Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Horses - May God Bless Murphy My Son!

I think it's great that animals can mean so much to us.  A friend recently wrote me about how she lost her dog, and yes I really understood how a dog can become so much a part of your family. 

For me, my family here in Glencoe is my wife, and all of our critters.  The sign coming into Glencoe says it has a population of 189.  I've often wondered if they counted the horses, the dogs, the cats, and of course the cows and the sheep, when they took that count. 

When I first came here, I remember how busy I was putting together a round pen and a shelter for my horse Murphy.  I remember pushing the clock and working like the devil to get everything set up right for Murphy. 

Sure I set up a round pen, but I also hot wired a half an acre just for him to stretch his legs.  It is a great pen and it had good grass in it at first, but he ate that down as sure at the sun comes up in the morning.  It is cool in the spring and shady in the summer, and yes he was one happy horse.

I remember the day that I brought him here to his new home.  He trailered great all the way from the stable where he was being boarded in Livermore, California.  Once here, he took to his new found freedom without losing a second.

Turning him loose in that pen, he immediately ran the length of it.  When he got to the end of the pen, he jumped up with all four hoofs in the air, then he stopped and looked back at me.  I yelled out his name, "Murphy, my son!"  And he ran back to me at a dead run, just like always.

It was all about a game that we played.  I started it with him back when I first bought him years before moving up here.  At that place where I was boarding him, I used to walk him over to the roping arena then I'd take off his halter and wave him off with my hat.  He'd run full out for the other end of that area, and once there he'd rear up and jump with all four hoofs in the air.  Then he'd stop and look back at me.  

I'd yell, "Come here, Son!"  And yes, he'd charge back at me full throttle wide open.  He always began to stop about 20 or so feet away from me, and he always would slowly come up to me and rest his head against my chest or in my arms.  Then after a few rubs and me straightening his forelock, he'd start sniffing out my pockets.  

He'd always find the pocket where I was hiding carrots or apple treats.  I would fish out an apple and take a bite, then give it to him to take a bite. Before long, he chomped up two apples as easy as can be.  He'd follow me just about everywhere. 

In fact, Murphy and I were known to dance a little once upon a time.  It was usually his love of apple treats that would make him cut me off from walking away.  Then if I'd turn away to start in another direction, he'd cut me off again.  He'd follow me at every turn, and I'd reward him with apple treats.  Yes, he used to be quite the clown. 

Actually, he did that for quite a while until I found him some horse companionship.  That was when my shoer told me about some people who were giving away a horse because he was navicular. 

That was how I got Mac, and Mac made a great companion for Murphy.  They got along real well.  So well, in fact, that when I would move one - the other would call out and throw a fit. 

I rode a lot when we first moved up here.  It was before my health went sour and I started putting on all sorts of weight. It was a great time actually.

Almost every morning, I'd go down to the pen and lead Murphy up to my new hitching post.  I'd slowly saddle him up, then I'd go inside and bring out a cup of coffee and side in a chair near him.  I'd take in the morning while he slowly let out the air that he had a habit of taking in when he was cinched up.  He always took in air when he was cinched.

When my coffee was done, I'd take in his cinch and we'd start out. We were eager and ready to go.  It was new country for us.  It was thousands of acres of BLM land.  We were explorers. 

At first it was the easy fire trails that the CDF, California Department of Forestry, maintains.  Then after a while, I'd throw on my chaps and six gun and off we would go into the bush.  The back country wilderness was thick with manzanita, and every once in a while we'd bump into a critter or two that we didn't want any part of.

Big cats, mountain lions, roam this area freely, bears too.  I went armed for them and others.  And Murphy's nose would tell me if anything unfriendly was in the wind around us.  He was really one to smell 'em out and not get too excited in the meanwhile. 

In fact, very little actually scared Murphy when we used to ride.  But it doesn't matter if something did, Murphy did one thing that most owners would wish for.  He'd stay put!  We worked long and hard to make sure that if it were a rattler, or simply something else, he wouldn't leave.  He'd stay put!  

We charted out this area real well, and it was only later that I really found out how far we went. 

There was that one time when we were up a miles into the back country.  Murphy started getting a little blowy, and held his head high.  Just then two men stepped out of the brush of the forest, both with M-16 rifles.

Murphy started backing up without me telling him to.  I nodded at the two men and they nodded back.  And when we were out of sight, Murphy and I found another direction.  

A long time ago I learned that some roads not taken are healthier not taken, even for this old former Marine.  Besides, my .45 single action pistol was no match for a couple of pot growers with M-16 rifles.  I was definitely out gunned.

A few weeks later, I found out that there was a pot farm there.  It was a day or two after we were there that the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department raided their farm.  I remember saying that I didn't tell anyone about the place, and I knew for fact that Murphy didn't say a word about it. 

Murphy and I did a lot of riding in those days.  He was the only horse that I've riden for 16 years.  He knew my actions and what I needed him to do.  It comes from riding a lot of hours, of a whole lot of wet blankets, of trusting each other.  He hauled me everywhere, and I can honestly say that he never said no.  All I had to do was point him in the right direction.  Whether it was moving cows or trailing the back country, he was always the best.  

