A sick colt finds a home with us. A true story.
|When I first laid eyes on Spook, I was sure he was gonna die. He was scrawny, bony, and very sick with pneumonia. He wasn’t hardly worth looking at, and to the cowboy who brought him to me, he wasn’t worth the time, or effort, to save him.
At that time, he was a nameless little colt, standing as far back in the big stock trailer as he could get. He was all alone, and I noticed two things about him right away, his fear, and his despair. He was actually quaking with the sheer fear he was feeling.
“I don’t think he’ll live through the night.” I said, objectively.
The cowboy shrugged indifferently.
“Well, if he dies, just give me a call, and I’ll come to pick up the carcass.” He said.
I’ve always had a soft spot for animals, and the thought of finding the poor little guy dead the next morning didn’t set well with me. I didn’t have the heart to send him back with the cowboy. He was far too busy to give the colt the care he needed to survive.
I went into the house, and came back with a 10CC dose of penicillin.
The cowboy already had unloaded him, and stood patiently waiting for me. I began to look the colt over more thoroughly. He was paper thin, and I could count every rib on him. His coat was long and shaggy, and full of mats. I had never seen a horse with mats in their coat before. He looked like a matted dog.
I was certainly glad he wasn’t mine. I was going to take care of him for a while, to keep my own healthy yearling company, while his usual companion, a mare named Star, was away being bred.
Before I put him in the small corral, he received his first shot in the thick muscle on his neck. If he lived, he would get two a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, on alternating sides.
I was surprised to find him still alive the next morning. He hadn’t touched his hay, or water. He was hanging his head pathetically, and looking as miserable as ever. Big globs of snot hung from his nose, and he coughed periodically. His breathing wheezed out of him painfully. I mixed a warm oat mush for him, and was pleased when he ate some of it.
I haltered him, and brought him out of the corral, so my husband and I could administer the penicillin to him. He began to shake with uncontrollable fear. I felt so sorry for him; after all, he was just a baby.
I had been told his story, and it wrenched my heart.
There is a practice done today that most of the general public does not know about. To me it is an abhorrent thing, that should be done away with.
Mares are bred for their milk because of the level of collagen in it. Many large ranchers send the colts and fillies off to the sales as early as three months old. They are packed like cattle into stock trailers, and hauled away to the sales barn.
These people don’t care about their welfare, just the money involved in the mare’s milk. Lining their pockets is their only concern. Many of these animals get sick, like Spook, and die.
Spook was bought from an auction for a mere two hundred dollars, and sold to my cowboy friend on his papers alone, sight unseen. He had good bloodlines, coming from some of the best working stock around. He was born in North Dakota, and shipped along with a packed stock trailer of fifteen, to Oklahoma City to be sold for whatever they would bring.
By the time he reached his destination, he was already very sick. Still he was run through the auction and sold. My cowboy friend did not know he was sick enough to die when he bought him, he was under the impression he was buying a healthy colt.
He has a nice horse ranch. Not wanting to have that pathetic creature seen there (bad for his business, as a reputable horseman), is what landed him at my modest farm. As it just so happened, my need for a companion, for my young yearling colt, is what brought him to me.
We finished giving Spook the penicillin in three days, but he remained sick for two more weeks. During that time, he learned to distrust all human contact. We constantly had to do unpleasant things to him.
He developed a bad habit of trying to kick us at every opportunity. He ran into the corner of his corral, pinned his ears back, and lifted his hind leg in warning.
We had to rope him, to force him out of the corner safely. It was odd, because once the rope was on him, all the fight left, and all he would do, was stand there, and shake.
No amount of kind words spoken to him, or gentle stroking, made him any less afraid of us. Not only did we have to work to get him well, we also had to groom him, and that was as unpleasant to him as anything else we had done. We cut as much of the mats off as we could. It ended up being a long process that spread out long past the duration of his sickness.
His coat was dull and lifeless long after he was well. Even after we cut all the mats off, his coat still looked bad. It took months for him to shed out to a healthy sheen, to where we could actually make out his true color at the time.
It appeared to us then, that he would be a light chestnut; however, we knew that color, on a young horse, usually changes dramatically with age.
