Sunday, July 05, 2009


Kentucky Jack

It was the morning after Addie-Girl had crossed. All morning, no matter where I was or what I was doing, whenever I looked up all I could see was her fresh mound of dirt out by the poplar tree. I couldn't seem to not see Addie-Girl. So I double checked the horses to insure that all were set for the heat of the day and I went into town for errands and to wash some rugs at the laundromat.

Leaving home about 11:30 or so, I was home about 2pm and drove down the driveway toward the new barn to hang the rugs. I stopped opposite the clothes poles and looked up. Huh. Someone had been in the yard. I could see fresh tire tracks in the grass. And it had been a big truck judging by the width of the tire tracks. Maybe a trailer too? And there was horse manure in the grass. And there were lead ropes hanging on the corral fence. Hesitantly, I looked into the corral. There stood two big draft horses of which I didn’t know.

Shaking my head, I got out of the truck and hung the rugs. No need hurrying over to the corral. They were standing quietly eating the hay bale. I needed time to stop trembling and get my thoughts together. Once again, horses had been abandoned at THE FARM and once again it angered me that someone could be so bold! So disrespectful! So brass! When I had let out sufficient steam, I walked over to the corral. There stood these two horses. One a smaller typical blonde Belgian mare. And the other . . . . ”Jack, is that you?”

* * * * *

It was September of 1996. The Elmwood Rod & Gun Club was holding their Annual Professional Horse Pull on Sunday and a championship puller from the far eastern side of Wisconsin was heading over to compete. His pattern was to drive to the location and get his horses boarded by nightfall on Saturday to give their legs time to strengthen after the ride. Then the pull was on Sunday and they would all load up and head home on Monday.

It was a simple request that came to me. Actually, it was a no-brainer, it seemed. This puller would like to rent my box stalls for the weekend and would I be willing to do so?

“Sure!” was my response. Oh, how little I knew about big horses and their eyes that would suck you right in. About their easy temperaments. And about my own heart that would leave my chest when I just stood next to them.

Two horses arrived in a large metal horse trailer at 4pm on Saturday. The first was a good sized blonde Belgian gelding named Jim. Nice horse. I was impressed but still intact. Then Jack was unloaded. A chocolate Belgian, he was perhaps one of the prettiest big horses I had seen yet. And when he came out of the trailer, my first words were, “He’s longer than a freight train!”

This horse was long. Very long. And tall! And chocolate brown with enormous feet and legs that just didn’t quit until he hit the sky! His mane and tail were a dark tan and against that chocolate coat, he was certainly a picture to behold. You could hear the noise as my heart jumped straight out of my chest and directly into the chest of this enormous creature.

“Gonna try to sell him this weekend,” the owner told me. And my wheels began spinning . . . .

Something told me to take this picture of Jack the morning of the pull. Mike brought him out of the barn and gave him a quick bath with the hose and then in to the trailer he went. I stood there with shaking hands and took one picture of this big, gentle chocolate giant. I liked this horse.

The pull came and went. No one bit on Jack. He had been given a new name during the pull because there were so many horses named “Jack” in that competition. His new name was “Kentucky Jack”. You see, his current owner had purchased him from a horse puller down in Kentucky. So, Kentucky Jack was brought back from the club up to my little brick barn to spend the night. Chocolate and tall and gentle and long. Longer than a freight train . . . .

It was Monday morning and I was ready. When the owner arrived, I met him at his truck door and I offered to buy the horse. Just leave him where he is. I’ll pay the asking price for this long drink of chocolate. But the owner declined my offer. Said he was “too much horse for such a little girl” and so he loaded his horses and started his truck. I stood quietly by the trailer as those big brown eyes locked with mine. He whinnied at me and then the rig started rolling out of my driveway and out of my life.

* * * * *

A chocolate Belgian stood in the corral. Emaciated beyond belief. Mane all but gone and tail eaten or rubbed off. Huge hip bones sticking up in to the sky and legs that just didn’t quit. What was left of his mane and tail showed me it had been a dark tan in color. His body was that deep chocolate. And his size. Dear Lord! He was longer than a freight train! Was it Kentucky Jack?

With my first call to him he turned his enormous head. I knew those eyes. I knew this horse. This was Kentucky Jack. I got in to the corral and went up to his face. “Oh, Jack. Oh, Jack. What have they done to you? Oh, Jack.”

