Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

The Retired Life

Retirement for Chico was pretty good. At least, I think from a horse’s point of view, it would be. He got to hang around with his buddies, grazed to his heart’s content, and still got all the scratches and rubs, he got before. If he felt like having nap, he did. If he felt like patrolling the pasture to chase off geese, he did. I even came across a poor garter snake, when I was cutting across his pasture, and Chico’s dislike of snakes was clearly evident. Flattened tissue paper thin, the poor thing hadn’t stood a chance. No crime scene investigation was needed, to come to conclusions. Chico had taken care of it.
A couple of years after he retired, we noticed significant changes in the old boy. His eyesight wasn’t as good, and he didn’t seem to have the energy to chase the geese off, like he used to. His all out enthusiasm was reduced to halfhearted attempts, then to watching them, ears back while he shook his head in disgust. We felt bad for the old boy. He’d lost the ability to do something he truly enjoyed, and that was sad.
When the seasons changed, he was moved to a winter pen, along with his buddies. Normally, the horses are restricted to the pens, and not allowed to go out into the pastures, until spring rolled back around.
That winter was an odd one. There were big areas of windswept field that were devoid of snow. As there was still grass to enjoy, I allowed the horses to have free choice. We left the corral gate open to the pasture, and most nice days, the small herd could be seen out, enjoying frosty nibbles of frozen grass. The extra room and grass gave the horses something to do, and stemmed boredom. Being locked in a pen for several months in a row, had to be boring. Sure, there was always hay to eat, buffet style, and other horses to socialize with, but there wasn’t the room to stretch legs and really let loose.
Winter snow finally blew in with a wicked vengeance. It was as if, it was trying to make up for a balmy start. Surprisingly, though snow built up in the corrals and along fencelines, the field still had bare sections, so the gate stayed open. The gate had blown in quite a bit anyway, so there would be a substantial amount of digging to do, before it could be closed anyway.
I don’t know what prompted me to do chores early that day, but I’m still grateful I did. In the winter it starts to get dark early, for sure by five, and I like to be done before then. I’ve never been crazy about doing chores at night. I like daylight, when I can look the horses over, to check for problems. Anyway, that day I was early, quite early, and that turned out to be a very good thing.
Walking along, my face turned away from biting wind, I looked up as I reached the pen with what we call, the big herd. My heart instantly stopped. There, just beyond the gate by twenty feet or so, was something a horse owner never wants to see. There was a horse on it’s side in the deep drifts of snow, and though it wasn’t on its back, it was darn close. Horses can’t remain on their backs too long. The weight of their own vital organs, more or less suffocates them. Blood flow gets restricted, breathing becomes difficult, it’s a very bad thing. That any horse was in this predicament was horrible. That it was Chico, even worse. He was old, he acted old, he wasn’t as strong as he used to be.
Running to him, I was already assessing the situation. How he’d ended way over and off the path, I’ll never know. Did he fall, and couldn’t get up? Did struggling create this problem? Did he lie down and roll, then find himself without the strength to get up? I had no answers, but I did have a big problem, and no one to help me. His body warmth had sunk him further into the snow. I couldn’t move him more than a few inches. Inches that may have well been miles. I hated to do it, but I had to leave him as he was, to run and get a shovel. Chico had to be dug out, if he was to be saved.
Covering my mouth as I ran, to keep from sucking in icy cold air, I went to the house first. I needed my phone. If I was lucky, my son was off early. If I was to get Chico out, I needed him. I was in luck. He was already on the road. Fifteen minutes, he guessed, and he’d arrive. Grabbing a shovel, I ran back to Chico.
If you’ve never worked hard in very cold weather, or run in it, I can tell you that it feels like searing flames in your lungs. It was what it was though. Giving up was not an option. That boy of mine arrived shortly after I got back to Chico, and without being told a word, got to work. As soon as he had enough snow moved so Chico could get up, I attached a lead to the halter and we pulled. It took my boychild’s brute strength, and Chico was practically lifted to his feet. There he stood, the boychild at his head, me by his side to physically support the poor, shaking fellow. Chico was worn out from his ordeal, and he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
As soon as he seemed a bit steadier, the boy got to work shovelling a path to the corral, then into the corral. It was so far, so much shovelling, yet the boy worked like a machine and got it done.
Arriving home from work, the girlchild ran to help. There were blankets to fetch, and buckets of warm water to hopefully entice Chico with. Incredibly, he managed to make it up the new path, where he was swiftly blanketed, and as soon as the warm water arrived, that wise, old fellow, drank long and deep.
It’s funny, Chico was old, very old, but we still weren’t ready lose him. Somehow, he survived his ordeal and lived another good couple of years. The boychild dug out the gate and closed it. We weren’t taking any more chances. Grass or no grass, it wasn’t worth the risk. Thank goodness for giant boys, who do what needs doing, without complaint or hesitation.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB