Learning to Fly Without Wings

For Morgan

Two days ago, one of my daughter’s best friends from childhood lost her beloved horse Rumba.  This young woman is now a yoga instructor and for the past year she has been traveling and working in Australia.  The strange thing about this story is best said in her own words:

“I never sign up to go on trail rides when I travel because I know I will be disappointed when all we do is walk. But something drew me to this ride, it was for “advanced riders” with promises of cantering. I wanted to go a few days ago but it wasn’t available so I had to settle for yesterday morning. They gave me a horse named Big, I felt that was appropriate since I am used to riding my big mare. We rode for 3 hours through the streams, by the blue lake water and galloped across a field. Towards the end of the ride the horse started prancing back towards home exactly as Rumba would have done on a trail. In that moment I thought I was riding her and maybe I was. Maybe that was the moment she passed away. She was with me and I was with her.

I may not have wanted to buy her but we did anyways. I may not have liked her in the beginning but I rode her anyways. She taught me how to be strong and courageous. It seemed at times we had the same bitchy personality and in the end we knew each other better than anyone else.
I spent this last day with myself. Sometimes crying, meditating and just existing. I treated myself to some spa time, cupcakes and most importantly yoga. I’ve read all the loving comments and messages from near and far. And I am finally starting to feel better. Thank you all for the love and support. It literally means the world to me.”

With these words on Facebook she published several photos of herself riding her old horse.  In one of the photographs, they are mid-jump over a high double oxer– a difficult jump—together as one.  I can only imagine how she must have felt, airborne, in the split second it took the large bay mare to clear that jump.  It must have felt like she was flying.

I think that we all imagine ourselves flying as children. We dream about it and we try to live it.  From the first viewing of Peter Pan, to the teenage pursuits of riding racing bicycles, or motorcycles, or horses, or learning to sail or ski, we all grow our imaginary wings, and for the times that we are doing what we do, we feel pure joy:  we are limitless, unbound by gravity or sadness or sorrow.  We have wings.

For most of us, growing up is learning to fly without wings—to find satisfaction in our friends, our families, our pets, our careers, and our hobbies.  If we are lucky, we find solace in the daily small pleasures that surround us—the scent of a blooming rose, the wag of a tail, the taste of good food or fine wine.  My daughter’s friend is learning this now, traveling alone in a strange land far from the familiar neighborhood she grew up in.  The day after her horse died, she put another picture on Facebook, of a beautiful rainbow arching over the New Zealand road she was driving on.  I’ll never know for sure, but I think it was Rumba, telling her everything is going to be okay.

Make Yourself At Home

I try not to sweat the small stuff.  Really I do.  But when I leave home, and leave my menagerie in the care of a house sitter, I am nothing if not explicit.  The directions for the care and feeding of my four dogs and two horses (the cat got a reprieve from his Boston eviction until May 9th) come to a total of four printed pages, small font, single spaced with nice paragraph indentations and bold headers like EMERGENCY!!   A walk through prior to the departure date is mandatory, to demonstrate the intricacies of the garage door and the cable TV.  The house sitter is equipped for every possible natural disaster. The keys to the van, already loaded with dog crates, are left on the kitchen counter and the van itself has enough water, canned goods, leashes and dog food to last a good month. Thermal blankets are located behind the driver’s seat, just in case hell freezes over here in sunny Southern California.  Flashlights are industrial quality, and batteries are included.  You could say that I am a “Be Prepared” kind of person.

Last week the rare occasion occurred where my husband and I had different trips planned at the same time.  He was going to Japan on business, and I had plans to meet a friend in Albuquerque for a three day getaway.  I tried to round up the usual suspects for housesitting, but all were previously booked. So rather than cancel my trip, I took the plunge and hired someone new.  She came over a week before the trip, loved the animals, memorized their names quickly, and took notes on top of my printed instructions.  She said she would leave her own dogs at home with her daughter and that she had no prior commitments during the time that I was to be gone.  I left home with a sense of relief that finally, I had found the right person for the job, and my parting words were, “Use the latches on the doors leading to the living room and please do NOT let those dogs pee on my brand new living room carpet!”

