Through the Barn Door

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I put my horse down Friday. 

I can only tell you about the our beginning.  And I can tell you about our end. The middle is still too raw. That is where I learned about his personality, his quirks, the things that made him the horse he was. The endearing things, the funny things that right now bring me to my knees. 

 

He was only 5 years old and an OTTB, which is an Off the track Thoroughbred. In other words a racetrack reject. He spent the first three years of his life running on tracks in Oregon. At first he showed such promise. But as those short 2 years of racing wore on he dropped in the ranks. Went from an allowance horse to a claimer. By his last race he was a 2500 claimer, which in the race world is pretty much a “please take this horse he is free.” kind of a thing. 

A friend of mine found him by chance on the internet. He had been passed off to a man who was supposably taking horses to lower end fairground tracks, but was actually taking them to kill buyers for export into Canada for slaughter. I am not a rescuer, but for some reason Spencer and the two other horses got under my skin. I thought about them all day. When my friend called at 6 am saying she couldn’t stop thinking about them either we had them pulled from the feed lot and put into quarantine.  

My first glimpse of him was when he came off he big semi rig at 1 AM a few weeks later. It was dark, he was skinny and road weary and anxious. The shipper put his lead rope in my hands and I had a new horse. He had such the baby head and sincere look in his eye you couldn’t help love him.  He settled into the stall like an old pro and started eating the hay we provided like he had lived there all of his life.

My first view of him in the daylight wasn’t as kind. He had a big knee from a puncture in his forearm. There were cuts and scrapes all over his body and he needed to gain about 200 lbs. He seemed so little then. 

I had a farrier pull his racing plates off and he went barefoot for a while turned out at my friend Mary’s. I didn’t look at him for weeks. 

He came home in July. I still didn’t know exactly what to do with him. So I fed him and brushed him a bit. One day I took him out for a lunge. He was ok. Didn’t buck too much, didn’t seem to wild, seemed to know what he was doing. So I put my western saddle on him and got on. He was so quiet I took him for a trail ride, by himself the next day without a lunge before hand. 

I was amazed at his brain. He tolerated everything I threw at him. That fall we rode in my front field and shipped in to the arena down the road. He was a fairly fancy mover on the flat ground of the arena. I was pleasantly surprised. He was growing and putting on weight and started looking like a real horse. His canter to the left was so balanced and, well, just lovely. You wanted to ride it forever. 

His very first jump school was over the cross country jumps down the road. There was no thought of stop in him. He was brave, brave, brave and just tucked his knees a bit higher when the fences got scary. 

I refused to be excited about him and get my hopes up. But he grew on me everyday he lived with me. As his body started to feel better he started to run. All of a sudden there was this squealing running creature in the pasture. He would buck, and squeal “weeeeeee” as he ran away. There was more personality in his body than it could contain sometimes. 

I took him to a clinic where he watched all the other horses before we did what the instructor asked us to do. I know he was studying everything. She commented on how smart he was. Always curious, always getting into trouble. 

In the last few months he started to come together. His balance improved and his work ethic grew. All of a sudden his right lead canter became less quick and more balanced. He actually started feeling powerful behind with all the push of a good horse.  And I let the little seed of hope grow. Perhaps he could really be something. The little horse that I had rescued and had no expectations of might actually become something special.  

On Friday at 1:30 he wasn’t quite right. Something in the horse world that we call NQR. By 3:30 I was walking with him trying to get banamine, a pain killer, into the vein in his neck and keep him on his feet. By 5:30 he was on fluids and heavily  sedated at the vet. By 11:30 his large intestine had moved from it’s proper place to the other side of his body.  And by 12:30 we released him from his pain. 

As a horse person you always talk about a horses eye. It truly is the window to their soul. A horse will be said to have a kind eye. That kind of eye is all warm and gooey with love and trust.  It is something we sink into. We say things about how we like his eye. A horse with a small eye is usually expected to be mean spirited. When a horse is done there is a different look in his eye. It somehow has turned inward. Not exactly glazed over, but similar.  Once you have seen it you won’t forget it. It’s the look that let’s you know they are done fighting. That the pain is too much, that life is too much. 

And that is when you get to step in and be the hero. You get to tell the vet through your tears to let him go because there is no hope left and there is too much pain for that one body to contain. And you know that it is the right thing to do even though it kills a little piece of you. 

To end suffering is the greatest gift we can give our beloved animals. And so I gave that gift to the little thoroughbred who was a lousy race horse and just missed the truck to the slaughter house. The year and a half he lived with me was magical and mundane. It was a time of discovery for both of us. And it was way too short. 

Having your horses in your backyard. A blessing or a curse.

I keep some of my horses at home.

And I love my barn. No I seriously LOVE my barn.

The Champion in his full care suite

It is the place where my husband and I catch up on the happenings of the day as we do night-time chores. He drinks a beer. I clean stalls and feed. He plays dj on the radio. I throw hay. He calls the dogs. The horses bang on their stall doors for their dinner. My husband drinks his beer. I feed the horses their dinner. But it is the time and place that we really talk to each other instead of the dinner table. The barn is the heart of our home.

Having the barn here gives structure to my days. There is no sleeping in until noon, unless someone else can turn out and feed. You can’t lie about being depressed when the outside horses whinny and look through the windows to make sure you are up and moving. Days are bracketed by chores. Morning and evening always the same, but for small variations from day-to-day. Chores are the time for observation. How horses move, how they act normally, how they eat all go into the general feeling of well being, of completeness that chores bring. The best time of the day are those last minutes in the barn. Horses all tucked in, quietly chewing their hay. There is such peace and contentment there. All is right with my world.

And then winter comes. And all of a sudden things aren’t quite as much fun.

Battling with 100 feet of frozen hose before you have to get to work in the morning can put a real crimp in your day. It can make me down right cranky. Suddenly pushing the muck cart down the hill to the manure pile takes the strength of 10 strong men, none of whom are around to help.

A bout of colic can cause a long lonely night walking a horse and sleeping in the barn. Sure the vet is company when he comes up to tube and oil, but for the most part any medical emergency becomes my call. So different from having a barn manager or trainer there to offer advice and help.

Finding a horse sitter for a vacation is always difficult.  My husband always leaves it up to me, as I am the one who has the horses. But a vacation planned together is always like planning an expedition to Everest.

Despite the hardships I love having my horses at home. Seeing them outside my window and catering to their every whim, the Champion can be very demanding, lets me know them more intimately than I would were they at a boarding facility being taken care of by others.

I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

Moving Barns

Our barn is being torn down. Well, not around our ears or anything, but it is being sold so that they can build a school on the property so The Champion (what my horse likes to be called and even calls himself) and I need to find a new home. 

There are several barns in the running, but of course they are all a little different than our current home, so I developed a check list of things that are necessary for a happy barn for us. 

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  • Of course there are things I might have forgotten. And there are somethings that I can compromise on. But this gives me a base to start from and not forget the important things when I am meeting with Barn managers. 

Wish us luck in our quest. 

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