I wrote this post yesterday as a form of therapy for myself. I can’t bring myself to read it again, so I apologize for spelling and grammar errors in advance.
I met Argo almost exactly 18 years ago. Back then I was 14 years old, riding at Looking Back Farm with Dave and Sandi Ballard, and looking for my next show horse. Having already tried a few horses out, and feeling no real connection to them, my interest was starting wane. However, I found myself heading around the corner one December morning, to Kinmarlin, Kim Kirton’s farm. I don’t remember expecting much of the day, but I loved any excuse to hang out with Kim and spend time in her barn, so the short trip was worth it.
I arrived and watched two horses be lead into stalls. One was a beautiful grey thoroughbred who was screaming his head off, arching his neck, and running circles in his stall. The other was a plain bay standing quietly in the corner and munching on hay. I was sure that boring bay horse was for me, as my horses often seemed to be that type, but as I went to his stall, Dave stopped me.
“That one’s not for you, that’s the hunter. The jumper over there is for you.”
Really? The crazy grey? Excitement began to build and I pulled him out to the crossties to brush him and get to know him. The grey’s name was T.C., the most unsuitable name for him that I could possibly imagine. He craned his neck as I ran the curry comb in circles, showing his approval for the grooming. I have always been a sucker for a horse that enjoys a good grooming.
That first ride was an eye-opener. His gates were perfect for me; not boring but not choppy. Then I pointed his to that first jump and got one heck of a surprise. He jumped me right out of the tack and I landed behind my saddle on his back. This horse had springs! After a few more jumps I started to figure out his style and really enjoyed myself. Kim got on for a few jumps and he jumped her out of the tack as well. My heart was already gone, this was my horse.
I took him back to the crossties, gave him a nice groom, gave him several kisses, and told him I would see him soon. There was no other horse for me.
That afternoon was spent at school, where I was unable to focus on class and I couldn’t stop talking about this horse to my friends. I was on cloud nine.
Yet, as I’ve discovered in life, the highs always seem to be followed by crushing lows. That night my sisters and I were sitting in our parents store and my dad called me into his office.
“You know that horse you rode today? Unfortunately we won’t be buying him.”
My heart fell and the tears welled in my eyes as my father continued.
“After you left Dave was talking to the lady that brought him and she mentioned that he had bone chips in both front ankles. They may never cause a problem, but they could settle into his joints and any point and make him permanently lame. The surgery to take them out would be more than the purchase price. So we’re going to pass.”
I was devastated.
I refused to go to the barn after that. I didn’t want to ride horses whose owners were too lazy to come exercise them. I wanted my horse. No other would do.
As I was moping at home one day, I received a call from my mother, telling me to gather my riding gear. I refused, but was quickly told that the grey horse would be arriving at the farm that day. Sandi had been talking to the woman who had him and found out that the horse was available for lease. She ordered him onto the van that day.
We arrived at the farm just as the horse van pulled in, and I was able to lead my new boy down the ramp and into his stall. I didn’t stop smiling that day. He was mine and I was his. I promised he that we would always be together (maybe not the best promise considering it was only a lease, not a purchase).
Since the name T.C. just wasn’t going to do, I quickly christened him Argo, after my favorite football team. The Argos were having an amazing run with Flutie, Masotti, and Pinball. It seemed like the perfect choice.
Argo and I were capable of doing a lot while training at home, but send us to a horse show and my nerves took over. Perhaps we were the best fit in that respect. We would often be coming into a jump and I would have doubts about and it seemed like Argo would say, “Let’s forget it”. He’d stop, I’d fall off, then we’d go for a nice long walk through the fields, which both of us preferred. We had some decent classes, but neither of us loved the show ring. Yet I knew the only way my parents would buy him was if we continued to show. So we stuck it out until he was mine, then my parents realized how miserable showing made me and let me bring Argo home. For the majority of our 18 years together, Argo and I have lived on the same property, both of us being better off for it.
