Monday, September 15, 2014


The Giant of Gentleness

It has been two full weeks. In my efforts to deal with life and the loss of Handsome, I managed to keep myself busy and not allow myself the time to sit and absorb what had happened on Labor Day after public hours. I simply could not find the strength to think it through, remember it, grieve over him, and communicate to the world. I dug deep and found that "it" was bigger than me. At least for these past two weeks.

For those days, I busied myself with supporting the horses through the heat and then the freezing rains. We had two busy weeks at THE STORE and I worked at the desk in the evenings rather than go outside except to care for them. Avoidance was my tactic.

Yesterday was a sunny day and our Blind Horse Parade Unit practice went well. It was mid-afternoon and I had a decision to make - continue avoiding Handsome or finally, finally go to him and think it through. I took myself to the west lawn and to Handsome and Babee Joy. And finally, I sat in the dirt and dealt with "it".

King, as he was called, was brought to my attention by a horse puller I knew. He had a horse "with a bad eye" and wondered if I would be willing to come and get him. On November 20th in 2007, I drove my trailer to the familiar farm and met Don and his neighbors, as arranged. His neighbors were there, they said, since "King didn't like to load much" and they would help me. "You just get him close to the trailer. We'll get him in for you." The "tools" in their hands told me what their plans were.

One man held a heavy duty cattle prod. Another had a chain and a whip with weights of some sort tied to the end of the stinging line. The third man held a 2x4 with nails and screws jutting out of the end. I thanked them for their help and smiled. I was literally vibrating I was so angry! But, I explained, this big horse needed to load for me from now on and so we would get it done together - just the horse and me.

They snickered. "We'll stick around. You just wave and we'll help ya."

Sitting in the dirt yesterday, I once again told King how very, very proud of him I was from that day! How he had dragged me through the burdocks, the weeds, the woods, and the brush! How he had almost killed me more than once and how I had used the trees to stop him so I could rest! How I had pleaded with him to come with me and how each time he turned and saw that trailer sitting there he would begin dragging me again.

When we finally did approach the trailer, I stopped him and hugged him. Kissed him. And promised him safety. I turned his head so he could not see the trailer or the men in the pickup. I put everything I had into my words and promised him safety, food, and care for that eye. Plus, I told him we had very good looking mares where he was going. That did it! In we went.

Both King and I were trembling when we stood in that trailer. He was cautiously eating some hay and I stood next to him with my right hand on his chest. We rested and then I heard Pat Parelli for the very first time once again. Pat was just a young kid in Norman, Oklahoma and his entire seminar was given with him standing on the roof of his trailer so we could hear him. Andy and I sat and listened and we liked this young rodeo kid. We liked his view of the horse and how to think like a horse. Pat was screaming at me in my head while I struggled to stand next to this infected horse in this trailer so many years and horses later.

And so, listening to Pat and praying to Andy, I asked King to come outside with me. Against everything my instincts told me, I took this horse outside to the grass and let him look around once more. A bit of the fear returned but I talked with him again. Rubbed again. Hugged again. And then I asked him to come with me again. And he did. Into the trailer we went.

Right than and there we were one. Right then and there, I loved him and he trusted me. Right then and there, I stood in that trailer with those three men gawking at the doors to the trailer as I cried and gave "Handsome" the three promises. Right then and there, this lanky, tall, stinking horse was mine. 


Handsome met Dr. Anne when we removed that cancerous eye. The cancer was deep and we took more than just the eye, but Dr. Anne thought she had it all. After that surgery, he struggled to get that big body off the mat but he finally did. Those big bodies, once they rest, just don't want to get up again. Dr. Anne told me years later that she warned Handsome that she wouldn't go out and tell me she couldn't get him up. She had warned him that she would harness him and lift him up if she had to but she wasn't going to lose him in recovery. He listened. He trusted her. And he got up for her.

In his life here, Handsome ventured with us to schools, to Wal-Mart, to Applebee's, to galas. Handsome was always the star of every tour - the horse I held for the end of the introductions. Everyone who met him loved him. No one ever just moved on. Everyone stood in awe of this huge Gentle Giant. Pictures were taken with him. Everyone wanted to touch him. The star was what he was.

After that first day, he never once hesitated to load for me and each time he did, I kissed him when we finally stood in the trailer. We left those men behind us. With the ooze and the hunger and the pain and the work. With those prods and those chains and that whip that lanced his eye. With that owner and with that name. We left all those things behind us that day in November of 2007. I told Handsome he was brand new that day and he was. And he liked living here.

During his years here, Handsome received new love from humans and from horses. His first horse love was Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare. Laddee adored and trusted Handsome and only under his careful watch would she lay in the hay - on her side and completely vulnerable - and snore in her deep sleep. Handsome would stand over her and doze and once in a while touch her with his nose. He loved the smell of her. He had recognized the smell of her bad eye and he was there to greet her when she returned home from her surgery. Again, Dr. Anne had taken all she could but we could not cure Laddee as we had Handsome. Only help her and Handsome somehow knew that. And so he stuck to her like glue for as long as we had.


When Laddee crossed, I worried that Handsome would follow. He fell off his feed, didn't drink, and really rarely moved. He stood in the corner with his head down. He missed his lovely Laddee. I had taken him to smell her but he refused to get close to her. And I understood. There is something about remembering them the way they were. Handsome began to sink and I called the vet to warn him that should I make that telephone call, he needed enough medicine with him. This was a big hearted horse.

