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Few horses can command a room like a draft horse. They are big. Our eyes are drawn to their size, and most people just can’t help it–they want to be close to that bigness. Domino was no different. The black gentle giant with a shock of white in his forelock joined the Agape herd in August 2015, and he was a faithful servant the whole time. Furthermore, he served at every Agape location–starting at North in Cicero, then traveling to South in Martinsville, and finally coming to East in Greenfield. Everyone at each site had the same thing to say about him–he was a gentle giant and they loved him.
The horses of Agape are all special gifts to our community. They serve us with great big hearts and are tireless in their patience and kindness. This is what makes saying goodbye to one of our four-legged friends so incredibly hard. We forge such deep bonds with them, share incredibly powerful moments with them, bear witness to life-changes that they facilitated. How could we not shed tears when it is time to say goodbye? And yet, that is one of greatest gifts we can offer these gentle souls. When it is time to retire, we do everything in our power to place them in loving, comfortable, forever homes. When the decision is not retirement but humane euthanasia, we do not take that lightly. We gather together as a team, we listen to the advice from our vets, we consider what would honor our partner and friend best. If that answer is to let them pass from this world peacefully, then we do it surrounding them with love.
This was the decision we were faced with this week with Domino. On April 27, our Equine Manager was called out to East because something was wrong with Domino. After carefully examining him, we realized that the problem was in his neck. Our vet prescribed a course of anti-inflammatory pain medication and was hopeful that this condition would improve. It did not, and on Monday, May 13 we moved Domino to Janssen’s Vet Clinic for further diagnostics. We learned that Domino was experiencing a significant amount of pain, had very poor range of motion both side-to-side and up and down in his neck, and was having difficulty maintaining his balance. An x-ray was performed and he was then diagnosed with severe arthritis in his neck. The remodeling of the bones in his neck was also most likely compressing his spinal cord or pinching a nerve or both, which would have been the cause of his neurological symptoms.
Initially, we had planned to stabilize Domino and arrange a period of time for all of you to say goodbye. However, late on Tuesday, our Equine Manager received an update from the vets that indicated prolonging Domino’s life was not in his best interest. His pain had increased and his balance was worsening. Eating was possible if we elevated his food, but still difficult. His neurological deficits meant that it was not safe to enter his stall and spend time with him. Our team realized that we could not ask Domino to wait on all of us. We made the decision to humanely euthanize Domino at Janssen Vet Clinic on Wednesday, May 15 surrounded by those that loved him.
Our Equine Manager can remember his earliest days at Agape, learning leg cues and getting fit for riding. He had such a presence with a large, arching neck held high, thick, strong legs, and feet the size of dinner plates. You could hear his coming from a mile away when he would canter, his hooves hitting the earth with such force just because he was so big.
Domino’s face told the real story though: he was all gentleness and kindness.
His big brown eyes were usually soft and curious, and his ears and lip droopy and relaxed. In fact, he was happiest to just drop his head down to your shoulder and stand patiently with you. He loved to be groomed and massaged.
Occasionally, Domino would have an opportunity to use his driving skills and would pull a carriage for summer camp or another special event. In those times, he would light up. You could tell that he loved being a carriage horse and knew his job well. He would step out into a powerful walk with a little pep in his step. He would quickly learn the route and then knew all the right places to slow down, speed up, and stop to give campers a great experience with a horse.
It is hard to define the impact any one horse can have on our community. Each horse is very special to everyone at Agape. They are incredible because they serve so selflessly. But Domino, great big Domino. He truly had a big impact on our community. He would carry riders both big and small with careful steps. He came to Mane Event every year, and also served in Special Olympics.
One instructor recalled a time when Domino stood patiently minute after minute waiting without judgement as a rider built up the courage to mount up. The young man struggled with the fear of riding, but Domino never wavered. When at last the young man made it into the saddle, the instructor was struck by Domino’s strength, trustworthiness, and gentleness. Another instructor recalled that Domino was one of her favorite horses for ground lessons with groups. She said that his size was always a magnet–people were first amazed at his size, and then wanted to partner with him. She said he never disappointed, and was always a super kind and curious horse that won over everyone.
A volunteer shared the respect and love she always felt for Domino as he carefully carried any rider that he was paired with. She loved the way he took care of his riders in any situation on any given day.
While it was certainly hard to say goodbye, we know that this was the best decision for Domino. We know that this will be a difficult news for some of you, and we’d like to invite you to memorialize Domino at any of our three sites. We will decorate a space at each site to honor him and we invite you to leave cards, pictures, and stories.
Thank you Domino- for your gentleness, kindness, and service to Agape. Rest in peace dear friend.