Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Godspeed, Sweet Cassie

I didn't ride the most reliable horses when I was growing up. My first horse, an over-sized, scruffy pony named "Honeybee" was a half-broke, ill-mannered sorrel beast. Of course, I loved her. But she dumped me more times than I can remember and was the cause of several concussions and a couple of broken bones. Honeybee was followed by a series of spooky, temperamental, rank and reluctant hunters and jumpers: Bubbles, Sweetie, Casper, Great Pumpkin, Sunny, Emily, Syracuse. I say their names aloud and each of their misbehaviors leap to mind with a pounce and a buck. Sure, they taught me how to ride. But it was a bumpy road to experience.

The rambunctious bunch I rode as a kid and as a teenager made me appreciate a school horse like Cassie even more. She was not a beautiful horse. She was polka-dotted with red freckles and criss-crossed with splashes of white and roan as if she couldn't decide which Appaloosa coat pattern to adopt as her own. Her mane was strawberry blond and her tail (a thick one by Appy standards) was perpetually kinked. When she was frisky, she'd hold it straight out behind her, like a broom.

But she had the purest of hearts. As a school horse, she taught countless kids to ride over the years. In her heyday, she packed little kids around the short stirrup courses at A-rated shows like Indio. She was a show division champion more than once, an odd fit for a bespeckled Appy, although once you saw her jump in fine form and nail every flying lead change, you understood why she raked in the blue ribbons.

That's when I first got to know Cassie. She had been given to Sue by a former client, so when my sister and I began riding with Sue at horse shows, hiring her to serve as our coach in the warm-up rings, we'd see Cassie there. She was usually packing some novice kid or timid adult amateur around the low hunter courses, doing honorable duty for anyone in Sue's barn lacking their own show horse.

Then, by the time I started giving lessons part-time at Sue's, Cassie had semi-retired and taken on the role of School Horse Extraordinaire. When I conducted my summertime horse camps, Cassie was the one horse I could entrust with every little girl who was utterly horse crazy yet utterly clueless about horses. Though she stood a hefty 15.3-hands, Cassie wouldn't hurt anyone. While she'd jump virtually any fence with gusto, she'd then stand in the crossties and allow kindergartners to decorate her with poster paint, feathers and glitter in a "Dress Up the Horse" contest.

It's hard to watch such a horse grow old.

In the last year, Cassie began to show her age. Her arthritis made her too stiff to jump anymore. Eventually she began to have trouble lying down and getting up. One night she injured herself scrambling to her feet, and in a testament to Sue's devotion to the mare, lengthy veterinary care brought her back to soundness. Yet when Cassie went down again last weekend, I knew it was time for Cassie to go to that place where great horses go. And so, at the age of 25 (perhaps a year or two more), Cassie was put down.

I know that my lesson girls will shed a few tears. Before, when Cassie was being rehabilitated, they'd ask me, "Is Cassie going to get better?"

"We'll wait and see," I'd say. And then I'd prepare them for the inevitable, "But Cassie is an old lady..."

This next weekend, when they arrive for their lessons and see that her stall is empty, they will know the answer to Cassie's fate.

Sometimes my friends and I will make off-handed comments that this horse or that, recently deceased, "Went to the Emerald Field." But you know what? I'm not so sure that such an emerald field-- a meadow rich with grass, rimmed by shade trees-- doesn't exist, somewhere, for the horses that have blessed our lives. They deserve as much. Cassie certainly does.

If you'd like to share your thoughts, please click on "comments" below or email me directly at: hc-editor@bowtieinc.com


Anonymous said...

Somewhere...somwhere in time's own space
There must be some sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow
Some Paradise where horses go.

For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.

