She came off an idaho horse-trader's rig in the dead of winter along with an older mare who was obviously her mama. She was an "emergency purchase," as my show horse was suddenly succeeding in the show ring and I needed a trail horse. She had a touch of Appy-mottled muzzle, eye rims and tiny striped feet. For me, that meant a big heart. Her name was Honey.
I should have bought her mama too. I knew that by the time I had Honey broke. There was a streak of pure goodness in that little mare, and I would have gladly kept the older mare just to give her a good life.
They'd both come in pretty "rough." Ribs aplenty. She cost $250. I gave her plenty of groceries, a big pasture during the summer, a stall all winter, and her own Big D. She was the only horse I ever knew who helped get that blanket over her head in the evenings. She hated to be cold; perhaps it was that Idaho background.
Honey was dead broke in about four weeks, and she was a trail demon, full of curiosity. She was one of those horses who wanted to be in front on a trail ride, not like a horse that jigs and worries if it's not; I just think Honey liked being out front for the view. No matter how tough the country, no matter how steep or rocky or scary, Honey was in the lead with her head down, ears going in all directions, and making this little "unh, unh" sound with every stride.
Creeks? Walked on through. Rivers? Chest high and still going. Ditches? Jumped 'em. Steep downhills? Slip 'n slide and never wavered. She was something to see when she was in gear. It didn't matter whether it was a one-day, 10-mile outing or a five-day, mountain bedroll trip. She was the first up, first out, first to finish, and first to say 'Thank You' for the rubdown, the feed, the attention.
In my long life, I have owned many horses, but there are only two that I ever felt truly loved me. One, of course, was Honey. And I probably asked more of her than any other. We had a special bond. Dead tired on the trail for yet another day or at home relaxing, she whickered to me every morning of her life.
When I'd come to the pasture gate, she'd trot over and put her head against my chest and make that lovely wuffling sound that to me means contentment. All she needed was for me to scratch her, tell her she was "Whatta girl," and then I'd give her a smooch in the corner of her mouth.
Honey enjoyed remarkable vitality, and I continued to ride her well into her 20s. I feel I owe much of that to a long-gone, but very respected trainer who showed me a secret way to measure a horse's health. He'd walk the barn each morning before the stalls were cleaned and check the manure piles. Harder manure indicated to him that a horse was not in perfect health. His immediate course of medication was an old-fashioned remedy: hot bran mash. The next day's inspection generally revealed looser, healthier manure.
I kept that knowledge in my mental "file" with all the rest of the wisdom he imparted. When winter hit, I made it a habit to always give my horses a bran mash at least once a week. It seemed to keep them healthy, and I never had a colic.
But now, the rest of the story. At the ripe old age of 27, Honey broke through a pasture fence and seduced a long yearling colt that belonged to a friend. Just one night and she was pregnant. A terrible mistake. I was full of guilt and fear. She'd never been bred before, and she'd have the foal at 28!
Leaving all the drama aside, the big night finally came. She had a long, hard labor-all while the vet was making the 25-mile trip from town. She produced a filly, but she was going into shock, her old uterus causing so much pain while it contracted that she just started down the steep slide. I swore to her that if she'd just live, I'd never take that filly away from her.
I didn't know what else to do, so I went into the tack room and made Honey a bucket of hot bran mash, heavy on the brown sugar and very, very hot, and mixed it with my hands. I stuck the bucket under her nose. Suddenly, my old mare decided that there really was something to live for!
I honored my promise, and Honey and her baby had six amazing years together. Then she was gone. I gave her little yellow daughter to friends.
People talk about how they'd love to own "Doc This" or "Lena That," big-time cutters among my friends dreaming of the perfect horse. Me? I'd take Honey back in a heartbeat.