As I pulled through the gate onto my own driveway on Saturday night, the first thing I noticed was the horse trailer sitting inside.  A horse trailer?  My horses haven’t traveled in years.  I briefly considered peeking inside the trailer, but I could see my own horses down at the barn, and decided to go inside.  My dogs were lying down, relaxed, fed and happy–no worse for the wear.  So far so good.  My house sitter was seated at the kitchen table.  She beamed at me and said, “I enjoyed staying at your house SO much!  It was like having a vacation.  I should be paying YOU to stay here!”  She then elaborated, “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my horse over.  He didn’t get along with the white one so much, but he was fine with the chestnut!”  Seeing my look of surprise, she said, “I only wanted to take a little ride up the street to see the neighborhood.  I hope that was okay.”  I nodded numbly, wondering how far behind my horses were on their vaccinations.  She then went on cheerfully, “The dogs all got along great—my Great Pyrenees managed to go swimming in the muddy stream, so my daughter and I had to hose him down with the garden hose but we got him clean, and washed all the towels.”  I resisted the urge to run look at the certain hairballs in the washer and dryer.  She stood up and said, “I’ll come back ANYTIME!”  As she walked out she grabbed a large blue accordion that I had somehow missed on the way in.  She smiled and declared, “The dogs loved my music!”

As the horse trailer crunched out the driveway, I decided to have a look in the living room.  The stampede of pawprints were unmistakable, as were the large yellow spots on the white carpet that kept me occupied until around nine pm, when the sound of geysers through my open kitchen window led me outside. A trail of broken sprinkler heads crushed by the wheels of the swaying horse trailer created a fountain effect not entirely dissimilar to the fountains at Bellagio.  Unfortunately the water was not falling on the grass.

Multiple applications of pet odor and stain remover plus one brand new Bissell vacuum later, along with a hefty repair bill for the sprinkler system, parts and labor, all is well with the world.  My traveling companion said, “Did you call her?  Did you yell at her? What did you say??”  I shook my head.  As I said, I try not to sweat the small stuff.  After all, the “kids” are all right.  Anybody know a good house sitter?

The Dentist Will See You Now, or Why I am Not a Veterinarian

I’m usually pretty good at keeping track of all things medical—when my kids were vaccinated, when I need my mammograms and PAP smears, when the girl dogs come into season and when the horses need to see the dentist.  So when Norman the Lipizzaner arrived home from the boarding stable underweight, and two weeks later when he didn’t seem to be eating all of his hay, my thoughts turned to his teeth.  Unlike humans, domesticated horses’ teeth grow throughout their lives, and when people refer to an aged horse as being a bit “long in the tooth,” they aren’t kidding.  Lacking the need to forage 24/7, our stabled companions need the regular attention of a horsey dentist who will come in and do what is euphemistically called “floating the teeth.”  Think of the drill your dentist uses and multiply its surface area and sound by 100, and you’ll get the idea.  Reaching into twenty four year old Norman’s mouth, I felt sharp “points” on the molars, and realized why he wasn’t gaining weight.  I checked my records and realized that he and his buddy Dash were six months overdue.

 

If you’ve ever taken your three year old for his first dental appointment, you have an idea of how hard a tiny body can struggle.  Same with horses, only they are a lot bigger than we are.  None of them willingly open their mouths wide and allow insertion of a drill—the mere sound of it is terrifying.  So they must be anesthetized.  And just like with elderly humans, the trick with an old horse is to give them enough anesthesia that they tolerate having a vice put into their mouths and cranked open, yet not enough to kill them.  This, apparently is not an exact science.  The first shot directly into Norman’s jugular vein did exactly nothing.  Although he was restrained, the whites of both wide eyes were showing as he chomped down on the dental device.  The second shot seemed to have a light sedative effect.  But the THIRD shot—well, that was the one that did the trick.  Same thing with good old Dash.

