Tuesday, December 7, 2010
How did the years go by so fast? It seems like just yesterday that I first spotted you at the sale barn, sticking your head up to try to get a bite of grass in a feeder that was too tall. I thought to myself, "Now, there's a Sugar Bars head if I've ever seen one." I walked over to look at the papers posted on the fence, and sure enough, mama was a line-bred Sugar Bars mare, and papa was Coy's Bonanza. You were just a yearling, but good looking even then, with balance and good red dun color with that line right down the middle of your back.
I went to lunch with David and Dustin, and said, "There's a yearling that I want to bid on this afternoon." They were more worried about their golf game, and David told me to use my best judgment.
I did. I bought you. Some other guy wanted you, too, but I hung in there. I thought I'd spent too much, but I was wrong. I got a bargain. It was the best money I've ever spent.
I didn't think so at first. You were a little shit as a yearling, and as a two year old, too. Beautiful, yes, with just the conformation and size I liked, but kinda sour and sneaky. I didn't often turn my back on you, and we had some real "respect" issues. I kinda didn't like you much, and I think the feeling was mutual. So when you turned 3, I decided to breed you to a champion palomino stallion down the road from us. I was raising a few colts back then, and my plan was to keep the baby, and sell you.
But that little palomino stud colt you had was sick when he was born. The vet diagnosed septicemia, and figured he got it from you, because your womb was full of infection when he biopsied it. I named the little fella Jack (after the Two Eyed Jack/Bonanza bred stallion), and did my best for him, even moving him into the house to bottle feed him and give him 24 hour care. David was gone on active duty, so I took a week off work, and the neighbors and I nursed Jack the entire time. The vet told me I'd have to milk the mare, and I remember thinking, "Milk THAT mare? She'll kick me all over the stall." But you didn't. You didn't move an inch. And I remember the look in your eye after we had taken Jack away. I think you knew; you knew we were trying to save him. You never gave me a bit of trouble. And we started to bond.
Jack didn't make it. I took you to equine reproduction specialists after that. They put you on antibiotics, cleaned up your womb, but in two weeks the infection would be back. They finally told me that you "weren't a good candidate for a brood mare".
At that point, I decided to send you to Dave Shumpert to train, because I was working full time and just didn't want to mess with you. You and I had never had a really good rapport. After a month, I called to see how you were doing, as I already had a buyer lined up. He said, "Well, pretty good." I told him I thought I might pick you up early, because I had a buyer. He said, in that slow, easy-going way that Dave has, "You know, of all the horses I've worked this summer, if I was to keep one in my own string, I think it'd be that red dun mare. Maybe you'd better ride her first."
So I did. I trailered you up to the local State Park, and turned you loose. When I got back to the trailer, I knew I'd never sell you. I called the buyer up and told her she'd have to keep looking.
From that day on, you and I were together. I guess there's just not many trails or hills in this area of northern Colorado that we haven't been on......most of them dozens, and maybe hundreds of times. You worked alongside me all those years at the ranch. We gathered horses and cattle, searched for lost people, led hundreds of guest rides into the wilderness. And we rode together, alone, alot.
You weren't the best wrangler horse at the first. You walked too fast. I refused to lay on your mouth, which was as soft as butter, so I'd warn the guests, and let you take off. You never broke into a trot, unless I asked for it. You just walked out. After awhile, I'd stop you, turn you around to face the string behind, and we'd wait for them to catch up. Then I'd warn them again to move their horses out, and off we'd go. Within two minutes, you'd be way ahead again, and we repeated the whole thing, all the way up the mountain, and then coming home. But when we had Bright along, all that changed. Bright was the one we put the very young, or very old, or handicapped riders on. Bright was lazy, yes, but I think he also knew what his role as a dude horse was. He stepped carefully. And when we put Bright right behind us, you walked carefully and slowly, too. I didn't have to stop you.....you would stop periodically and turn to look, just to make sure Bright and his rider were close by.
Some cowboys don't like to ride mares. They never rode you. If I asked you too, you'd put yourself up against any horse so that I could help a rider out. Yeah, you'd kick the H out of a nosy gelding in the pasture, but, under saddle, you never kicked out once, even when a dude horse would run right into your hindquarters. And you'd outwork any gelding I've ever owned, except maybe Pecan. And you always looked great doing it.
You got me out of tight spots more times than I can remember. Once a hillside caved way, and swept us up against a gnarly pine tree. Neither one of us could budge; I couldn't even get off as my leg was wedged too tightly. The ground started moving again. Most horses would have flailed around and done major damage to both of us. You stood stock still until someone could get there to help us out. That was just one of the times we got into a spot, and we came out ok because you kept your head more than I did.
