by Laura Crum
After posting about my retired horses on Weds, I had a funny experience the other morning. It was sort of a rude awakening. At first light—maybe 4:30 AM, I heard some piteous neighing from my barnyard. The sound of a horse abandoned by his herd—a horse in distress. There was no reason for this. My four horses had all been happily settled in their corrals when I fed the previous evening. My boarder was off at a weekend roping, so absent, but there was no reason for this to upset the other horses. But still the loud calls of distress continued, shrill and insistent.
I popped out of bed, shoved my feet into sandals, and threw a jacket over my minimal clothing. In five seconds I was out the door and on my way down to the barn. By this time I’d recognized the voice and knew it was my 32 year old horse, Gunner, who was calling. I just couldn’t imagine what had gotten into him.
As I headed down the hill in the thin early light, I could see Gunner standing at the top of his corral, screaming his head off. He looked fine, and this sort of distressed neighing is not typical of a horse who is sick or hurt, so I was pretty sure this was an emotional issue, not a physical one.
“Hey, Gunner, what’s the matter?” I called to him.
Gunner turned toward me at the sound of my voice and pricked his ears in my direction, clearly focusing on my moving figure as I walked down the hill. I looked around for the other horses.
Aha. The other three horses were all down at the far ends of their respective corrals. Since the corrals are pretty big, the others were a good two hundred feet or so from Gunner and behind some trees. And since Gunner is getting a bit deaf and near-sighted, I was pretty sure he couldn’t see them and thought they were gone. Disappeared, vanished, departed, leaving him all alone. Thus the screams.
Of course, not one of the other geldings had bothered to respond to the calls, convincing Gunner even more completely that he’d been abandoned. Thanks a lot, guys.
Gunner quieted as he saw me approach. The other horses saw me, too, and, thinking I might actually be going to feed them this early, all three nickered and came marching up their corrals, ears pricked. Gunner took a look, saw the horses, and his whole body relaxed. Oh. They’re here after all. You could see it on his face.
I laughed, told them all they could wait until breakfast time, and went back up to the house to make tea and reassure my son that Gunner was just fine. Like me, he had recognized the old horse’s voice.
Later I thought about how grateful I was that Gunner WAS fine, and about how much joy I get from seeing him every day, and decided that today I’m going to write a post about my old friend, who’s been with me so long. Gunner and I have shared so much, and I am so glad that I have him here with me as a healthy thirty-two year old horse. So today’s post is dedicated to him—and to good old horses everywhere.
I bought Gunner as a three year old with thirty days on him, and did all of his training myself. Here we are the day he became my horse. I think you can tell how happy and proud I am to have bought the best horse I’d ever owned (I’m 26).
We competed at the snaffle bit futurity and at various cuttings, winning our share of awards. Here we are winning the cutting at our local county fair.
When Gunner was eight I tired of the politics involved in judged events, and started team roping, which is timed. Gunner made the transition to team roping head horse—despite the fact that I had never trained a head horse before. That’s what a good horse he was.
I retired Gunner from competition when he was fourteen because of arthritic issues, but he remained sound for light riding. Here he is at 17 years.
I kept Gunner turned out in the pasture after he turned twenty, and for many years he lived the life of a pasture horse. He is the blaze-faced horse on the far right. Looks happy, don’t you think?
Last year I brought him home (he was 31) as I felt I needed to be with him and give him extra attention and feed. Here he is getting some affection from my son. Gunner loves attention and we try to give him a lot. He looks pretty good for 32, I think.
Today I just want to express my boundless gratitude for the long run Gunner and I have had together and for how happy it’s been. Despite the fact that he was always a spooky, flighty horse, Gunner never once dumped me, or hurt me in any way. Despite the fact that I was at best a very novice horse trainer when I bought him as a very green colt, I was able to train this very kind, talented horse by myself, such that we won awards in cowhorse, cutting and roping. I rode Gunner on many trail rides and gathers, as well. He was always a good, cooperative horse, even though he is a spook to this day. I always loved him and I still do. I am so happy I was able to give him a long, happy life in return for all that he’s given me. I smile every time I see him.
And when I think of my good old horses, I also have to remember Flanigan, who is buried here. Flanigan died of a severe, inoperable colic at 21 years—he would have been thirty this year. Flanigan was my main mount for team roping, and this experienced head horse helped me rope many steers. Here we are turning a steer for my friend Sue Crocker on Pistol.
Flanigan was also my main mountain horse. Here’s a photo of Flanigan with me at Wood Lake on Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1990. I am 33. Flanigan carried me on many, many trips through these mountains—and next week I am going back up there with Sunny and Henry to ride and camp.
So thank you to Gunner and Flanigan and to all good horses everywhere. Feel free to tell me about yours. And cross your fingers I’ll have good fortune on my trip.
Poor Gunner. I'm glad it was just a situation of 'losing' his friends in the night. Bad, bad friends should have at least whinnied to him!
Dreaming--That's what I thought, too.
This was a lovely tribute to an old friend. It is so wonderful to hear about your lives together and how he continues to be a good friend for you and your son.
I hope his friends give him a heads up next time!
Thanks Val. I love reading posts about people's lives with their longtime horses, too. Makes you feel there's good stuff out there to balance all the sad stories.
The same type of thing happened to me once. I woke up in the middle of the night with Snowball whinnying and I knew he had been separated from my other horse. I ended up walking the fence line in the dark, really worried. It turns out Poncho had found a place where there were rails down and gone through. He was close by, but ignored Snowie's frantic calls.
Also, I really like the old pictures and stories. I'll have to get going on part two of my story about Snowball.
Lovely tribute to two very fine horses - you are fortunate indeed to have been able to share your life with them. Your old guy indeed does look very good, and like he's enjoying his life. Glad his companions responded when you went out so he felt safe again.
Thanks, Susan. I remember your post about Snowball. He sounded like a really cool horse.
Kate--You are so right about my good fortune. My first forever horse, Burt, lived to a sound, healthy 35 years. And Gunner is now 32. Flanigan only lived to be 21, but we owned him since he was 7 and he was only retired for the last year of his life, so I had thirteen good years of partnership with him. I'm very grateful.
I love Gunner's gorgeous face. Thanks for a great post, good photos, and have a TERRIFIC vacation!
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