Posted on May 20, 2021
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Caesar came to us in the summer of 2003. He was not being cared for very well, and it was Jay’s birthday coming up. Rescuing Caesar in Jay’s honor was a perfect birthday gift! Caesar had been a movie horse on the Disney lot. But instead of fame, riches, and glamour, he was beaten if he made a mistake, and his job was very demanding both physically and emotionally. Caesar finally shut down and refused to move, willing to be beaten rather than try anymore.
It took us three years to get Caesar to open up and trust. He became rigid when he saw us and expected us to hit him. He would not take food out of our hands and touching him only made things worse. I had to find a way to get through to him and if petting and feeding were not working, what could I do? I started singing “You are so beautiful” to him every day. It was from a distance and it relayed the energy of love, healing, and softness. At first, he thought I was crazy, but eventually, he came to enjoy it and even looked forward to it. He would turn to face me and eventually over a few months he came closer and closer to me until one day he walked to me, put his head on my chest, and exhaled. I sang with his head on my chest for two hours. I was then allowed to pet, hug, and feed him. Now that he trusted me, it was time to help him get the sadness, pain, and fear out of his body so he could let go of his past
The next step in his healing was two-part: building his confidence so he could come even further out of his shell and letting him express himself so he could let the past go. Every time he tried something, like nibbling a lead rope, kicking the feeder with his foot, or reaching out to us in any way, we embraced what he was doing and never told him “no”. We had to help him trust his impulses and instincts again and know that who he was, how he felt, and what he needed was safe with us. Jay took him out on the trails and Caesar had a chance to let Jay know where he was hurt, what he was afraid of, and all about his anger. He got to buck, rear, or run away when he wanted to. Slowly he expressed his feelings in that kind of conversation until it was all up and out, heard, dealt with, and thrown away.
Three years later Caesar was a brand-new horse with a new lease on life. He was such a gentleman that he soon won the trust and devotion of our entire equine heard and became their king. Caesar dated and then fell in love with Sasha who became the herd’s matriarch. Together they raised the babies, disciplined the teens, nurtured the seniors, helped rehabilitate newly rescued horses, and protected them all. It was an honor and a privilege to know this royal couple and watch them become a family.
Caesar could have easily gone first to dinner each night, but he always went into the barn last, allowing his family to go before him. When we brought in a new horse, Caesar introduced the newcomer to the rest of the others over his back, standing in the middle, so if the newcomer was rude or aggressive, Caesar could protect his family. If anyone misbehaved, Caesar would send them into the corner until they lowered their heads and licked and chewed in apology. Caesar was completely loyal to Sasha and never flirted or spent time with any other mares. He did however spend time every day with all the other guys and they would groom each other or play for hours. Caesar loved babies and when we had small guests, he always went up to groom their rosy cheeks and make them giggle. We could take anyone to meet Caesar, from the tiniest infant to someone with fear issues or special needs, in a wheelchair, or even seniors in a walker. We all trusted him completely!
Because of his repressive past, Caesar had a poker face when I groomed him. Most horses will let us know when we’ve hit the right spot by arching their neck and wiggling their lips around but Caesar would stand stone-faced and quiet. I started brushing him while staring intensely for any sign of pleasure, and at first, there didn’t seem to be any. With a lot of concentration, I saw that when something felt good, he would have a tiny twitch in his bottom lip. If I wasn’t watching with all my concentration, I would have missed it. So, I started listening to that tiny whisper and when his lip twitched, I would scratch harder in that spot. The more I listened, the more he revealed until soon he was stretching his neck out and wiggling his entire mouth like the others. I was thrilled!
Caesar’s beloved wife and our treasured matriarch, Sasha passed away two years ago. Before she left, she asked to speak to Caesar. Once face to face, she asked him to take care of her herd. She explained that there was no other female ready to take her place and she needed him to step up as both father and mother of the family. Of course, he agreed and promised her that he would take care of the family for her. Over the last two years, Caesar has kept his promise to Sasha. Even though he was well into his thirties, he continued grooming, leading, protecting, and nurturing the family. We gave him good vet care, corrective shoeing, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, energy healing, Puremedy, Jill and Joan CBD, and Sun Chlorella algae superfood to keep him mobile and comfortable.
Over the last few months, Caesar’s health has declined and it was clear that he was in more discomfort than usual. We called our veterinarian and created a treatment plan to get him through the last stretch of his life with stronger anti-inflammatory medications. It gave us a bit more time with him. Two weeks ago, our horse, Ruby spoke to me and told me that she was ready to step up as lead mare. She said that it was too much weight on Caesar’s shoulders. Even though I was elated that at long last our herd would have a mother figure again, I had a bad feeling that it would mean Caesar’s imminent departure. He had been hanging on so long because there was no one else to do his job, and he didn’t want to abandon his family. But now that there was someone else willing to step up and be in charge, I knew Caesar would prepare to go. Sure enough last night Caesar started preparing me.