 

Now here’s the thing—I was SUPPOSED to go to work after the dental appointment.  Our machine was down for maintenance, and I had a lot of paperwork to catch up on.   After the requisite 45 minutes, I released their halters, tied to the bars in their stalls. They both tried to fall down.  How do you leave when you’ve got two horses staggering around their stalls like drunken sailors?  You don’t.  With Norm, the younger of the two, the drug seemed to wear off quickly.  But with Dash, I spent the next two hours hanging on to his lead rope and elbowing him when the head got too low and the front knees threatened to buckle.  Finally he too came around, and I left them munching grass in the pasture, a full three hours later than I had planned to be at work.

 

Sometimes our head and neck cancer patients are really claustrophobic in their immobilization masks, much like my horses getting dental work.  I usually prescribe a light sedative, and then if that doesn’t work, I tell them to take another.  Sometimes, the family gets into the act with great enthusiasm and has the patient take a third, unbeknownst to me.  So far, I’ve been lucky.  I’ve heard a few snores, but no one has aspirated or fallen off the table from what we used to call “the neurosurgery height.” But watching those old horses yesterday, I realized once again that there’s a fine line between “not enough” and “too much.”  Come to think of it, that probably applies to radiation therapy and chemotherapy too, along with a whole lot of other things in life!

A Brief News Update From the Animal House

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have quite a little menagerie here.  In my animal loving prime, when I had a lot more energy than I do now, we had 5 Scottish deerhounds, one Brussels Griffon, two cats, two guinea pigs and eight horses, at least one of which I kept a secret from my husband who I feared would think that perhaps things were getting a little bit out of hand.  One day at the barn, he spotted a horse that he just KNEW I would love, and he inquired of the trainer whether the horse was for sale.  She didn’t quite know how to tell him that I already owned that particular animal.

The zoo has been winding down a bit here, mainly because the kids are gone and I am less prone to temptation without their little voices clamoring for that kitten for sale in the parking lot at the grocery store.  The cat with nine lives, eighteen year old Timmy Tom, was put to sleep in August when we could not control his thyroid disease, weight loss and vomiting.  Many of the horses have moved on to greener pastures elsewhere, where new children could learn to ride from the safety of their well-trained backs, and some of the best have passed on to that great green pasture in the sky.  Stormin’ Norman, the little Lipizzaner who carried my daughter through many a dressage test, left in late June to be leased by a beginning dressage rider.  In August she called to say she wanted to extend the lease to six months.

So I was surprised yesterday to get a call from the trainer to say that they would like to send twenty four year old Norman home.  She said that no matter how much she fed him, she couldn’t keep weight on him, and besides, an old stifle problem was recurring.  Fearing the worst, I went over to the boarding/training facility last night to have a look at him.  Now, mind you, this is a horse who has lived in my back yard for the better part of twelve or thirteen years.  Always a personable animal, with a beautiful expressive face and eyes, he knew me as well as any horse can know a person.  So I was surprised last night when I approached him with a bag of carrots and I heard no welcoming whinny.  His head shot up, and if horses can glare, this one positively glared at me.  His expression, plain as day, said, “Where the heck have YOU been, and when are you getting me OUT OF HERE?!”  And then he munched on his carrots.  He looked a little thin, but otherwise fine.

Norman’s coming home to join twenty eight old Dash on Wednesday, and I must say I’m glad.  The two old souls deserve a nice retirement, despite the fact that they really don’t like each other. And Labor Day weekend I visited a friend in Albuquerque who had a litter of eight week old deerhound puppies– it was hard to leave without one but they were all spoken for.  One day soon, I might be hearing the pitter patter of new little feet around these parts. After all, what’s a new carpet for?

Moving Day

Two of my favorite people moved today. Well, actually one of them is a horse who thinks he is a person, and the other, my father. The horse, Norman, is a twenty five year old Lipizzaner who has been a family member for nearly seventeen years. Bred at Disneyland and born in May of 1988, Norman’s “fancy name” is Siglavy Deborah II, and he was raised and trained in a small but elite band of Lipizzaners stabled in Anaheim, California, their sole purpose in life to pull Cinderella’s carriage. When Norm was five or six, being a very smart horse, he figured out that if he leaned back in his traces, the other horses would do his work, and if he nipped at a guest, he didn’t have to go to work at all. And thus he was sold. He came to San Diego where he was retrained under saddle, which he evidently preferred. At her dressage trainer’s on a fine spring day, my daughter took one look at him with his pure white countenance and flowing mane and tail, and fell in love. What little girl wouldn’t want to be Cinderella? We’re still waiting on that prince.