You never missed a day of work, even though you had a quarter of your front right hoof gone from the time you were a 5 year old. That injury went clear into the coffin joint, and thankfully, CSU patched you up. It cost alot of money, but you paid me back through the years of work. I just had to keep front shoes on you, even in the winter. Other than that, you never had an injury; never was unsound, even though you & I, for years, were the ones who took all the high rocky trails into the wilderness because too many of the newer wranglers didn't know the way. We weathered lightning storms, falling trees, falling dudes, hail and thunder rainstorms that soaked me all the way to my underwear. We took countless disadvantaged kids up the mountain every summer for Rendezvous. These last years, I've let others ride you during those times. It wasn't because I DIDN'T want to ride you; it was because I needed to let them ride, and I knew you would take care of them. I had to ride the young ones that I couldn't trust with them. But I watched you.....I watched you every step of the way, taking care of those folks, and looking so good, and I was always so, so proud of you.
I ponied all my young ones off of you. How many young horses have we drug all over Sand Creek, teaching them to negotiate the hillsides, cross the streams, step over deadfall? These later years, when I spent so much time on the young ones & left you in the pasture, I always felt a bit guilty, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to stop comparing them to you. No one floated over the sagebrush like you, no one ever had the heart and the willingness to go, go, go like you did. No horse listens to me quite like you did, when working cattle, or running horses in, or just letting a big group lope off away from us. Yeah, you wanted to run too, but more than that, you wanted to do what I wanted you to do. You were so athletic, you walked and ran with your beautiful nose vertical to the ground, and I didn't even teach you that. It was just you.
The only trouble you ever gave me was at vaccination time. That's when you reverted to your 2 year old attitude. I've vaccinated hundreds of horses, many without even putting a halter on, but not you. It didn't matter what trick I tried, you weren't going to have any of it. I don't know how many needles you've destroyed, how much vaccine you wasted. You'd even throw yourself on the ground to avoid getting stuck. At the ranch I'd put you in stocks, and then you'd stand quietly and take it, but all the time giving me that "evil eye". And penicillin......forget it! If you got cut, I'd reach for the oral antibiotics, 'cuz I wasn't even going to enter THAT fight!
I moved you, Tess, and Pecan down to Ft Collins last week to save you from the tough Laramie winters. I checked you all over on Friday, and all of you looked good....I was happy. But walking away, something told me to go back. I spent a few more minutes with you, scratching your ears and talking to you. You looked at me like, "Yeah, well, I guess I can handle this." I know now that was a gift from God.
Then on Monday morning I got the phone call that told me you had died. A brain hemorrhage, we think. It was quick. There was no thrashing. Folks have told me that they think you were gone before you hit the ground. That would be good. And it would be you, too. I remember thinking this summer that you were just now starting to show your age....still looked good, but a little bit of sinking in the back. I thought about how hard it would be to see you age.....always my beautiful one. But I dismissed it; after all, it would be years before I would have to make any hard decisions. You were always so healthy and strong. You saved me from going through that.
And now I grieve. I know there will never be another Topaz. I've owned too many horses to fool myself into believing that I'll find another like you. Oh, there are good ones, even great ones. I'm not done tramping over these hills, valleys and mountains on a good horse. But not on you, anymore, and that's gonna leave a big hole in my heart. I struggle to keep things in perspective. Afterall, I've experienced profound grief in my life, I've lost a son, and I've seen divorce. But you were the one, Topaz, who carried me all those miles after losing Dustin, giving me the time and space I needed to work things out between me and God. You were my escape from the everyday tasks and reminders that threatened to close in on me. You and I combed these mountains together. I can't see a time when I won't miss you so, so much. Now I know He put you in my life because He knew I needed you.
But yet, I know I have to keep things in perspective. There are people around me who have suffered immense pain and loss in recent months. A family who lost their eight year old boy after a ranching accident. My best friend, who lost his nephew fighting for this country in Afghanistan. Another friend who is slowing losing her battle with cancer. I know lonely people who spend their days living in the past and trying to let their own accomplishments and their belongings fill that great gap of emptiness. Life is harsh. And those who suffer are everywhere around us. I must not forget this, or them.
So I read Revelation 21, and I take hope in those Words. And I thank God for letting me have the privilege of knowing you and enjoying all that I did with such a wonderful creature. I know that the Bible says the horses in heaven are all white, and I think that's symbolic. I've never been one who holds much stock in believing our pets will meet us in heaven.....we won't need them; we'll have our "everything" in Christ. But I can't help wondering just a little bit if, we really do get horses, maybe He will see fit to make a bit of a exception for me, and I'll be given the privilege of riding one very special red dun mare.
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full on His wonderful face. And the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the Light of His mercy and grace."
Have a blessed day, my friends. God is truly good.