With a heavy heart and tremendous respect, we solemly share the passing of Jasmine. We debated whether or not to share this story, but ultimately decided that her life and the details of her passing could serve a greater purpose. A little disclaimer: This is a long post and not everyone is going to like it. It may really upset some of you, but we hope that our love, dedication, and painstaking consideration for Jasmine and her band will come through. I would also like to warn readers that there are some non-graphic photos from after she had passed that some may find disturbing. We find them heartbreakingly beautiful.
Where to begin
We first met Jasmine last September. It was late afternoon and we had been giving permission from the BLM to quickly tour the Canon City facility. Starting at 7 AM the following morning, 64 mustangs and burros who had spent an average of 6 -8 years in longterm holding would be loaded into livestock trailers and released to our sanctuary, Engler Canyon Ranch. Our eagled eyed manager from the Disappointment Valley Mustang Sanctuary quickly spotted a lame mare limping in a cramped pen. We inquired about her to puzzled staff, it appeared her injury had gone undetected. We learned that she was in one of three pens that the Serengeti Foundation would be emptying, and were politely offered a sound mustang as a replacement. We asked what would happen if she stayed, and were notified that she would be euthanized due to her injuries. The eyes of our team quickly met with heartache and uncertainty. Could we care for her? We hadn’t planned to take any medical cases. Where would we put her? She couldn’t be released with the others. We didn’t have a barn or a shelter, heck, we didn’t even have a indoor plumbing! We were new to the land, living out of an RV and an old army cot in a cold metal workshop. We didn’t anticipate finding this mare, but we did, now what do we do? It took less than a minute for us to silently agree that we couldn’t leave her. As the wheels turned with every complicating factor, the words came out of our mouths, “No. We’ll take her too” And with that, I picked up the phone to call our only team member who had elected to stay behind. He was already scrambling to get the fence and chute ready for the release in the morning, and now we needed a new pasture. Robert spent hours working alone in the dark on decades-old barbed wire fencing so we could bring her home. The fence wasn’t pretty and would need further repair, but he had 40 acres ready for her! We knew that she would need a friend, and they agreed to let our team load first in a personal trailer so we could keep her and a buddy separate.
We were ready bright and early the next morning. TJ went in to load our lame mare and an unseen friend who arrived with an eye injury. From the tiny windows, we were able to get our first look at these terrified, sore mustangs. The lame mare had a sadness in her eyes that was noted by everyone who saw her. We didn’t know her story yet, but she was broken. We picked up a phone to message a longtime friend and the first sponsor to our project, George Lewis. We would be giving him the honor of naming our first Mustang, and within a second of receiving the message he answered back “Jasmine”. Jasmine it was!
After matching her hip brand to health records, we learned that thirteen year old Jasmine had been captured from Salt Wells, WY on Oct. 1, 2014, with a 3-4 month old foal by her side. Sadly, her foal died of unknown causes within a few months of being placed in a pen. We don’t know if Jasmine and her new pasture mate, now named Sully, knew each other while at the BLM, but they would form a tight bond in the year to follow.
Her pasture was simple, but it was perfect! Within the safety of this fence they had 40 acres of grassland, a spring fed pond and autonomy. Cottonwood trees and scrub oak dotted their land, and they soon had access to an old horse shelter, though they declined to use it until recently.
Both Jasmine and Sully arrived thin, Jasmine was scored at approx. 2/9 on the Henneke scale. We gave them a couple of days to decompress as every attempt to approach them would cause fear, and poor Jasmine would try to run. They were evaluated by a Veterinarian who believed that Jasmine was likely injured during the roundup, or had been kicked in the knee while in holding. Her knee had a large boney growth on it and the Doctor advised that it was fusing and that nothing could be done. She provided us with health markers to watch for, and we spent several months trying to aid her pain and prevent further issues with oral medications, but she had zero interest. After years of eating old hay off of a dirt/manure floor, all Jasmine wanted was grass! We tried every treat in the book but she was having none of it. During this phase we quickly learned that Sully was actually the one we needed to look out for! She was a little fireball and was quite protective of Jasmine. She would play defense to prevent us from getting close and charged me several times. She would eventually mellow and become a touchless social butterfly who rather enjoyed my futile attempts and the treats I’d leave behind.
