Back in ’86, I had just arrived at the canoe outfitters east of Ely, Minnesota, and used a pay phone to call my wife, before soloing in to the Boundary Waters for a week.  One of our cats had just died, and we were both grieving.  I asked her about “Tribble,” a small grayish- white stray found in a fast food parking lot, whom we had just taken in.  My wife’s voice changed immediately when she started talking about the kitten who would become pure white when clean and grace our lives for a decade.

One never can replace an animal, but one can give a new one a home, helping the grieving process immensely.  I don’t use the relative pronoun “which” with animals, only “who” or “whom.”


I got the text from my wife while I was running north from Knickerbocker Bridge on my way home.  “We just put Patience down.  It was time.”  When I got home and called Arizona, the other end of the line was full of silence punctuated with tears.  What could I do?  Nothing but listen.  For an animal person to lose an animal is tragic.  We are animal people.

Patience was a horse born into my wife’s arms 17 years earlier one night.  She was a demanding creature, and while I don’t normally visit my wife’s horses, I once had to do the feeding, and Patience was not.  She was queen of the herd and had to eat first.  She was not big, 15 hands 1, maybe 2 on a good day with windage, but she more than made up for her size with her personality.

Sadly, as the years passed, Patience developed leg problems, which ultimately led to her foundering, a painful condition where there was a real possibility the Coffin bone will come through the hoof. While there was initial hope that the hoof would grow back, a later check revealed that she would not survive without a great deal of pain and no guarantee she would ever walk normally again.  She was euthanized before my wife’s eyes.  I wasn’t around to be there; her best friend, whom I will call Babs, was, and the veterinarian suggested the other horses in the herd be brought up to see the corpse.  Several sniffed at her, then started eating her hay.  Mind you, I didn’t hear the last part, or the next part, for several days; it was too painful for my wife to discuss.

Horses are something we don’t talk about much.  My wife is a different individual at the barn.  I seldom ask, but the few times my wife opens up, she vocalizes a torrent of equine-related words:  “When you euthanize a horse, they are standing up.  Patience fell, as she lost consciousness, and the bang, when she hit the ground, startled the rest of the horses.  They knew this was not an ordinary fall. They called out in a most unusual way.”

I never knew this stuff occurred.

My wife came back to Oregon for 2 weeks, still grieving and stressed out about having lost two horses in the past 10 months.  Babs’ daughter, who lived in another state, happened to see an advertisement in a journal for a horse.  “She looks really nice,” was relayed to her mother.  “Then I saw she was for sale in the Phoenix area.”

Babs decided to drive up to Phoenix and check out the horse on a weekend my wife was working there.  It would take me 2000 words to describe Babs properly.  She is a generation younger than I but probably a generation ahead me in street smarts, and I’m no dummy.  The thought of driving 3 1/2 hours to Phoenix to check out a horse was entirely consistent with her character.  She and her husband once picked up several horses in Colorado, a 13 hour drive one way.  Or was it 15?  Their property is full of dogs, cats, horses, ducks, chickens, and once “Miss Piggy,” a pot-bellied pig.  Babs knows everything that is going on in the county, on 2 or 4 legs, on the opposite side of the political fence from me, except where stupidity is involved.  Neither of us suffers fools gladly, and we’ve helped each other with serious stuff that I wouldn’t do with many others.

Babs and my wife planned to meet for dinner in Phoenix that weekend and see the horse, who was called Ally.  Both agreed that Ally looked good, the price reasonable, and they decided to get her vetted. I got a picture texted to me.  Sure the horse looked fine, but what do I know?   My wife was not optimistic, but it got her mind on something else, and that was good.  But, on the following day, the vet called with bad news:  the agent was a deadbeat, we might not be getting a fair deal, so Babs decided not to go ahead with the vetting.

Funny thing was, the vet also said, “She looks like a nice horse.”  That made 4 who had said that, 5 counting me, but I don’t count.

Nonplussed, Babs texted my wife and said she still wanted to move ahead.  Turns out Babs already had a grain bucket with “ALLY” written on it.  The vetting was moved to Friday, and I was about as curious as my wife what would happen, although I thought I knew.  A good vetting may ferret out that many give a horse Ace (Promazine) or Bute (butazolidine, an anti-inflammatory) before a sale, so if the horse is arthritic, may not appear lame to a buyer.

I also learned some mares are given progesterone because when they are “in season,” they can be unmanageable.  Progesterone prevents ovulation.  Three months after the sale, the progesterone is gone, the horse goes into season, and there is an issue.  We didn’t need that.

With all of those caveats, Babs wanted this one.  I didn’t mention that Babs negotiates like the main character on Pawn Stars.  I don’t know what she offered, but in the end we got the horse for a whole lot less.  She and my wife were texting constantly.  For Babs’ SMSs, my wife has a train ringtone on her phone; I kept expecting to see a Union Pacific locomotive in the driveway.  She seemed a lot less depressed, too.

Ally wasn’t easy to get into a trailer for the trip out of Phoenix. I believe Babs used the word “turd” to describe her. That would be about right.  Babs has a doctorate in Street Smarts; her ability to find the right word is uncanny.

“We’ll fix the trailer issue quickly,” was the next text.  Yeah.  No doubt.  Maybe in a day.  If that.

My wife is a lot happier than I’ve seen her in awhile. Think Babs is, too.  When I heard there was a grain bucket with “Ally” on it, I knew what was going to happen.

I’d never dream of telling my wife that, however. Street Smarts.


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