Monday, February 28, 2005

A Horse Called Denver

I guess you could say Denver was just a horse, but that would be wrong. Some creatures are more than they seem to be; their value to humanity transcends logic. Horses are like that. As Mark Twain said, "There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse."

Denver was born a little over seven years ago on my younger sister's place in southeast Texas and lived her whole live there. Never set hoof off the property. She died a few months back, far too young and with too much life left to live.

Denver was a big mare, weighing about 1,300 pounds. Even though her size and strength could be intimidating to strangers, she was gentle and even-tempered. She loved having a stick rubbed briskly along her backbone. Do that, and she'd follow you anywhere. She would tolerate even the most inept rider with courtesy and no small amount of charity. But Denver seemed most alive with my sister in the saddle, the perfect match of superior horse and excellent rider. It was a pleasure to see the remarkable trust and affection they shared.

Sometimes there were other horses there to share Denver's life. The last was Ruby, a mare that had gone through a number of owners and had been severely abused. She had the scars to prove it. The relationship between Denver and Ruby was mystical. Ruby was skittish and frightened of just about everyone--my sister was the only one who could approach her. When Denver got too close, Ruby would whirl and bite her. When Denver was too far away or out of sight, Ruby would look for her anxiously, wanting her closer. Denver always returned to Ruby and tried to be near her, although she must have known she would probably be bitten for her trouble. There's no way to know what they sensed between themselves, but I have to believe that Denver knew Ruby was troubled and needed comfort.

One night my sister fed Denver, and she ate normally. The next morning, for the first time in her life, Denver didn't show up to eat. My sister went looking for her and found her staggering around near their small pond. She put on the halter and lead rope, and then Denver just collapsed into the pond. She was too weak to hold her head above water, so my sister jumped in and held her head up so she could breathe. Her husband ran to help her, and then a neighbor came to help. They tied the lead rope to a tree so Denver wouldn't drown and called the local veterinarian. He came quickly, and all of them were finally able to drag Denver's limp body out of the pond.

Denver lay beside the pond for a long time. For a couple of hours she struggled valiantly to stand, but she was too weak. She remained on the ground beside the pond for almost 24 hours, and then she died.

Denver died slowly and in agony from West Nile Disease. My sister didn't know that horses could get it, and she learned later that a number of other horses in the area died the same way. There were no animal health announcements, no warnings from the local authorities. Even the veterinarian wasn't sure what was wrong with her. Denver died for lack of a vaccination that would have cost about $20.

Writing about that long day and night she spent watching Denver die, my sister said, "I watched her helplessly. I never felt worse in my life. You feel so helpless when a massive, gorgeous horse dies, for no apparent reason. I really miss her."

The picture on my profile is of me riding Denver not long before she died. It's a nice reminder of the gentle creature that once shared life with us. We're all diminished by her passing.


Blogger American On Line said...

So sorry for your loss, Tom.

8:31 AM, March 01, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

What a lovely tribute to what was clearly an important and valuable creature in the lives of others. A tragic loss, Tom.

The story you write here is important. It highlights the need for authorities to get information to the public. The authorities in the region where your sister lives let the public down in a fundamental way. I hope that they are held responsible.

10:21 AM, March 01, 2005  
Blogger Junebugg said...

I grew up around horses. From the age of 10 until I was grown my best friend was a strawberry roam named "Thunder". Animals can be a large part of your life, and they listen to your problems better than any human.

11:36 AM, March 01, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

"We're all diminished by her passing."

But you were also blessed and enriched by her sweet, short life. And she was lucky to have you and your sister -- she could have been with the people who abused Ruby. Instead what time she did have on this earth was filled with love.

I also want to second what carla said.

12:22 PM, March 01, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks for your kind comments. I actually had few opportunities to spend much time around Denver. She was my sister's horse, a member of their family in a very real sense. My sister loves animals, and she's always loved horses in particular. The tragic loss of Denver under those circumstances still weighs heavily on her.

1:21 PM, March 01, 2005  
Anonymous The Bastard said...

Thanks for sharing Tom. There is nothing worse then watching an animal suffer. You just keep wishing that they could speak and tell you whats wrong and all along you can see the pain in their eyes looking at you for comfort you can't give them.

4:24 PM, March 01, 2005  
Anonymous Pit Crew Sue said...

I am so sorry to hear about that. I would die if that were to happen to one of my horses. I have always given my horses the shots they need, and I ask every year about West Niles, they tell me not to worry because it has not been found east of the Mississippi. But I believe that they will get their shots for it this year. I am trully sorry.....

8:14 AM, March 02, 2005  
Blogger Ms. Lori said...

Beautiful words for a beautiful soul. Oh, Tom, you made me cry!

10:19 AM, March 02, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

I'm so sorry for your sister. I can imagine her pain, and her frustration at learning this was preventable.

I hope someone reads your post and gets their horse a vaccination in time.

11:15 AM, March 03, 2005  
Anonymous Happy Batson_Jones said...

I'm sorry for your families loss of Denver. Your story was sad but also beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It's always hard to lose our four-legged family members. I know I would be devasted if I lost either of my two dogs.

2:02 AM, March 05, 2005  
Blogger Bill O. Writes said...


I'm so sorry about your loss of Denver. She was an exceptional horse, and would have made an exceptional person had she been human. When I first saw your profile photo I thought your horse was beautiful. The close-up more so.

It was a real tragedy about the vaccine. A tragedy on too many levels.

Junebugg reminded me of a pony my family had when I was a young teenager. She was the apple of my eye. How she listened to that teenager.

I'm sorry for your loss.

8:47 AM, March 24, 2005  
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12:15 AM, December 11, 2009  

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