This has not been a good month for me, even though the rains came on time, and so far we have had a comfortable 3 inches in a week. Normally this would have made me very happy, except that the thing I have been dreading for some time has finally happened – my great friend, and beloved companion of many years and rides, Comanche, has died. I can still hardly believe it – I keep looking at his corral, right in front of my windows, and it’s empty – Tequila gone, now Comanche gone.
Admittedly, both were elderly, if not downright old – Tequila was around 28 and Comanche just turned 25. I can be grateful for one thing though – neither of them suffered – in fact, neither of them had ever even had a bout of colic – a rare thing in the life of a horse, and one for which I am so grateful.
Tequila had been losing so much weight that it was kinder to put him down than to wait for some horrible event – like a colic – and Comanche, it turned out, had neuropathy of the hind legs.
Some weeks ago we had found him down, not far from a fence, and we thought he had cast himself, even though he wasn’t all that close to the fence. We got him up, and all seemed well, until the other day, when Danny found him lying down, head and feet a little downhill. We tried to get him up, rolled him over so he was facing up hill, but he still couldn’t get up. Finally I called my friend and excellent veterinarian, Gary, the same one who had put down Tequila. He came, diagnosed the condition as neuropathy and said Comanche would never get up again, so we said goodbye to him. I still can’t believe it – it seems like a bad dream from which I will surely wake.
But more was to come. As all this happened in the corral, Danny had to drag him over to the burial site, something I didn’t want to see – with Tequila we were able to walk him down to the site, but this dragging with a tractor is just too awful to see. I stayed away.
That morning I had had some trouble with my television, and the TV guy was coming out. He arrived about an hour after all this happened, and so I put the dogs into the bedroom to keep them out of the way. After he left, around 6, I went to turn the dogs out to feed them, and found Bella, on my bed, almost totally paralyzed. She was dragging her hind legs, staggering on the front, falling down – it was pitiful and terrifying. I phoned Gary, who immediately diagnosed the fact the she must have somehow got a bit of the stuff he had injected into Comanche. It is normally used to euthanize dogs, but of course for a horse, Gary had to use two bottles of it. After Danny took Comanche away, he cleaned up the corral site, scraped up all the sand and blood, and so we surmised that Bella had found the body and licked up some of the blood, even though Danny had covered it with a tarpaulin, as the backhoe man couldn’t come until the next morning.
I was too heartsick to go and check – and too worried. But I was puzzled by the fact that the other dogs didn’t show any signs of the same condition. (Eventually we concluded that a bit of blood must have seeped out along the route, and she had licked it up.) After following Gary’s advice and feeding Bella several slices of bread, in order to absorb some of the poison, I phoned the Veterinary Specialty Clinic in Tucson. Following some consultation with the vet there, the receptionist told me to bring her in. By this time it was around 8 pm.
I phoned my good friend Mary, who is a retired veterinarian, and, in spite of the fact that she had just returned from Tucson, she volunteered to come with me. Danny came over from his house and carried Bella into the car, as she is too heavy for me to lift. I picked up Mary, and we hightailed it to Tucson. It was comforting having a vet with me, even though she had no medical supplies with her – but she did have her stethoscope, with which she checked Bella’s vital signs about every half hour or so. We got there about 10 pm and they took poor Bella in. In spite of the fact that they had told us that we might have to wait for 4 hours, as they were really backed up with emergency cases, they did get to Bella sooner, and we finally came home at 3 am – with Bella almost coming out of it, slowly recovering from her brush with death.
Today she is up to her naughty old self, tormenting everybody and chasing squirrels and lizards – but I have hardly recovered from this awful, awful week! I feel like a 150 year old refugee from a war zone.