 

My daughter grew up, and went to college, and then to medical school, and now is starting her internship in Internal Medicine in Boston. When she went away to college, we sold Norman with an iron clad buy back agreement to another young girl just starting her dressage career. When SHE went to college, we bought him back. At the time, having lost the paperwork, I couldn’t remember the price I sold him for. As it turned out, I paid more to buy him back than the girl’s parents paid for him. That joke was on me—but he was worth every penny. For the last several years, this highly trained dressage horse has been out to pasture in my back yard. He may be twenty five, but like my Corvette, he’s got low mileage.

 

A month ago my daughter finally agreed that his talents were being wasted, and we started to look for a person to be Norman’s person—to ride him, love him, groom him and fuss over him the way he deserves. She called her old dressage trainer, Tina Caldwell. Tina came over and rode him and despite his long vacation from saddle and bridle, he performed like the good little horse he has always been. Over the weekend, Tina called and said she had the perfect client who had just moved to town, and wanted to take some dressage lessons and have a nice horse to ride on the trails. She knew just the horse. Norman left today in an eight horse trailer, all alone in the big rig. He whinnied a few times for his buddy Dash, but loaded like a pro. He will never be sold again—he’s out “on lease”, but if he can make another person happy trotting down the trails and doing his rocking horse canter in the arena, he will honor all the years of his training, and after all, it’s not every day a girl, or a woman, gets to feel like Cinderella!

 

Coincidentally, today was the day my father had arranged for his movers to come. He has lived with me for the last six months, since my mother died and since he had an aortic valve replacement at the ripe old age of eighty seven. His condominium in Snowmass, Colorado is under agreement, and he has arranged to live at a lovely senior community very near where I work, called La Costa Glen. I am happy because he will be nearby, and given his recent health set-backs, this is a good thing. In horse years, my Dad is only a little bit older than Norman. Like Norman, Dad is far too young at heart to be put out to pasture yet. He is going to go where he can play a little bridge, a few holes of golf, and just possibly, take up painting again—a boyhood love put aside by the demands of an intense career in plastic surgery. Tonight I looked at the membership roster at La Costa Glen. It included four retired Admirals, and twenty five retired physicians and I pointed this out to my father, who decided immediately that it would be fun to do a weekly doctor’s lunch.

 

Though I will miss having them both at home, there’s life in these old boys yet!

Long Ago and Far Away

I got a call a few days ago from Sandy Arledge.  Sandy is semi-retired now, but when my kids were growing up she was the owner of a magical place called Far West Farms.  Just a few miles from the ocean, between the strip malls of Del Mar Highlands and the housing developments that crowd the coastal cities of Southern California, Sandy managed to live out her girlhood dream.  In her thirties she gave up her lucrative law practice, bought one of the last remaining tracts of ranch land in Del Mar, and set out to establish the premier Quarter Horse breeding and training operation in California.  In doing so she turned an entire generation of children, including my own, into cowboys and cowgirls.

The reason that Sandy contacted me, long after my last kid hung up his spurs, was that she had received a call from a horse rescue group up in Los Angeles.  An older horse had been abandoned in Baldwin Park, starved nearly to death.  A rescue group took him in, and after feeding him and getting cleaned up, they noticed a brand on his left shoulder, a simple five pointed star known internationally as the brand of Sandy Arledge Quarter Horses.  Thinking he might live, they christened him Winston.  They photographed his markings and notified Sandy to ask if she recognized him.  She thought she did—that he might be Romeo, a handsome dark bay colt I bought sixteen years ago today, the day he came out of his mother Jinny Jiggs who was the closest thing to a saint on four legs that ever lived, when it came to teaching the young’uns how to ride.  Romeo’s registered name was Justa Believer, which fit right in with my line of optimism.  When Romeo was three years old, I mistakenly decided I had too many horses (can one EVER have TOO many horses?) and I sold him.  I’ve made a lot of less than smart decisions when it comes to horses, but considering what I kept, that one was one of the dumbest.