As the months past their fear settled. We could drive past without issue and they accepted us in the pasture. Jasmine would continue to have health checks done by our Vet who was thrilled to see her progress. Her limp was obvious, but so was her quality of life! The Vet took great joy in watching Jasmine dominate as band mare, explore every inch of her pasture and pond, and continue with her stubborn and complete disinterest in anything manmade. She stated that if Jasmine was domestic or lived in a pen that she would advise to euthanize her, but she confidently believed that her quality of life couldn’t get any better. She encouraged us and advocated for Jasmine saying, ‘Yes, she limps, but she’s still happy’.
Several months later, two geldings would arrive that also needed extra care. The four Mustangs settled into their new band roles with relative ease over the following weeks. After a little dispute, Romeo established himself as band gelding and would always be seen with the ladies by his side.
As time passed we watched Jasmine’s lameness slowly progress and needed to formulate a plan. We had never had to euthanize a wild horse in this setting, let alone with bonded band members who we had worked so hard to build trust with. We had hoped that Jasmine’s time would be longer, but she began to show difficulty staying upright in the wet soil last week. Her one solid forearm had begun to twist and her injured side was atrophied. We had two cold, rainy days and watched in despair as she struggled to get from point A to point B in the mud. Without proper balance and four good limbs, she struggled to keep herself upright in our wet, slippery soil. The weather system passed and we had hoped that it would restore her good mood and spryness, but after two warm sunny days, Jasmine continued to struggle and would hold her injured leg off the ground. It was time. With a weather warning on the horizon, we consulted with the Vet who agreed that it should happen. We elected to do it before the storm came so that her last days were as pleasant as possible. As I write this, cold, icy pellets are falling from the sky and the stairs are slick with ice. I am so grateful that we made the choice around her still feeling the warm sun on her back.
Jasmine’s last day would be an intimate event with one caregiver and the Veterinarian. Deciding how to euthanize her had been a heart-wrenching process and will no doubt anger some readers, but having witnessed the event first hand, I can say with confidence that her pain was relieved instantly, without fear, and with great respect for her bandmates. My biggest concern had been that we would traumatize Sully, because of this I suggested euthanizing her by injection so her passing appeared as natural as possible. We quickly realized we would never be able to catch her, nor would it be safe for the Veterinarian to administer IV meds to an unbroken, unrestrainable mustang. We discussed darting her first to tranquilize her, but that added danger for Jasmine as she would likely fall and cause great injury. Sure, the end result would be the same, but she would pass with fear in her heart and panicked mustangs by her side. A humane injection would also make her carcass poison, and following the extreme drought of 2018 and with winter fast approaching, that didn’t feel right. We ultimately (nervously) followed our Veterinarian’s advice for a “less pretty” alternative, and I’m grateful we did.
Now, I’m going to talk start talking about her euthanasia here. It’s ok to stop reading.
Jasmine’s last day
We elected to euthanize Jasmine on the last warm, sunny day in the forecast. That day was yesterday. I had spent the evening with her, photographing and talking to her. Tears were shed, extra treats were given, and I left them to enjoy their final evening together. In the morning I loaded my truck with a ridiculous amount of alfalfa (Jasmine’s favorite), apple treats, peppermint, cake, sweet mix, and more. I knew she didn’t like that stuff, but the others did and I wanted them all to be happy. I spent a couple hours that morning and watched with bittersweet confirmation that it truly was time. Even in 24 hrs, her ability to get around had decreased. As sad as it was, I would rather her go calm, warm, and happy, than cold, injured and scared in the mud. I met our Vetrinarian at the fence line and walked her in. Pleasant small talk was exchanged as she commented on the improvements made with the other mustangs. We both acknowledged that we had never done this with other mustangs so close, but we couldn’t separate them and decided it would cause greater fear and panic if we tried. She asked that I position treats around the mustangs so that there was lots of distraction and variation should they change position. The Vet also let me know she had earmarked several hours for this process and had nowhere to be but here. It was an added touch of comfort and it took away some worry knowing that she was in no rush. She was going to wait until everything was perfect.