And of course, the memories keep coming. It hardly seems possible that it is already 23 years ago that I first met Comanche. At the time I was riding a flashy black mare called Susie, whom I had bought at the Benson horse auction. She was very good-looking, all black with a small white blaze and three white socks, and a high opinion of herself. She was Hancock bred, and Hancock horses are well known for their bucking ability. However Susie didn’t buck, although, as time went by, she did recollect some of her family heritage, and began first goating, and then pitching – sort of getting with the family program you might say. One day she was particularly nasty, and later in the day, she was tied up at the hitching rail at Grapevine, and I came up to get her to ride home. She saw me coming out of the corner of her eye, and deliberately swung around and pinned me between the hitch rail and her body. The head wrangler there at the time saw it, and said: “That horse will hurt you one day…”. When I got home I told Gerry, and he agreed.
At the time we had a frequent guest at Grapevine who lived in Phoenix, and who wanted to buy a horse. He had gone to a Paint Horse Ranch Production Sale and couldn’t decide between two horses, so he bought both, thinking he would decide later. One was a roan paint and the other was a sorrel and white Tobiano. He preferred the roan – I couldn’t see why, as to me he looked as if he had a skin disease, but in any case, the other one was for sale. So Gerry said, “Why don’t you look at that little Paint that BJ wants to sell”. I thought about it, and whined “But he’s so small….” “He’ll GROW – he’s only TWO!” said Gerry, somewhat exasperated.
I went to take a look at the colt and liked him and his personality immediately, so I saddled him up, and, in spite of the fact that this was only his third saddle ever – and I don’t think he had actually even been ridden – I crawled on his back and rode him to Cobre Loma … He never put a foot wrong! He knew nothing, of course – I had to plough-rein him, hauling on one rein and then the other, but he never offered to buck or pitch, or misbehave in any way – and by the time I was back home, I was in love. Over the 23 years we spent together, I was the only one to ride him, with one exception of Gerry, who rode him once when he was a three year old, to show me flying lead changes every other stride – on this green horse who knew nothing, which will show you the extent of Gerry’s great horsemanship.
I remember when, at a Brannaman clinic, I saw a way of teaching a horse to pick the rider up of a fence. I thought this would be a handy skill for Comanche, but the method seemed to be rather cumbersome and lengthy. Instead, I took Comanche up to a fence, and, standing on the ground next to him, poked him in the ribs until he lined up against the fence. Then I climbed up on the fence – and of course, he swung away at right angles again. I climbed down, did it again, repeating the maneuver – and he swung away again. The third time he stayed where he was, and I jumped on his back off the fence. After that, I only had to lead him up to a fence, a truck fender, or anything of a suitable height, begin to climb it, and he immediately lined up against it. The last time I did this was only about 2 months ago – I wanted to see if he would remember, and, of course, he did – but we didn’t ride anywhere, just around the yard a bit. His feet were sore, and my back hurt, and it seemed to me somewhat ambitious, considering both our ages – but I am glad we did it – it was a lovely flashback to old times and old pleasures.
Because of the fence maneuver, I was able to ride him bareback, and, after the goats, sheep and calf Clementine entered our lives, we had a daily routine that I am sure many of Grapevine guests still remember. I would climb on him, open the goat pen gate and the calf corral gate, and the whole family, that is, 11 goats, 3 sheep, 1 calf and about 4 dogs would all tumble out into the Noonan Canyon to enjoy the afternoon. When we got there, I would slide off, take off his halter and sit in the shade of a tree while the whole family spread out joyously grazing, jumping around, playing, and, in the case of the dogs, chasing lizards and splashing around in the Lake.
They were magic days – and to think that all my companions of those days are now gone…. The only one left is one goat, Dot, who is about 15 years old, and cow Clementine, now a very senior, if not to say geriatric, cow of 18 – huge, majestic and unflappable, who, after having produced several calves, is honorably retired, and spends her days in cruising around the barnyard, picking up what the horses threw out of their feeders, or, now that the rains have come and there is green grass, out in the Cochise, grazing.
I can’t believe those days are gone. It always seemed possible to recapture them, as long as Comanche was with me. Now they are indeed gone forever.
I’m sorry if this is a somewhat depressing story, but I owed it to Comanche to say a few words about him, and about our life together. I will follow up in a few days with the normal monthly blog.