Sunday, December 20, 2009


Ole' Man Cole

On any typical Saturday, I would be at my desk at Chickasaw Technology Products in Oklahoma City, OK by 8AM. I worked at paperwork and proposals and performance reviews until 3PM or so and then I would begin my weekend. I was hired as a consultant for a specific purpose and I felt a personal obligation to complete that purpose to the very best of my ability.

This particular Saturday, however, I was at my desk by 5AM. I worked heartily until 7:30AM when Andy Durco filled the doorway to my office. “Ready?” he asked. “We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.” We left the parking lot within minutes. A cooler in the truck contained tea and Mountain Dew and a grocery bag contained M&M’s and licorice. As far as I was concerned, we were set for our journey.

Five and a half hours later, we pulled into the gated entrance of one of the largest Tennessee Walker breeding facilities in the country. Perhaps the world. Andy was on a quest to find the horse of his dreams and this facility held a particular stallion that Andy had taken an interest in. We had driven from Oklahoma City, OK to the heart of Texas to look at a horse.

Completing the security clearance, we were guided by a man in a motorized cart to an assigned parking spot. The keys for Andy's truck were handed over to this man. We then were chauffeured to the waiting guest lounge to relax and await the arrival of our guide.

While in the lounge, we could watch closed circuit television of horse competitions all over the world. We could drink from the fully stocked beverage cabinets. We could munch on every food imaginable from the fully stocked refrigerator and cupboards. We could rest in massively overstuffed leather chairs. Or we could simply stand and look out at the grounds and try to imagine living in such an opulent world.

Our walk to view the stallion in question took us into a building and down an aisle that was perhaps a quarter mile in length. An aisle with perfectly groomed box stalls on both sides for the entire distance. An aisle with perfectly groomed Tennessee Walkers in those perfectly groomed stalls. All except for one corner stall at the very end of the aisle. A stall that was dark and not so perfectly groomed. A stall which housed a Tennessee Walker and another horse. No water. No food. And two depressed sets of eyes looking out at us.

Andy’s look to me told me not to continue the question that was erupting out of me and had caused me to open my mouth. So, trusting his judgment, I walked on without as much as a word. But I knew we would not leave without dealing with those two creatures. I knew they had not gone unnoticed.

After the stallion presentation we began the walk back down that very same aisle. And ever so casually, as if asking of the weather, Andy said, “So what’s with the two in the corner?” The reply was friendly and honest. Andy had done a good job of befriending the man. “Oh, those two. When the board stops the feed stops.”

Back in Andy’s truck, I once again opened my mouth but stopped short. Andy was already digging in his glove box and I began digging in my briefcase. We proceeded without talking. Our funds were pooled and we left his truck. Security men soon arrived and we asked to be re-admitted. Time spent on walkie-talkies. Questions asked but no answers given. Andy said only that he had his checkbook and wanted to speak to the same man again. Good move, Andy. Slick move, Andy. Smooth move, Andy.

We were once again chauffeured to the guest lounge and soon our guide appeared. All smiles and with a folder of paperwork under his arm. We shook hands and the guide was still all smiles. I stood quietly waiting for the shoe to drop.

Andy explained that he was there to pay up the board for the two in the corner stall and that he would be back in the morning to pick them up and that in the meantime he wanted them moved to clean stalls with water and hay and is there any problem with any of this? The face of the guide turned to sheer amazement and incredible disbelief. You want to buy the two boarders? Not the stallion? You want to do what?

Andy stood quietly as the man processed the information. A straight-on look at the man right in his eyes. No smile on Andy’s face but no wrinkled brow, either. Simply the look of patience while the man processed and re-processed Andy’s intentions and demands. A number was quoted and we all knew it was padded. But the check was written. Hand shaking once again and we were returned to our truck.

We left the premises and began the five and a half hour ride home. Once back in OKC, we both got some rest and we were quietly back on the road at 4AM on Sunday. No guide this time. Plenty of security and only a young Mexican worker to show us to the horses. While loading “the two boarders”, a cat jumped into the trailer, too. A flea infested, skinny, malignant looking cat followed the horses into Andy’s trailer. For a third time that weekend, I opened my mouth to speak but shut it again. “Let the cat come, too”, he said.

So began the new journey of Blaise and Cole. A registered American Paint rodeo champion mare and a registered Tennessee Walker gelding. The two boarders. And, oh yeah, the new journey of Patches, the cat, too.

Several years later, I am at Baylor University Rehab Facility with my dear Andy. We have spent the last week together engrossed in rehab exercises, learning how to transfer, talking about possibilities and dreams, working hard to get even the smallest response from Andy’s broken spinal cord, and trying to be positive. We have spent hours with the physician talking about barns and horses and cats and each time the answer was the same. It was time to make decisions. Time to deal with those animals.

