Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cause for celebration

My horse, Panama

A new reader, Jane Augenstein, recently celebrated her horse's birthday. She and I were chatting via email, and she encouraged me to start celebrating Panama's birthday, even though I don't know the exact day.

I thought about it, and decided I would rather celebrate his "Naming Day," the day I first saw him and named him. That was May 27, 2006 — Memorial Day weekend. According to the backyard breeders, he was 11 months at the time, so he'll be four years old in roughly a month.

If they told us the truth, that is, which is why I'd rather celebrate Naming Day than make up a birthday for him. Besides, to me this day holds more importance than a birthday, because it's the day he came into my life — the day I fell in love with him at first sight.

I thought about inviting a few friends, but as the date approached I decided I'd rather spend the day just with Panama (and Michael, if he'll come). It is, after all, our day, and therefore a private celebration seems appropriate.

For those of you who don't already know the story, my husband and I were out of state at the time, visiting his family. While we were at his brother's house, a backyard breeder delivered a pregnant mare and her 11-month-old colt to the next door neighbor. The idiot had loaded them into a trailer with a big hole in the floor, and the mare had fallen through, scraping one of her rear fetlock joints all the way to bone.

Horse trailer with a hole in the floor

My in-laws saw the mare was injured and called the vet, and I sat with the mare while we waited (she was on the ground, poor thing). It quickly became clear that neither the breeder or the neighbor had the money for vet care: Both held the all-too-common view that horses cost nothing to keep, but would make them rich from selling the offspring.

So by default they decided to euthanize the mare, since neither of them could afford the cost of getting her well in time to deliver the baby. I sat with her the entire time, wishing there was something I could do to save her, and feeling completely helpless.

Once she had been euthanized, we turned our attention to her colt, who had been flitting nervously around us this entire time. He'd had no prior contact with people, but because I was sitting with his mom for so long he'd actually approached me a few times. Once he even bumped me on the back of the shoulder with his nose. The breeder said it was the first time he'd ever approached a human before.

I didn't realize at the time how small he was for 11 months, but his back was only about to my waist — and I'm pretty short! He was also so scrawny that his ribs and hips stuck out sadly, despite his big belly (which I now know means he was probably wormy). From what the breeder said that day, I suspect he and his mother had been left out to pasture all winter without hay or grain, and her both nursing and pregnant.

Panama, about a month after we rescued him

Anyway, it turned out the colt was injured too — though not as badly, the vet needed to take him back to his place, where he could be on stall rest. Even injured and clearly half-starved, though, he was a fiesty little fellow. I'll never forget seeing him throw off the vet's assistant when he tried to catch him. Then he came trotting back by us, head and tail held high, mane blowing off his neck — so proud of himself for getting away. In the end, the vet had to lasso him in order to catch him.

Once the vet had caught him and wrestled him to the ground, he had my brother-in-law hold the rope while he returned to his office for his trailer. I sat in front of him, and he put his head in my lap, so sad and defeated. That's when I named him Panama, and looking back, it feels like this simple act created an irrevocable connection between us.

A little over a week later, my husband announced to me that Panama was mine: Knowing how much I wanted him, Michael had paid the vet bill when (unsurprisingly) both breeder and buyer refused. Panama lived on my brother-in-law's pasture for a little over a year, during which time we visited frequently. Then, in September 2007, we were finally able to transport him to Denver.

My horse in October 2007

Up until then, he'd always remembered me when we would visit my in-laws, but after we brought him to Denver our relationship grew by leaps and bounds. He was almost wild at the time, hated being groomed, and was suspicious of anyone messing with his feet. But over time, he began to trust me.

We helped each other through a lot of firsts...


Lunging my horse under saddle when he was 2

Our first ride...

My first ride on my horse

New experiences...

My horse's first bath

New homes, and new friends...

My horse and a friend

When I think back on it all, I can't believe how far we've come. Naming Panama was the very first act in a beautiful relationship that just keeps getting closer and more complex the more time that passes.

Thanks for insisting I needed to celebrate something, Jane! You were right!



At May 27, 2009 at 4:50 PM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

That's a moving story.

At May 27, 2009 at 6:47 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Thanks, NM! Had you not heard it before? I've blogged about it before but it's been a while.

At June 4, 2009 at 7:56 PM, Blogger jane augenstein said...

Wow, how did I miss this post?? Oh, Katharine what a good story! Panama is one lucky guy he is, just like Gilly. So sad about his mom and her unborn baby. Stupid people, so glad you were there and saved Panama, he has a wonderful life now!!

At June 4, 2009 at 9:30 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

I know, Jane. Talk about being in the right place at the right time, huh? :o)


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