Friday, January 27, 2012

Me and My Old Man

In Corinth, 2003
On January 8, my horse Cass was euthanized due to a severe bout with impaction colic.  He was 31 years old; he had shared my life for 26 years.

He was my Divorce Horse, a clever turn of phrase that first came out of my mouth while Dr. Goldwasser and I covered his prone form on the floor with blankets, draping one end over his beautiful face with the wide white blaze.

He was spoiled, bratty, and could have definitely benefitted from round pen work to work on his, um, “respect” issues.  He was a nightmare to get on a trailer and would catapult himself over any type of stream or brook to avoid stepping in it.  My long-suffering farrier, Dennis Briscoe, dealt graciously with many a yanked away foot and dancing around during trimmings.  His successor, Lisa Howard, was tolerant to a fault with her kind and patient manner.

Cass was also kind, tolerant, funny, surprisingly sweet with little kids, and had the neck of a giraffe when he wanted something.  He figured out stall door latches and, after letting himself out, went to Ginger’s stall and let her out, too. 

In Schroon, 2009
He was a gorgeous shade of chestnut with a wide white blaze, three white socks, and a tail that had a natural ripple through it, so beautiful I wouldn’t braid it for shows.  He was sleek and shiny in the spring and summer, and turned an incredible shade of red with his winter coat.  He placed well at shows, which was additionally satisfying since we weren’t affiliated with a stable or trainer – it was just me and my backyard horse holding our own.  A quarter horse, he made a lovely hunter type (even if his neck was a bit inverted), and the judges loved him.  Unless we did some glaringly obvious gaffe, like picking up a wrong lead, we usually pinned.  He carried my unsure and tentative self over little jumps, even when he himself was unsure and tentative.  We made a good pair.

He was a sight to behold galloping around in Corinth, where the paddocks were wide open and he could really open the carburetor.  Here in Schroon, the footing proved more of a challenge, especially with his increasing age, but having him in the backyard was a fair trade off. 

Larry and Cass, having a
meeting of the minds
Before you go thinking he was Mr. Wonderful, allow me to balance his many wonderful qualities with some of the not so great:  He had the aforementioned respect issues, primarily kicking under certain circumstances, although he only connected with me once in 26 years.  He almost took off my ex-husband’s head (apparently Cass knew better than me at that point), has taken swings at various kids and stepkids, and his crowning achievement – sent Larry sailing through a gate early in our relationship.  The fact that he did not blame the horse and, in fact, kept coming around, showed me Larry was a keeper.

Hot and dusty show
in Ballston Spa,
mid 1990's
Trailering was not fun with him, although Dad and I did manage to wrangle him to numerous shows on our own with our own truck and trailer.  One memorable show in March had us absolutely unable to get that damn horse loaded in the trailer to go home (after a particularly lousy day).  It may take a village to raise a child, but that day it took an entire horse show crowd to get a horse on a trailer.   Dad and I had oh so many adventures going to shows – he was my groom, horse holder, boot shiner, lunch grabber, and all around good sport as we bungled our way around the local show circuit.  Those are some of my best memories.

I was fortunate with Cass in many ways, one of them being that he was an “easy keeper.”  It didn’t take much to keep him in good shape, and it was only about two years ago that his age really started to show.  His tooth surfaces had pretty much worn down, giving him trouble with eating and digestion and maintaining a good weight, and putting him on beet pulp helped.  He also had a bout with white line disease at age 18, which resulted in his having a significant part of his foot resected.  His chances for recovery were fair, but with the help of my vet and farrier Dennis, who modified shoes for him as the foot regrew, he rebounded completely.  He was rarely lame and only colicked once before, right after I moved him to Schroon.  Larry started calling him Yahtzee, because of the way his joints cracked and popped when he walked, "He sounds like Yahtzee dice," Larry would say.  I called him my bowl of Rice Krispees.  We both also got our first grey hairs at the same time - him on his face, me on my head.

Cass and Thunder,
Summer 2011
Cass always had his herd of one – first pony Tiffany, then Ginger, then mini Katie, and then his world REALLY got rocked – the addition of Thunder a year ago.  Cass went from being alpha male to being literally kicked down the food chain, in what was a horrible altercation to watch.  But once the dust settled, Cass (who still looked at Thunder like “Go f___ yourself”) and Thunder were pasture buddies to a point.  Cass was no longer king of the hill, but I think he came to terms with being dethroned.

The night he died, Larry had just left for an appointment in Long Lake right before I brought the horses in.  When I saw Cass was sick and how bad it was, I didn’t try to track Larry down because, for one, there really wasn’t anything he could have done, and two, if this was it, then it was meant to be just me and my boy.  In a sense, I had been waiting for this.  Dr. Goldwasser came out about 10:00 p.m. and after evaluating our options, he let me make the decision.   That horse didn’t owe me a damn thing, and I owed him everything, so I did what I felt was right by him.  That is our privilege, burden and responsibility as animal owners.
A young man, the
year he came to me, 1986
I once said to Jackie Burnham, who did the occasional horse sitting for me in Corinth, that I felt I had not brought Cass to his full potential – he could have been a really great show ring hunter if I had worked harder.   Jackie said, “You let him be what he was supposed to be – a horse.”  In the end, I suppose that’s the best we can try to do for our equine companions.