Thursday, August 10, 2023

Captain Jack Was Put To Sleep

About a week ago, I came home to find that one of our horses was in a bad way. He was a horse that I called Captain Jack. When I walked up to him, I knelt down next to him and listened. He lay there and moaned and groaned in agony. 

The old guy was suffering so much, but had to I try to get him on his feet. And I did twice. Each time it was only for a few seconds. Finally, he was too weak and in pain to move. And no, I don't blame him for refusing to get up. He was in deep trouble, and I knew what he needed me to do. Be merciful.

Back in January of 2013, I wrote a story about getting Captain Jack. I wrote about how it was over a year after losing my bay horse Murphy that I finally decided to look for another riding horse. I wanted to get back in the saddle. 

I was told about this horse that one of the local cowboys owned - and was looking to sell. The cowboy was getting ready to move to Wyoming and was selling his horses that weren't making the trip with him. I met him and he told me about a horse that he called "Captain Jack." So why call him Captain Jack? They called him Captain Jack Sparrow the pirate because he was blind in his left eye. One eye was good but the other was blind. And frankly, the cowboy who owned him got him like that so he didn't know how Jack lost his eye.  

That cowboy was looking for a buyer who would give Jack a good home. He already knew that I have a few horses, and he knew that I'd give Jack a good home if I bought him. 

Jack was a stout strong well-muscled Quarter Horse. Jack was built very strong and beefy, wide chest, and straight legs, with an all-around good temperament. That cowboy assured me that Jack was a good riding horse for trail riding and for moving cows. But, he also was honest enough to tell me that Jack was a lousy rope horse. I found out later that that was only half-true. He wasn't a great rope horse, but he wasn't bad when you worked with him. His problem roping had to do with his having only his right eye. 

I started thinking about where he'd end up if I didn't buy him. And yes, as is the case these days, I knew really well that a lot of horses are looking for good homes. Also as is the case today, more and more owners are having to get rid of their horses simply because of how expensive horse can be to keep. 

Because people can't keep them, mostly because of the cost of boarding or the price of feed or both, a lot of horses are ending up in shelters, animal control, and rescue operations. So okay, maybe times haven't changed that much at all.

My wife and I have taken in a few horses who might have ended up in horrible situations. They are horses just looking for homes. All they want is a place where they can live out their days. They eat and seem happy. 

As I said back in 2013, when looking back on how I got my boy Murphy, and the miserable condition he was in when I bought him, he was surely a rescue horse. In Murphy's case, because he was too much horse for the owner and she couldn't ride him, she stopped feeding him on a regular basis to save money. Imagine that if you would. You buy a horse and then realize that he's too much to handle, so you starve him and let his hooves go to ruin.

My first impression of Captain Jack was that he was built like the old-style classic American Quarter Horses of years gone by. The American Quarter Horse has seen a lot of changes over the years. Some say breeders have introduced too much Thoroughbred blood into the breed. 

The American Quarter Horse is the most popular horse breed in the entire world. Quarters Horses have the ability to outdistance other horse breeds in races of a quarter mile or less. Some folks have clocked them at speeds of up to 55 mph. Breeders intermingle Thoroughbred bloodlines with the American Quarter Horse breed to create some of the best racing horses in history. Besides now having issues with health and soundness, another problem with trying to breed more speed into modern Quarter Horse bloodlines is that they are breeding down the size and structure of the American Quarter Horse. 

The classic American Quarter Horse of yesteryear had a compact body that was well-suited to the intricate and speedy maneuvers required in reining, cutting, barrel racing, and calf roping. They were big, strong, sturdy-looking, and had a bulldog-style build with lots of muscle, thick bones, and good feet for working cows, gatherings, and trail riding.

The classic American Quarter Horse is said to have a small, short, refined head with a straight profile, and a strong, well-muscled body, featuring a broad chest and large powerful rounded hindquarters. Quarter Horses should not be tall and leggy and sleek like Thoroughbreds. But instead, lower to the ground at about 15 hands tall.

Captain Jack was definitely a stocky type of classic Quarter Horse. He was a stocky, tough, all-purpose cow horse. He had alert ears and a blaze that crossed his face from his good right eye to his muzzle, sort of diagonal down his face. Because of the blaze going diagonally down his face, at times, he looked as though his head was tilted when it wasn't.

His chest was wide and broad, forelegs are set wide apart. At about 15 hands, he was not tall. He had a straight profile, a short back, and a very strong well-muscled body. In fact, his shoulder muscles caught my eye the first time that I saw him. As for his disposition, he had a good disposition and was all in all pretty gentle. Where some horses can be a pain in the rump because they're either too skittish or pushy, Captain Jack has always calm and easy to be around.

It was always interesting how he has learned to compensate pretty well without his left eye. God has given us two eyes for a reason. The reason is to see things better in stereo so to say, which enables us to have better depth perception and such. Of course, it was always sort of amusing to see the other horse go to his blindside to steal his hay. 

Jack was basically a Quarter Horse who looked and acted like what Quarter Horses used to be. And yes, in his case, like the greater percentage of Quarter Horses out there, he was a sorrel. I really liked the way he was built, and his disposition was great. 