When Sandy described the horse’s markings to me, I realized with a great deal of relief and a twinge of sadness that it was not Romeo, and I confirmed that when I got home from work that evening since I had kept a copy of his papers.  Relief because I would be mortified to think that a horse that I sold in good faith could end up like that, abandoned and unloved, and a twinge of sadness because had he been my long ago colt, I would have brought him home.  As I searched for my copy of his registration papers through old files containing pictures of horses long past, the memories of Far West came flooding back—my oldest son getting his first horse Harmony for his eighth birthday, my daughter trying to convert old Rosie from a pony hunter back into a Western trail horse, my youngest son, chubby and five years old proudly perched on an equally chubby mare holding up his ribbons at the Del Mar National Horse Show.

Sandy sold Far West Farms in 2006 to play a major role in the American Quarter Horse Association, and to travel and consult.  But like the true horsewoman and the responsible breeder that she is, she never stopped caring about the horses she bred.  She will find out who Winston really is, and she will make sure he never suffers again.  As for me and my grown up children, we’ll never forget the lessons and the trail rides and the horses we loved there near the ocean, the sea breezes blowing us the smells of salt, sweat and love.  Thanks again, Sandy, for Far West Farms.

The Call of The Wild

 

 

In February of 2005, our old 26 year old Dutch warmblood mare Veronica keeled over dead in her pasture. Apparently she had been running freely, kicking up her heels, and just suddenly, like THAT, it was over.  My 20 year old daughter was home at the time.  She called me at work, quite hysterical.  I was 60 miles away.  She said, crying, “I think Veronica’s dead.”  I said, “What do you mean, you THINK?” She said, “She’s lying down and she’s not moving but her eyes are open and she’s warm.”

 

I called my equine veterinarian.  I told John Newcomb that he needed to go to my house immediately to “pronounce the horse.”  He was amazed but he did what I asked because he knew my daughter.

 

Thirty minutes later he called me back.  He said, “Yep, she’s dead alright.  She is indeed dead.”  No sign of a struggle—she just went down.  A fitting end to a beautiful life.

 

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I got home that evening and was greeted by Izzy, my then 3 year old male deerhound.  It was dark.  He jumped up to kiss me—big wet deerhound kisses.  I felt something warm and wet and slightly sticky on my lips and face. I tasted salt on my lips.   I went inside.  I looked in the mirror and screamed. To my horror, I was covered with blood.

 

The next morning in daylight, I went out to the pasture to discover the key to the mystery of the night before. Izzy had been chowing down on Veronica’s haunches.  Chomp, chomp, mmmmm, good.  Tasty horse meat fresh off the hoof, grass fed, untouched by chemicals.

 

I covered Veronica carefully with a tarp until the renderers could get there.  I never told my husband that my dog liked horsemeat. Or that our favorite dog ate his favorite horse.  Somehow I don’t think he would understand. But there’s a lesson to be learned here.  None of us, neither dog nor human, no matter how domesticated, are all that far from that distant call of the wild.  We’ll see if my husband is reading my blog now.

The Stars are Misaligned Tonight

As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.  King Lear, Act IV

There are certain days that everyone will always remember.  People of my generation uniformly remember where they were and what they were doing the day that John F. Kennedy was shot.  My children’s generation will never forget 9-11.  For my parent’s generation, images of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were burned into their brains.  But these were all public moments—John John’s salute, the mushroom clouds, the fall of the twin towers.  Amongst these more public iconic moments are the quiet ones, the ones that hit each of us hard individually.  For me, I think of the Challenger disaster, played out on the television screen in the waiting room of my department.  I tried to go on seeing patients as Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space, and her crewmates exploded before our eyes.  I had wanted to teach, and had dreamed of being an astronaut while growing up in Houston.  They were there, and then suddenly, they were gone.  The bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City was another of those moments—for me, that firefighter will be carrying that baby out of the carnage forever. Thirteen years after it happened, I dragged my youngest son to Oklahoma City to visit the museum, and to sit and contemplate one of the loveliest and saddest public memorial spaces ever built.

