Eddie, A Horse Story

In the horse rescue business, there is a euphemism for when a horse at auction is sold to a kill buyer, who gets dollars for pounds for transporting horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.  We call it “getting on the wrong trailer.” In the United States last year alone, over 100,000 horses climbed on that trailer, many of them after successful careers as racehorses, ranch horses, dressage horses, jumpers or just plain family pets.  The old and the infirm are particularly at risk, since a horse who cannot be ridden is an expense many owners cannot afford.  Often these horses are transported over long distances without food or water, to be further injured en route to meet a terrifying end.

On Saturday night, one such old horse showed up at Mike’s Auction in Mira Loma, California.  He didn’t have a name, just a number—hip #245.  He was blind in one eye due to an old injury, and his other eye was cloudy.  The buzz floating around was that he had been a trained dressage horse, but no one knew for sure.  All of the familiar Southern California rescues were there, as they are the second Saturday night of every month, steeling themselves for that inevitable point in the auction where they run out of money or space, and the elderly, the lame, the unbroken and unwanted run out of time.

The morning after the auction, Forgotten Horses Rescue posted on Facebook that it had been able to save five equines from slaughter, one of which sold for the astoundingly low price of $40.  A supporter wrote in, “What happened to hip #245?  A quiet retirement home or the wrong trailer?”  Trish Geltner, who runs Forgotten Horses replied, “Sadly we were out of funds by the time his number came up.”  Denise Tracy, who owns Tracy Acres, a sanctuary for retired and otherwise unadoptable horses up in Vacaville, had worried about him all night after seeing his picture on the auction list.  When she learned what happened, she wrote, “On my way to church, tears streaming down my face.” Denise has had some trauma in her own life, and has a soft spot for blind old horses.  She offered him a permanent forever home at her sanctuary, if he could be found and retrieved.

Trish sprang into action.   She located the horse, frightened and already bloodied and bruised from being thrown into a pen with younger stronger horses.  She put out a call to Forgotten Horses’ Facebook supporters and within minutes funds had been raised to pay his “bail,” to transport him to a temporary foster and obtain veterinary care, and to pay his way to Vacaville and Denise’s welcoming arms.  At the time that I am writing this, he is on his way north.

It turns out, this horse’s name is Eddie.  He is 24 years old, an Irish thoroughbred, and was indeed a dressage horse.  The woman who brought him to auction cried when she left him, saying that he was a good horse and that she had tried in vain to find him a retirement home when she could no longer keep him.  A kind hearted person is always an optimist—surely she hoped that someone, someone with means, would step up and save him from certain death in a Mexican slaughterhouse.  In the end, just in the nick of time, a small village of horse lovers reached into their pockets while Denise Tracy reached into her heart.

At Tracy Acres, one of Denise’s horses has a sign hanging outside her stall.  The sign says, “A True Love Story Never Ends.”  Eddie is going home, and the rest of us are the better for having made it happen.

In Praise of Angelina

I have always been one of Angelina Jolie’s biggest fans.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to reward her 1999 performance in “Girl Interrupted” with an Oscar, but I wasn’t well and truly smitten until the second Lara Croft Tombraider movie was released in 2003.  In that film, Jolie, who performs her own stunts, is seen galloping on a dark horse while spinning a heavy shotgun from side to side to shoot alternating targets.  And she is riding SIDESADDLE.  If you don’t believe this, have a look here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz1lCcs9tac  In the Lara Croft movies, she is the epitome of a strong, athletic, intelligent and self assured woman.  It may not seem like much, but I granted Miss Jolie a high honor indeed—in 2004 I named a dark, agile and fast deerhound puppy after her, the soon to be champion Caerwicce’s Lady Croft, aka “Angelina”.


In the years that followed the Lara Croft movies, Angelina Jolie went on to surprise her public in more ways than one.  The girl who initially achieved notoriety for wearing a vial of her second husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood gained a different type of fame when she adopted a Cambodian child, and subsequently became a respected ambassador for the United Nations.  She has become well known for her humanitarian efforts, devoting as much time to improving the lives of refugee children as she does to her own career.  Recently, she has added the titles of author, director, and Mrs. Brad Pitt to an already impressive resume.


But perhaps the biggest surprise of all came two years ago, when she went public in the New York Times with the revelation that she is positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1. In a moving statement, she wrote of her difficult decision, at age 37, to undergo bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries in the hope of staving off the cancers that took her mother, her grandmother and her aunt.  She was clear and concise, reasonable and dispassionate in her account.   Not only did she raise awareness of the heritable form of breast cancer, she gave courage to all women facing the challenge of a mastectomy.  If one of the worlds most beautiful and sexy women could undergo such surgery in the glare of the celebrity spotlight and come out looking stronger and even more beautiful, so could some of the rest of us.


