A couple weeks ago, we had to say goodbye to my horse Robbie.
He was the star of “5 Ways to Help Your Fidgety Horse Relax for the Farrier,” because even at 24, he hadn’t learned how to stand still. There was always too much life to be lived to plant his feet and stay in one place. I was lucky enough to have had him in my life for nearly 20 of those years.
Robbie was my first competitive show horse, although he came from the most unlikely of backgrounds, and was, in many ways, completely unfit for the job.
Born on April Fool’s Day, the result of an accidental breeding, he was lucky to end up with an extremely compassionate lady at weaning. Fate stepped in for him again as a four-year old and brought us together. I don’t know a lot of people who would have stuck it out with a horse like him, but I can’t say I regret a minute of it.
Well…that time he went through the gate of a regional championship hunter pleasure class like he just came out of the bucking chute at the National Finals Rodeo, I might take that back. Nah, even that is pretty funny now. (Even if the ring steward he nearly mowed down might disagree).
Robbie was unbelievably athletic, but had OCD lesions in his stifles that caused soundness issues and an early retirement from the show ring. He was incredibly charismatic, too. But as with many people, his charisma came with some less desirable personality traits. In his case, extreme stubbornness and a general disagreement with the concept of being cooperative.
He was, for all intents and purposes, untrainable.
At times, Robbie could have his energy funnelled into something truly magical to see. We worked with several trainers and instructors of all varieties over the years—show ring types, natural horsemanship gurus, regular good riding aficionados. All agreed, he was the most intelligent horse they had ever met. That was not always stated as a compliment.
I could recount any number of experiences and incidents he and I shared. Like the time he galloped free at a fairgrounds in mid-Michigan with a red cooler fastened around his neck, flapping behind him like Superman. (He was not scared. He would stop, wait for someone to get almost close enough to grab the rope he had yanked out of my hands, and take off again, looking over at us and laughing at how silly we were for trying to outsmart him).
He took me from local 4-H shows to riding in Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, at my first Arabian Nationals. He gave me nerve damage in both my wrists from dumping me in the warm up ring at his first Class A show. (I deserved it for letting my guard down.)
He was never an easy horse to manage. But the look he’d give you with that expressive face, like he was laughing at your misfortune, you could never stay mad for long.
I am so grateful that Robbie came into my life when he did. For all his naughtiness, he really was the best at listening and just offering a mane to cry in, whether he was the cause of the tears (which was often the case) or it was any of life’s other problems.
I remember one particularly contentious horse show (he was really being a pill), the judge came up to us to comment on the ride. “This horse really loves life,” she told me. There was not a truer way to sum him up. It’s like he created his own luck, even though every lucky incident seemed serendipitous at the time.
Even his departure was on his terms. Robbie was his normal happy self when I gave him his lunch. By dinnertime, he was colicking so severely that we couldn’t have gotten him to a surgical facility even if he had been a surgery candidate. (To say he was not a cooperative patient is the understatement of the year. Lucky for him, he had never been seriously ill before.)
Once the vet left that evening, I sat with him and had a Corona (he loved beer) and told him how much I was going to miss him. As difficult as he could be, he was the best horse to just have around. He could be turned out with any other horse and improve their behavior. He made the uptight ones calm down, and the lazy ones exercise. He was the best babysitter for youngsters or new horses.
As soon as my husband and I bought our place in Texas, we had him shipped down from my parents’ farm in Michigan so he could live out his last couple years in the warm weather. He’d always had a tendency to be difficult when loading on the horse trailer, but the whole trip to Texas he jumped right on after every layover. He knew he was on a big adventure and he wasn’t about to screw it up.
Once at our farm, he quickly learned to watch for the light to come on in the master bathroom in the mornings, because that meant I was up and he could start yelling for his breakfast. His was always the first face watching for me when I’d walk outside, no matter what time of day or night.
I am so incredibly grateful that I got to have him in my life for so long. (And to have lived to tell about it!) I miss that lucky little guy like crazy, but I’m glad he’s pain-free and able to run like a wild horse again.
About the Author
Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at hghorseshoeing.com.