I went out to the ranch today, and got to spend some time with the horses. I’m just a weekend cowboy, these days.
It’s quite a change from the days when we used to have up to thirty horses and as many cattle(the cattle were more for horse training purposes than anything else).
We had a riding school and a training stable, and we did the big horseshow circuit a lot, so we always were looking for new stock to work with. We used to find abused horses and buy them, and restore them to health. Usually we’d get a usuable school horse, but every once in a while we would come across something really remarkable, like Kitten
Kitten was a big, stocky Thoroughbred/Quarterhorse mix. She was really striking, with her albino coat, big bold blue eyes, and flowing mane and tail. But the good looks came later. When I met her, she was starving, mostly dead, and her left hindquarter was swollen twice it’s normal size. Kitten had experienced a run of bad luck.
Her owner had grown bored with her, and let the stable owner care for her. One day, this fellow decided on his own to trim Kitten’s hooves. Kitten, being about eight months pregnant, and a little testy, didn’t allow him to follow through with his plans. The owner, deciding that “it was time to teach her a lesson”, beat her with a ball peen hammer until she miscarried. After this, Kitten didn’t like men very much.
So when she got an infected cut in her left hind fetlock(that’s just above the hoof, for you non-horsey types), there was no one there to care for it. She sickened quickly. When I came across her, she had been put into a back paddock far away from everyone, so her death wouldn’t attract attention. No one was even trying to care for her condition. I found her by following the terrible smell of death that enveloped her.
I get in touch with the owner, got the story, bought the horse for $100, and then had a very brief, terse conversation with the stable owner.
As soon as Kitten would let me near, I started putting hot compresses on her leg. We would take shifts, staying with her about eighteen hours a day at first.
She actually recovered quickly. She welcomed the hot compresses, sensing that it was for her benefit. When she was well, she had full use of the leg, which surprised me. But we never used her for heavy stock work, or jumping. We just kind of figured she’d been through enough. She made a pretty good comeback, physically. Emotionally, however, Kitten still had some issues.
She would let me do just about anything with her, except get on her back. Very few horses have managed to unseat me, but Kitten could, and with perfect manners. She would simply find the nearest fence or tree, and scrape along it until I got out from between her and whatever she was scraping. And she would stop and look at me with that “Why won’t you listen to me?,” expression.
She would allow women to ride her, but for the rest of her life, a man did not get on her back, not for long, at least. I decided that she had paid enough of a price in life for her convictions, and didn’t press the issue.
I knew that she was thankful that we had saved her, and she was loyal to me.
The day I found out about that loyalty we had received a fresh consignment of stock, and unbeknownst to me, one of them was a genuine psycho-horse. When this horse spotted a human not paying attention, his habit was to try to kill him. I looked up to see this this equine thug running at me full tilt,ears back and teeth bared, and Kitten blocking his path at the last moment. Kitten the man hater jumped in between me and the equine Jeffrey Dahmer, while all the other horses in the paddock were just standing and watching. I considered Kitten’s debt to me for saving her life fully discharged.
Kitten taught me about loyalty and gratitude, and self respect. Most horses are loyal, but Kitten stands out. She’s also one of the women in my life that I’m most thankful to. I don’t much care if she’s a different species. I’m all for diversity, aren’t you?
“I can make a General in five minutes but a good horse is hard to replace.”
P.S. After I posted this, I saw SeaBiscuit again on TV. It got to me again, just like the first time. The whole story is awesome, and Tobey Maguire is perfect(.)