Because I am long PENNED-ED, this is not a short read. Taffy had a long life, though, so she needs more than just a passing blurb. (Excuse the parts with weird spacing. Blogspot is acting ugly.)
Friday, after arriving in Florida on Wednesday, I got a call from Jenna, one of our summer barn employees. She was out at the barn taking care of her horse and called to let me know that Taffy was laying down in the pasture and wasn't interested in getting up. She had a friend with her, and over about a two hour period updated me on what was happening as they tried to get her to stand. I was trying to figure out what might be wrong over the phone, frankly trying to avoid a veterinary visit since I wasn't there and didn't want Jenna to have to stick around and wait. They finally rolled her over and helped heave her to her feet. She ate and drank a bit, and seemed okay otherwise. Saturday no one called me, so I assumed everything was okay. Sunday Abby called to let me know her balance seemed a bit off, but she was eating and drinking. I figured she was just sore from a long bout of laying down and heave ho-ing trying to stand. Monday she was still off balance and moving slow, but eating fine.
Tuesday we were driving home, and at about 3 PM Jenna called to let me know that Taffy was laying down in the barn aisle, flat on her side, not interested in getting up again. Jenna already had a vet on the way to check out a lameness her own horse had, and since it was my usual vet and I trusted him, I asked her to get him to look at her. Within the hour he had arrived and called me himself. I was driving at that point, somewhere near Columbus. He said it didn't look good, that her heart rate was very elevated and she probably wouldn't be able to stand back up again on her own. In the past he has told me he doesn't usually make recommendations that people put their animals down, unless it's without a doubt in the best interest of the animal to keep it from suffering. When he asked me if I wanted him to end it for her, my decision was made. He didn't think she would die on her own right away, that it was inevitable, but it would probably be several miserable hours for her. So, at about 4 PM on November 6, I found myself driving down the highway, tears streaming, saying good bye from afar.
Taffy joined our family in August of 1987. I was given my first horse, Flicka, two years before that when I was 11. She lived at a boarding stable until we got the front pasture fenced in and a shed added to the back of my dad's storage building to use as a stable. We moved her home during the summer of 1987, but horses are herd animals and don't like being kept alone. She wore a path up and down the fence line from pacing. Our neighbor had a few horses at a nearby boarding stable, and had acquired Taffy the year before. She initially loaned her to us as a companion horse for Flicka.
I now know our neighbor, Dot, was a saint of sorts. She used to take me with her to the barn when she took care of her horses. She already had a young son and daughter in tow, so horse keeping was difficult enough as it was. I jumped at whatever chance I could get to be near horses, to clean stalls, groom them, inhale their horsey scent. Riding was a definite bonus. She was the one who helped us navigate the early days of horse ownership with Flicka. I am sure I was not only very little help to her, but a bit of a risk as I had no fear around horses, and not yet enough experience to be able to tell the difference between a kid-friendly one and one that was not. So, Mrs. Dot Mathis, you may not ever read this, but THANK YOU!!
Mom eventually ended up buying Taffy from Dot. Back then there were visions of mother and daughter riding happily together, bonding over the mutual joy horses bring. The reality was that Taffy was a cautious, self-preserving, spooky Appaloosa (a trait that can be synonymous with the breed), and Mom wasn't ever comfortable riding her. Whenever we rode together Mom rode my sweet, honest, non-spooky bay Appendix mare and I rode the prone-to-whirl-around Appaloosa.
Some people learning to ride take lessons every week for years, perfecting their technique, going to horse shows, and buying expensive horses to bring ribbons home with. Others take a few lessons to get started, then "perfect" their craft through survival riding- hanging on through lateral and vertical spooking maneuvers, the occasional buck or rear, and through miles of haphazard bareback gallops. I am in the latter group. It was the most fun I've ever had.
Taffy came along through several years of steady riding. She was already trained pretty well as far as understanding commands went, but I learned with her how to "put the buttons" on a horse by working with her. In horsemen's terms, this means refining signals to the point that sitting a little deeper in the saddle means to slow down or stop, a slight lean forward and kiss means go straight from a halt to a canter, and turning left or right can be done entirely through the use of legs and seat without the use of reins. She became a real pleasure to ride, especially after her cautious nature was overcome through learning to trust her rider, which was at that time in her life, only me. She never hesitated to carry me through any water I asked her to cross, or go up any trail no matter how narrow or steep. Our only arguments were over the speed at which to return to the barn. She would always walk, sort of, and never tried to runaway with me, but it was a "jiggy" sort of walk that was almost more trot. Her actual trot was so smooth it could be ridden comfortably for miles, but her impatient return-to-the barn walk hybrid was gut jarring, and never failed to make me grumpy!
Flicka was always a great ride, and ended up becoming more of the "guest horse," as she would faithfully pack anyone no matter how inexperienced. She also became a camp horse during the summers, and worked six summer at Camp WinShape. One day I'll blog memories about her as well. No one could have ever asked for a better first horse.
Taffy became my sole riding horse during college days, where I actually was able to take some riding lessons again and ride on the Berry Equestrian Team. I was extremely fortunate to be able to exchange care of the WinShape stables and few horses the camp owned (most were leased for the summer) for board for my two horses. I didn't realize what a true blessing that was until I was out of school. Board at the college barn was $450 a month per horse, and here I had use of a barn and pasture, riding arena, and 28,000 acres of riding trails almost within sight of the college barn for FREE! It's so much fun to trace the hand of God working in my life. It's truly amazing.
