by Laura Crum
Sometimes you get lucky. I had no intention of buying Henry. I had known the horse for years. A reliable, good hearted, somewhat boring horse, I thought. I had no interest in him. For most of those years I rode more athletic horses that were sensitive and perhaps a little hot. Henry struck me as dull. And he was a sorrel—my least favorite color. He did not intrigue me and I had no desire to own him, though I knew him to be a good horse—a capable rope horse, always sound, willing to babysit a child. Just not my kind of horse.
When my son was little (between three and five years), he rode with me on my horse, Plumber. And one day, when Plumber was lame due to being kicked while in the trailer by his traveling partner, my uncle, who owned Henry, offered to let us ride the horse. I knew Henry was safe, so accepted the offer—and I was pleasantly surprised. Though a lazy horse overall, Henry had a wonderfully smooth trot and gave me a good feel. I enjoyed riding him. And I didn’t think too much more about it.
When my kid turned five, I bought him a pony. And for two years he rode that pony almost every day. At first with me leading him, and later with me ponying him from my horse, and after about a year, my son rode Toby independently, while I rode along with him on Plumber. Toby was a real jewel. He was a big pony, thirteen and a half hands, and I thought, if I thought about it at all, that my son would grow up riding his pony, as the girl who owned Toby before us had done, and that when my boy became a teenager I’d move him up to a horse—just like the previous owner.
Sadly Toby died of cancer just two years after we bought him. It happened the same autumn we lost our old dog and an old cat that was my son’s special friend. All within a six week period. It was my child’s first real brush with mortality, and it was a tough introduction. I was desperate to do something to alleviate the pain. I couldn’t bring Toby back, but I could make sure that horseback riding didn’t disappear for us with the loss of the pony. If I could find the right replacement for Toby.
I remember telling my husband that none of our horses were suitable to mount a child on—too sensitive, too spooky. It wasn’t worth the risk. “But I know of one,” I said. And I called my uncle up and asked what he’d take for Henry.
My uncle has been a horse trader all his life. He wasn’t planning on selling Henry, but it was autumn and the roping season was coming to an end for the year. Now he would feed the horse through the winter and not get any use out of him. And Henry was 19. Though sound, his days as a rope horse were probably limited. And my uncle knew that I would give any horse I took on a good home. And so he named a price—a very high price for a nineteen year old horse that was to be used as a kid’s riding horse. I said, “Fine. I’ll take him.” And the next day Henry was in my barn.
My knowledgeable horse friends thought I was nuts. “He WAY overcharged you,” they said. “Did you vet him?” they said.
I shrugged. No, I didn’t vet him. I knew him. And I also knew that I could search forever and not find another horse I was sure about. Sure he was sound, sure he was safe. It was worth every cent to know that my kid could keep riding and that I wouldn’t have to worry. I trusted Henry.
And so it proved. When I bought Henry my little boy had just turned seven. Toby the pony had taught him to ride, but we really hadn’t ventured out of the arena much. My son had just begun asking me to go on trail rides shortly before Toby died. And with Henry, we jumped right in. Below you see us on my son’s first ride at the beach, shortly after we bought Henry—it was Henry’s first time at the beach, too, I believe. In the photo we have just emerged from the trail through the sand dunes and are looking at the ocean. If I look a bit stern it’s because I was wondering how Henry would react to his first sight of the sea (he was fine). Plumber, my horse, never did care for the beach, which I think you can tell from his expression. But we had a good ride that day, and my son was hooked on riding “outside.”
However in the months to come I realized it was time to retire Plumber, who was 20. Plumber was peggy on downhills and let me know he did not care for trail riding any more. Not to mention he was spooky. He spooked at every little rustle in the brush. This had never bothered me before, but now I had to keep my attention on my son. I needed a solid horse that could take care of himself and give Henry a steady lead. And so I bought Sunny.
Sunny was as steady on the trail as Henry. Not much of anything bothered him. And my son and I, on Sunny and Henry, went on over a hundred trail ride adventures in the first year that we owned these two horses.
Through the woods.
To the Lookout.
On the beach.
In the redwood forest.
Over the hills.
He chased cattle.
He was just a great horse. And then he colicked. It seemed, initially, to be a mild colic. We treated him. But every time the pain killer wore off, the pain came back. Henry never did seem to be in great distress. But he wasn’t coming out of it. After two days of this, we hauled him to the equine center. And there, after X-rays and ultra-sound, they told me that he needed surgery.
I have to admit, I have always been one of those people who said they would never do colic surgery. Too much money, endless rehab, a lot of horses don’t recover, just too much grief for both horse and owner. So my inclination was to say no. And besides Henry wasn’t looking too bad. Just mildly painful. He didn’t look like a horse that needed surgery.
But the vet convinced me that it was Henry’s best chance. And I couldn’t stand not to try. We’d lost Toby a little over a year ago. If I could help it, we weren’t going to lose Henry. It was a tough decision, and I drove away from the veterinary center with tears streaming down my face, not sure if I’d ever see Henry again.
But I did. We all did. The very next day we drove to the center to take Henry (with a huge bandage around his middle) for a walk. And the old horse was a bit shaky, but bright-eyed. He nickered when he saw us and walked eagerly alongside my son and grazed on the green grass. And the vet handed me a cantalope sized stone they had taken out of his intestine.
Henry recovered. The rehab was as long and time consuming and frustrating as I had feared, but we got through it. Six months later, Henry was back to full work and doing great. I will be forever grateful.
This was five years ago, and we have gone on hundreds of trail rides since. I have grown to love Henry as much as I have ever loved any horse. Not just for the gift he has given my son, though that alone is priceless, but for himself. For his wonderful, bright-eyed, tough little self. My son’s red horse. Who still carries my kid bravely on adventures, and is 100% sound and free moving at 25 years of age. Like I said to begin with, sometimes you get lucky. Thank you, Henry. You have a forever home with us.
My son and Henry headed back to the barn after a good ride--April 2013.
Henry enjoying some post-ride grazing--April 2013