My father-in-law wanted a horse for a SwampCousin. He’d made a series of horse purchases and, not really being an animal person, had bought a series of broken-down nags that were at death’s door and soon passed through. He had brought home a pony the last time with the horsey equivalent of advanced emphysema.
“I believe your pony is dying!” I informed him, observing the way the pony breathed.
“He can’t be! The guy that sold him to me said he was only ten years old.”
I cast a jaundiced eye over the sway back and hanging head. I opened the mouth and looked at his teeth.
“This pony ain’t gonna see 30 again. Probably not 35, either.”
“You’re saying he’s old?”
“No. I’m saying he’s ancient!”
Well, the pony survived for a couple more months before succumbing to whatever ailed him. At that point, my father-in-law told me that he wanted to get another horse so that Jenny’s cousin could go out riding with her. “Okay!” He gave me a budget to stick within. It was pretty low because at that time, with the horse slaughter markets, horse prices were fairly high. I looked at one after another. Some he was told about and asked me to go look ’em over. I came back time and again with a negative report. “Well, what was wrong with that one?”
“Their front legs aren’t supposed to be touching”, or “That horse isn’t at all suitable for a beginning rider because he kicked my ass.”
Then one day I heard through some other people about a rescue horse that a woman had. She had bought her out of pity from some people that were starving her, but her horses were beating the crap outta her and she had to sell her. I went to take a look.
She was the sorriest-looking horse you can imagine. You could put fingers way down deep between her ribs. Every vertebra stood up like a mountain on her back. She had bloody sores all over her from where she had been savagely bitten by other horses.
“I’d love to keep her, but I just can’t. I can’t get rid of my horses, and they’re beating her up too badly!”
“She’s a mess, all right.”
“You should have seen her before she gained a couple hundred pounds.”
“You got a Coggins on her?”
She had had a Coggins test done on her the previous week, and it was good. I walked around her again. She was suffering from rain rot and had very little hair. Thanks to her starving condition, I could see her bones very well. They were very good. Her hooves were a long untrimmed mess and her long pasterns were bent too severely because of this, but she moved well without any trace of lameness. I checked her registration papers pictures. The only way I could tell it was her was by the distinctive marking on her forehead.
I looked into her eyes which were hopeful, not the vicious or crazy-scared eyes that might be expected on such an abused animal. “I’ll take her!” I decided.
My father-in-law was NOT impressed when I unloaded her. “WHAT is this sorry-looking thing?” he demanded.
“She’s going to be a real beauty, you’ll see!” I enthused.
“I’m too embarrassed for her to be seen in my pasture!” he grumbled. She wasn’t in any shape to be ridden yet. She went out into the pasture with the daughter’s personable Pony of the Americas, Checkers. They became fast friends. SwampDaughter’s cousin was in charge of feeding her because she was his horse. He didn’t do it regularly. For three months, Breeze looked the same, perhaps even getting thinner, if possible. Then SwampDaughter quietly took over her feeding and care. In about a year, the horse who was named “Breeze” by daughter, was an incredibly beautiful horse, one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. She followed daughter around like a puppy and, indeed, daughter often rode her. Another year went by. SwampCousin didn’t ride her often because he’d been having some physical problems which was eventually diagnosed as type I diabetes. One day he came over and put a saddle on her and swung up into the saddle. Breeze was uneasy and started sidling around, and he slapped her on the belly with the long western reins to show her who was boss. Well, Breeze was having none of that. Breeze dumped him on the ground. He went home crying.
Daughter and I speculated to each other whether his smell was altered as the result of his diabetes and insulin, and whether this change was spooking Breeze. Or it could be that Breeze just decided that her person was SwampDaughter (who she saw most frequently and who brushed her and washed her and braided ribbons in her hair and mostly rode her) and that was that.
Father in law was going to sell that vicious horse, but SwampDaughter begged him to let her make payments on her. She would do chores to pay for the horse. She faithfully made payments on the horse but, IIRC, father-in-law ended up just handing over the papers after she’d made a few payments and demonstrated that she was serious.
We tried to get a foal from Breeze twice by sending her off to a stud farm but she would not eat when she was there. She came home in worse condition than she arrived both times and soon slipped the foal. The people there said they’d never seen anything like it. She refused to eat. She would barely graze and drink. She paced the fence. She was not happy until her girl arrived.
There are so many things that I could tell you about that horse. She didn’t like SwampMan and went out of her way to make him miserable. If he left his barn open, she would walk in and poop beside or on his desk. If he left tools outside, she would pick them up and shake them to see if they would break. If strangers visited and parked in Her Pasture, she would bite their mirrors off and, indeed, son’s visitors used to sneak beer over to bribe the horse so that she would leave them alone.
It took Breezy years after daughter married and moved away for her to forgive her. When she came home and went out to Breeze, she would fold her ears flat against her skull in anger and look away. Jenny was forgiven when she produced foals for Breeze’s inspection. She loved those babies and would follow them around and allow them to take liberties with her ears that she would have bitten anybody else for taking.
Sometime during that time period, Breezy became my constant friend and companion. If there was a bad thunderstorm, I’d wake in the middle of the night to make sure she was okay and not frightened. I spent every fourth of July evening with her during the scary explosions. If I was not there, she raced wildly around the place trying to escape. With me there, she trembled but stood quietly. I couldn’t go outside without a gentle greeting nickered at me. She waited at the gate for me to come home from work and sometimes slept there while waiting. I never was nervous about going out and confronting strangers for Breeze was a very effective bodyguard and guarded me jealously.
I’m sorry to report that, after a brief illness, Breeze died in the pasture with me in attendance yesterday. She’d been unwell for the previous 24 hours. I had called her vet, but he was working in Georgia and would not be back to Florida until today. I stayed out with her until 3:30 a.m. until her pain seemed to ease, and she relaxed. I jumped out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and found her standing next to the fan. She nickered in recognition. We went to pick up the kids and came back to where she was still standing in front of the fan. She refused food and water and even beer, although she did slosh her lips and tongue through the beer several times. I could tell that she was still far from well.
I went back to check her frequently and offer her water and/or beer. The final time I went out, I saw her walking slowly out to the gate where she would wait every day for me to come home from work. I called to her, and she answered with a nicker, then tried to turn when I saw her stop, her hindquarters started shaking, and then she fell to the ground. I dropped everything and raced to her. She was having convulsions and muscle fasciculations and gasping for breath. Her forelegs paddled the ground as she tried in vain to get up. I was sobbing my eyes out, dropped to my knees, and tried to cradle the head of a convulsing horse in my lap. Like the previous night when she had been in obvious pain, my touch soothed her, and she looked at me before she took one last long, deep breath and released it. Her pupils dilated. Her legs drew up to her body.
“NO!” I screamed. “Breezy, don’t leave me!”
As if in answer to my plea, she suddenly took another couple gasping breaths, then stopped. Her muscles continued quivering for a bit.
The rest of the day is a blur. I took care of the children, I suppose. I hadn’t had any breakfast or lunch so when SwampMan got home, I left so that he could bury her. I didn’t want to see it but when I got back, he was dragging her away with the tractor, an awful sight. I cried through the night.
This morning I woke up to the alarm and jumped out of bed to feed Breezy before we went to get the children. Then I remembered.
Since I didn’t feed Breezy breakfast, my entire schedule is off. I forgot to turn the stable chickens out of their chickenhouse until noon. I probably won’t go out into the corral again for a long, long time.
I suppose a lot of folk will think that I’m foolish for mourning the death of a horse, but I never actually thought of her as a horse. She was a friend, and I will miss her dearly.