by Laura Crum
Today I want to share a happy story, in honor of the new year and the hope I think we all hold that 2010 will be full of joy. Here in coastal California its greengrass season—all the pastures are bright with new grass. Those of you who have read my posts know that I keep five retired/rescued horses turned out in a nearby pasture. The other day my kid and I went out to do a little reshuffling, and were treated to such a happy moment that it made us both grin from ear to ear. So I thought I’d share it.
First, the background. My five pasture pets have various histories. One is my thirty year old horse, Gunner, who has been my horse since he was three. I got him when he had thirty days on him, and trained him to be a reasonably successful reined cowhorse, cutting horse, and team roping head horse, in that order. I did all the work myself; I was his sole rider. I still have many trophy buckles, headstalls and blankets that Gunner won for me. Gunner is featured prominently in my mystery series starring equine vet Gail McCarthy, so many readers know him from these stories. Gunner was retired at fifteen, due to various arthritic complaints, but he still trots sound today. Needless to say I have endless loyalty to Gunner, and had always firmly intended to retire him and give him the best life I could. However, my other pasture pets are a mixed bag, and I’m never quite sure how I acquired them all.
One is a horse I trained for my team roping partner. Rebby was never technically mine, but I did all the training on him, and was/am very fond of him. I’ve told his story in some blog post or other—I can’t any more remember the title or when it was done. In any case my partner and I agreed to share the burden of retiring Rebby when this great horse was crippled at the peak of his career. At nine years old Rebby came up with an aberrant wobble in his stride. He didn’t seem to be painful, but he was uncoordinated. Many dollars and a year later, there was no definitive diagnosis. The likliest culprits were/are a strained sacroiliac joint or EPM. In any case, that was over ten years ago, and Rebby has remained exactly the same. He walks, trots and lopes with a weird waddle, appears to feel fine, and does not deteriorate. He’s a friendly horse (was a bottle colt) and we all love him.
Next we come to Danny. Danny was my horse. I’d known him since he was born, and always liked him. I bought him as a three year old with thirty days on him, just like Gunner. Danny was the last colt I ever trained. After I’d been riding Danny for a year I got pregnant at the age of 42. And I quit riding. I let my friends finish turning Danny into a rope horse and he made a good one. But he was crippled in a freak accident when he was seven (hit by a truck—it’s a long story, and I’ve blogged about Danny before, too), and I made the choice to retire this very nice bay horse who is and will always be slightly lame in the left hind.
Then, there’s ET. I’m sure I’ve blogged about him, too. ET was never my horse. ET was the funniest looking horse I’d ever seen, and a great team roping heel horse. He was sold from cowboy to cowboy and as he got older and older it was easy to see what his end would be. I’d always admired him—such a sweet, gentle, hard trying horse, and really talented. He looks like a cross between a dachshund and a giraffe and is missing an eye (I’m not kidding). He was named by a previous owner because of his resemblance to the famous space alien. And he is the hardest keeper I ever knew. But he makes me smile and to make another long story short, I bought him and retired him. ET is thirty years old this coming year (like Gunner) and like Gunner, he still trots sound.
And, finally Gray Dog. Gray Dog makes no sense at all. I have too many horses. And yet I let a friend foist this older gentle lame (of course) gray gelding on me. However, turns out I’m very fond of Gray Dog, too. My post on him was titled “An Old Gray Horse”, if you happened to see it.
My five pasture pets live with an OTTB mare that the pasture owner rescued many years ago. So we have six of these old useless horses on this twenty five acre property. The property is divided into one twenty acre field which has an underground spring and grows very strong pasture—in a good year it supports four horses with only about a month or so of feeding hay. There are also a couple of two to three acre separate fenced fields. Because ET is such a hard keeper, he must live by himself in one of the small fields and eat free choice equine senior delight. Gunner lives in the other small field and gets a ration of equine senior delight that works for him. Until recently, Gray Dog lived with Gunner because he was skinny when I got him and I needed to put some weight on him. But the small field didn’t like having two horses. As the green grass tried to grow the horses mowed it down until the field looked like a bumpy putting green, and it was apparent that I needed to change something. Since Gray Dog is now in very good flesh, I decided to put him in the big field with Danny, Rebby and Ariel—the OTTB mare.
And now we come to the story. I moved Gray Dog on a sunny winter morning. The fields were brilliantly green, and the air was warm. The three horses in the big field came loping over the hill, feeling good despite their various soundness issues, and greeted their new companion. Gray Dog flagged his tail and trotted in big circles. Ariel crowhopped like a filly. Danny and Rebby came over to the gate to nuzzle me and my kid. And then Danny and ET did something so cute it just made my day.
Each on the opposite side of their common fenceline, the two horses paced down the fence together very purposefully. Their necks were arched and they pranced a little, but they were basically walking. Down and down they went, maybe fifty yards away. My son and I watched them, wondering what they would do.
Suddenly, as if at a signal, both horses wheeled around and began to run toward us, jumping forward as if starting from the header’s box—or the starting gate. Side by side, with the fence between them, they ran flat out straight towards us, as hard as they could run. My thirty year old horse and my cripple. They ran like the wind. Racing each other for fun. Running for joy.
My son’s eyes were wide, his face virtually glowed. “Its like being in ‘Spirit’”, he said (we rented that movie not too long ago).
And it was, actually. There we stood, in the sunny, wide open meadow, watching two horses galloping right at us. They pulled up as they neared us, manes and tails flying, and made a big circle around us.
“Danny won,” my son said. “But ET ran hard.”
Both horses trotted and snorted, looking proud of themselves. Danny came over for a head rub. My little boy patted ET’s shoulder. And I thought how much fun it all was, just being with these old useless horses on this sunny winter morning. Even if I can’t ride any more, even then, there will still be much joy to be had with horses. And I am so grateful that I have been able to share this joy with my young son.
Happy New Year to all of you. May many joyful “horsey” moments come your way in 2010.
And if any of you have any happy moments with your own horses to share, I'd love to hear them. Also, don't forget about "Reader's Write" Saturdays. Send Jami something you'd like to post on Equestrian Ink--a short piece of your own fiction, a description of the book you'd like to write, your own horse's story--anything you think would interest our readers. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org