Today I had to make that terrible decision that anyone who has lived with animals for long knows is inevitable. It was time to say goodbye to my Appaloosa partner, and release him from his suffering. Nash’s ‘origin’ story is perhaps one of the most interesting of any horse who has been in our family – certainly in the top three. I wanted to take this time of grieving to share some of the joy of bringing him to our herd.
I was in the market for a horse for my mother. She’d been riding my old show horse, Ben, for several years, but he was now retired. A friend was shopping for Appys to add to her breeding stock, and it got me in the mood to add another Appy to our herd. My first and second horses were, quite coincidentally, Appys – and we’d never been without at least one in our herd ever since.
Sounded like just what we were looking for! I contacted the seller and found that they’d only had him for nine months. Purchased for her nine year old daughter, he turned out to be unsuitable. In a battle of wills between a 16 hand Appaloosa and a nine year old beginning rider, the Appy was winning on a regular basis. Deciding he was worth a look, we headed up the nearby foothills into a lovely, somewhat remote neighborhood.
When we arrived I saw what I consider to be a classic Appaloosa – roany color, with a blanket, and little to speak of for mane or tail. Freckled muzzle, striped hooves, whites in the corners of his eyes – classic Appy. He was certainly a personable fellow, coming right up when we approached. He stood with no halter while a western saddle was thrown up. It was then that I got my first clue as to just who was in charge. It seems that they had never been able to get a bit into his mouth, so they’d decided to ride him in a hackmore. The moment I was up, it was clear that he’d never been trained to go with a hackmore.
Our only option for riding was in a tree studded pasture, with a fire road up the middle. He happily went about half-way down the fire road, when he decided that it was time to turn back. I’d been waiting for that moment to come, based upon my prior discussions with the owner. I asked him to move forward, as he tried to maneuver into a turn – first right then left. After a couple of futile attempts to evade my legs and seat, he settled on another strategy. I felt the haunches gather, and the front legs begin to dance. “I’ll rear if I don’t get my way” was the clear message. I settled my seat more deeply, and wrapped my legs a bit more firmly around his sides. “I seriously doubt that you’re going to rear, so why not just knock it off?” I said quietly but firmly, as he continued to lift his front legs in a clear ‘promise’ to go up.
As soon as I’d spoken all four feet became quiet, and I could almost hear the wheels grinding away, as the ears flickered around. Then came a sigh so big that it shook the whole horse – followed by a marching walk exactly in the direction of my choosing. I laughed aloud, patting his neck and telling him how silly he was. The rest of the ride was quite pleasant, as we navigated the choppy terrain. It was in that moment that I fell in love with the big bluffer!
I stood holding the gelding as the owner removed the saddle. I began to ask more about his background. She’d purchased him from an older gentleman who used him to ride around the place.
“I think he was confused,” she said.
“Confused about what?”
“Confused about Pony Club. I think he meant Jockey Club.” I’m sure my face showed my own confusion at this point.
“I think he was a pony horse for the Jockey Club.”
Something about this statement raised a question, and I subsequently raised the gelding’s upper lip. Sure enough, big as life, there was a tattoo.
“Actually,” I said “he must have raced. He has a tattoo.” She suddenly looked horrified.
“Oh no, I was specifically told that he never raced.” I was amused at why it would matter.
“But he wouldn’t have a tattoo, if he didn’t race,” I responded. She again insisted that there was no way this horse had raced, and I decided there was no point in convincing her otherwise.
To this day, I do not know if she was lying about the racing, or really was that ignorant. She was so adamant that it’s hard to understand why, if she was not lying. After some back and forth on price, we finally brought that Appaloosa home. One of the first things I did was try to trace the tatoo. There was one number not fully legible – either 5 or 3 – so I submitted both possible numbers. The first being a stallion in the UK, black with blanket, that left the second – God Bless Texas. The previous owner mentioned that one of his past names had been Tex, so that seemed a fit.
Most interesting of all, I learned that my stereotypical Appaloosa was actually 7/8 Thoroughbred … and he was only ten years old! How often is it that a horse turns out to be younger than what you’re told when you buy it?! It turned out that the last owner of record was about 45 minutes up the road from us, so I did some digging and found his contact information. “That horse?! You’ve got that horse?” was his response when I said why I was calling. It turns out that our new addition had raced on the Fair circuit for six years – from three years old until nine. So, the lady and her daughter had been dealing with an off-the-track greenie!
During the nine months in the foothills, Nash had been a loner. The people, though very nice, were obviously clueless. The husband was proud of the fact that they’d only spent $200 that year to keep him. He’d had his feet trimmed once, and was mainly left to forage in the scrub under the trees. He struck me as rather shutdown at times, standing to be groomed with no reaction of any kind. He lunged well, but just looked like he was turned inward – no reaction to me, little interest in his surroundings. It made me sad.
As time went on, Nash (named for the character Nash Bridges, because of the shock of blonde hair over his forehead) came out of his shell. His personality began to show, and he gradually became affectionate and seemed to enjoy our time together. He had a host of habits from the track that proved it had not been a good fit for him. His racing owner told me that there were times he was so excited that they could not get the tack on him. I wept for the Nash that might have been, while still taking joy in the evolution he made with us.
His gaits were rather bouncy for my mother, so I handed her my warmblood gelding and Nash became my boy. For several years he was my dance partner. He helped me regain joy in the sport, after I’d gone too long with a partner who was not a fit. Sadly I made the decision to retire him after only ten years. His body was still amazingly sound – legs clean to the day he died. But his eyes began to fail him. He was fine if you were near him, but suffered too much anxiety in our none too quiet arena, or out and about under saddle. He also was a chronic head shaker, whose condition grew worse in recent years, leaving him to only be out at dawn and dusk (too blind for night time).
Still, Nash has been a sweet fellow to have around in retirement. When he was turned out, he’d often parade around and I’d remember what it was like when we danced together. His eyesight had been getting worse, over time. He was no longer comfortable going outside, so his path was between the stall and cross-ties. He was struggling to hold up his back feet to have them trimmed. We knew the time would be coming. So, when I saw him panicked about moving around in his stall, seemingly unable to turn to the right, I knew I had to make that tough choice.
Nash was 26 years old. His end was peaceful. The vet was kind. He had lots of carrots. Yet, I will weep for a while. Loss is never easy. Rest in peace, old man. Your beautiful big spots will be missed!