We chatted for several minutes as the band happily and calmly grazed around us. She advised me to cover my ears when the moment was right, and that she would try to give me a warning. That moment came sooner than I had envisioned. I don’t remember if I was talking or she was, but mid-syllable she quickly, calmly, quietly said “ready”. *Click* It was done. Before I could even process the word it was over. It was clean and it was instant. Instant. I realize that not all euthanasias are as seamless, but Jasmine’s was. In the immediate seconds after I couldn’t even be sad. I was bewildered and so incredibly grateful to see that the others weren’t scared. They continued to stand mere feet away and didn’t react. Truthfully, I don’t think they even stopped chewing. Had we been in a rush, or tried to separate them, or had made different decisions this event could have been highly traumatic, but it wasn’t, and I will forever be thankful for that. We casually stayed in place and watched them graze around her. The Vet advised to leave her in place for the day so the others could grieve and process the event. Sully eventually came over and gave Jasmine a sniff, looked concerned for a moment, then went back to grazing. Romeo and Sinatra did the same, and they continued to enjoy the treats laid out without any fuss. As sad as it was, I was relieved by their calmness.
The Veterinarian left and I remained to share a toast in honor of my mustang friend. I eventually left to give them some privacy, and to decide where we should move her that evening. I decided on the farthest tree line that was still within their pasture. Mustangs will visit the grave sites of deceased loved ones for years and I wanted Sully to be able to visit her.
I spent the next several hours observing from a distance. They continued to calmly graze, occasionally taking turns standing over her. While I witnessed some truly touching interactions between them, they largely behaved as if nothing had changed. They seemed to be aware and accepting of Jasmine’s passing but were ok as long as she was close. As the daylight began to wain and with a winter storm approaching, we made our move to reposition her to a final resting place. Her band was calm, well adjusted and allowed me to share several moments petting and saying goodbye to their friend. We were able to get her respectfully positioned for transport, lifted her and began her final journey. That’s when things changed.
As we began to move her body, her calm band became somewhat frantic. It was both heartbreaking and mesmerizing to watch. Whinnies, grunts, and snorts rang out as Sully gave chase to the tractor. The driver slowed as she and Romeo ran tight circles around the moving equipment. I pushed ahead on a quad and turned back to see the driver slowing so he didn’t injure anyone. I selected a private semicircle of young cottonwood trees that offered privacy and good habitat for struggling wildlife. I watched in teary amazement as an unbroken mustang walked in stride with the large, noisy tractor carrying her friend. She did several close circles with Romeo in her wake before slowing to a trot when she saw me on foot. The tractor slowly approached her final resting place and we respectfully lowered her to the ground. All three horses gathered to smell their friend. After being satisfied that it was indeed her and we weren’t taking her any further, a calm returned to them. Within moments they began to graze and carry on as if nothing had happened. They knew that she had passed, but they still wanted to be close. We plan to leave her open for nature to consume, as would happen in the wild out of respect for her family and lineage. That may not be a choice echoed by all, but it’s one we feel good about. These mustangs survived for years in the wild with strong family bonds and were removed by force. Death is a natural event and we hope we added some dignity and compassion by allowing them to grieve as they naturally would. It was a heartbreaking decision, but one made out of deep respect and love.
Rest in peace, Jasmine. Warm and sunny days are ahead.
You are forever in our hearts.