It’s never a happy day when a good horse dies.
Mr. Mule, aka The Mule Man, has been a reclusive neighbor of mine for over a decade. He lives alone, save for his mules and horses.
He’s not a hermit, he merely keeps to himself. He has four mules and up until today, three horses. He keeps them all on a scrap of land not much more than an acre, but worry not: those equines never want for anything. There is always hay for them, a large stock tank filled with clean fresh water, and a barn for them to take cover in from the weather.
Mr. Mule dotes on his animals. You’ll see him out there, talking to each one, running his hands up and down the mule’s ears (and I’m told mules do NOT care for this: but they don’t seem to mind Mr. Mule doing it) and generally just hanging with his boys.
He didn’t always have seven animals. He began with two mules and a horse. The second horse showed up one day, a skeletal wreck, long haired and short tailed. The gelding was obviously a rescue horse. Under Mr. Mule’s care, the rescue horse put on weight, grew a tail, and turned a lovely, classic chestnut color.
Two more mules arrived. I never saw Mr. Mule ride. I believe Mr. Mule uses them as pack animals, because at times, the entire bunch will vanish, along with his big stock trailer, and be gone for several weeks. The two new mules were an interesting dichotomy of appearance. I don’t know much about mules, but one is a lovely animal and the other is about as ugly an equine as you could wish to describe. However, once again, they flourished under Mr. Mule’s care.
The buckskin dun gelding arrived about two years ago. He was lovely buckskin, his classic light buff body color accentuating his jet black points, mane and tail. A neat white blaze set it all off to perfection.
The buckskin had issues, too. He was thin when Mr. Mule got him, and gained weight enough to be presentable, but there was something odd about him. He seemed preoccupied, as if something was weighing heavily on his mind-or his heart.
About this time, the economy crashed. The folks who lived across the road from Mr. Mule must have lost their house. They, too, were private, and no one knew their names or what they were about. The sheriff was an occasional visitor there, so I believe there was something nefarious going on.
One day, they moved out, without telling anyone what had happened or why. The left the house neat and clean: but they also left their bay Arabian gelding in a paddock in the back. They had never evinced any interest in the bay, but he had three acres to himself and survived. Not well, but I am sad to say, most horses I see are kept like he was: ignored.
I walk past the house every day, and it was with increasing alarm that I noted that the horse appeared abandoned.
We rural folks mind our own business, usually. You could say we’re standoffish, but we don’t have get togethers like city folks are said to do, no block parties, etc. In most cases we mind our own business and appreciate it when you mind yours.
But the bay had been alone long enough. I called the sheriff.
The responding deputy had no clue about what to do with abandoned horses.
But he did tell me that Mr. Mule had come over to tell him he’d been feeding the bay when he realized the horse had been abandoned. That’s when I learned Mr. Mule’s name was Jim.
The deputy called me the next day to tell me that he’d found the bay’s owners. He’d told me I was perhaps the fifth person to call about the bay. I felt better, knowing that I wasn’t the only person who’d noticed the bay’s plight, but I do know also, that I was the last. Within a day, the gelding was gone.
I don’t believe he went to a happier place. I think the owners, damn their eyes, had gotten tired of being badgered by the police and taken the horse elsewhere, where he is either starving to death in a backyard, or they dumped him somewhere in the forest. If they did so, I hope that they go to the special hell reserved for people who abuse, neglect, torture and torment the innocent, animal or human.
About a month ago, I noticed Jim had blanketed the buckskin, and was keeping him separated from the rest of the horses/mules.
Jim didn’t have much money, and he never blanketed the other animals. Something was wrong.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen the buckskin standing quietly. I understand horse as well as I understand English, and I knew the buckskin was NDR: Not Doing Right. His body language said something was wrong, but he wasn’t in pain.
I believe, just from the experience I had from my wonder horse, Jordan, that the buckskin had Cushing’s disease.
There is no cure for it. All you can do is keep the horse comfortable, clean and warm until he tells you It’s Time.
Today, I was coming home from running errands, and I saw the buckskin was down. He was lying flat-out, and not because he was sleeping.
By the time I managed to get my truck to a safe spot where I could stop, Jim was at the horse’s side. The buckskin had his head up and Jim appeared to by trying to push it back down, or perhaps he was merely petting the buckskin.
Either way, I knew it was the buckskin’s last day. His movements were weak, and slow. I could see Jim’s grief clearly. It surrounded him, like a mourning cloak.
Then I saw Dr. Mike coming. Behind him came Norm’s Brother, (I don’t know his name), driving his backhoe. Obviously, then, this was The Day, and Jim had arranged for everything: the gentle release Dr. Mike would give the buckskin, and the last resting place, dug by the Brother, undoubtedly on Jim’s property.
I didn’t intrude. There was nothing I could do, and sometimes, when you lose a family member, you don’t want strangers there to witness your pain.
Today, a horse died.
Whatever his story was, though, his last days were peaceful ones. Jim has no wife, no family, not even a dog…but he has his boys. The buckskin spent his last days among friends, with a blanket to keep him warm, and plenty of hay, should he want it.
Jim made it so for the buckskin.
It’s never a happy day when a horse dies. But at least we can make their passing a gentle one.