Today she has done it again.  In a New York Times article entitled “Diary of a Surgery” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/opinion/angelina-jolie-pitt-diary-of-a-surgery.html?ref=opinion&_r=0 ), she reveals that she has recently undergone removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent ovarian cancer, the disease that killed her mother.  She describes precisely the terror she felt when informed that some recent blood tests were equivocal, the dreadful anticipation of the results of a PET/CT scan and the realization that now, at age 39, she has entered menopause.  But she also describes the relief she felt once she had made a decision to go ahead with the preventive surgery: “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer’.”

There’s bravery and then there’s true courage and grit.  It’s one thing to perform gymnastics while swinging from the rafters of the Croft estate, or to shoot a rifle off the back of a galloping horse.  It’s quite another to write clearly and objectively the story of being diagnosed with a genetic mutation, and of the careful informed decisions she made to minimize her risks, while at the same time admitting that her decisions were not necessarily the right ones for everyone.  As Angelina says, “Knowledge is power.”  We owe her thanks for sharing hers with us.


They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

“I may not know a winner when I see one, but I sure as hell can spot a loser.”  Rocky

On Saturday night, thirteen horses were saved from kill buyers at Mike’s Auction in Mira Loma, California, by three rescue organizations—Forgotten Horses Rescue, Inc,  HiCaliber Horse Rescue and Joey’s Home Animal Rescue.  Here in the United States, we consider horses companion animals.  We don’t eat horses.  In other countries, that is not the case.  When a horse is used up—too many losses at the race track, or no longer fit for work, or too old, too lame or too tired to be useful, they go to auction.  Despite the withholding of federal inspection funds in 2007, when horse slaughter was essentially banned in the US–funds were restored in 2011, and three states including Missouri, Iowa and New Mexico have been trying to reinstate their slaughterhouses.  The result of the 2007 ban has been the unintended consequence that horses are now shipped to Mexico for slaughter, transported in crowded railway cars without food or water, and then, if they even survive the journey, they are bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers.  This is not death with dignity befitting a once beloved family pet, or a money winning race horse.  But it happens at Mike’s.  Once a month, on a Saturday night.   Do not blame the auction house—they, like all of us, are just doing business.  Blame the folks who treat animals as commodities instead of living sentient creatures.

My old horses, Dash and Norman, are now 30 and 27 years old.  They have lived a good life—one, Dash has been a children’s show horse since he was three years old.  He is lame as can be, but his old eyes still light up if you put a small child on his back and lead him around.  The other, Norman, was born and bred at Disneyland where a small breeding band of pure white Lipizzaners is kept to pull Cinderella’s carriage.   He didn’t take much to pulling a carriage, and was pulled off duty to be trained under saddle.  At age 14, the sorrel Quarter Horse Dash became my son Brandon’s show horse, competing in local western horse shows.  When he retired from the show ring, he became my trail horse, until finally by age 22 he could no longer be ridden without fear of stumbling.  Norman became my 12 year old daughter’s dream horse—trained to fourth level dressage, but plagued by a congenital bone lesion in his left stifle.  He too was retired a few years ago.  Both horses lived at home in my backyard as pampered pets until we moved to New Mexico in October.  They are now under the care of Dash’s former trainer in Del Mar, California, where they will remain at least through the winter.  I miss them terribly.

I never thought much about horse rescue until I got a letter in the mail five years ago from The Horses of Tir Na Nog, a San Diego horse rescue group.  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, my husband had given them some money.  He is not known for his charitable heart, so I figured he must have been on to something worthwhile and important.  So I kept giving them money, and then one day I saw a Facebook page that made me feel like I had been punched in the stomach—for Forgotten Horses Rescue, started by Trish Geltner when a starved horse named Spero came into her care.  Spero didn’t make it, but Trish vowed that he would never be forgotten, and she has kept her word.  Then I found HiCaliber, founded by Michelle Cochran, a formal San Diego Animal Control officer who got involved when she intercepted an auto accident involving a former racehorse.  Before that, she had “only” been involved in rescuing much maligned pit bulls.  It took me a long time, but I have finally realized that not every equine is treasured and treated to a loving life of retirement.  So I am doing my best to see that the old, the sick and the lame are spared a miserable death in a cattle car.   It is my small way of giving back, and being very thankful that I have the means to be the owner of 30 year old and 27 year old retired horses.

My heart breaks when I see starving, beaten and abused horses, dogs and other companion animals.  I know that yours breaks also.  So please, people—if you have a beloved animal companion warm and safe at home–a dog, a cat or if you’re very fortunate, a horse—find a local shelter or rescue and do what you can to support it.  It may not be much—a few dollars or a few hours of your time.  But trust me, it will mean the world to those you support.  Thank you.

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.