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A Real Horse Story - What PETA Doesn't Know

by

Kat Jordan

 

4/26/01

            While I was reading a PETA pamphlet about horses in a store the other day a nice young woman came up to me then seeing the pamphlet, started to talk. She echoed the pamphlet's wrath about the treatment of horses by humans. There were a few issues that I agreed with her. But then she said something I found really foolish:

            "Horses are so beautiful, they should be allowed to run free, without humans bothering them. Humans are so cruel. Riding horses is torture! Did you know that they actually pound nails into a horse's foot? How horrible! Horses are such timid animals, they never would harm a human."

            I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

            Horses were timid?

            They should run free?

            Being ridden was torture?

            Horses never hurt humans?

            I was nursing a couple of small bruises on my thighs where my mare Oppie had tried to buck me off I'd been thrown into the kneepads of my saddle. I considered myself lucky, the last time she had managed to dump me, I'd gotten a concussion and broken two teeth. There was a rope burn on my hand where her 1 year old 500 lb., baby Tanamara had tried to drag me down the pasture instead of following me like a lady. I also had a bruise on my leg where my gentle old gelding Ned had objected to the way I tightened the girth around his belly so he had cow-kicked me in the leg.

            I was nice to this innocent person. I swallowed my laughter. "Have you ever owned a horse?" I asked her, already guessing what the answer would be. She was happy to bubble over with her experiences with horses.

            No, she hadn't. Nor had she ever ridden a horse as an adult; but a pony ride as a child of five had made her fall in love with horses. I guessed it had been one of those carnivals where very, very gentle ponies were put in a walker to go around in a circle. But she had read a lot of books about horses.

            In the face of such an expert, I was hesitant to open my mouth.

            At the same impressionable age, I had been given a small, untrained pony as my very own. It has taken all my eight cousins to train him to accept a rider. As the canny little beast had tossed one of us, another had climbed aboard. It had been a rodeo on a very small scale. Only by sheer numbers and adult supervision had we been able to survive the carnage. After a week, the pony had learned to enjoy the process, while most of the children had been turned off horses for life.

            If my horses had been "allowed to run free" they would have missed me horribly.

            Ned who stood 66 inches at the shoulder, ate 40 pounds of good hay, a gallon of sweet feed, all the grass he could chew, PLUS drank 10 gallons of water per day, would waste away to a skeleton in a week on a diet of just grass. Who would carefully tend his brittle hooves? He needed special plastic shoes, dietary supplements and twice-weekly treatments with expensive oils to stop his feet from cracking so badly he couldn't walk. Turned out on grass, without my care, he would die.

            Oppie, fastidious as any Queen, would be highly insulted if I wasn't around to keep her bedded down properly in straw or shavings. She went so far as to do her "business" in her stall so her pasture wouldn't be dirty. Her kidneys would rupture if she hadn't had a place to potty in descent privacy!

            As for our 500 pound yearling Tanamara, she was known to throw tantrums if not the center of attention. She would even try to chase off her "uncle" Ned, twice her height and weight in order to get a human to pet her. She could also be a terrorist; snaking her head and threatening to bite if she thought she would be shorted a treat.

            Timid was not a word that I could use to describe any of my pampered herd. But the horse expert from PETA was still talking.

            I wondered if she knew how many bales of hay a horse ate in a month or how much grain or how many loads of manure one produced. My herd ate 30 bales a month while on winter pasture, 300 pounds of grain, drank 900 gallons of water, they got their feet trimmed or shoes reset every 45 to 60 days. They also produced about 3 - 100-pound wheelbarrows of "compost" that forked out in 30-pound increments every week.

            My life revolves around horse care, feeding schedules, shoes, and vaccinations then once every couple of weeks; I get to ride for an hour or two. I returned to college to get a better job so I could afford to keep my horses. I have worked as many as three jobs to support my horses.

            I never told that young lady that I owned horses. It would have been a lie. I am their servant.

 

 

Impressive Bravado

by

Kat Jordan

 

 I got the call at 7 am, I was already up; veterinarians are early risers.

"Katie McCarty," I said.

"Doctor McCarty?" The voice was male and gruff.

"The same," I affirmed. "How can I help you?"

"Deputy Sheriff Shallamon," he said. "I got a call from a horse owner at Hopkins' Stables. Someone snuck into the barn and.... uh ..... gelded a horse. The owners want a report filed, property damage or attempted murder depending on who you talk to."

"Can you go with me to take a look at the horse? This is the second midnight gelding we've had around here." He cleared his throat. "I'd like to know if we're dealing with a nutcase, or somebody who has medical training."

"I'll be ready when you get here," I said, "I'll give you my opinion of the surgery." I called the clinic to let my partners know where I'd be, then drank a cup of coffee while I waited.