As I said earlier, we really only slowed down after I started having more and more health problems.  But yes, there is one consolation that I have which gives me comfort about my not being able to ride as much - I know that Murphy didn't mind.  He really hasn't had it bad. 

I saddled him up a few weeks ago, and we went for a ride on a Wednesday when my wife Deanna has Line Dancing all day.  It was great to be back in the saddle after only riding sporadically at best.

Of course, Murphy has picked up more companionship over the years.  Yes, my wife and I have taken in a few more unwanted horses like Mac who've needed a place to live out their years. 

The barn that my dad, and I, and my brothers helped build, was built with Murphy and Mac in mind.  It was not built for all of the horses that I have now.  But that's OK, because I figure that once I find the money then I'll expand it.   

Of course, money is always an issue for horse owners.  And yes, that's the reason people are getting rid of horses these days.  The expense can be too much in a bad economy.

In fact, in the last week or so, my wife and I have spent a lot of money on Murphy.  A great deal of money actually.  But honestly, if I had more I would have spent that on him as well. 

You see, on the 7th of August, this month, I saw Murphy lying down all alone at one end of the big pen.  Now there isn't anything out of the ordinary about a horse lying down, but for him to stay down so long bothered me.  I went into the pen to check on him. 

Colic!  That was my first thought.  He had all of the signs.  Walking in small circles, wanting to lie down instead of being on his feet, yup, it was all there.  Maybe it was sand colic, maybe it was a sudden change in his feed, or maybe something else?  

Whatever it was, I immediately started him up and walking.  I tried to give him water, but he wouldn't take it.  He groaned and walked unsteady and in pain.  For the next two days, I tried everything that I knew.  But on the 10th, we called the Vet. 

The Vet came out and looked him over and said that if he is colicing - but it's secondary to a fever.  His temperature was 102, and he was still acting real sore.  The Vet gave him antibiotics, pain killers, and something for acid reflux.  Yes, acid reflux believe it or not.  And yes, that was a first, I had never heard of such a thing for horses.

After running a tube into his stomach, the Vet filled Murphy with mineral oil and water.  The pain killer seemed to be doing its job, because Murphy started drinking and eating.  According to my wife, it was the first time that I smiled in days.  The next day, he honestly didn't look too bad.  But on Friday, he refused to eat or drink water, and he went down hill again.

On Saturday, we called the Vet back to ask her to come on out to the ranch.  This time a different Vet from the same Vet Clinic came out to look at Murphy.  He did the same as the other Vet.  The thinking was that it was a good course of treatment.  The result again was that Murphy was looking a little better.

Yesterday, Sunday, he went down hill again. I was up with him until 4 o'clock this morning.  I was tired and sore from him knocking me around while I tried giving him his medicine.  I slept until 9:30 this morning, and I woke up exhausted.  Then before washing my face or having coffee, I rushed out to see him. 

He stood in the barn and was moaning heavily.  I gave him the last of the pain medicine and waited.

I called the Vet at about 3 o'clock this afternoon.  This time another Vet out of the same Vet Clinic came out, but unlike the others she had floated his teeth before and knew Murphy.  She got here at around 4:30, and immediately looked him over.  She reached for her glove like the others had, and again reached in to try to dislodge any impaction that was causing his discomfort. 

But it was no good, there was a blockage and she said she couldn't go in any farther.  She put her ultrasound to use to check him out, and again it didn't look good.  She said that his colon had been extended and that he had an organ blocking him from getting rid of the impaction.  And to complicate matters even worse, she said the Murphy was badly dehydrated. 

We all stood there watching him sniff the ground and try to eat dandelions.  And yes, we talked about my options. 

Many years ago, I found a horse that was neglected and needed care.  He was wormy and was being starved by an owner who couldn't pay for his feed and board.  He was gaunt, boney, skin hung on him like a rag.  His hoofs were cracked and badly split.  His eyes were lifeless and dull.  He looked 20 years older than he was, and yet he had just turned seven.  He needed care from someone who cared. 

To make a long story short for right now, I bought him and cared for him.  He became my life. 

It's funny about a horse.  In his case, if I were leading him and hesitated before going in a certain direction, he would give me a nudge with his forehead to push me along.  And I know that horses don't talk a whole lot, but in many ways he spoke to me all the time. 

Murphy my son was there through good times and bad.  He was there when I went through a divorce, and the death of my Dad.  He helped me keep it together when I questioned if I could make it through illness and loneliness. 

Some say that I saved his life years ago.  Some say that he was headed for the killers and slaughter.  But the fact is that Murphy saved my life in so many ways, and I guess it was his way of just returning the favor.

I guess all in all, I bought a recue horse those years ago. I recued him, and he rescued me.

This is one of those things that I've never looked forward to writing.  I thought I'd have him around for at least 10 or 12 or 15 more years. But that's not the case now.  

We walked to the front gate to say our goodbyes.  I looked into his eyes on the way back, I broke down in tears and couldn't go any farther.  Murphy put his head into my chest and arms, then after I turned to start - he nudged me up the hill for the last time.

A few hours ago, my son Murphy had to be put down. 

I can't believe it.  

Our Last Few Moments Together, August 15th, 2011
May God Bless Murphy My Son!

Story by Tom Correa