On the Monday night before his passing, I went around the property tucking piggies into bed with kisses, counting chickens, turkeys, an emu, and a peacock to ensure they were safely on their roosts, giving Sun Chlorella Rejuv A Wafers to the sheep and goats, and cookies to the cows and horses. Caesar was laying down and he looked peaceful, but I had a bad feeling about it. He did not want his cookie and I spent the next two hours with him trying to make sure he was ok. He looked fine but I was worried anyway. It wasn’t anything he was doing; it was just a strong feeling of dread in my stomach that kept nagging at me. I gave him an injection of Banamine and resolved to let him sleep for a while. I checked on him again at 5:30 in the morning and he was standing, but not eating. He was hunched at the back of his stall with his head down and kept shifting from one foot to the other. When I tried to scratch his neck and hug him like I always did, he walked away from me and made it clear that he didn’t want interaction, which was not like him at all. I called the veterinarian to come out right away.
Dr. Rachel Ostrom examined Caesar and let me know that not only was he in pain, but he was in heart failure with a highly irregular heartbeat. His body was failing, and it was time to let him go. I like to think of myself as someone who handles these things with grace and much experience, but the truth is that losing Caesar was a huge deal and I wasn’t ready. I tried to get my thoughts in order, but I couldn’t think straight. Looking for clarity I talked to Caesar and he was asking to go. But I needed to be one hundred percent sure, so I asked him for a sign. If he wanted to go, I asked him to lay down and then I would know for sure that he wanted to go. Caesar never lays down in the daytime. But sure enough, as we were giving him time to decide, Caesar laid down and looked straight at me, his voice could not have been more clear; message received.
Caesar laid still and nonresistant as the doctor searched for a vein. Just like our beginning together, trying to give him the energy of love, I sang to him. I wanted so badly to cry, but I remained calm, strong, and focused on him and giving him the most peaceful and wonderful send-off. I choked down sobs and held back tears as I sang “you are so beautiful” and walked him home. It was the most peaceful, gentle, serene transition I had ever witnessed. A transition fit for a king! I called on all our horses that had transitioned before him, Sasha, Blue, Mama Dear, Bonsai, Andrew, Patric, Lance, Princess, Rascalina, Monty, and Patches to come to meet him on the other side. I felt their warmth and felt Caesar lift effortlessly out of his body, and I am pretty sure I saw him received with a standing ovation. He did an outstanding job here and I made sure to tell him on his way.
Magic has waited for years to be king and to have the ladies to himself. I would not allow him to take the Mares during Caesar’s reign, but now that Caesar had transitioned it was time for Magic to step up and lead beside Ruby. Before putting them all together, I talked to Magic and explained to him that being king wasn’t just about having a pretty face, the ladies on his arm, and getting his way. Being ruler meant keeping everyone safe, putting others’ needs before his own, and sometimes making hard decisions. In years past, Magic has been a brat, self-absorbed, and a little spoiled, but who can blame him with those incredibly good looks?! Today there was a soft look on his face, a wise look in his eyes, and a maturity I had never seen before.
Then I spoke to Ruby and told her that being a matriarch means protecting and caring for the entire family, not just her closest friends. I told her that today the donkeys and Hero would be joining her family and she had to mother them as well. Ruby has come a long way from the shutdown and angry girl we took home years ago. She seems kind, thoughtful, and open; ready to do both Sasha and Caesar proud!
We let all the horses and donkeys out to pasture together for the first time and held our breath. Ruby went nose to nose with Hero and invited her into her family. Magic was so excited to be with Whisper again but was careful to pay attention to all the horses and donkeys fairly. After a while, they all hung out in the shade as one big happy family with Caesar and all our other angels in spirit smiling down on them. Today Caesar passed, Magic became King, and Ruby stepped up as a matriarch, and I am in awe of their courage, wisdom, and kindness!
Jay was not able to be here to walk Caesar home, as he is at our Tennessee location. It was so painful for Jay to say goodbye to Caesar from afar. But in Jay’s dream last night, Jay was sitting down on the grass and Caesar came to him and rested his forehead against Jay’s, stayed there for a long while, and then slowly and quietly walked away. Caesar not only took care of his equine family, all of us humans, every guest we have ever had here, gave me a final sign so I would be sure what to do, but he said goodbye to Jay as well, allowing Jay to have some peace. What a gentleman, what a mensch, what a hero!
As much as we miss Caesar, his memory will live on in each of us. He raised us, taught us, inspired us, and gave himself to us. A perfect King and leader. We are all who we are in part because of Caesar and his giant heart!