My horse Whitey’s life ended last week. He was 35. Whitey did not have his own website and thousands fans who grieved like Barbaro. He will not have a full page Loving Memory ad in The Chronicle of the Horse. He was not part of the elite. But to those who knew him, he was pretty remarkable. Though his circle was small and personal, he had a very devoted group of friends. He was loved. He will be missed. He will be remembered.
Saying goodbye to Whitey was necessary but it was not easy. He had a great spirit and he had made it through some rough times in the last few years. It was clear that this time was his time to go but it was also hard to accept that this would not be another time he would beat the odds. I tried to find comfort by reflecting on his life and what he brought to my life.
Whitey was the first horse I rescued. I needed an older horse who was predictable and he needed a home. I did not know exactly what to expect but Whitey came out of retirement and gave me almost 10 years of great service as a therapy horse in my Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program. He helped many clients and he taught me what is probably one of the most important things about horse rescue. Horse rescue is not really about charity for horses. Whitey was never “on the dole”. He was far from used up or over the hill at 25; he just needed a new career. Once they are given proper care and the right kind of job, the older rescue horses are incredibly valuable and useful and will make a huge contribution.
Whitey became the foundation therapist of the Pathfinder Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Program. He was usually the first horse a client felt comfortable approaching because he was small and calm. He was not what would be described as friendly but he was tolerant and gentle. When a client approached him as he stood with his friend, Johnny, Johnny would move away from the client. Whitey would stay and let himself be chosen.
I trusted Whitey. Whenever I set up a therapeutic exercise where I hoped the client would take an important step toward confidence, I chose Whitey. He was honest but he was not a pushover. I knew he would require the client to try hard but if he or she made an effort, Whitey would let them be successful.
One concern many people have about older horses is health issues. I was something of a drama queen about health problems in my horses until I met up with Whitey. I could get rather anxious when something was not right from a medical standpoint. Taking care of Whitey over the years taught me to have a routine and stick to it, to use common sense and to chill. Oh yes, one more thing; have a smart, caring vet who is experienced in working with rescue horses and understands their value. We had that in Dr. Joe P. Quintana of Farmington, NM.
Whitey’s biggest problem was that he was always very hungry but he did not have enough teeth. This led to a range of accommodations. The first thing we had to do was feed him moistened alfalfa pellets. He also loved the leaves of alfalfa hay but he could not do much with it. He basically chewed it into a wad. I learned that if he had his wad going when his feed tub full of pellets was put down, he would gobble down the pellets and choke on the wad. That would mean some natural consequences in the form of a vet bill to get it unstuck. It was very important to give him the feed tub first thing morning and evening before any hay went down. This was a good test of which helpers were able to take directions and be dependable.
Whitey had a few other brushes with medical problems. One winter he had vertigo which made him stagger like he was drunk but it responded well to medication. He had impaction colic several times but pulled through. Actually the second time that happened, Dr. Quintana decided in a last ditch move to try acupuncture. It got things moving when nothing else worked and this was a learning experience for all of us. Other than those times Whitey was strong and had an indomitable spirit. When he would have some incident, Dr. Q and I would look at each other and try to think of the least invasive, most cost effective approach and he would respond by pulling through.
The other thing I will always remember about Whitey was brushing him out every spring. He got the thickest, longest coat of any horse I have ever seen. In the winter when he was out in the snow, he looked like a vision of a horse from prehistoric times! In the spring it took hours and hours and bag after bag to get all of that coat off. If only horsehair furniture were still in style we could have started a factory. As it was, every bird in our vicinity had white carpeting in their nests. In later years I often assigned this task to helpers but I spent many an hour brushing him and those are good memories.
The night after Whitey passed I went to the shelf and took down my copy of photographer Tony Stromberg’s beautiful book, The Forgotten Horses. I remembered the day I discovered the book in a bookstore and saw the first photograph following Stromberg’s Introduction which looks just like Whitey. I want to share this book with those who have not read it or seen the photographs.
The dust jacket of The Forgotten Horses says the following,
“While many horse books focus on exotic, flashy breeds or famous thoroughbreds, Tony chose to capture the soul of ‘working-class’ equines – many enjoying love and freedom for the first time.”
The Forgotten Horses is about Stromberg’s realization that horses are treated as “disposable” in our society. The book is his attempt to raise people’s awareness about what happens to the ones that are misused, disposed of and abandoned. It reflects his desire to support the people and organizations who advocate for and take care of these horses. He utilizes the same amazing talents and techniques to photograph these horses as he did in his previous book Spirit Horses. The results are breathtaking.
Telling a bit of Whitey’s story and sharing this amazing book is my way of showing my appreciation for him and adding my efforts to those who try to get out the word about horses who need help. I even hope it might inspire and educate those who are considering taking on the care of an older horse who needs a home.