Cricket wasn’t called Cricket when she came to us. My sister, Kim, renamed her the minute we set eyes on her; a new name to mark when her life changed for the better. Miss Cricket was a mousy, brown wisp of a thing, so neglected and fragile she needed to be carried off the trailer that delivered her to our doorstep. The name was fitting.
Here is what we know of Cricket’s past. She was a miniature horse in her mid 20’s, most probably with dwarfism. She had spent most of her life alone in the backyard of an older man and I want to believe that for many of those years, she was treated reasonably well. Not the last years though. The man developed dementia and eventually died. When the family came to settle his estate, they found her crippled and starving in a small shed behind the house, not realizing he still had her.
They tried to do the right thing, calling rescues in an ever expanding geographic area. No one would take Cricket. Many recommended putting her down based on the pictures. When we got the call, I admit we hesitated. She was far away from us and looked so very sickly. But the woman who called, niece of the deceased owner, begged for a happier ending and was willing to get Cricket to us. They knew less than nothing about horses and it seemed we could do this for them — make the decision about Cricket’s well-being, even if it meant ending her life humanely. We said yes.
I will never, ever regret that response.
The family hired a professional hauler to bring Cricket to us. The rig slowly pulled into the pasture as if on eggshells. When the driver climbed out of his truck and walked back to the trailer, he warned us about what we were going to see. He also blessed us. Miss Cricket was laying on a bed of straw at the back of the trailer, unable to stand for the journey. When the door opened, she turned to us and nickered hello. And that’s it. Whatever doubt we had about why we were in this mess, vanished. It was Cricket and she was home.
All of our plans for her changed when we saw her. We held her in the pasture while we feverishly converted the garage to a medical stall and then gathering her in a sling and with people supporting her, hauled her up to the house.
We worked out a stationary sling to give her standing time and put down matting to cushion her when she was down.
Given her starvation level, she needed to follow a careful refeeding program and, because she was so little, that meant alfalfa hay measured in handfuls and fed every 2 hours. We took turns through the night shifts and no one complained. Everyone wanted to be with Cricket. She was so happy to see us! So overjoyed at the attention, the sweet alfalfa morsels.
Keeping her alive was our first focus, but pain management was a close second. Her feet, oh, her feet were so horribly awful. She had some conformation abnormalities, typical of horses with dwarfism, but also had not had her feet trimmed for years.
We tried and discarded and tried again homemade ways to brace her legs for support and the farrier carefully worked on getting her feet back to some level of normal. Those first scary days eased into a routine as Cricket responded to the care she was receiving.
The disadvantage of the garage was that it was surrounded by concrete, too hard for Cricket to walk on easily. So we padded her feet and laid out mats and slowly she started to walk again. Sometimes she would get as far as the grass at the edge of the driveway — those were good days! Sometimes she would need to lie down where she was and we would sling her to get her back. We worried and fussed and through it all, Cricket nickered and loved on us.
It was a long time coming, but it did come – the day we felt Cricket was ready for life down at the barn. We celebrated. And I cried. The intimacy of that time with Cricket in the garage was a gift, a sweet, sweet gift, and it lingers with me still. We fell in love and feared for what was to come and wondered how we would ever survive the loss of her. And she gifted us back by living and improving and being mighty happy about it all. There is more to Cricket’s story and I will tell it, just not right now. I want to be back in that moment, where it’s time for a Cricket feeding or to change a bandage, any little fussy thing just to be with her. Never give up on a horse that says yes. Never.