For those of you who hate mush, I am warning you now - apply your "back" button. The snark is over for the day. I just found out my oldest horse passed away this morning. Hey, it's my blog and I'm in the mood to write a tribute to her.
Lacy was a horse who had lots of opportunities to fall through the cracks. She began by flunking out as a jumper. Jump she did - stop/rate she didn't. She then went into polo, but after just a few years, the guy who was playing her quit playing. He sold her to an elderly guy who couldn't begin to control her, who leased her to a professional polo player who loved her. She was supposed to be sold to the pro and be hauled to California to play high-goal when she stuck her ankle through a wire fence and cut it to the bone.
(She got her name, by the way, because she'd had some kind of blood clot or something when young that had caused the veins to pop out on one side of her face and stay that way (as seen in the movie "Scanners"). It used to freak out people at horseshows who didn't know her - but the vets all told me it wasn't hurting her a bit.)
When I met her, in 1987, I was working for the elderly guy, who was now stuck with a very angry, very fit mare on stall rest with a bad injury. I hated Lacy with a passion. Every time I went in there to feed or muck, she tried to bite me. I understand now that she was merely an overfit horse going crazy from cabin fever, but at the time I just thought she was a wench (hey, I was only 20...I had a lot to learn!). So you can imagine my reaction when, six months later, my boyfriend announced he'd gotten her thrown in with the deal on another horse!
"I am NOT riding or dealing with that bitch," I announced.
That didn't last a month. I watched his groom at the time ride her and knew I could do better. She was super hot, super fast, and leaped like a kangaroo when you attempted to slow her down. The girl kept clutching on her face and making it worse. I threw her in a plain full cheek snaffle with a surgical tubing training fork (not exactly your typical polo pony rig, LOL) and every time she tried to run off, I just put her in a circle on a long rein. She could run around the circle as fast as she wanted, but she did not get to go straight again until she came back and softened up. She wasn't stupid - she did learn, she did improve and along the way she became one of my favorite horses.
I doubt I could ride the horse that she was, now. She's the kind of horse you can do a great job with when you are 20 and have great balance, legs of iron and no fear. We met each other at the right time!
Within two years, she was his best polo pony. A few years after that, she was safe enough for lessons. By 1992, she was the best beginner over-fences horse I had. She was point and shoot - she'd never refuse. She didn't particularly care if she knocked the odd obstacle down, but she'd never stop. She was totally honest and totally spook proof. Not that she was a deadhead - I remember one show where she did a five stride line in three. She is also the horse who, memorably, laid down and rolled with me in the show ring because it was hot and she was itchy. (And then jumped a flawless hunter hack line and got 2nd in the class anyway!) I let her get away with murder in some respects - she was always allowed to rub her itchy head on me so hard I had to brace myself against a solid object or get knocked down. I remember many times hearing some lesson kid piping "Lacyyyyyy! Stop that!" and I knew exactly what was going on. Yeah, yeah, I never said I was perfect! The picture is her "yay, I'm being scratched face" and you can see the weird veins under her cheekbones.
I almost lost her in 1998. I had gone back to school and was (very fortunately) at home studying for exams. Normally it was my non-horsey-husband at the time feeding the horses, and he'd never have noticed something was awry, but this morning it was me, and I noticed Lacy picking at her food. I called the vet, assuming we had a colic starting, and instead we found a horrible wound in the fur between her cheekbones. She had put her head down on a t-post and split open her jugular vein. We found blood pooled atop leaves all over the pasture. I was horrified. (And yes, now I have t-post caps! You live, you screw up, and you learn!) Fortunately, a few stitches and a vitamin B shot and she made a full recovery.
I moved up to Canada for a job in 2000. I was "out of horses" (yeah, everybody laugh with me, you all know how well THAT works) but still had Lacy and my other old mare, Harmony, so I took them with me to retirement board outside of Toronto. They stayed there, and I visited them from many locations, for the next six years. In the summer of 2006, Lacy started to go downhill and bloodwork revealed she had some thyroid problems. The vet's verdict was that she should be moved to a warmer climate or euthanized. I moved her.
For the last year, Lacy enjoyed a perfect climate and gorgeous grassy fields at probably the nicest retirement farm I've ever seen or heard of. Her weight returned to perfect. Her coat looked fabulous. They were able to resolve her hoof issues (she'd been abcessing chronically). Last night, she was running and bucking with the herd. And sometime early this morning, she lay down and went to sleep for the last time. She most likely had a heart attack. There were no signs of a struggle.
I'm not upset in a traditional sense. I know at that age, you are going to lose them. I am sorry I didn't get out to see her one more time. I was "too busy" but now I can't go back and do it differently, can I? (Still, rationally speaking, did she care? She's a horse. She was busy stuffing her face in equine paradise. She wasn't thinking "where is that crappy owner of mine? Why doesn't she ever visit?")
Here's what I'm happy about:
I am so happy I spent the money for her to live in the greatest place possible for her last year. All of my friends who thought I was batshit can shove it...I will never regret that decision. I paid that mare back for everything she did for me. It was the best money ever spent.
She was the one who needed to go first...she was a hysterical herdbound hothead and would have thrown herself through fences if Harmony had disappeared. Harmony is the realist - she determined Lacy was down for the count and is hanging with the other mares like nothing ever happened.
I am so glad I didn't give her up when I "got out of horses." Even if you do, you can still retirement board. It's not that much money to come up with and the peace of mind...the knowledge that kept control and your horse never had to go without or suffer is something you can't put a price on. If you've ever thought that you're too busy or it's just not the right time for you with horses...and I know everybody has those spells, when you have little kids at home, when you lose a job, whatever...I want you to think about this. Think about whether you want to be wondering forever if your horse was ok without you...or if you want to have the security of knowing they had a great life thanks to you. If it's a horse you're really attached to, keep them. You will make it work. You will find a way. You will never regret it, and you might deeply regret the alternative.
Goodbye, Lacy. You were absolutely wonderful. And thank you so much to Paradigm Farms for giving her the most incredibly idyllic last year of her life.
The picture is this summer, at age 28.