We parked by the barn where a woman waited at the door Deputy Shallamon identified her as Margery Hopkins, the owner. I was introduced as Dr McCarty to Margery; her guarded expression thawed.

"Oh, thank the Horse Goddess that you are in time!" A woman dressed in a blue snake patterned caftan fluttered from the barn. "I'm the Horse Whisperer Auquitania, you must help us!" Her name was as fake as her eyelashes.

"Impressive Triumph was mutilated," she shrilled in a voice reminiscent of Lady McBeth. "I was afraid he would die before you arrived." My guess was it was she who had tried to file the attempted murder charge. She ushered me towards the barn, the deputy, the owner and a gaggle of children following close at our heels.

"He's here," she trilled, indicating the stall with a dramatic gesture.

I stepped into the stall, the horse flattened his ears letting me know I wasn't welcome. He was an enormous chestnut, about 17 hands, 1400 lbs., standing pastern deep in clean shavings, chewing hay. The horse must have been tranquilized because the incision was stitched very neatly. There was no sign of the missing family jewels.

Several young girls were clustered in the aisle, some were crying. The Horse Whisperer stood in the doorway, wringing her hands. The fuss annoyed me.

"I'm sure you will find the perpetrator of this heinous crime dead somewhere," she asserted. "I sent such a blast of physic energy after him, he couldn't survive."

I coughed into my hand to hide the bark of laughter I couldn't control as I brushed passed her. What had gotten into horse people these days? Why were they blindly following an obvious fraud like this kook?

I walked around the barn. Several stalls had nameplates starting with Impressive. I saw several young stallions and four brood-mares.

The original Impressive was the founding stallion of a line of halter and pleasure horses. Three different breeds had accepted him and his offspring as breeding stock: the American Quarter horse, Appaloosa Horse and Paint Horse Associations. Unfortunately, 10 years ago a genetic defect called HYPP was traced to him. Horses affected with HYPP seized up after hard work. They sometimes had breathing failure. There were spectacular, but rare, cases of a horse dying in the show ring or shortly thereafter. Horses from this line had to be tested before they were registered. If they carried the bad gene it was noted on their papers. Regardless, the line was still popular in barns like this one across the country.

"Who owns the horse?" I whipped the notebook from my shoulder bag.

"He's Amber's horse," Margery stated, she waved one of the teen girls forward.

"I'm Amber, Tye is my horse," she said. She had shavings on her jeans and horse manure on her boots. There was also a bandage on her arm, with a big spreading bruise under the wrappings. I got her name and the horses' registered name.

"What happened?" I asked pointing at her arm.

"Tye bit me," she rubbed the bandage, "I got six stitches."

"Do you have a lot of trouble with him?"

"Yeah, I've been trying to show him, but he's really bad in the ring." Amber stepped to her horse and stroked the satin coat. "Auquitania is reasoning with him."

"His spirit is shattered," the Horse Whisperer moaned, "He wants to cross the Rainbow Bridge. I'm sorry Amber, he doesn't want to live." The girl's eyes filled with tears, she wrapped her arms around the horse's neck and buried her face in his mane.

That did it, I pulled the Horse Whisperer away from the kids and down the aisle. The deputy kept the rest from following.

"If I were you," I told her, "I'd shut my trap. He's not going to will himself to die any more than a neutered dog would."

"He speaks to me, I know what's in his heart." She squirmed in my grasp. "You don't know what you're talking about!"

"I'm a veterinarian, you charlatan pet physic, I'll bet you a hundred bucks Amber's problem was solved by gelding that horse." I released her. "If that horse dies, I will personally autopsy him to find out how he died, with YOUR name on top of my list of suspects."

She jerked her blue caftan back into place. "I'll sue you for slander if you say a word to these people." She stormed to just inside the big doors, then wheeled, dramatically waved her hands. "I can't function with you here!" She flung herself into the car, started it, then it roared down the driveway spewing gravel and dust.

"Did you get her license number?" I asked the deputy.

"I sure did," he grinned. "It'll take me a minute to run it."

"Let's finish up here." I turned back to Amber. "Your horse will be fine. We'll get him a tetanus shot. He'll be sore for a week or so, just watch for infection." It took both of us to give him the shot.

"Will he behave better now?" She shot a glance at the horse. "Tiffany and Allison's horses are a lot nicer since they were gelded."

"If you have any problems, call this guy," I wrote my father's number on the back of my card. "He can help you train your horse."

"Is he a Horse Whisperer?" Amber asked, sounding doubtful.

"No, he's my father, he owns Topper," I replied, her eyes lit up at the mention of the famous name. Dad and Topper entertained a lot of kids over the years. "He talks to you in a nice loud voice," Amber giggled, "so you can understand him. Then you make the horse do the work."

