8/17/2011

Precious: A tribute. June 1997 to August 2011

I thought it would be a long time before I had to write something like this. But as I hang out with her this morning, for what will be her last time in the pasture, I know I am doing the right thing. After several minutes she has finally decided to eat, but moving from place to place is causing her such great pain, that she moves slowly and deliberately. They are not the movements of a healthy pray animal, who could flee from a predator at any moment; they are movements of the wounded one, the first to be taken down.


It was almost exactly 10 years ago that my mom dragged me to the Oregon State Fair to see the Paso Finos. It was there I met Bruce and Betty Reed who are the reason I have horses today. Life changing words: “Come out and ride, we love to share our horses”. Not much time later, Precious became my steady mount.


10 years later, here I am, sitting in the pasture at Heavenly Ranch, listening to the birds and the occasionally sound of grass being eaten, waiting for the vet. She looks beautiful this morning, as always the sun darkens her liver chestnut color in the summer and it is especially beautiful this year. She is graying around her muzzle and the white spot she developed on her withers this year stands out. Juliana as brushed her main and tail, her tail reaches the ground and drags through the grass. I hate looking at her cresty neck, a constant reminder of the disease killing her; she is mane side to me now, so I can’t see it.


I was probably crazy to buy a 4 year old horse with hardly any riding experience under my belt, but as I reflect back on our time together, I can’t imagine another horse who could have challenged me in just the right way throughout our time together. Even today, pushing me to make the right decision, no matter how much heartbreak I feel.



She has been my teacher. She has taught me patience, leadership, compromise and made me a great horse woman. That is a lot for one horse to accomplish, which is why I pay tribute to her today.


A few years back I participated in a trail obstacle race with Precious. I rode in a rope halter and a dressage saddle and we pulled a log, took jumps, bridges, a teeter totter, opened gates and about 20 other things I can’t remember. She didn’t do everything, but she did most things and she did them for me. I came in last, but I was so proud of our accomplishment, I felt like the winner.


Precious is known for her bad attitude, but people who really get to know her understand that beneath her protective exterior, is a horse who will try her heart out and challenge you to be your best. She has taken many children for their first ride, she has offered up her services to a lot of kids and teenagers, some who appreciated her and some who didn’t. About 5 years ago, she met Juliana and they fell in love. Juliana spent last night in her stall and will share tears with me today, she is a good friend who loves this horse probably as much as I do.


For all that Precious could do, she hated the show ring, it was one place we really didn’t get along. She was terrified of clapping, a problem we never solved and she would get so stressed out by the entire experience, that I finally quit. She was a much happier horse after that.
Precious helped me learn natural horsemanship, our first teacher was Steve Rother. Years later I discovered Parelli and had many lessons from Ann Kaiser who helped me pass level 1 and earn my red savvy string that I am so proud of.


Gina Gardner introduced Precious and I to dressage and helped me understand what it can do for a gaited horse. My riding and my training will never be the same and she helped me turn Precious into a beautiful picture, I am sad we were not able to share that with the world in the show ring. Precious is one of the Paso Finos featured in her video on gaits.
Julie Fisher is the reason I am in love with trail obstacles and while I don’t think I ever had a lesson with her on Precious, she is the reason I had so much fun in the last years we rode together.


Bruce and Betty Reed, Marianne Deering, Patricia Brady-McKinney and my other Paso Fino friends got me out on the trails and watched me learn and struggle and figure it all out, I hope they are proud of how far Precious and I came together.


My mom intervened in that first year when I pretty much untrained her and was scared to even take her out of her stall. It was because of her I figured out I needed help owning a horse, not a Paso Fino that led me down the path to learning. I know my mom has had moments since then that have topped this, but I think for many years one of her highlights was winning Pleasure Amateur Owner Mares at the Oregon State Fair on Precious, then earning the Reserve Championship. The competition is much fiercer these days, but it doesn’t matter, it was a very proud moment for me as well.


