Died May 6, 2004.
When I came home Thursday afternoon and looked out in the pasture, I saw two horses. That wasn’t unusual; Little would often be some distance away from the others. I looked around a little more and didn’t spot him. As it was a fairly warm day, I thought he might be under the shed by the barn, but he wasn’t.
When I couldn’t see him anywhere, I walked out for a closer look, expecting to see him lying in tall grass somewhere. Instead, I found him dead in the stream running through the pasture, with his head partially in the water. He’d been weak in the back end for some time, and frequently had to struggle to get up after lying down. My best guess is that he fell, couldn’t get up, and drowned with his head in the water.
At thirty-three years old, he had lived much longer than average, and nobody lives forever. I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to him sometime, probably soon. While this wasn’t exactly the way I would have chosen for him to go, we can’t always protect our loved ones from every possible misfortune. It’s also not the worst way he could have gone.
Little had been part of my family since the summer of 1977, when my father decided it was time to start foxhunting again after a 20+ year hiatus, and declared he needed a 17-hand thoroughbred. A few weeks later, a couple of friends told him there was a horse at Keeneland he needed to look at.
The following Saturday morning, he and I headed off to Keeneland. He took one look at Little and sent me back to the car to get his checkbook. After closing the deal and calling a van company to arrange transport home, we headed off to a tack shop.
After buying some tack, we thought about lunch, and he decided we probably didn’t have time, because it might lead to domestic strife if Little got home before we did. A couple of miles from home, we met the van headed back towards Lexington and I said “Well, we’re busted anyway; we should have stopped for lunch”.
Arriving at home, we found Mom not as irritated as we might have expected for a non-horse person who had just had someone knock on her door with no warning and ask where she wanted the horse.
My first encounters with Little were not tremendously encouraging. I’d only been riding for a couple of months (since I suddenly decided it might have chick-magnet potential), and a green rider and an off-the-track-thoroughbred are not always a good match. In fact, the first few times I rode him, I think “crazy sumbitch” was the nicest thing I ever said.
Eventually, as I became a little more confident, we began to bond a little more. I realized that we had a lot in common; a couple of big overgrown enthusiastic kids that occasionally got a little crazy but didn’t really mean any harm. Soon, I started calling him “my horse”, although he was still Pop’s mount in the hunt field.
When I moved to Ohio after graduation, I left Little in Kentucky, tacitly admitting that he wasn’t totally “my horse”. After a few years, I got tired of driving back a couple of times a month to see “my horse”, so I had him hauled up to Ohio “for the summer”, as Pop had no use for a hunting horse in the off season. As fall rolled around and hunt season approached, and I wasn’t eagerly volunteering to bring Little back “home”, Pop decided he could find another hunter, and Little became a permanent Ohio resident until I moved back to Kentucky in 1987.
When I got re-established in Kentucky, I started hunting on a more regular basis, and Little became “my hunt horse”. He provided me with years of fun until an injury in 1995, at the age of 24, which effectively ended his career. After that, he was never ridden at all, but was a faithful pasture ornament, providing companionship to my other horses, and a neck for me to hug when I needed it.
Goodbye Little. Thanks for twenty-seven years of joy and stress reduction.