"Topper came to our school when I was in 3rd grade." She smiled, "I have his picture. I always wanted a horse just like him." I shook hands with Margery Hopkins then bid Amber goodbye, she waved the card at me, as she returned to her horse. I got back into the deputy's truck heaving a sigh.

"Back to the office, Doc?" Deputy Shallamon asked.

"Yeah, I think so," I looked at my notes. "How many of these un-paid geldings have we got?"

"Second one this month. First one in this barn."

"When was the first one?"

"About three weeks ago, Tiffany Halton was thrown from her horse. A couple days later the horse was gelded at their farm late at night, by an unknown person."

"Any suspects?" I asked.

"Well now," he said, "it might have been the old Doc himself. I'm surprised he didn't shoot the horse outright. No one pressed us to investigate. I've got some notes over here." He handed me a bunch of papers.

Doctor Halton was not a vet. Tiffany, the granddaughter he doted on, was thrown at a Dusty Boots show. Her horse had gone berserk over a mare in heat. Tiffany had spent three days in a coma, her grandfather never left her side. Did he know these kids through Tiffany?

I had Saturday off, so I went to the Dust Boots show at the fairgrounds. It was an open show; most of the local horse people would be there.

Dad broke with 4-H when I was a teenager, because 4-H didn't allow stallions at their shows. He and a couple of trainer buddies started the Dusty Boots circuit to showcase their well-trained stallions and young stock. Back then only big macho men handled stallions. Most folks prefer geldings since geldings have nice, steady personalities. Mare's come in heat, getting bad attitudes monthly. Stallions go berserk with lust. Who needs the headaches?

I spotted the 4-H'ers right away their trailers were clustered together. Their horses were mixed breeds, all shiny and polished. As I got closer I noticed the girls wore matching t-shirts sporting a crude silhouette of an overweight horse. The slogan was: "If it dies when you ride it, how Impressive is that?"

I ran into, literally, a tall lanky girl leading a huge blood bay stallion with a silver studded halter and lead rope. I'd seen the horse at Hopkins' Stable.

"Sorry," I muttered, then did a double take at the t-shirt she was wearing. The caption was "Stallions Rule, Mares Drool, Hopkins' Stable" the photo was one my Dad always passed out of Topper. As the pair walked away, I noted the logo on the t-shirt was "Sign of the Times". 

It clicked: all Margery Hopkins' horses had the name Impressive something. So Margery's girls were flaunting their Impressive bred stallions, and the 4-H'er were fighting back. Alerted to the t-shirt war, I was hooked on reading clothing. Girls from Margery Hopkins stable wore the "Stallions Rule" shirts. I recognized Tiffany Halton and Amber without their horses. One group of 4-H'ers wore the "How Impressive" shirts. I saw three adults wearing shirts that advertised Aquitainia, the shirts had a photo of her and a massive stallion resting his head against her shoulder while she whispered in his ear, "They talk to me" was the caption along with her name and phone number. All were from the same t-shirt company. Were they here today?

I found the t-shirt booth, a young man with slicked back hair and thin shaved beard and mustache, was the salesman. The logo on the shoulder was "Sign of the Times" so I knew I had the right guy.

"You do a lot of custom shirts?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. "What did you have in mind?"

"That photo on the "Stallions Rule" shirts, can I get that?"

"Sure, how many and what size?" I told him the sizes, Christmas was coming, so I gave him a big order.

"Where did you get that picture?" I had to ask, although Dad passed them out by the dozens.

"Somebody wanted those "Stallions Rule" shirts made up."

I paid him for the shirts, he promised delivery in a week. I left the show thinking about the situation. Things were adding up fast. I pulled into my parent's driveway, pausing by the empty barn.

Because of a book, written for entertainment, people stopped coming to horse trainers like my father. A sudden proliferation of "Horse Whispers," promising instant, painless results, had sucked a huge amount of money from the local horse industry. A number gullible horse owners took their horses from Dad's barn to follow the fad of spiritualists, pet physics and quasi-Indian horse gurus that sprang up overnight. My father closed down his training center, selling off his horses.

"The industry is full of frauds and fruit cakes," he'd said. "It'll take 20 years to get the crazies out of the business. I'm hanging it up while the market is good." His twenty-stall barn now housed old Topper, a brood mare and a yearling colt.

They were home. I accepted hugs and a glass of iced tea from Mom. We went to the den where the photo was hanging, framed in oak and glass over the fireplace. Topper is a gorgeous horse, solid gold with a white mane and tail, a rare palomino like the legendary Trigger. Dad had made his reputation with Topper; the two of them had gone to parades, schools and horse shows. In all those places, Dad had handed out copies of that photo, a testimony to him as a trainer. Unlike an average horse Topper never wore a bit or a bridle. His head was completely free. Dad controlled him with a loop of sliver studded leather around his neck. I knew of only 3 stallions in the world ridden like that, John Lyons' Zip, Rugged Lark and Topper.