Today was another of those days for me as I tried to keep my patient flow going and stay on time while watching the Connecticut school shooting play out on my computer.  I can read the eyewitness accounts, and I can put my thoughts on paper, but it is the images, the pictures that will forever haunt me—the teachers and SWAT team members leading the frightened children, eyes and mouths open in terror, from a school which will never be the same out into a town that will likely never be able to celebrate Christmas again.  Where is the soul of a human being who can fire point blank into the heart of a child?  I asked my friend, who is a devout Catholic, “Where is God while all of this was going on?” She did not have an answer which I could believe or understand.  It rained a cold wet rain all day, here in this city where it never rains.

As I was driving home tonight I got a call from Daniel, my farrier.  Daniel never calls me at 7 pm on a Friday night, so I knew something was wrong.  He said, “Come home quickly, Gabriel called– Dash is colicking.”  Dash is my 27 year old Quarter Horse, recently laid up and on antibiotics for lymphangitis, an infection in his legs brought on by a late season of heat and drought which triggered a swarm of blood seeking flies.  Colic in an elderly horse who has never colicked before can be a bad sign—a stone perhaps, or a lipoma twisting the gut.  John, my horse vet for twenty years, got here quickly, sedated and tubed the old boy who is now resting comfortably.  I will be on horse watch for the rest of the night, armed with syringes full of painkillers and sedatives.  I know one thing for certain—this old horse has had a full, long and happy life—something those children who died today will never have.  It is almost midnight here.  Can this day be over soon?

He Was Just Lucky

Maybe it was the half-starved little bay mare I saw on the San Diego Humane Society’s website today, or maybe it was the sight of my husband cleaning his saddle, the one he hasn’t used since old Veronica died back in 2005—I don’t know—but something’s got me thinking about horses again.  And remembering the first one I called my own.  His name was Lucky T Bonanza and he was foaled in 1977, a grandson of the Quarter Horse legend Coy’s Bonanza, but when I met him he didn’t look like much.  He was underweight, under-exercised, and had big sores on his withers from an ill-fitting blanket.  And he was sixteen years old, not exactly a spring chicken but “well-seasoned” for the rank beginners that we were, and of course the price was quite right.  We bought him for my husband, since I was able to ride my kid’s Quarter Horse mare, Rosie, barely bigger than a pony at 14.2 hands, but plenty big enough for me.  I like my dogs big, and my horses low to the ground for an easier landing when I fall off!

Although a local horse trainer brokered the deal, we met the old man who was selling his horse.  Stiff with arthritis, he had swung his bad leg over that horse’s back one too many times, and had accidentally kicked the horse, spooking him, resulting in the old man losing his balance on the mounting block and having a bad fall.  His doctor said, “No more.”  For a few weeks after he sold us the horse, I would see him slowly winding his way between the corrals with a large bag of carrots in his hands, feeding the horses one by one, until the bag was empty.  After a while, he just didn’t come any more.  My husband rode Lucky a few times, but then there was another incident where the horse bolted, literally BACKWARDS into a pipe corral, ejecting my unfortunate spouse.    Suddenly, Lucky was for sale again.  But there was one problem—nobody wanted to buy him.

Now I am not a brave person—far from it.  I’ve always been quite cautious in fact—managed to make it to adulthood without ever breaking a bone.  But I am stubborn, and I’d be damned if I was going to feed and house a horse that no one was going to ride and that no one wanted to buy.  Besides, that horse just had the kindest eye.  So about two weeks into Lucky’s second time around “for sale” in less than a month, I announced that if no one else was going to ride the horse, I was.  I won’t lie—I had the trainer hold him steady the first few times I got on, but after that, there was no stopping us.  That horse was my good companion, my therapy, my “go anywhere—do anything” horse, except that he didn’t like getting his feet wet and so I learned to jump in a Western saddle.  Oh, and every so often when we were out on the trail, he’d break into a dead gallop, completely unbidden.  As it turned out, that was where the old man would gallop him, and old habits die hard with old horses.  My heart pounding, I managed to stay on, at least most of the time.  After a while, I had to buy a new house because my old one didn’t have a place to keep horses, and of course Lucky deserved a grass pasture.  When we moved we got him a girlfriend, big Veronica, an 18 hand Dutch Warmblood mare, a retired dressage horse that my husband adored.  He always said she smelled good.  She towered a good foot above Lucky, but he thought she smelled good too.