Our mare came home, and we were preparing for Spook to go back to the ranch, when the cowboy showed up, and asked me to keep him a few months longer. He still looked bad then, too thin, shaggy, but his weight was coming on slowly.
The longer we kept him, the more in love with him I became. After we had all the mats off of him, I started trying to just be his friend.
I began to go out and sit with him in the corral. He had a big tree right in the center of it, and I would sit there with a book, and read.
He was extremely distrustful of me at first. He would run into the corner, lay his ears back, and raise his hind leg in warning as was his custom. I ignored him. I made sure he knew I was not in the least bit interested in him, or his antics.
After an hour stuck in the corner with his leg cocked like a gun, he would get tired and put it down, but cautiously, I could tell by his nervous body language that he was prepared to bring it right back up if I were to move a muscle. I didn’t, instead I half-heartedly read, and watched him out of the corner of my eye.
In my heart I was laughing, I had done this before, many times. I have never seen it fail. Winning a horse’s trust, or any animal for that matter, is just all about patience, and letting them come to you on their time, and not yours.
If you try to force an animal, it may work, but not in the proper way. They will hold grudges, never be trusting of you. In order for it to be right, you have to gain their trust and loyalty. It is a slow process.
Finally, he swung his head around to get a direct look at me. His ears fidgeted nervously as he stared at me. I was confusing him, because I was not chasing after him with a rope, and I was not trying to lure him to me with a treat, I was just sitting there in the middle of his “space” doing nothing.
On the fourth day I had a breakthrough. He came out of his corner and cautiously approached me. With every step he blew out his breath loudly, and snorted, yet he continued to come. I sat stock still, knowing that if I moved, he would bolt back to that corner as fast as lightning.
He wasn’t quite brave enough to come all the way to me then, but he did get close, and he nibbled at some of the grass that grew on the other side of the fence, still keeping a close eye on me.
A few days later, he was sniffing my hair and actually lipped at it, checking to see if it was edible, I guess. It made me laugh, and he bolted away in fear to his corner, but it wasn’t long before he came back and sniffed me again.
By the second week I had earned his trust, and I could touch him anywhere. Amazingly, he became my shadow, following me around like a puppy. I often picked fresh clover and fed it to him, and my other colt. They both loved it, and would get pushy with one another over it.
The months rolled by and he became one of the handsomest horses I had ever seen. He was actually a dun color, and his coat shone like the sun. His disposition was great. He was as loyal to us as any dog ever could be.
He was deeply intelligent as well. I watched him think through situations that would send a lot of horses away at a full gallop.
For instance, we tied a white plastic shopping bag to a panel in his corral on a windy day, to see how he would react. He had never seen one before, and when the wind whipped it around it made a loud snapping sound up against the fence.
He ran a little ways away, turned, and snorted, staring at it, first with one eye, then the other. He began to approach it slowly, blowing threw his nose as he went, and finally sniffed it, and touched it with his lips very cautiously. Once he realized it wasn’t going to hurt him, he walked away, and ignored it completely.
We repeatedly got him used to new sights and sounds. I took him with me on long walks, across bridges, through creeks, up the mountain; sometimes I led him, as I rode Star. Her confidence built his, and nothing really frightened him. I knew he was going to make an excellent trail horse.
I found myself wanting to buy him from the cowboy, but didn’t know how to go about it. I had doctored, fed, watered, and gentled him over a few months time, and I was completely attached to him.
I didn’t want the cowboy to see Spook. I was afraid he would want too much money for him, or worse, not even want to sell him at all, if he knew what he had turned out like.
One afternoon, before he had a chance to come see Spook, I went over to his ranch, and asked him nonchalantly how much he wanted for the colt. I told him I had named him Spook, because when he got scared, he just shook all over like Don Knotts, in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.”
”Now, how do you expect me to sell a horse named Spook,” he said, laughing at the name I had picked.
“I want to buy him.” I said, and waited, as he seemed to rummage that around in his head.
He spit, and ground it into the sand with his boot, he was in deep thought, and I held my breath, hoping I could afford to buy Spook. Money was tight at the time.
Finally he spoke.
“I’ll take four hundred dollars for him.” He said.
I thought it over, but not for long. I probably would have paid a thousand. I had really come to love him that much.
“Okay,” I said.
We shook on it, and I paid him.
Spook was mine.