While Argo and I had a close relationship to start with, having him home with me made us inseparable. When I was sad I would go sit with and cry, and he would butt me with his head as if to say, “Snap out of it.” He became my best friend. Everything that happened in my life was shared with him. He taught me everything I know about looking after horses. He had so many hoof abscesses in the first couple of years at home, that I became a pro at poulticing his feet and knowing how to manage him. I’ve often known a week before he goes lame that an abscess is brewing. I got to know him so well that the slightest change would put me on alert.
Riding at home was much more fun than in a show ring. One day we were galloping in the back fields and I felt his pace quicken. I looked beside me realized that we were racing a big buck. I’d never seen antlers that big, and my ex-racehorse was doing his best to leave them behind. He loved to jump downed apple trees in the forest. A typical ride would find him pulling at the bit all the way to back field and through the forest, but once I turned him for home, he settled completely and would slowly walk his way back.
Our time together was full of learning experiences. Like the time he fractured his skull and my vet had just left for Florida. I called in my back-up vet who showed up around 10pm to take xrays, and at midnight was calling to tell me we were doing surgery in my barn the next day. Then there was the time he fractured his leg and my vet said he would be stall rest for six weeks. It would be 12 weeks and 3 days before he could be turned out again, and we both hated each other by the end of that confinement. He would try to bite, I would yell.
Then there was the night that Jake was born. Argo didn’t know what was going on in that foaling stall, but he really wanted to check it out. Jake became his little shadow. At 12 weeks old, Jake was going through the fence to be with Argo, and I finally had to give in and let them all out together. Argo thought it was great fun to have this little pony around to play with.
Over the years, Argo had a variety of buddies. The only constant was that we were together. When Darrell and I starting seeing each other, I knew I was in trouble when I watched him play with Argo one night and scratch his head. Argo could be a picky guy with strangers, but he treated Darrell like an old friend.
We went through a traumatic time that saw Argo needing to move and me unable to bring his friends along. I will always be thankful for my friend Vicki, who didn’t hesitate when I called her in tears saying that Argo needed a home. She looked after both me Argo and for the next couple of years. I would drive to her place after work, clean stalls and visit with Argo, before heading to get Darrell from work. I should up at some odd hours in desperate need of time with Argo, and Vicki never once questioned it.
When Darrell and I were looking to move from our small rental home, I insisted that a new place had to have room for Argo, and Darrell agreed. Three and a half years ago we moved to a small hobby farm and Argo once again was outside my window, there whenever I needed him, and I was there whenever he needed me. Life got insanely busy and though I no longer spent as much time grooming him, every glimpse of him was enough to keep me sane and happy. He no longer wanted to be fussed over. As a very old man, he just wanted to eat and snooze.
Being a grey horse, Argo has always had melanoma. There were tumours under his tail when I first met him, and though they grew over the years, there was nothing I could do about them, and they didn’t threaten him. That changed this past summer, when a new tumour started to grow above his eye. This one was different. It grew fast. At 27, I wasn’t going to put him through anything, we were lucky to have had so much time together, so I let things be.
As I write this, I am waiting for my vet to arrive for one last visit with Argo. It has gotten to the point were eating and drinking is difficult. He is happy out in his paddock, snoozing with the old mare and acting the same as he has for years. I long ago promised that I would not make him suffer, so the time has come for me to make the decision. After years of renting, we are moving next week to our own little farm, and I badly wanted Argo to make it there, but it’s not going to work out that way. I have been crying since three o’clock yesterday afternoon. I haven’t slept. I am beyond heartbroken. This day had to come at some point, and I was never going to be ready for it. Argo is my first love, and Darrell has always known he had to share my heart. I feel like the next few days will be impossible to get through, but Argo has never been one for pity and sadness; he prefers joy and laughter. So I will spend the hours I have left with him, being thankful for all of the amazing time we have had together. And when that final moment comes, he will be with me and Darrell, and his other favorite person, Roger Footman, the vet that has looked after him for me all of these years, and who Argo has always been happy to see.
There’s not much more to say. Argo, I will love you forever and remember you always.