A week has passed since they said goodbye, but for Ride Your Horse! founder and instructor Darlene Harman, the painful decision to put down an ailing therapy horse named Cheyenne at in Cerritos still lingers on.
"I really loved her and miss her, but I know she's now better off and I am now stronger," Harman said fondly remembering the once curious and playful horse that she first met almost four years ago.
Cheyenne, the 11-year-old American Quarter Horse who was euthanized last Monday (Aug. 13), was suffering from a painful and incurable condition that deteriorates the ligaments, putting her in a fragile state that prevents her from being able to carry her own weight.
"It is a disease that can't be tested for or treated," said Harman. "Cheyenne was normally a very happy, active and athletic horse, but we started noticing a change in her at the end of June ... her demeanor changed and she was laying around a lot and not running around anymore."
Harman said the horse initially appeared to be experiencing soreness in her back, leading them to believe she was suffering from a cyst or tumor in her ovaries.
"We were prepared to take out the ovaries because that was the easiest thing to do, all of her signs were showing that was the problem, but we had no idea it was much more serious," she said, adding that Cheyenne's health declined dramatically in the weeks that followed.
"She started keeping her legs under her belly and her back started to round with her spine starting to show more," she said. "We had no idea that her ligaments were ripping and deteriorating. Eventually she could no longer support her back and hips and her ligaments became so weak she couldn't hold her weight any longer."
Harman said the changes in the 1,110-pound horse happened surprisingly fast.
"Normally for horses that have this condition it takes a long time for their health to deteriorate, but this was literally a three-week turnaround. She was so fragile and it all happened so fast."
When it became obvious Cheyenne's condition would only worsen, Harman said the decision to put her down became the only option.
"Eventually she wouldn't have been able to walk to her food or water, she was already in a lot of pain -- it would have been a horrible death," she said. "Instead I decided to have it done in a way that was pain-free. And very truthfully and honestly, I feel that I 100 percent made the right decision. Keeping her around would have only prolonged her suffering."
Cheyenne's sudden passing forced the cancellation of an Aug. 14 .
"We enjoy hosting our Annual Miller Children Special Horse Camp in August," Harman wrote in an email after the cancellation was announced. "Unfortunately, this year we experienced the devastating loss of one of our beloved therapy horses Cheyenne. Our beloved therapy horses are family to us ... without them we simply would not be able witness the miracles they provide to our special riders."
Cheyenne Was Special, She Made A Difference
Letting go of Cheyenne has been difficult, given how much of an impact this special horse has had over the last four years.
Cheyenne was one of seven horses and three ponies used by the Ride Your Horse! therapeutic riding program operating out of the Cerritos stable. Since being donated to the program in 2008, the chestnut colored mare helped provide equine-assisted activities to individuals suffering from various illnesses and disabilities.
"Horseback riding for the disabled is recognized as one of the more progressive forms of therapy. The ability to control a horse as well as ones own body inspires self-confidence, responsibility and teamwork. Best of all, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which creates a special relationship between rider and horse ... ," Harman said.
The horses also go through a careful screening process before being adopted into the program.
"It takes a very special horse to come into our program," she added. "A lot of people want to donate horses especially with today's economy, but it takes a special horse to do this job and when you find them you get so attached to them because they are so unique ... and then you lose them like that and it's hard to handle for our clients and our volunteers who get so attached to these horses."
Because the horses come into contact with people of all ages, Harman said the equines must above all love people.
"It has to come from background where it was very well treated and not mishandled," she said. "If a human has mishandled the horse and it ends up not having an overwhelming amount of trust for humans, that could cause some problems because our patients are often disabled. So if the horse has trust issues, and one of our patients kicks or goes into seizure -- if the horse is mishandled -- it could go into flight mode and run."
"So what we look for in our program are horses that have been well loved, well treated and well trained. We look for a horse that has been cared for physically and mentally and comes from an environment that allows them to be trained to be ridden by anyone."
Harman said Cheyenne was the epitome of a horse that could work with anyone.
"She was such a sweet and giving horse, she loved all people but especially the kids," Harman said. "Whenever you let her loose, she was playful and running around, and when she was with the kids, she was a good as can be."
When news of Cheyenne's passing spread, patients, parent and associates with the program flooded Harman with their condolences.
- "RIP Cheyenne. So glad you were able to make so many kids happy at Ride Your Horse Therapeutic Riding Program. I know they will miss you!!" - Donor Mrs. Karen Clower
- "My Prayers are with you if it wasn’t for Cheyenne we would never have found out that my Kelly has Dandys Walker. Cheyenne knew right off that Kelly should never have been on her back she let us know so quick I am so great full (sic) to her. I have made all the adjustments in Kelly’s life to protect her Brain. Kelly was so sad that she can never ride again but she has Pic of them together all over her room thank you so much. With deep sorrow we Love you both very much thank you for the special Memories - Lisa Rodriguez
- "Hi Ms Darlene, I really enjoyed going there and riding Cheyenne I miss
her a lot she was a wonderful horse. I'm so sad she's gone now she is in horse heaven looking down on us and her other horse friends. I will always remember her and how we had that special bond." - Kelly
- "The hardest thing to do is the "right thing" Cheyenne left this world knowing she was loved and appreciated! If I was a horse I would want to be one of Darlene Harman’s horses! We will miss you Cheyenne!" - Sandy Synstelien
No Immediate Plans to Find a Replacement
Although the Ride Your Horse! program is now down to nine equines, Harman said they're not quite ready to begin looking for a replacement.
"We're not looking yet because we're all still in the mourning process. It will be our first full week back with all our clients and volunteers ... we'll replace her eventually but probably not start looking until after Labor Day," Harman said. "Again it's not easy to find the right kind of horse for our program. It has to be a horse that you would trust anyone with -- a horse that anyone can ride and loves being around people."
"Cheyenne was that horse, and when you find a horse that truly loves to be with people, it's an incredible thing."
For more information on the Ride Your Horse! therapeutic riding program, click here.
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