I recently received an email from friends who were letting a small group of us know us that they had put one of their favourite horses down.
I don’t get many of those notices, but I understood right away. It’s much the same feeling when someone says they had to put their cat or their dog down. If you’ve been there in your own life, you know exactly what they are going through. It is a bittersweet heartache over a necessary loss, that follows a usual loving gesture of compassion we can afford to give animals — let them go out with some quality of life, before they have to really suffer.
That email from long-time friends Larry Thomas and his wife Leslie Timmons, over the loss of their 32-year-old horse, Wayne, brought back some memories. That’s right, 32! Wayne was no kid.
I had a horse once — way back in my cowboy days. (To be honest I don’t know if I ever really had cowboy days, but I did own a horse).
Actually, Chester was mostly gifted to me, that is, I don’t think anyone else wanted him. We were living in Cranbrook, B.C., and I was working for the B.C. Forest Service. It was the late 1970s. I am not sure if we were living at my brother-in-law’s Kootenay River Ranch at Fort Steele at the time or not, but if not I was certainly back and forth every day helping him with some aspect of getting the place built up.
There was a company in Cranbrook called City Dairy. The principals, Sam Barrett and Cecil Morrison, had a couple of Chestnut horses they didn’t want — Chester and Tammy. The horses hadn’t been used for some time, so they gave them to the ranch. There was nothing crazy about the horses, they just hadn’t been rode in a while, so I started working with them. Leading them around the corral, putting a saddle on them to see how they behaved. After a few outings like this, they seemed pretty calm, so I decided to mount up on Chester one day. And got ready for a rodeo.
Actually I saddled him up, and cautiously climbed on. It was like getting on one of the motorized horses they have for kids at the mall, and that’s before you put your quarter in. I got on Chester, and he may have taken a step or two, but basically he just stood there. Calm as could be. “Good work, Lee, you tamed another one,” I thought. Fact is, I tamed nothing, he was just a great calm horse.
Tammy, on the other hand was a bit of an odd ball. I could ride her too, but she was a horse that always had this anxious breathing and would sweat and lather up. Nothing bad was happening to her, but it was like she had this inbred anxiety. She wouldn’t buck or run, but was always nervous.
So I didn’t spend a lot of time with Tammy. I had “broke” Chester and that was good enough for me. I imagine our relationship only lasted about three years but we were close. I used him most days, anytime we were working with cows around the ranch. And he loaded well in a trailer or truck rack, so I would take him to work some days. I was working as a range tech and a certain times of the year we had to spend a lot of time checking grass out on Crown range, so I’d often enough take Chester and we’d ride all day.
All was good. Chester was a great horse. I was comfortable and confident in riding him. Next to Abby the dog, he was man’s best friend. Then one afternoon my brother-in-law Joe called to say there had been trouble at the ranch.
A good horse
I used to leave Chester in a pasture with the other horses with a halter, because the halter always made him a little easier to catch. Apparently at some point he got this halter caught in a fence wire. He got fighting with that, and his front legs got caught up in the wire too. The struggle with barbed wire cut him.
He was badly hurt and lost a lot of blood. When Joe found him he was in bad shape, appeared to beyond repair, so Joe applied the “lead” solution and put him out of his misery. I never had any doubts it was the right thing to do.
It was quite a blow to me. Chester was dead and buried before I got back to the ranch, so I never saw him again.
Glad I didn’t see him in that mess. He was a good horse.
I think shortly after that I told my wife I was going to open a bank account to save money to buy another horse. Thirty-five years later we still joke about how that bank account is coming along. There never was another horse.
So that is my “good” horse story. Chester really had no talent, or no claim to fame, other than he stood still so I could get on him. And that was good for me.
But, let’s get back to Wayne for a few minutes. His passing got me thinking about “good” horse stories. And according to Larry and Leslie, Wayne was a great horse, as Leslie explains:
“Wayne peacefully passed away today in the care of our vet Dr. Berisowski with Larry and I by his side. He was an amazing horse and trustful companion with a gentle spirit and beautiful soft eye who brought much joy, peace and tranquility to our life.
“He came to us as a four-year-old and we have had the great privilege of loving him and caring for him for 28 years! Trail riding through the Rockies, riding in the Calgary Stampede parade, three-day eventing, hunter jumper, dressage and of course our biggest claim to fame — first place horse with first woman rider to ever win the eighty-seventh running of the Millarville Historical Stock-horse Race. These are but a few treasured and exciting memories!
“Wayne — ‘the little horse that could’ had an awesome life and always a greener pasture. XO Leslie.”
That is a lovely tribute. I am sure they could write volumes about Wayne. I don’t know if horses go to the same place where people go when they die. I suspect they do. It wouldn’t be much of an afterlife if horses or pets weren’t there too.
Let me know if you have any great horse stories. Not sure what I can do with them, but I would be glad to read them and see some photos. †