"Dad and Topper have a fan club," I told them about the t-shirts. I expected Dad to be pleased. Instead he flushed bright red.

"I get more calls for seminars on bridle-less reining than I get for breeding for Topper." He waved his hand like he was shooing a fly. "These kids are into training fads. I'm glad I quit."

"Margery Hopkin's sells stallions to her clients telling them they can be just like your father and Topper." My mother was indignant. "Imagine, little girls trying to do in a few months what it took your father a lifetime to accomplish."

"Did Tiffany Halton get her horse from Margery?"

"Doc bought the horse," Dad nodded. "But when Tiffany couldn't handle him, her folks didn't bring him to me. The damn fools hired a Horse Whisperer to 'reason' with the horse." He was angry. "I talked Doc out of shooting it.

Maybe Deputy Shallamon was right about Doc Halton.

 

Wednesday, the gossip at the clinic was that Katie Sanderson, another of Margery Hopkins' clients, was kicked in the hip when she led her blood bay stallion from the pasture. She was going to be in the hospital over night with a fractured femur.

I was at the Hopkins' barn that night in an empty stall, waiting. Around 1 am, I heard someone enter the barn from the back door. I listened to the whispers, identifying the voices after a few minutes. When the beam of my flashlight, illuminated them I already knew whom I had caught. The flashlight had them dead to rights in the stall with the blood bay stallion.

"You should be ashamed of yourselves," I scolded Doctor Halton and my father. "Sneaking into people's barns and gelding their horses without permission. You could end up in jail!" What kind of macho bravado was this?

"Saving lives is saving lives!" Doc Halton blustered, "this mess is partially your fathers fault. He promoted Topper to these kids for years! If it wasn't for him these girls wouldn't want stallions in the first place."

"Man's got to make a living," my father grumbled. "I had kids to feed."

"If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times, 'I want him to be just like Topper.'" Doc Halton growled. "I bought the damn colt, I didn't think to get him gelded before she got him home. Then none of them would let me have it done. They said he was more valuable as a stallion. Stupid horse nearly killed her!"

"Will you let us take care of this one?" My father appealed. "This barnyard savage nearly broke Katie's hip."

"She'll be on crutches for six weeks," Doc Halton added.

"No need" I said. "He's being gelded tomorrow. Legally gelded by a veterinarian. Jennifer and Brittany also made arrangements to get their horses gelded. After I had a long talk with their parents." I couldn't help but rub it in. "Once the issue of safety is raised by a qualified person, it's amazing how value becomes secondary."

"Let's get out of here," I said, "before someone calls the sheriff."

The next morning I gelded the blood bay. Later in the week I gelded the other two. The Horse Whisperer gave the horses 'grief counseling' so they wouldn't 'cross over'. Tiffany and Amber brought their horses over to my Dad's barn for training; others followed, Dad was back in business.

At Christmas we were all gathered around the tree, the Topper shirts unwrapped and admired along with all the other stuff. My brother's eight-year-old daughter, Trisha, came up to my Dad with a stuffed pony under her arm, determination in her eyes. She'd been bugging her parents for a horse for months. A smart kid, she was going to the source this time.

"Papaw, I want to show 4-H." Trisha leaned against his knee looking up with little girl adoration. "Will you give me Topper?" There was a collective chuckle at her bravado, some nudged ribs and winks exchanged.

"Well, now," he lifted her up on his knee, "Topper is a lot of horse for a little bitty girl like you."

"Topper is the best horse in the whole world," she said. "I can ride him just fine." Dad had a glint in his eye that I hadn't seen in a while; he had something up his sleeve.

"Let's go ask Topper what he wants," Dad said, so the whole family trooped out to the barn. Dad gave a little whistle after he opened the big doors. Golden and shining, Topper came strolling out of the arena, a lead rope in his mouth, another horse was hidden behind him. Topper stopped and pawed the ground, waiting. The yearling colt as golden and as shining as his father, didn't wait, he stepped forward into view, a big red bow around his neck. I didn't see a signal from Dad but Topper walked up to Trisha, bowed low and dropped the lead rope at her feet.

Trisha squealed, hugged Topper, the colt and Dad. Amber and Tiffany peeked around the corner, dressed like Santa's elves.

"Is he really mine?" She asked her parents, smiling they received their hugs. "Can I ride him in 4-H?" Dad leaned over saying softly in my ear.

"And we'll get this one gelded right off," he winked. "Won't we?"

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