, I would just think “canter” and off he would go. There is so much love between animals and humans, it is a wonderful gift to have had him in our lives. Love you mom, I am glad we both got to be a part of his life.

  7. Elisabet permalink
    July 5, 2010 5:38 pm

    Dear Julie: the sorrow I share with you is only eased with the wonderful memories of great camping trips, adventures, good times and many miles covered together.

    “Uttie” was, for sure, a character. I got to know him better when he spent time at my house, and I could see that he was a one person horse -you. He demanded respect and gave it back only when earned. He made what he wanted very clear and I think, was genuinely surprised at how dense we humans can be at not understanding the simplest concepts…

    I am glad to have been a part of his life. I am thankful to him for being the reason you and I met and the venue for our acquaintance solidifying into friendship. I am proud of you for taking the selfless route and allowing him a dignified passing from this world to the next.
    I have no doubt in my heart that we will meet again.

    Love you,


    • July 6, 2010 2:57 am

      I never quite thought about how Utah brought us together, but it is so true. Our friendship is one of his many gifts and I also have no doubt that it will continue…

  8. Margaret Azevedo permalink
    July 14, 2010 8:39 pm

    Dear Julie,

    You write so well and your loving account of what happened to your beautiful Utah touches the heart deeply. I am so sorry that you had to lose such a beautiful companion and hope that all the wonderful memories you have of your special time with him fill the void that you will no doubt feel from time to time. Your dad says that you are about to publish your book. You are certainly one very talented lady! I admire your profound sensitivity and ability to enjoy and share with others the glorious gifts Nature has given us. Not all are able to! Your dad is so very dear to us, and we look forward to seeing him again soon, and again after that. I can see how you and he share the extraordinary and unique traits that all of us his friends cherish about him.

    Fond regards,
    Margaret & Chuck

    • July 14, 2010 8:49 pm

      Margaret & Chuck, How kind of you to write and thank you so much for the comments about my writing. Nature does indeed have glorious gifts to offer. It is wonderful hearing from people like you who are in my Dad’s life. Yes, my first novel Cole Creek will be out at the end of the summer. I hope you will like it as well!

  9. Kathy Gallaer permalink
    January 19, 2011 4:49 pm

    Dear Julie, I am sorry for your loss.

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