Luis was a Columbian trainer I sent her to after she was diagnosed. I hope I can see him again to tell him she is gone. He and his son Sebastian really liked her and years later would always ask me about her and say in that special way. You could tell how much they really liked her.
That was the thing about Precious. She loved anyone who really bossed her around. Men did that, I did that, so she adored Bruce Reed, Luis and I. She absolutely loves Juliana, but I think the under saddle relationship isn’t quite the same, but of course, she doesn’t fawn over me the way she does Juliana. Our relationships are different.


At 14 hands and 900 lbs, she was a force to be reckoned with and was in control of any pasture situation she was put into. I avoided it most of her life, because if a bigger horse decided to challenge her, I would have had a pretty bad vet bill on my hands. Luckily, when she lived on the farm no one did challenge her and that tiny horse controlled the entire herd of 8 horses. No one went into the barn until Precious did. There was rarely any challenging her, her face showed it all. If I was a horse, I’d stay away too.


Although I came off of her 3 times, only once did she buck me off. Boy did I deserve it too. I had put an old western saddle on her; the skirt was so soft when I cinched the saddle it was folded up underneath itself. I didn’t know it, but I was pinching the crap out of her. Based on the imprint in her body after we took off the saddle, it must have hurt like hell. She launched me out of the saddle and onto my hip and wrist. I was so traumatized. Gina Odermott saw the whole thing. She said she looked like a bronc at the rodeo. I had already known that Precious was a leaper, but it wasn’t until someone took some pictures that I realized how high she would leap into the air. I felt it first hand that day.


I made so many mistakes with her and she still lets me catch her. This morning while I sit here in this small pasture, she has made one loop around the edge; I think the footing is better. When she passed by me, she sniffed me all over and reminded me that my sweatshirt doesn’t smell good. I appreciated the reminder, a very Precious thing to do.


Precious wasn’t ever really ‘diagnosed’ with Cushing’s disease. We eliminated everything else. For months I was at the barn 2x a day, soaking her feet, cleaning her stall and trying to keep her comfortable. I spent thousands on the vet and when Gina suggested it might be Cushing’s the vet agreed it was possible. The tests then weren’t great and ultimately the best test was medication. So we gave her the medication (oh how she hated it-my mom calls her a drug sniffing horse). 4 weeks went by. Nothing. 6 weeks. Nothing. 8 weeks. Nothing. 10 weeks, I had my old horse back. It was Cushing’s, without a doubt.


After almost 6 months of illness, she was back to her old self in almost no time flat. The next 5 years she was completely healthy. She started having problems each spring and fall about 2 years ago. This time she has had problems since February and they aren’t getting any better. She is miserable and in pain and her quality of life isn’t good. So today, I am doing the right thing; making a responsible end of life decision for someone I love very much. It is sad, but when I look back, I know I will not have any regrets.


Today, my mom, Juliana and my friend Christine will share this experience with me. We will cry a lot, but I will tell some of my favorite (and often funny and self deprecating) stories about Precious. We will laugh too and tonight I will probably drink too much wine. I will go to work tomorrow, but probably not at the top of my game.


In this journey there are three people I am forever indebted to. The first two are, Bruce and Betty Reed who invited me into their lives with open arms and who gave me a break when they sold me this horse. They shared their trails, their time and their hearts with me. I love them like family.


The second is Gina Odermott. Gina owns heavenly ranch and has been on this journey with me since the beginning. Even though I left for 5 years to live in Eugene, when I came back, it was just like old times (but with a new amazing barn and arena). Gina has given me advice, called the vet, dealt with broken fences, special accommodations, medication and an often absent owner. She even made the arrangements for me to take care of Precious’ body, which I couldn’t have dealt with. Gina had to say goodbye to her Cushing’s horse earlier this summer, it has been a rough year for this disease. Gina might be the barn owner, but her friendship is what has made it possible to get through this.


The vet will be here in 30 minutes and I think it will be difficult to get Precious to her final resting place. She didn’t want to make the short trip into the pasture. But she is enjoying the sun and the grass and totally annoyed by the flies. Everyone is arriving, the horses are being fed, it is almost time.


Tonight I will raise my glass and say a toast. I hope you will all join me virtually from wherever you are. “To Precious: May your spirit live on as the herd boss of the great big pasture in the sky”.