Andy had three horses. One of the horses, Cash, was ill and so we agreed that Cash should be peacefully and humanely allowed to move onto his new life. I was asked to call the vet and have Cash euthanized. Since Andy would be selling his ranch, I also was asked just “to deal with” taking care of Cash after the task was done.

But the other two horses, Andy was adamant that they come to Spring Valley. Refuge Farms had been initiated. On paper, anyway. We still had many, many hours of discussions and planning and creating to do but the name and the Declaration of Purpose was in place. And so Andy looked me right in the eyes just like he did that man in that big breeding barn. No smile on his face but no anger either. Simply a peaceful look as he waited for me to process and accept his proposal.

“You take them”, he said. “You take them to your place and you care for them like they are your own. You were there when we found them. You take them. They are yours now.”

I protested about the old one. The Tennessee Walker was thirty-two years old. It was a sixteen hour ride. In July. It was over a hundred degrees outside. “The old one won’t make it, Andy”, I reasoned.

Impatience now appeared on Andy’s face. “You take them. And don’t ever sell the old one short. Hell, he’ll outlive you and me both.”

It was July of 2002 when Blaise and Cole arrived here at Refuge Farms. Blaise exited the trailer by breaking her halter and knocking me out cold as she reared and somehow got herself out of that trailer. Cole stood quietly and waited for me to come around and get up off the floor to lead him out. But they both made the journey. And Refuge Farms gladly became the home of Andy’s two horses. Horses he loved as much as he had ever loved any horse in his life.

We have spent seven and a half years together. Cole has learned what snow is and that the winters are his good season. Blaise has learned that her days of having a performance purpose are over and she must now find her purpose in herding the blind ones in her pasture. Both have settled in and become favorites of the guests of THE FARM. Both are very easy keepers and almost predictable in their ability to tolerate kids and dogs and noises and surprises. Both are ones that we pull out of the pastures for “hands on time” regardless of the age or horse ability of the visiting human.

Ole’ Man Cole decided it was time to join Andy this week. In his typical fashion, Cole trotted into the barn Tuesday morning and voiced his impatience with me. I had decided to get the Helen Keller side tied and fed before I fed Cole and that was not satisfactory to the old horse. He whinnied several times reminding me that he was waiting . . . waiting . . . patiently waiting . . . Hey! I’m waiting over here!!!

All were tied and eating breakfast on the bitterly cold Tuesday morning when I closed the barn door to head back up to the Old Barn and care for the horses housed there. Ninety minutes later I returned to the barns to let everyone outside. The sun was out and the coldest air of the day during sunrise was past and so it was time to let their days begin.

Ole’ Man Cole was peacefully on his side. No sign of a struggle. No sign of a fight. Mane tucked under his neck. Winter blankets laying smoothing on and under him. Like he was stretched out in the Texas sun. Ole' Man Cole had crossed.

That little gelding leaves quite a legacy behind him. Ninety days from his fortieth birthday. Ninety days from fresh spring grass. Ole’ Man Cole took matters into his own hands once again. Not a horse to conform, Cole had an independent streak in him. Escaping through the gates was his favorite pastime. He loved to look back at me as he sauntered through the gates out into the yard. Only to return to the barn. Just to prove that he could get away with it. No intention of running away. Just showing me he could. He could do what he wanted when he wanted. “It’s that Texas thing in you, Cole”, I would tell him.

Many were touched by this horse. He was a favorite of many. His impact was far reaching. He illustrated endurance and tolerance. He had an insistence on being so close to the mare of his choice that they would be continually touching. His humorous Casanova efforts that never, ever ceased. And his desire to eat. Cole loved his mares and he loved his feed.

But there is one person that he touched especially dear. One person who misses him not only for his presence in the barns and his willingness to eat and talk and be anything we needed him to be with the current guest. One person who feels like she was there when he was born. Or should I say, re-born? One person who misses the smell and the feel of him. Every day. Twice a day. The person that misses him because she could hug him every morning and every night. And in that hug, she knew she was hugging his owner. That big Texan who went by the name of Andy Durco.

Take care of each other, you two! Be peaceful and content together. And save a spot for me.

Some day I will find you both and then we can all hug once again.

Until then, stay close. Don’t wander far from this place. From this heart that loves and misses you both.

Don't cry for the horse
That life was set free

Don't cry for the horse
Now in God's hands
As they dance and they prance
To a heavenly band

They were ours as a gift
But never to keep
As they close their eyes
Forever to sleep

Don't cry for the horse
Love the ones that are here


Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

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