By Laura Crum
Okay, I can’t resist doing this. I’ve been reading fugly horse of the day, and yes, I agree with her that its evil for people to starve their horses. I agree that if old horses are properly cared for they should not be thin. Then I went out and fed my old rescue gelding his seven gallons of equine senior. I stared at his skinny little self and thought about all those photos of skinny horses on FHOTD. I looked over my shoulder, hoping no one was nearby with a camera. If said imaginary observer took my old critter from the right angle, oh, and managed to include the top strand of barbed wire on the hogwire fence, I’m sure I could be the next asshat of the day. (For those who don’t read this blog, that’s what she calls those she’s picking on—often for good reason.)
And then it struck me. I may be a good example of something that’s worth pointing out. Not everything is quite as black and white as it may appear. So, let me tell you ET’s story, and you be the judge.
I rescued ET about ten years ago. I first saw him about twenty years ago, when a tough young team roper I knew slightly showed up at a roping I was competing at. The kid was just in from Arizona, where he’d bought this horse cheap. He unloaded the horse, saddled him, and entered the roping on him. I couldn’t help staring, and I wasn’t the only one. This was, bar none, the funniest looking horse I’d ever seen. To begin with, he had the longest back I’d ever seen, coupled with real short legs. This gave him somewhat of a dachshund appearance. Add to this a very long upright neck, which created a sort of giraffe-like twist. And the horse was missing his right eye-—just an empty socket remained. To say the least, he wasn’t pretty. We all wondered why the heck that kid had bought him. We found out.
Our tough little cowboy friend won the first pot he entered on the funny looking gelding, who turned out to be a spectacularly good heel horse. He could run, turn with the cow and stop as well as any horse in the arena. And he was a real pro. Nothing bothered him. Endlessly curious about horses as I am, I went up and talked to the kid about the little gelding. Turns out the horse was real well bred (for a rope horse)—he was a son of Two Eyed Jack (kind of ironic) out of a daughter of Blondy’s Dude. Not bad, if you know anything about those old Quarter Horse lines. It passed my understanding how he wound up so funny looking, but if you studied him, you could see why he was athletic. Despite his odd looks, his hip and hind leg were set on just right, his shoulder was perfect. I could only conclude that a long back and short legs do not necessarily make a problem, same for the high head carriage. The eye had been lost in a pasture accident, so his new owner had been told. He had named the horse ET—that movie had just come out. The horse definitely had a distinct resemblance to the little space alien.
I watched ET at the ropings for many years after that. The cowboy kid was a horse trader and soon found a way to make money on ET. All the young ropers traded him around among themselves. Anybody could win on him. Anybody could ride him, including little kids. He was obviously very gentle, well broke, and talented. He was always sound. He had every imaginable virtue besides looks.
As the horse got older, he was bought by some rough types. I once tried to get the toughest cowboy I knew to deck ET’s current owner, who was beating that sweet old horse up at a roping I was at. (The horse had done nothing wrong—the asshole of a rider had missed his steer and this guy always beat his horses up when he missed.) I realized that ET was being traded steadily downhill. He was in his late teens. No one had ever owned him who had cared anything about him. He was not going to be retired. I could see the writing on the wall. And no horse ever deserved to be retired more than that one.
The horse was still sound and a useful rope horse. He was once again for sale. I needed him like I needed a hole in the head. I bought him anyway. I loaned him to a friend who roped on him for several years and let his kids ride him. He kept the horse turned out in a big pasture with other horses. All seemed well. The guy gave the horse back to me when ET was in his early twenties. “He’s the hardest keeper that ever was,” my friend said. “He can’t live turned out on pasture and hay.”
Sure enough, the old horse, who was built like a snake, anyway, was too thin. I found a home for him with a neighbor woman who just wanted to lead her little girl around on him. The horse was still sound, and perfectly gentle. The woman promised to feed him well.
I checked on him for years. He looked good, for ET. (This long skinny little snake of a horse looks “good” if you can’t see any ribs.) The woman had his teeth floated, she had him trimmed and wormed regularly, she fed him well. So far so good.
I began to trust that ET was cared for. Years went by. I still checked him, but not so often. The woman lost her job (so I found out), her daughter grew uninterested, she reduced ET’s ration to just hay and declined to buy the more expensive equine senior that he needed. I went to see ET after a six months hiatus, and the horse looked terrible. Ribs and spine sticking up. To make a long story short, I took him back.
I turned him in with my old gelding, Burt, who was eating 5 gallons of equine senior a day (Burt was in his late thirties and had no teeth left—for his story, see Farewell To A Friend, June 08). ET’s teeth were fine, but he clearly had a difficult metabolism. On the five gallons of Senior a day, along with free choice pasture, he gained weight. In six months, he looked fine. We were all happy—though those two retired horses were costing me a bundle.
Then Burt died. ET pined. He wasn’t happy living in the 5 acre field by himself. He fell in love with the mares in the pasture next door. Owner of said pasture begged me to turn the pathetic old guy in with the mares. It was spring; the grass was long and lush. ET looked fine, weight-wise. I agreed to try it—though I doubted he could stay there forever.
Well, for four months ET was the happiest looking horse you ever saw. He loved his herd of mares, he thrived on the grass, all was well. But the season changed, the grass dried out. The mares looked fine, but ET began to get thin again. I knew I had to separate him, but I was having a hard time doing it. I also knew how upset the old guy would be.
I finally took him out of the herd and gave him my horse, Gunner, as a pasture mate. (Both of these horses are 28 this year.) Gunner was a little underweight, and I figured they could both use the senior. ET was thin again, and I felt bad, but was sure he’d rebound. To cut to the chase, it didn’t work out. Gunner got fat, and ET stayed thin. Though ET was dominant, Gunner was a faster eater. After a month, it was clear I’d have to keep my skinny little horse by himself.
So that’s where I’m at now. ET lives alone in his 5 acre field, and he has finally settled down to it and is gaining his weight back. He looks a lot better than he did a month ago. He still doesn’t look great. If you drove down the road and saw him, you might wonder what asshat owns this skinny little horse. And now you know the story.
Am I an asshat? Or a saint for rescuing this critter and caring for him? Or something in between. Do I have lousy judgement? Yeah sure, I should have separated him from the herd sooner. But what is life about, after all. That was the happiest I’d ever seen the old horse look. What do you think I should have done?