By Laura Crum
No, I’m not talking about happy endings in books. I’m talking about real life happy endings…the best kind. I spoke at the local Rotary Club a week or so ago, and got a very nice surprise. (As a published author of mysteries, I’m a minor celebrity in my smallish town and am occasionally asked to do these gigs—I always comply if I can. It helps sell books and can be fun.) I had done my usual spiel on how I became published, my life with horses…etc (trying to keep it light and funny, as I always do) and was answering questions and talking to people after the event. A man came up to me and told me his name, which meant nothing to me, and then said, “You gave my wife and daughter a horse eighteen years ago.”
I was puzzled. I honestly couldn’t think what horse he might mean. He told me his daughter’s name and the light bulb came on. “Oh,” I said, “You mean Artie.”
Indeed. Now I remembered. Artie had been a nice, reasonably well-broke seven-year-old Quarter Horse gelding that an acquaintance bought to make a team roping horse out of. Several months into training, Artie came up lame and was diagnosed with navicular. The acquaintance, who had got the horse cheap ($1000), was inclined to haul the poor critter down to the local livestock auction and get rid of him quick. A navicular horse is not a good bet for a long team roping career. But lame, as he was, the horse would inevitably be bought by the killers. And he was a sweet, kind, useful animal, who (according to the vet) had every chance of staying sound with light riding. I gave the acquaintance his $1000 back, took the horse home, and rested him until he was sound. Then I looked around until I found a home that was interested in him as a riding horse and seemed suitable. All information and X-rays to do with the horse’s navicular problem were given to the new owner. I charged her the same $1000. She was a teen-aged girl, and for years I visited her and Artie, and watched her show him in the county fair..etc. When she went off to college, she took her horse and sent me photos of herself competing on him at shows there. She took good care of him. She dealt with his navicular problem responsibly. He remained a useful working animal. And then I lost touch with her.
“Wow,” I said to the Rotary guy. “Is Artie still alive? He must be pretty old by now if he is.”
“Twenty-five,” the guy said. “And still sound.”
I must have had a grin a mile wide. Turns out the guy’s daughter became a horse vet, now has a little daughter of her own, and is teaching the kid to ride on Artie. How cool is that?
Its stories like this that make me glad I have stepped up to the plate for so many horses, dogs and cats over the years. Yes, folks, I have rescued even more dogs and cats than horses. Sometimes the endings have been happy, sometimes not so much. But I’m glad I tried. Hearing about Artie made me stop and think about horses I’d rescued years ago, that I’d more or less forgotten. One in particular came to mind, and though I don’t know the true end of this story, I think you’ll agree that what I do know of it is another happy ending.
So, once upon a time, a very long time ago (before I rescued Artie, so at least twenty years ago) a certain breeder of Quarter Horses for whom I worked, raised a colt he didn’t like. The horse couldn’t be registered as a Quarter Horse (too much white); he was coarse, homely, blue-eyed, though structurally sound enough, and the man who owned him was ashamed of him. When the horse got to be three-years-old, and it was clear he was not going to grow out of his ugly duckling phase, the breeder asked me to haul him to the local livestock auction (where as an unbroke, fugly three-year-old, he would inevitably have been bought by the killers). I refused. The breeder then asked the vet to euthanize the colt. The vet refused.
Now there was nothing really wrong with this colt. He may have looked more like a small draft horse than a Quarter Horse, and he sure wasn’t pretty, but, as the vet pointed out, that was no reason to kill him. Still, I knew the breeder would find someone to haul the animal to the livestock auction eventually (the man was embarrassed to do this himself—wouldn’t have helped his reputation as a breeder of quality horses). The colt was halter broke, had received reasonably good health and foot care, was sound and gelded, but had been not been handled much. He was a little "looky",” but seemed sensible to me. He really wasn’t so badly made, despite being coarse. I saw no reason why he shouldn’t have a decent life and bought him from the breeder for $100.
I had two horses at the time (Burt and Gunner—see Farewell to a Friend, June 08, and The Real Horses Behind the Books, March 08, for their stories), and I could not afford to keep another. But I knew a cowboy horse trainer and trader who was a pretty good guy. I asked him if he would take this horse for $100 and find a decent home for him. He said he would. I said I wanted to know where the horse went and I wanted his word it wouldn’t be the auction. He agreed.
I loaded this colt single-handedly in my old two horse trailer and hauled him across the state of California to the horse trader’s place. The horse was as cooperative as a green horse could be through all of it, and I liked him a lot and was glad I’d stepped forward to save him. I even wished that I could keep him. But I let the horse trader have him.
Several months later I heard that he’d been started and was an easy, willing horse and doing well. Some more months later I heard he’d been sold to a cowboy who traveled around Nevada, working for various ranches, and who also worked for the rodeo as a pick-up man (bronc riders who don’t get bucked off get off their bucking horse by grabbing onto the pickup man and his mount). A year or so later I heard that this cowboy really liked the horse and planned to keep him.
So far so good. Now comes the funny, or ironic, anyway, part of the story. The breeder raised only two colts of this cross. The second colt was the homely one I saved and the breeder never bred that mare to that stud again. The older colt wasn’t pretty, but certainly looked better than his younger brother and this colt was bought by a team roper. And guess what? He became one of the best heel horses in the state of California. The breeder, having heard (from me) that the homely colt turned out well, contacted the cowboy who owned him and tried to buy the horse back (!) The answer: No way. Not at any price.
I call that a happy ending.