Thursday, March 31, 2011

An ode to an old horse

I'm hijacking Snoopy's blog today because of a blog I read yesterday. Laura Crum's "In Praise of Henry" at Equestrian Ink, is an ode to her 23-year old Quarter horse, ridden by her young son. Henry is one of those horses: world-wise, rock-steady, gentle-as-a-lamb. Actually, he sounds gentler than a lamb, since a lamb will still kick you as it struggles to escape being picked up, but of course, you'd never try to pick up a 1000-pound horse, and this metaphor is taking me off on a tangent...

At any rate, Henry has taught Laura's son to ride with both confidence and joy, something Laura wouldn't trade for anything, not even the $5,000 she paid for him when he was nineteen. Yeah. Five thousand at 19 - from her uncle.

Who said blood was thicker than water?

It made me think of a horse I bought for too much money, one that I've never discussed here. Several years ago, when Snoopy was a mere baby, I came to the ranch to do something - ride, teach, I don't remember, and a new horse had been hauled in. He was a big sorrel gelding named Call Me One. His barn name was Uno.

He was in the cross-ties, and Niki was grooming him. Now, I had known Niki for a few years, and she had always shown the same personality, of being friendly, but businesslike, and a little reserved. On that day, a Niki I'd never met before was currying this horse, so full of joy I thought she was going to sprout wings and fly.

Uno had been Niki's horse for awhile, back when she was a youth rider. He wasn't her first horse, but there was apparently something about him. I didn't ask her to describe it. I just watched it.

Uno was used at the ranch briefly, as a lesson horse, before Christine bought him and showed him for awhile. He was nothing flashy at any event, but he was a serviceable horse who would get you around at a show without worry. He could do pleasure, horsemanship, trail, and even a little hunt seat eq. They teased that his name was Uno because he only had one brain cell, but he was just a journeyman kind of horse. Tell him what to do and he did it.

Not that he didn't have his quirks. He was afraid of livestock, and once wouldn't come out of the roundpen because he could see the sheep in the front arena. He was also afraid of EZ-Ups, and would startle at them EVERY time he passed by one.

When Christine got too busy with her other show horses, she sold Uno to a couple, Dolph and Irene, who took turns taking lessons on him. I don't think they ever showed him, but they had plenty of fun with him. After a little bit (the years sift by so quickly I'm hesitant to say how long), Dolph went back to school and neither of them had enough time to give to Uno and they started looking for another owner.

Uno was 20 by now, and a little gimpy in his left front leg. We kept it wrapped, with a little medicated gel, and gave him isoxyprene and a dash of bute every day, just to keep him comfortable. I couldn't imagine who would want to buy him, especially at the price they were asking, which was $3,000.

I only knew two things: 1) he was a nice, agreeable, stead-eddy horse to ride, and 2) every time he came out of the barn, Niki lit up like a lighthouse beacon. What could I do?

I bought him. Tina thought I was crazy to pay that much for him. I don't know what Niki thought. I just knew that I'd make certain he lived to the end of his days here. For the next year, I had a great time riding him in lessons (he was the only horse Niki made me apologize to once, when I yanked too hard on his mouth), I used him as a lesson horse, and he got plenty of carrots and currying.
Uno was a fiend for the curry. The rubby-scratchy motion of the rubber nubs would make him stretch his neck into the next county, his lips pursing together like a happy camel. Nothing makes you feel better than making your horse feel that good.

Irene scratching Uno

After a little over a year, he started limping at the jog. Drugs, rest, and therapy didn't help. Dr. Pollard took x-rays, then came back a couple of weeks later to take more. They were showing what we suspected - he was foundering. Oddly enough, it was his heel that was sinking through the hoof, not the toe. The x-rays showed a significant change in only two weeks. Dr. Pollard gave me the bad news - Uno would have to be put down within the next month.

"I know you need time to process this," he said. "But I wouldn't wait too long."

It was a cool morning in July, just before we left for a week's vacation. Everyone told me how they never attended this event because it was too hard. Yes, it was hard. But I felt I owed Uno my presence.

I know some of you won't believe what I'm going to tell you next, but we've had the whole talk about magic in a previous post. Believe it or don't.

Dr. Pollard had just given Uno a tranquilizer, and was preparing THE SHOT. Our groom was holding Uno's lead rope; he was strong enough to guide Uno to the ground when everything took effect. I stood at the side, out of harm's way.

Uno turned his head toward me and looked at me. What I heard in my head was:"Sorry about the bum leg."

"It's okay," I whispered. "Just get back here to us."

You learn a lot from old horses.