Lucky died at nearly 28 years old in December of 2004; he was loved every minute of the last 12 years of his life. Veronica joined him two months later at age 26, a grand old age for a girl her size.  But what of the old man who sold me my first and favorite horse?  As I mentioned, we saw him daily for a short time after we bought Lucky, and then no more.  One day, I was sitting having my morning coffee, and reading the obituaries, and there it was—“Dr. Sol Roy Rosenthal, dead at 92.”  Ninety two?  I was in shock.  That man rode that horse and galloped the trails of the San Diego back country until he was ninety two years old.  As it turns out, Dr. Rosenthal was actually famous, not just for one thing, but for two.  He was one of the original developers of the BCG vaccine, used extensively in Europe to help prevent tuberculosis.  But the other thing that he became known for was even more interesting—he believed that high risk exercise makes you live longer. He published extensively on this theory, and he galloped every day, and he lived to be 92.

Maybe he was just lucky.  But I think maybe he was right.

All the Pretty Horses are Gone

Somewhere in times own space
There must be some
Sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on
And tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.
~Stanley Harrison

It was a tough week for the ponies, this one.   Earlier this week, Sandy Arledge lost her 30 year old black gelding Delmer, a grandson of the great Quarter Horse Poco Bueno.   Delmer was a fixture at Far West Farm for the past generation of children, who learned to ride on his gentle back.   And Robert Dennis lost Squirt, the old horse that taught his kids and grandkids to ride.  Here is his moving tribute from his  www.dennisranch.wordpress.com, shared by Robert:

‘We lost an old friend around here. Squirt, a little half horse. Chance found him dead in the corral this morning….
He wasn’t real pretty, or of great conformation, but he sure made a lot of little cowboys and cowgirls happy over the years….
He was born on this ranch, out of a little Shetland mare. His sire was a half Quarter horse, half Belgian, we had raised and had not gelded as quick as we should have. He and Topsy, the little mare, had a fling and 11 months later, here was this tiny little horse walking around with this little squirt of a horse following her.
Dusty, my nephew, started him when Squirt was 2 and Dusty was about 13. I lead Squirt afoot while Dusty rode him, after a blizzard, and we went thru’ and over quite a few snow drifts to get him comfortable with a rider on his back. Not much longer after that, if Dusty pointed him at a telephone pole Squirt would try to climb it, so to speak. Once Dusty came in soaking wet as he had decided to cross the water in a creek where he didn’t think it was too deep. It was…..
Another time, I jumped on Squirt bareback to run the horses in the corral from a small trap. For some reason he decided to buck and when his butt went up, my head went forward and the his head came up… our heads collided in mid air. Some say I am hard headed… but not as hard as Squirt was! I fell off like Artie Johnson used to when he was riding his trike on Laugh In, years ago.
Squirt taught my 3 sons to ride and then moved on to the neighbors kids and then on to Dusty’s son and then on to another set of kids. He came back here a few years ago to train on my grandkids and was doing a good job.
He was never bad about bucking, but would kick up, especially in his later years when he was asked to move at more than a trot. All in all, he was a good feller…
He will be missed.”

Back to me now.  Not every horse is temperamentally suited to be a good kid’s horse, but when you get one, you know there is nothing in the world quite as wonderful.  I have one of these good old boys at home myself– named Dash, registered as Red Dee Lux.  We bought him when he was about 14 and he’s coming 28 in the spring.  He’s been a kid’s horse since he was three years old, which is saying a lot if you know horses.  His conformation is terrible—he was born over at the knees and it’s only gotten worse with age.  I haven’t been able to ride him for a few years—he stumbles if there’s too much weight on his back.  He can be ornery in the cross ties and he’s taken a couple of pieces out of me as I lean over to do his feet, but put a kid on his back and he’s as good as gold.
There is no happy face in the world like that of a kid on a good horse.  It’s better than drugs, and they will always remember the ride.