When I first rode Jack, he stood calm and easy the whole time I saddled him. I was a little surprised that he didn't take in air like Murphy used to do when I would cinch him up on the first go. Jack took my bit and bridle easy enough and wasn't head-shy. These were all really good signs.

After I had him saddled, I climbed aboard and asked my wife how he looked? Knowing that I was talking about what happened when I climbed atop our 16.2 hands Thoroughbred and his hind end buckled on the first try, and on the second try just stood there with his legs shaking, she laughed and said Jack was just standing on three legs. Yes, he was so calm and at ease that he had one leg lifted cocked, and relaxed. It was as if indicating that he'd have no problem packing me at all.

After that, I rode him around the round pen. I was looking for his movement and sense of direction. Besides making sure he could carry me since I'm definitely on the heavy side, more than anything else I wanted to see if he had problems turning in the direction of his bad eye. I wanted to see if his not having one eye would be a hindrance of some sort. I'm happy to report that it wasn't.

I was very happy to buy Captain Jack. And yes, he was a little ornery with the other horses while they establish the new pecking order. Of course, I let nature take its course and let them work things out. It wasn't long before everything settled down and Jack elected himself boss. 

So how old was he? Well, when I bought him, I was told he was 9 years old. Later, I found out that he was much older than that. And while I really missed not riding and I wanted to get back in the saddle, I'm happy to say that Jack served to help me fill that yearning. And yes, all in all, even while just having one eye, he was a great riding horse. At least he was while I could still ride. 

As for working cows, I really don't know how "cowy" he was because I had to stop doing gatherings and pennings not too long after bringing him home. And no, I'm sure he didn't mind accepting a life of luxury and ease. All he really had to do was boss around the other horses and wait for me to come out and talk with him, groom him, and spoil him a little. As for finding him a pirate's "eye patch" for his bad eye? I never did. 

Over the last couple of months or so, he took ill and started losing a lot of weight. It's so hard to keep weight on some older horses and I did everything that I could to put the weight back on him. My wife and I both thought he was looking a lot better about a few days before his end. Then he took a turn for the worse and it was not something that I really thought would happen. 

Let me be as straight with you as I can about this. I have never met anyone who enjoys putting their horse down. To me, it's the absolutely worse duty that a horse owner has. And frankly, I really don't think horse owners even like thinking about having to put a horse to sleep. 

Sadly, though, whether we call it "putting them to sleep" or "putting them down," it's something that all horse owners may have to do. And while I've had to put down other horses, certainly more than I've ever wanted to, putting Jack down was one of the hardest things that I've had to do as an owner. 

It's just a fact of life that a lot of horses don't die from natural causes. Putting a horse down over a serious injury or an illness that cannot be treated is tough. And yes, I've heard of owners putting a horse down because they reached old age and their condition had deteriorated to such an extent that they simply no longer had an acceptable quality of life. 

And of course, no horse should have to go through unnecessary pain or distress when putting them down can prevent your horse from suffering. Having to put your horse to sleep is never an easy decision to make. Yes, take it from me, it can be very upsetting for you as an owner to do what you know needs to be done -- even when you know it is the right thing to do. 

When I got home, I found him on the ground in so much pain. I refused to believe he was unable to stand. But soon, I stopped trying. Old Captain Jack had run out his string. And yes, I needed to be merciful and do what was right. So I did what was needed. 

For me, I see my only saving grace, the thing that helps me understand that things like this happen to those of us who give horses good homes, is my knowing that I did give Jack a good home for his last years. Like many horses that would have ended up in who knows where, maybe even a Killers Auction, he deserved a good home. And really, he had one here. It was a place where he could wait for me to come out and talk with him, brush him, and spoil him a little. 

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for your loss, Tom. I bet Captain Jack was a great horse to have around and I bet he was a steady horse to ride. Now I don't own any horses but if I did I would give them such wonderful names. Names like Diamond, Buckshot, Monte Carlo, Diablo, Navajo, Domino, Speedy, and Comanche. I wouldn't mind having a Palomino named Amigo or an Appaloosa named Brandy but for right now I have a spoiled rotten beagle named Jessie Mae so that's pretty close. But the love of a horse is much stronger than any other human's love and I bet that was felt when you guys had Captain Jack. He is gone but not forgotten. He has finally gone to that big corral up in the sky where he knows the trail boss called God is waiting. He will be adorned with a golden saddle and a fine bit made out of pure silver. He will be up there with Trigger, Champion, Buttermilk, Bullet, Petey The Pup, Lassie, and all the others and he will feel right at home. He will have plenty of grass to munch on and lots of horses to run with. He will eat oats fed to him by the angels and he will be happy. No more will he suffer for Captain Jack is now in Heaven. May he rest in peace. Vaya Con Dios, Mi Caballo Y Mi Amigo. Goodbye my dear horse and friend. You will be missed. Tell the trail boss in the sky that Tom and I said hello. And tell him to give you a good rubdown along with a nice bucket of oats and plenty of grass. And tell all the other horses who have gone on before that we will see them in Cowboy Heaven very soon. With my deepest condolences and with a tear in my eye, Tom and I say farewell. Ride on, Captain Jack. Ride on.


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