Sunday, October 26, 2008


Sweet Lady Grey

Thirty years ago this spring – while there was still snow on the ground and the tulips were barely poking their heads up through the still-hard earth – my sister, Donna, and I pulled a rented horse trailer with her station wagon south to the Minnesota/Iowa border.

You see somewhere down there a young mare stood waiting for me. A young Arabian mare that no one wanted. Not her owners and not the kill buyer either. Her owners were going through a divorce and couldn’t decide who got the horse, and so they decided to sell her at auction and split the money. The kill buyer paid $100 for her. Then, when he found out she was pregnant, he decided he didn’t want her either. Something about it being too cruel to kill the mare and the baby….

So a telephone call was placed to me asking if I wanted to buy her. The mare was a registered Arabian and was bred to something from the stockyards – "what" would have to wait to be seen when it was delivered. But she was a grey and “had some spirit” I was told. That was an understatement!!!

When we found her in the holding pen, I innocently walked up to this little mare and reached out to touch her. Not so fast! A swift bite told me that I needed to gain her trust before ever thinking of touching her. And loading her in to the trailer? Well, let’s just say that I gained a wealth of experience along with my bruises that day.

Her head was always – ALWAYS! – up in the air! She seemed almost fearful of her head being tied down or restrained in any way. The little mare wasn’t a kicker but she had a load of fear in her, that’s for sure!

Upon arrival back at my house, this new mare was introduced to Ono and the two became fast friends immediately. Ono was thrilled to have a horse companion and this little mare was grateful for her freedom and the twice-daily feed I supplied for her. She was very thin and almost weak, but her strength in spirit more than made up for any weakness her body may have been showing.

Al Lippold came to trim the very, very long hooves that very first week. He pinched and pinched and finally gave up on pinching off the excess hoof. These hooves of hers were way, way too hard and blunt nosed and so very thick! So Al began to carve away at the hoof with his knife. Piles of hoof shavings appeared on the floor of my new barn and pretty soon I heard the “clink” of metal hitting metal. What was that?

Al just shook his head. He had discovered why he couldn’t pinch her hoof off! Her shoes were in there! Yes, her hooves had grown right over her too small shoes! I still have those shoes – I saved them, of course. For some reason I felt the need to clean and paint those shoes as a reminder to both of us of the life she had left behind.

Later that summer she went in to a most difficult labor. She delivered, though. It was painful and she remained as strong as she could but finally she gave in and let out a yell of pain! Then a huge – and I mean huge! – palomino colt was brought in to the world. But the colt was born dead. She nudged it and then moved on. Almost glad to be without the burden and the load on her tiny body. Again, leaving her past well behind her....never looking back.

Her body however, was so racked from starvation that she didn’t clean out and old Doc Monson told me he had done all he could. He gave her meds to stop the contractions and then stitched her hind cheeks together. The dimples those stitches created are with her yet today. Then he gave me instructions on the huge doses of penicillin to inject in her neck every four hours and told me he’d stop in morning to see how I was doing. I picked up on that. How I was going. Not how she was doing. He said it looked grim for the little fighter of a mare.

I slept on a lawn chair in her box stall with her that night. The alarm clock told me when to give her the injections and she stood most of the night. Head hanging low and eyes dull from the pain. Her sides still were wavy with contractions and she would bend at the knees from time to time. At about 4am or so, I felt a nudge. Her little white nose was nudging me. I awoke and she went to the door of her stall. I let her out and she joined Ono to munch on some freshly dewed grass.

Doc Monson appeared at the stall door at 5am sharp and asked, “When did she go?”

“Oh,” I said, “she wanted out just a bit ago.” I pointed and he did a double take when he saw her grazing next to Ono. “That mare wasn’t going to make it!” he told me. I replied something to the effect that he obviously didn’t know that little mare.

That was the summer of 1978. Since that time, Sweet Lady Grey and I have been together. This spring of 2008 was the start of our thirty-first year together. More than half of my life has been with this mare. The longest relationship I have ever had with any other living creature has been my relationship with Lady-Cakes, as I call her.

Lady was the last horse I ever rode. We would go for rides out here in Spring Valley when she first returned from Omaha with me. Rides to the river to enjoy the grass and the sunshine together. And then on the return from one of our rides, right by the end of our own driveway, on a path that we had taken many times before, on that day she saw the mailbox!

Up in the air she went and over to the centerline of Highway 29! Then straight ahead at full speed! Sweet Lady Grey had seen the mailbox and off we went! No amount of pulling or squeezing would slow her down so I simply hung on! Once at the top of the hill, she stopped and we walked home again. My legs were complete jelly and that, my friends, was the last time I rode a horse.

The love of Lady’s life was Ruby. Big Ruby, the Belgian pulling horse. She loved that horse and he loved her. Just prior to crossing, Ruby looked at her and let out one big holler as if to say, “I’ll wait for you, my love!” After Ruby crossed, Sweet Lady Grey refused feed for three days. She just ran the fence line and hollered. Calling over and over for her Ruby. Looking to the door of the barn that she had seen me walk him in to. Calling and running. For three days.

Finally she stopped and gave up looking for him. But ever since then, she has been distant. Never fully forgiving me for taking her love away from her and never completely trusting me again. She was always on her guard after that fateful day of Ruby’s departure. Just this past summer, if I was very careful, she would let me pet her and maybe steal a hug. I told her she was getting old and she nodded her agreement. Better to allow a few hugs than to deprive us both of our mutual respect and love for each other.

Her vision left her this spring and that has been tough for her. Lady, you see, was always the boss on her side of the barn. Always the one to tell the others if they could come in to the barn or not. Lady was always in charge. But without her sight, she depended upon others to guide her and keep her safe. She bumped in to the fence and in to the buildings now. Her face often cut open from her fearful, frantic search for another horse. A most difficult change in stature for such a brave and mighty mare.

This afternoon, however, at about 5pm, Sweet Lady Grey was once again reunited with her Ruby. I found her lying in the pasture in a total state of calm. Just waiting for a bit of help to cross over and get back with her Ruby. I sang to her and she rested. All the while giving me the greatest gift of all - my head resting on hers so that I could listen to her breathing and smell her deeply and feel the heat of her body. She allowed me close again and for that I am grateful beyond belief.

Once again, she is in charge and bossing all the others around! Controlling her surroundings with her head straight up in the air! And her man, her love, is right behind her with his head held high! So proud when she kicks him square in that big chest of his! So proud that she has picked him to love! What a couple they make – he so large and stocky and such a deep red and she so petite and quick and such a light grey! But the love is obvious! Never in my life have I seen two living creatures so devoted to each other as Ruby and Sweet Lady Grey. Never.

Lady-Cakes, I miss you already. I can’t remember life without you. My sister knew you. Andy knew you. And I have just always known you to be there. Life will not be the same without you. Your bucket will hang for you, my friend, until you tell me that you are fine and have moved on and are safely with your manly big Belgian again. I’ll wait to hear from you…..

Run fast, Sweet Lady Grey! And hug that Ruby for me, would you?

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