By Laura Crum
Out in the five acre field where I keep Gunner, the retired cutting/team roping/cowhorse that features in my mystery series about equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, there is an old gray horse. His owner called him Gray Dog. Somehow, I’m not quite sure how, I agreed to take Gray Dog and retire him.
His owner was a friend of mine and she had too many horses. She didn’t want the financial obligation of retiring Gray Dog. She said the horse was kind and gentle. He had been a team roping horse. He had navicular and had been nerved twice. Gray Dog gets around fine in the pasture but he isn’t sound enough to ride. He’s about sixteen hands, a registered Quarter Horse with a very TB look to him. He’s a hard keeper and needs plenty of hay and Equine Senior as well as pasture to keep his weight on.
I’m still wondering how I came to be responsible for Gray Dog. I can tell you the story, but it hardly makes sense, even to me. Here I am, feeling short of time and money because I care for too many horses, four of which are old/crippled retired pasture ornaments. Why, exactly, would I take on another old useless horse? Because my friend was desperately trying to find a home for him, I guess. He was for sale dirt cheap. When I asked her if he was gentle enough for a beginner, she promptly offered to give him to me. At one point, I had visions of my husband riding him, which vanished between my husband’s lack of enthusiasm, and Gray Dog’s lack of soundness.
Anyway, my friend hauled Gray Dog to the pasture where I keep my herd of retirees, and I turned him in with Gunner, wondering if I’d gone stark raving mad. I warned my friend that I would not be buying expensive veterinary care for this horse. If he got too lame to be a pasture pet, I would put him down. My friend agreed and said she would pay for euthanasia and the tallow truck. Fair enough.
And so this very tall (to me, sixteen hands is a very tall horse—I know you warmblood people will laugh), dignified, fleabitten gray gelding backed stiffly out of the stock trailer and became my horse.
From the beginning, Gray Dog was a gentleman. He never tightened the leadrope (not once) as I led him around his new pasture. He never pinned his ears (not once) as he got acquainted with 29 year old Gunner. Though aloof seeming, he was always easy to catch and handle. His ribs showed, he walked stiffly, but he seemed healthy and content, right from the beginning.
Gray Dog and Gunner were a good match. Though Gray Dog is only eighteen, his body type requires about the same amount of equine senior and hay as the much older Gunner. My new old horse gained weight slowly and his gray coat developed a silvery sheen. He began to trot a little more freely, and would even buck and play at feeding time. He was no problem to catch and hold for the farrier and to be wormed. He was a gentleman about everything. At least, I thought, if I had to rescue another old useless horse, this one is no trouble.
And then a funny thing began to happen. When I would walk out to check on the pasture horses, Gray Dog, formerly aloof, would spot me immediately. He was the first one to approach me. He would nuzzle me and my little boy affectionately, not begging for treats, always polite and respectful of our space, but distinctly friendly. It was as if, in some mysterious way, he had recognized that we were his benefactors. He had decided that he liked us. It sounds silly, but it felt true.
And I, who have many horses that I have owned for ages, horses who have done lots for me, horses that I have put many miles on, I started to fall for this old horse that I’d never once swung a leg over. I looked forward to seeing him almost as much as I looked forward to seeing Gunner. Though I don’t, in general, care much for grays, I admired the silvery color of his coat and thought his steady dark eyes had a noble look. He reminded me of Shadowfax in “The Lord Of the Rings.” (OK, now I’m really getting silly…I know.)
In short, I fell for this old gray horse in a big way. For no other reason than that he is a genuinely nice horse. I know his history. I know he was a good team roping horse who would pack a beginner, and a good trail horse. He took several people for their first-ever ride on a horse. He was kind to the babies in his previous owner’s pasture. She used to wean the young ones to him as a babysitter. But the thing that really matters is the feeling I get from this horse. Its just a pleasure to be around him.
This is a hard thing to explain to anyone who’s not a horseman, and a lot of horsemen wouldn’t understand it either. But I am grateful that fate, or something, caused me to agree to take this horse, against all logic. This horse deserves his peaceful retirement. This horse has been a gift to me, not a burden. I’m proud to own him.
OK…I really hope my husband never reads this blog. He’ll be sure I’ve gone off the deep end. But I wonder if many of you have similar illogical bonds with certain horses that would really make no sense to any one else, but which work for you. Or am I just a little loony? Or maybe its both. Cheers—Laura Crum