Tears ran as I saw his deteriorated condition. To say he was thin was an understatement. This giant stood in front of me thinner than Dude had been when he had arrived. He stunk of rotting horse something awful. His hide hung on his skeleton. His right rear leg was infected with maggots for the bottom thirty inches or so. His hooves had not seen a farrier in two years, at least. He had oozing burn marks from recent electric shock on both hips. And he had hide wear marks on his butt from wearing a harness that was too short for him. His shoulders showed the blister scars from wearing a collar without a pad – again trying to use him with equipment too small for him. And all the while he stood, his scruffy little tail was vibrating. Like his tail had the shivers. I cried and hugged his huge head. It was Kentucky Jack. And he was in big, deep trouble.

My mind already knew the outcome but my heart refused to listen. Not yet. Jack and I needed just a bit of time together. I made sure these two abandoned horses had plenty of good, fresh hay and a stock tank filled with clear, cool water. The stock tank was filled twice that afternoon. Both horses sunk their faces up to their eyeballs into the water before they drank. Almost like testing to see if there was enough water in the tank to satisfy their thirsts. Jack ate and stood quietly. All the while chewing and swallowing and surveying this land. He did not call and he did not intrude. He just stood. Quietly. He knew the outcome, too.

I left them for the night and then spent the entire day on Wednesday pampering Kentucky Jack. I gave him hay in a box stall and turned two fans on him. He had fresh water in his blue barrel every two hours. And I put all the feed in front of him that he wanted.

I bathed him in the heat of the afternoon and replaced that rotten stink with a resemblance to a horse smell. His hind leg I treated and swept away 4-5,000 maggots that dropped out of his leg. The treatment “froze” his tissue so he would no longer feel the itching and the biting of the maggots buried deep in his meat. He stood flat on the foot for the first time since he had arrived. And from then on, he did not stomp that foot trying to get at those irritating maggots. He was finally, finally rid of those biting irritants.

I brushed him and put salve on his burns. I talked to him and sang to him. And told him I was so happy to have him home again. In fact, Jack, did you realize that you are standing in the very same stall as you were in back in 1996? I talked of the future with him. Of how he would gain weight and grow a mane again. Of how I would bathe him and treat his burns. Of how we would get those maggots out of his leg. Of how Isaac would fix his feet. And of how I would never ever let him out of my sight again. We talked and I sang. And somewhere in the afternoon I cried.

Evening came and I brought him back out to the corral for the cool night with his partner. They greeted and scratched each other like they had been apart for years. Jack took a long, long drink of water and then chose a soft, grassy spot to lie down. He gently put that long frame in the cool grass and let out a sigh of total and utter contentment. He had water in him and a tummy full of feed. He was clean and the meat of his rear leg didn’t itch. His wounds were treated and he was with his partner. He knew he was safe. It was time to sleep.

Dr. Brian returned the next morning to help me give Kentucky Jack the greatest gift I could give him. This gentle, enormous chocolate giant crossed right before noon. Both Jack and I had known that yesterday was our time together and that this was to be the outcome. But neither of us could face it or talk about it until that kindly veterinarian face appeared in the yard. I explained to Jack my intentions and those huge brown eyes looked at me, blinked, and then he closed them. Taking a deep sigh, he laid back on his side ready and waiting. Dr. Brian shook his head in disbelief at the condition of this horse. “How he must have suffered,” he said. I just nodded through my tears and held that huge, long head as he quietly was set free.

Kentucky Jack. What a creature! How he had suffered in the years since I had seen him as a young prospect back in 1996. I had all but forgotten him. But he came back to see me once more. What an honor to have him here if only for a matter of hours! I cared for him and loved him. And this lanky horse knew he was safe. Finally safe. Safe enough to move on.

And so now, once again, there are two black flags flying at Refuge Farms. Black flags that fly for fourteen days out of respect for those who have crossed. Two flags to symbolize the crossing of two of The Herd - Addie-Girl and Kentucky Jack. Both “diers” to the letter. Both here for comfort and help.

“Thank you,” Dr. Brian said to me as he was about to get back into his truck that second day. “Thank you?” I cried. “For what?”

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you from him. Thank you from Kentucky Jack.”

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