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.