By Stanley Harrison

I found this through the Fugly Horse of the Day blog (do you read that! I love it, haha), and I really think it's true. There has to be a horsey heaven somewhere. That's what I'm hanging on, as "my" grand old Thoroughbred, Teddy, is currently dying of cancer. I asked his owner how he was doing yesterday, and she said "He's okay." But, yes, I do believe there is a place somewhere for the good horses (and the bad ones too!), and when time ends, they'll be waiting on the other side for their loving owners or rescuers.

Good luck today with your surgery! Hope all goes well!

Nancy said...

Oh, Cindy and Gina, I have tears in my eyes reading your comments. I had to put my off the track thoroughbred, Lingering Light, down at 8 years old for laminitis/founder. Very, very heartbreaking - I only had him a year and a half. And I just know that the moment he crossed over, he was kicking up his heels, pain free in the "Emerald Field".

Light was born in Florida, and raced all up the east coast. But the poor baby hated the cold weather and ended up with me in New Hampshire.

Last year, I had a session with an animal communicator for my current horse Leo. As she was reading Leo, she stopped and said...I have another horse coming through that has already passed over. He keeps showing me his front hooves and saying - I had bad feet, I had bad feet."

At which point I burst into tears...now this communicator did not know that he hated the cold and was an off the track thoroughbred. She then just blew me away by saying "he wants you to know that where he is now, it's warm all the time, and that he can gallop whenever he wants to. And he wants you to know that you did the right thing helping him cross over, that there was something else going on - he's showing me his stomach, and it was all black..i think he had stomach cancer also" Sigh. More buckets of tears.

So, yes, our horses will be waiting to welcome us and we'll be cantering on their backs with the wind in our hair.

Cindy, hope your surgery went well today! You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

That is sad Cindy. It reminds me of a horse of my friends who died just last week. He was a great horse and just 7 y/o, a quarter horse. He was just so willing to please and kids were always coming to ride him bareback and some of the littler kids would just hand graze him, but he soaked up the attention. He was perfect. He was a the horse newbies learned to pick feet on. Then he got caught in a fence last week and struggled to get out and broke his hip and many bones in his rear legs. It was horrible. He's now gone to the Emerald pasture or where ever the good place the horses go is.

Hope your surgery went well today.

Cindy Hale said...

I received several nice emails along with your comments here. One of the challenges of owning a horse-- or loving horses-- is facing the reality that eventually we have to deal with euthanizing a horse. It's never easy. But sometimes it's the most humane thing to do for the animal.

Anonymous said...

Putting a beloved horse down is definately a sad thing. We had an old gelding, a 16h sorrel named Grizzley who I rode in my first show ever, even if it was just a lesson show. He got a Grand Champion trophy for me, even if it was only my 2nd time riding him. He was like Cassie, dutifully taking care of anyone who got on his back or stood near him. When we retired him, he got visibly upset when he heard all the commotion of a show that he was no longer part of. He later developed what we think was cancer, and we had to put him down at the rich old age of 33. It was just the right thing to do for the faithful old guy, and I definately think that he's part of the vast herd running pain-free in the "Emerald Field".

Anonymous said...

Geez. Seems like every time I wear makeup something makes me cry! I lost my horsey-soul mate at almost 23 years old. I will never ever forget him. He went down, and I literally called every vet in the phone book a-z in the vets section. There was a continuing education conference in Little Rock, and all the equine vets for miles around were down there. I had to watch him go, and there wasn't anything I could do to help him. He was truly a once-in-a lifetime horse. He was only 14.2, and he was gray (all-white with a few freckles). But his heart was the size of Texas. He took his responsabilities very seriously. He toted many kids on their first ride. And one 89 year old grandma on her last... with his neck arched so proud. His name is Amber's Lil' Shadow. And if he ain't in heaven waiting for me, I am sure going to be upset when I get there! I could ride him bareback and bridleless, and if I thought it, he did it! How many horses do you get like that?
Even my tough-guy dad was crying as we buried him.
In my eleven years I've had horses, we have buried 4. It's never easy. But it is definately something that we all will have to deal with sooner or later if we have horses long enough.