Mom officially gifted Taffy to me my freshman year of college. The equestrian team used her a few times when they needed extra horses for intercollegiate shows, and she guided countless trail rides for campers at Camp WinShape. After getting married, James and I moved to Camp Skyline in 1997. By this point Flicka wasn't doing well health-wise, and she lived a year with us there in Alabama before I was forced to make the difficult decision, after having her for 14 years, to put her down. Taffy was in her early 20's by then and had finally started to settle into been there/done that older horse mode. She started her camp horse career at Camp Skyline, and was used there for five summers.
We moved to Cleveland in 2000, with Taffy in tow. I boarded her that first year at a friend's place, then another place, then another friend's place. In 2004 she moved to Strong Rock, once we had established enough grass in the pasture. In the meantime she went to another local camp I worked at for part of the summer before having Amelia, and I taught a few riding lessons on her as well. She did six summers at Strong Rock and packed countless beginner riders on trail rides during the off season, truly earning her oats! All the time I invested in her earlier in her life training-wise really paid off later on with beginner riders.
I had Taffy for 25 years. She was two months shy of being 38 years old when she died. It's not hard to understand that an attachment between a horse and owner can't help but form after that many years, but it's harder to explain how deep it ran. When I was a teenager, she was a secret keeper. It's easy to tell a horse buddy how you feel about things when you can't tell a person. She was a companion, who I hung out with for hours and hours both on the ground and in the saddle. She was a responsibility-builder, needing care whether I felt like getting up before school to feed her or not, rain or shine, hot or cold. She was always the "weenie" of the pasture, at the bottom of the herd pecking order. I could catch her eye though, and she would dart through aggressive herd mates to slip through the gate I would open just enough for her to get through. She never seemed to doubt that I would stand there and keep the others from chasing or kicking her. I could pat her on the shoulder when something was scary to her and she'd calm down and pass by it.
I only have pictures of her taken in the past five or six years posted below. The others were taken during the pre-digital era of my life. I also only have pictures of her with other people, and none with me. She was the go-to for beginner riders for the last 14 or so years of her life. One day I'm going to take some time to scan some earlier photos and maybe I'll add them here then.
In 2009, at 34 years old. She was heading out for a trail ride with a Scuttle (a summer staffer) and several others.
Also in 2009 (painted blue...horse painting is a favorite activity of campers).
In 2006, a spry 31 year old.
Winter of 2005.
With Nicole H., one of her biggest fans, summer of 2008.
Nicole and Taffy again, summer of 2009.
Taffy learned to jump in her late teens, when I converted her from a solely western horse to one who could go huntseat (english) as well. This is jumping Taffy-style as a 35 year old in 2010. Her depth-perception wasn't as keen as it was when she was younger and she didn't jump anymore.
I think it's way cool that she had a hand in teaching my own kids to ride. I never would have imagined she'd be around that long.
Here's Amelia on Taffy and Shannon on Maverick He died exactly a year before she did. He was an amazing horse for beginners as well. Both are sorely missed.
I was able to document Taffy's last time under saddle. This is July of 2011, at 36 years old. We weren't using her for camp that summer, as I had made the decision to retire her from the demands of more regular riding a few months prior. This day in July was between camp sessions we had family in town. Some of the kids wanted to ride, so I figured she'd be up for a couple of times around the arena. It was a pretty hot day though, and she was stumbling and not doing so well, so that was the day she was retired from riding forever. She had developed a serious heart murmur the previous year, which accounted for her becoming a bit rickety. Old critters have old parts, and her heart valves weren't sealing properly anymore. Heart failure is eventually what got her in the end, just as I expected it would.
Here she is during the winter of 2010. No one could grow a winter coat like Taffy as an old lady. It basically started growing hard core in early September, and would shed March through August. I had to body clip her the last few years of her life so she wouldn't be miserable through the summer. Grooming her in the spring was always a treat, if you liked to leave the barn wearing a white coat. After brushing her there would be a pile of hair at her feet big enough to make a pony.
I love this picture. Two old friends, enjoying the sunshine, spring of 2011. Maverick was a good companion for her and pasturing them together worked well since they both had to be fed twice a day. For two years I trekked out to the barn after the kids went to bed to give them a second feeding, which consisted of Senior horse feed and alfalfa cubes softened with water to make a sort of soup. Veterinary care, like medical care for people, has continued to improve greatly. Horses can now outlive their teeth. Both of these oldies were missing as many molars as they had left, which made the soup routine necessary. I loved those evenings at the barn, it was always peaceful.
Here are the last pictures that were taken of Taffy, in June of 2012. London and Harper came to visit and wanted to bathe a horse. Taffy was a willing participant. Note the pile of white hair, even this late in the shedding season!
Looking pretty good at 37! She had slowed down even more by this point though, and her hearing and eyesight continued to decline. She still trotted in to eat though, and it seemed that all of her days were good days, right up until the end.
I believe God was showing His mercy by letting me be out of town when it was her time to go. By the time I got home she was already buried. (Thank you again, Rick!) Jenna and Dr. Rob saved me a lock of her tail.
The love that was shown by friends and family, even at the passing of an animal, was incredible. I got calls from people who had known Taffy, or who had lost horses of their own. It was fun to see how many people commented about her on Facebook, many for whom she had been their first ride. She had taught several of them to ride a canter and jump. It would be neat to know how many folks she carried over her lifetime, how many she instilled confidence in with her steadiness and dependability.
The book of Revelation talks about Jesus coming back on a white horse. That gives me hope that maybe there are horses in heaven (?) I don't really believe that animals have souls, but part of me hopes to see Taffy and Flicka in a pasture beside my mansion in heaven. :)
I love the way God orchestrates every detail of our lives, and everything he does has purpose. He has been so good to me. Taffy was a huge blessing in my life, and I will be forever grateful for her!
R.I.P. Taffy: January 27, 1975- November 6, 2012