He was small, stout, nervous and had the type of heartwarming personality most people would kill to exude. When he walked across the roadway from one ranch to another we knew right away he was something very special.
As with all things special, he came with a story.
My son had been desperately searching for a good rope horse. As rodeo was progressing so were his roping skills and a good sound horse was on the agenda. One day at a cutting my neighbor saw me from across the parking lot, we made eye contact and he headed my way. A solid handshake and hello was followed with; I heard your son is looking for a horse? I said yes and he went on to tell me about this gelding he had that hadn’t made it as a cutter but had so much personality and drive my neighbor just couldn’t let him go. The problem? This horse needed a job. It was killing my neighbor to see such a wonderful horse with so much to give doing nothing and if my son was interested, after a test ride or two we may be able to strike a deal.
Of course I smiled, it sounded very promising and I said we would be over that week to take a look.
We walked across the road one afternoon and after the cordial hello’s, an introduction to the horse and a few laps around the indoor arena it was apparent these two were going to get along. My son was smiling from ear to ear riding this flashy paint gelding with an obvious personality twice his size. My neighbor was smiling too.
It was time for the deal making.
My neighbor helped the boy untack the horse and then pulled him aside. With a stern look on his face he proceeded to list the good, the bad and the ugly as all good horsemen should because no horse is truly perfect. Afterword’s it was time to negotiate a price. My son asked timidly how much for such a fine horse. My neighbor replied $5 dollars. Shocked my son repeated this monetary demand ensuring he’d heard it right! Yes this horse was being sold to my son, on this day only for the amazing sum of $5 dollars! He was also being sold with a thirty day money back guarantee! If for any reason my son changed his mind or decided the horse was too much animal he could simply walk said horse across the street, no strings attached and receive his $5 dollar bill back! Now after thirty days our neighbor made it very clear he would still take the horse back but he was keeping the $5 dollars.
My son ran across the street to gather his money and paid him promptly with a handshake and a gigantic, beaming smile.
Twoey set foot on our place and within minutes we all thought he was great. He seemed to be smiling and he acted as though he wanted to talk with you. Over the next year, hundreds of hours of practice and bonding between him and my son led us to know and understand just how great he really was.
Within two weeks we set out to get him into a great roping program with a well-known trainer. We loaded him up and dropped him off at the facility of our choice. After three weeks we received a phone call from the trainer. The call that morning was to initially let us know it just wasn’t working out. His nervousness, big engine and inability to focus were detrimental to becoming a rope horse. We of course also heard repeatedly just how sweet he could be and that everyone in the barn loved him! This was no shocker to us! But then something happened. On that very mornings practice everything clicked and the small, nervous horse with the giant engine and sweet disposition was repeatedly roping one steer after another. The trainer in a matter of hours had changed his mind and was requesting we keep him there a little longer.
When Twoey finally came home he pranced around our place like he was a Lipizzaner stallion! As though not only he knew he had accomplished something great but we all should bask in the glory of his accomplishments too! My son and he over the next month grew closer and closer and it didn’t take long before he could call Twoeys name and the horse would cover hill and dale to get at my boy. Lip quivering with excitement all the way.
Sometime later my neighbor ran into me again and asked how the horse was doing? I replied great, then explained all the training he’d undergone. My neighbor asked; how long did it take you to get him into a horse trailer? Shocked by the question I replied; I opened the door, said Twoey load up and pointed inside. Without hesitation the horse walked in and I closed the divider behind him. I had no idea he’d never, ever been in a trailer before. And just like that, there it was, the beauty of this horse. His mind always turning, thinking, he was willing to do anything to please you, to get a treat or a pet, he would literally do what ever it took to make you like him. He was a 1000 pound four hooved puppy dog that you just happened to be able to saddle and ride.
Not only was he taught to team rope or more precisely work in the role of a heel horse. But after a year on the ranch, my son also taught him to be a calf horse. He learned how to work cattle both in the pen and on the range, he roped, doctored and branded and he never, ever flinched. Not once.
Twoey also decided he really liked people. All people, and camera;s too! He was a super camera ham!! But he especially liked children. If he saw you near the fence he would always be the first to greet you, let you pet him and even give you a kiss. His nervous lip would always be quivering but it was his style and oh what an endearing style it was.
