An Unhappy Ending
By Cindy Hale
Danny's kind soul and sweet spirit are evident in this photo. I coulcn't help but be happy around him.
How long must you own a horse before its spirit finds a home in your heart? Is there a certain time limit, measured in rides or nuzzles or stall door secret sharing, that must be met before you’re allowed to say, “I truly loved that horse”?
When charted on a calendar, I only owned Danny for about 10 months. Yet I feel like he was part of my life for years.
Some of you have asked for updates on Danny’s condition, and I while I truly appreciate your interest, I just couldn’t respond until now. I have yet to remove his photo, and any reference to him, from the short biography attached to my blog. That decision is going to take a little more time.
As fellow horse lovers I’m sure you understand. Danny is gone and when I think of him my heart aches just as it would for the loss of a dear friend.
As you’ll recall, I was shopping for a barn mate for Wally when I came across Danny. He was standing in a corral at a horse dealer’s ranch and I was immediately drawn to his tall, angular frame and stylish tuxedo markings. I really didn’t need my sister to jab me with her elbow and pronounce, “That’s your horse!”
I knew he’d been something special at one point in his life, even though he showed signs of wanton neglect. Huge swaths of his body were bald from a skin infection and his legs were blistered from an allergy to flies and gnats. A farrier hadn’t touched his feet in months, giving his hooves the look of a Saddlebred on stilts. Yet when I rubbed his forehead and stared into his eyes—one brown the other powdery blue—I recognized an old, sweet soul longing for a home. How could I deny him? So just before Halloween I plunked down the cash and moved him to my backyard.
What followed was a season of rejuvenation and joy. Danny blossomed into a gorgeous black and white Paint that looked stunning in both English and western tack. Depending on my mood he could masquerade as a flamboyant hunter or flashy parade horse. With consistent arena work he mastered basic dressage, and then the more advanced skills, like flying lead changes, came easily. I began to wonder, “How much professional training has this horse had in his life?”
Eventually I didn’t care about his mysterious past because I was in love with him. At least once a week I met with my pals (“mature” horsewomen I’d shown with) and we’d take turns jumping our geldings over low courses. Then we’d meander around the stable and down the trail, recounting our glory days. Danny’s long fuzzy ears would flop lazily atop his head, evidence that he was half the time listening, half the time dozing.
And then it all fell apart. As I recounted in previous blog posts, not only did Danny become irreparably lame, but the true story of his past unfolded like a daytime soap opera, complete with startling revelations. That made me doubly angry, because the opportunity to find an appropriate home for Danny—one where he could’ve been a walk-around-the-block trail horse—was missed. Instead, I was a buyer with cash and thus Danny was presented as the perfect horse for me. Once I put him in a program of regular, moderate work his underlying soundness issues resurfaced, essentially dooming him.
If you’ve followed my blog then you know that my vet, Jennifer, took Danny to her house for rehab and lay-up time. Since no amount of money, medications, diagnostic tools or consultations with surgeons had made Danny any better, Jennifer and I felt that Danny might miraculously heal on his own if he stood quietly for several months with his leg securely wrapped. Our goals were modest: Eventually maybe Danny could just walk around town with a beginner rider or, at the very least, become a pretty pasture pal.
But that was not to be. While I know many horses live well into their senior years with creaky joints or a hitch in their step, that was not the case with Danny. He noticeably limped even at the walk. Plus, he wasn’t getting better. He was getting worse. Neither Jennifer nor I could bear to see the big, sweet horse in constant pain every day. So one morning this spring we made the decision to put him down.
“You don’t have to come,” Jennifer said to me on the phone. “I’ll make sure I give him an apple first and tell him you love him.”
I hung up the phone and cried.
If you’re beyond your teens you’ve already realized that time passes more quickly as you grow older. Rather than counting days and months, you establish a rhythm based on weather patterns and major holidays. For a lifelong horsewoman like myself, I also mark the passage of time by considering how many horses have pranced in and out of my life. Unfortunately, too many have been cataloged as mere blurs of coat color and faint recollections. But I have a special remembrance of certain horses; a clarity of their scent, the distinct call of their whinny, the way they felt at the trot or how their mouth felt “just so” at the end of the reins. These are the remarkable horses, the ones whose spirits I yearn to encounter in a different sort of existence, and I place Danny among them. For it isn’t the length of time you own a horse that matters. It’s how deeply you felt connected to their essence, to their utter being, that burns a place in your heart forever.
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An Unhappy Ending