Sunday, May 24, 2009

Comeback Kid

I love this picture of my Paint mare, Pokey, because it captures her personality better than any other in my collection. What it says about her is that she is ever hopeful and ever alert to opportunity.

She fell into my herd when she was 9, retired from the Paint race circuit, foundered, and pregnant with the ever-popular Zip. She was a bit of a waif, thin and sporting a set of worry creases above her eyes that suggested she wasn't entirely on board with anything we humans were presenting in the way of options.

But Pokey is the embodiment of enthusiasm for life. With only a few minor exceptions, she remained sound and cooperative through her fattening and retraining. She dropped a gorgeous foal on request--that is after The X-Files but before bedtime on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend when I would have three days off to play with the newcomer. That was 1996.

Pokey wound up, as so many transplanted horses do, with "pasture heaves"--allergic asthma brought on by exposure to tree and grass pollen not native to her Oklahoma birthplace. So, at only 11 years old, she was retired. I could deal with her foundered feet since she was always completely sound, but riding a horse who wheezed like an antique steam engine was more than I could bear.

For 10 years the mare has lived The Life, and she's been happy enough. At least I was pretty sure she was happy until a recent experience caused me to rethink her future. She's had her share of grooming and handling over the years and always loved her bubble baths, but the long grazes on the lawn were reserved for the working stiffs.

If our shoer hadn't been unusually late in arriving, if the weather hadn't been perfect, if the other horses hadn't been out in the pasture, and if Pokey weren't such a fusspot about being cooped up alone, I wouldn't have spent nearly two hours hand-grazing her and grooming her while we waited for the shoer to find the abscess I was sure was percolating in her toe. If we hadn't spent those hours on the lawn, I would have forgotten completely what a personable and kind horse she was...and bombproof! How could I have forgotten her utter disregard for the things that get other horses in a tizzy? Watching her stick her head into the back of the shoer's truck to see what cool toys were buried there, I realized that maybe retirement wasn't quite the answer for this horse.

Yesterday was another pretty day, and we did some experimental work on the longe. We grazed first, of course, and we heaved mightily despite the Tri-Hist with breakfast. But we hit the ground running as fast as ever, undeterred by a notable lack of oxygen. It took a bit of effort to get the mare settled down--"whoa" was never her best thing on the longe--but she did settle into a nice little jog and, finally, a smooth walk.

A perfect walk and a perfect jog for the perfect beginner walk/trot horse for the perfect grandson? Could be. We'll give it a shot. If she's game, who am I to stand in her way?

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