Four years later his paddock is right next to the house, he and his buddy Levi (the bulldogging horse) run around like mutt and jeff. They are inseparable. They travel to rodeos together, live together, eat together and look out for one another. Every time I see my son walking them from one paddock to another without halters, no worry as to whether or not they may leave him in the dust. Heads down, calm demeanors, moving alongside him like something straight out of a western, well it always makes me smile. Whenever I come home he is the very first horse I see and he will remind you he is there by knickering at you. If I’ve had a bad day, his quivering lips and kisses always make life just a little better.
Today at work I received the phone call no one who owns horses ever wants.
Twoeys hurt and it’s bad. You need to come home now!
Not knowing the situation I chose to wait until I got home and put my eyes on things before alerting my son who was at work. Yet as I pulled in the driveway a burgundy blur that is his F-250 flew by in a cloud of dust. No notification needed.
Walking into the barn I knew instantly it was bad, very, very bad. The long look on several faces as our borders gathered to help in any way was all I needed. Rounding the corner I see him, lip quivering, soaked in sweat, holding his left hind leg in the air while my son is squatted nearby holding his head in his hands. He knew it was bad too. Again, no words needed to be spoken.
Looking over my sons shoulder the picture became much clearer. A full avulsion from just under the Talus all the way down the leg to just above the Long pastern bone. Gone were the middle ligament and the lateral tendon, remaining was nothing but shredded skin and white, clean bone. It was so massive and mesmerizing I couldn’t believe this horse was even standing. My jaw was on the ground and the sheer size of this injury and the fact this horse was still upright wanting to be pet and kissed was boggling.
Our vet was out of town, several backups were called, but in the end UC Davis was notified and two vets were sent right away. Twoey’s lip quivered, his ears were up and forward, he licked his lips and looked as though he was wondering why everyone was making such a fuss over him. We gave him some medication to make him more comfortable and we waited. The dreadful long slow mind fucking wait!
During this time we found out he and Levi had somehow escaped, running through a fence while on their escapades. No one saw the accident or even how it happened. All anyone knew (including my daughter who saw them running about) was they were out and something just didn’t look right with Twoeys leg as he was running.
Our neighbor came over and assisted with his old horse. I was very glad to have him there, decisions needed to be made and it was comforting to have someone else to bounce things off. Twoey was surrounded by people who loved him and we did our best to keep him calm. My son was falling apart on the inside but very stoic on the outside. We both never said it, but each eye contact we made we knew the direction this was headed and it was tearing us both apart inside.
The vet arrived, several photographs were taken and consultations through the latest in technology led to only one plausible outcome for our dear sweet boy.
Today at 5:30 pm, under the old oak tree on our property our friend, my sons best friend, the face of our ranch after the passing of Tank (another story) and one of the smartest, sweetest horses I have ever known was laid to rest in tall green grass with those who loved him the most right by his side.
My son sat next to his head, stroking his mane and made direct eye contact with his buddy until the very last breath was taken. He and I hugged, we both cried.
Twoey was gone.
We gave my son some time alone with Twoey. There is a special bond between a boy and his horse, especially when that horse was the first one you ever trained for yourself, purchased with your own money, taught to come like a dog, give kisses only when asked and ride trail until there is no more trail to ride.
That horse loved him, believed in him and trusted him all the way till his very last breath. That is an amazing bond few youngsters from 13-17 will ever know.
When I came back after signing paperwork I rounded the corner headed towards the old oak tree just in time to see him. Sitting there on the ground, his arms around his horse and although I know he won’t admit it, he was crying. As a father it was the hardest thing to watch. It made my heart painfully, crushingly hurt and broke my spirit just a little more. Nothing in this world is more painful than the suffering of your own child. Nothing is more painful for a child than saying goodbye.
As I write this, I am in tears. Not for myself, not for Twoey as he feels no more pain, but for my son as he is going to feel lost and filled with anger and sadness for a while. Also for our family, I have two younger children who adored him and are in disbelief he is actually gone. I am also sad for our friends who knew Twoey through rodeo, interacted with him and all that knew what a sweet horse he was. I’m crying because our family is now missing an important stone in the foundation of our ranch.
Our boy is gone forever, this $5 dollar horse, the kind of horse and story no one believes until they see it for themselves. May he run heavens fields free, I hope he is with his old rodeo traveling partner Tank. Maybe Cooper is running alongside, barking and chasing his tail. May he know just how much we all loved and adored him? May my son rest easy soon and not dwell too hard on the tough decisions life brings. Even though they at times are dreadfully painful. His final words to me tonight were; this has been the worst day of my life.
I know deep inside, right now he is beating himself up thinking, just one more ride, why couldn’t I have had, just one more ride…..