Handsome recovered with the help of his next love - Gracie. One morning after breakfast, Gracie wandered over to Handsome. Not even touching his breakfast, he still stood in the corner getting ready to wait out the day. Gracie walked over to him and scratched his chest. He shook her off. She scratched again. He shook her off. She continued to scratch him as high up his chest as she could reach and finally, the big head reached down to scratch Gracie's back. He almost pushed her over but I stood in tears as I watched that little blind pony reach out to that giant and save his life. Gracie and Handsome soon became a pair.

"Kindred" an original by Mike Murach

She would stand under him in the rain to stay dry. Or she would stand under him in the sunshine to stay cool. Regardless of why, when she wanted out from under him she didn't move. Heck, no! She would simply bite his knees and get him to move! He did so with a bit of complaining but he did move. He loved that little peanut of a horse and he would comply with her wishes.

They spent time together and rested together. Handsome filled out again and Gracie was content. They were an odd couple but I was so pleased to see them both with a mate. Life was good for the giant horse again.

Gracie began experiencing seizures and so Handsome was moved to the pasture with the "big horses". In that pasture was a yearling already bigger than most full grown quarter horses. She was white and then black and then silver and then white again. We didn't know what she was but she was young and big and terrified of the world. And Handsome would protect her and was in love once again.

The two of them liked peace and quiet and so when the other babies would play and cause a ruckus, those two would wander off and stand off to the side. They didn't like to move much. Just stand and be together. They would scratch each other with vigor and finally Handsome had someone who could scratch his withers! This huge gelding taught this young mare the art of peacekeeping and she learned well.

You see, Handsome was never one to fight. If another horse bothered him, he didn't demand they move or change, he just moved away. If another horse came up to him and attacked him, he did not respond - he made noise and then just walked away. This little mare learned from him and she, too, became a protector and a peacekeeper in the pastures. Babee Joy learned from the best.

Last summer, when Babee Joy unexpectedly crossed over, once again I called the vet to warn him about bringing enough medicine. Once again, Handsome fell off of his feed, the water, and he withdrew. And honestly, he never came back from her loss. He never found another mate in the pastures and he never became content again. Babee Joy left and Handsome, I believe, just waited it out until he could join her.

His right front foot was working through a hoof wall abscess. This wet ground allows small stones to penetrate their hoof that otherwise would not bother them and this spring, his pasture was wet until mid-July. Only one month of decent weather and then we were back in the wet again. His right front foot bothered him and caused him to put his weight back onto his rear legs. And those hips. Those hips that were worn out before he came here from years of competitive pulling and field work. Hips that we had been treating with the same meds as Liz-Beth had been receiving. But his hips are different than her knee.

He spent time trying to wait it out but Monday late afternoon, those hips had to rest. They just had to rest. And so he was down and resting. I let him rest until he sounded like he wanted to right himself and so I prepared him to get up. We prayed and I asked for the wisdom to know what to do. In my mind, I already knew the answer but my heart would not give up. We would try but Handsome was tired.

Three times he had the chance to put his feet on the ground and three times he let his weight bend his legs over and go back down to his side. My prayers had been answered and I detested that answer. I hung onto his head and told him I understood his decision. I told him I truly did. But I also told him I didn't want to let him go! But I respected him and so I would help him go.

Amazing Grace was in his big left ear as he crossed. My arms were around his head. And I prayed he rest and be whole again. Only yesterday was I able to think it through and remember his life with us. Only yesterday was I able to acknowledge that Handsome had crossed. I still detest it but I am accepting it now.

How empty is that barn! The pasture just isn't the same - all the horses are dark and that huge blonde frame is missing. September 1st was the start of daily feedings for Handsome and Faline in preparation for the coming winter. And this coming winter, I will not be visiting the barn at 12, 2, and 4am to bring hot oatmeal to him. Bringing him hot, wet food in the freezing cold kept him in the barn and out of the trees. I will certainly miss those intimate times together this coning winter but I will treasure the months of feedings of last winter. I will miss them and his joy at hearing me coming. Always happy to see me with that bucket in my hands.

In all of this grief, I keep thinking that I want only to be more like Reilly. This young lady also loved big Handsome and she had hugged him Monday before she and her family headed home again. I had called her Mother late Monday evening to tell the family the news of his crossing and Reilly's response is how I want to think of Handsome. Upon hearing of his crossing, Reilly didn't cry for her grief. Nope. Her first response, instead, was one of compassion. She said, "Oh, how happy Babee Joy must be to see her Handsome again!"


From the children we learn how we must be. From the children, the wisdom of dealing with this loss comes. From the children, we will remember how he won them all over. Every single one of them loved "the big horse".

For the children we will continue our Missions. We will fall back on our faith and remember the words of Andy. We will keep our eyes on the horses and remember to treasure each day we are given. Such huge lessons taught by horses that no one wants. And the children who love them.

Handsome - You were a giant among the big ones. You taught us about trust and forgiveness. And you were a living example of grace and tolerance. I desperately wanted to keep you with me but I loved you enough to hear your wishes and help you. But my dear Friend, I miss you so! Thank you for your patience in waiting for me to accept the loss of you. Stay close, Handsome. I desperately wait to feel your breath in my hair and on my neck again. It is with honest respect that I call you The Giant of Gentleness.


In awe and with respect and true love of this horse we called Handsome,

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