By Laura Crum
Whenever I read Joe’s Thoroughbred Friends blog, I am overcome with the desire to rescue a few horses in need of homes. And right now, as I think all readers of this blog know, there are many, many horses in need of homes. What holds me back? I already care for twelve horses and am stretched to the max making sure that every one is cared for appropriately. See my post (“Happy Stories For the Season” Dec 08). In general, these are all horses that I rode and/or trained myself. I retired them and care for them because they are my legitimate responsibility. I have owned enough horses in my life, that just taking care of all of them is a fair amount of horses, so I don’t often rescue other horses. (And recently one of my horses colicked and had to go to colic surgery to save his life, which brought home the financial truth in spades—responsible horse ownership can be very expensive—see “Colic” Feb 09.)
I have never been in the business of rescuing horses. And, in fact, I have never driven down to the auction and bought a horse that was unknown to me, just to save him. Maybe I should, but I haven’t. The horses I’ve rescued were horses I knew, horses that I liked (see “Why I Have One Skinny Horse” September 08), or horses I felt sorry for (see “A Happy Ending” June 08). In this latter category was Freddy, a horse I rescued many years ago. Freddy is dead now, but I’d like to tell his story here, in the hope that it might inspire a few people.
Freddy was a rope horse. Not a particularly great rope horse, but a decent rope horse. He was a medium sized bay (about 15.2) with some white on his face, a nice eye, an absurdly short tail carried high, not much butt, a deep heart girth, and straight, well made legs with plenty of bone and not a bump on them. Like all horses, he had good points and bad points. He was completely sound. He would really stick his leg in the ground when you turned a steer on him. He could cover country outside in a fast determined walk that left most horses in the dust, and he could keep it up all day. He could run across broken ground faster and more sure-footedly than any horse I ever knew. He was great on a gather. He was also a nut case.
A friend of mine bought Freddy as a seven year old green rope horse. He roped on the horse for several years. All would go well until some little thing pushed Freddy’s panic button. The things that pushed this button were unpredictable. Freddy wasn’t like a normal spooky horse. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he would panic. When he did he was violent, willing to run right through an arena fence, rear straight up…etc. My friend put up with this for a couple of years and made excuses for the horse as being green, but in the end, quite wisely, decided that Freddy was going to get him killed and determined to get rid of the horse before that happened.
And this is where I came in. I’d been around Freddy the whole time, and I felt sorry for him. He really was a nut case; he didn’t want to be a panicky idiot. He couldn’t help it. He had fear issues that sprang from somewhere deep in his past—a horrific looking scar on one pastern might or might not have had something to do with it. He was a pretty good rope horse when he wasn’t panicking. My friend was planning to price him cheap, and I knew some team roper would probably buy him. I also knew if he was bought by another team roper, he would either hurt the guy or find himself seriously beat up, sold to slaughter…you name it. No team roper was going to put up with Freddy’s aberrant behavior. I looked into those big brown eyes and made the choice. I bought Freddy.
I had ridden Freddy several times and I really enjoyed him as a trail horse, but I knew better than to think that I could get along with this horse on a regular basis. To be frank, I was scared to try. But I had a cowboy friend who could handle a tough horse and who kept his horses turned out in my sixty acre pasture. So I gave him the horse. I explained what he was. And my friend used the horse for many years. He team roped on him, gathered cattle on him, branded calves on him, rode him through the hills…etc. Freddy was one of the best head horses this guy ever had, and considered the best horse “outside” in that part of the world. Tales of him outrunning cattle who were headed in the wrong direction in rough country abounded. He never put a foot wrong. He was in great demand on gathers. My friend was often hired with the request that he “bring that short-tailed horse”. But Freddy remained a nut case. My friend had several close calls when the horse panicked. We discussed the horse many times. It was a tough choice. But in the end my friend gave Freddy back. He was too dangerous, even for this fairly tough cowboy.
I turned Freddy out for awhile. I didn’t know what to do with him. He was in his teens now, still sound and healthy. Another friend approached me, and asked if he could use Freddy. He wanted to rope and go to gathers and brandings. I explained exactly what Freddy was. This guy agreed to try him and be kind to him. In the end, he found he could get along with him (getting older helped Freddy a lot). Freddy was still a nut case. He could still do a good day’s work. I asked the guy to retire the horse if he kept him and used him and he agreed.
That was ten years ago. This last roper kept Freddy and used him successfully for many years. I saw them at the ropings, and Freddy looked good. He even had a long tail (a first for him—his tail just never seemed to grow). His new rider even appeared to be fond of him and to understand him. In the end, he was retired to the pasture. They sent me photos of him at Xmas. Last year I was told that he was having so much trouble getting up and down that they euthanized him. I thanked them.
The point of this rambling story? I stepped forward for Freddy out of pity. He was a horse that I knew, a horse that I was sure needed help. And I was the one person who was in a position to know his problems and want to find a solution that would work for him. Freddy had a decent life because of me. I’m glad I was able to make that happen.
If more of us were willing to do this, just as much we can, and step forward for the horses we know who need some help, a lot less of them would fall between the cracks. The true rescues, like Joe at TB Friends, wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. I offer my story as an example of what can be done, by all of us, one horse at a time. (And see Janet’s previous post about Pete for another example.)
If I could afford it, and had the room, I’d love to take on some of the horses that Joe and Cathy Shelton are rescuing, horses that are doomed, except for the intervention of TB Friends. I encourage everyone to check out this website and for those who are able, to consider adopting a horse from TBFriends.
To Joe, and the good work he is doing….