Sunday, March 7, 2010

Red Arrow

A lady who told me that his owners had abandoned him at her stable gave me Redro. He walked into the horsebox with no fuss, and I took him home. His name was Red Arrow, but we called him Redro. He had been terribly abused, and I have a fair idea of how, because about a year after I got him, I decided to take him for a little ride - although he was old, he was as fit as a fiddle - a red hot chestnut with a lively bounce in his stride and a proud head carriage. It was a case of curiosity got the better of me. I had a feeling that he was a super ride, and I just wanted to try him out. As I saddled him up he got more and more nervous, and by the time I climbed on his back, he was trotting on the spot. As I settled into the saddle he was cantering on the spot, and already starting to sweat.

I climbed straight off again, gave him a hug and apologised, promising never to do it again. I never did. That pony had been ridden into the ground by some horrid person, and expected to be beaten the moment someone got on his back. How I hate people who abuse horses in that (or any) manner. Whoever did that to Redro ruined a lovely, gentle natured pony. I never had a moment's trouble with him. He was always willing and well behaved, boxed like an angel, never bit or kicked, didn't run away when I wanted to catch him. He stood like a dream for injections, farriers, grooming, etc. Even when I had his teeth rasped, he was so good. I felt so sorry for him afterwards, though, because he stood drooling and looking miserable for hours.

Something terrible had happened to his tongue, because when the vet rasped his teeth he discovered that it had almost been cut in half. It had a cut that ran halfway through it, long healed, but horrible to think of how it must have happened, and how much he must have suffered, since it had clearly never been treated or stitched up. It was probably the memory of that trauma, brought back by the tooth rasping, that causedhis depression and drooling afterwards. Poor boy... I didn't have his teeth rasped again, and he managed fine. I can only guess that someone rode him with a piece of wire for a bit ...

When I first got him, he would retreat to the back of his stable if anyone came to the door and watch them warily, and didn't like to be petted - or maybe he just didn't trust people to pat and not hit him. He did eventually learn to trust me, but no one else. I tried to help him get over his fear of sticks, because the very sight of someone carrying a twig or a riding crop sent him galloping away if he was in the paddock, and rushing to the furthest corner of the stable if he was inside.

I went into his stable with a riding crop and stroked him with it, to show him that I wasn't ever going to hit him with it, but he never stopped shuddering and going rigid with terror, so I stopped. He was just too old and too badly scarred mentally to change, and trying to just frightened him.Most horses, if they were abused that badly, would resort to defensive tactics like swinging their hindquarters at you and threatening to kick or bite in order to keep you away, but not Redro. If he couldn't run away, he'd just stand there without protest and let you do what you wanted, but with wide, frightened eyes.

He used to break my heart, for when people came to the fence to give treats and pats, he wouldn't come close, and my horse got all the attention. When I was there alone, I could tempt him close with a slice of apple, but in the beginning, if I tried to stroke him he would pull away. Gradually that changed, and I was able to stroke him in the paddock for just a short time before he walked away. I wanted so much to give him the love and affection that he'd clearly never had, and it was hard when he wouldn't let me. He was terribly head shy, and if you reached for any part of his body, to stroke or pat him, he would flinch and bunch up his muscles in anticipation of a blow.


Starr must have been about eighteen when my mother bought a smallholding in Manderston and invited me to live there with her and my sister. I had always wanted Starr to have acres of green fields to graze and run around in, and this seemed perfect. Twelve acres of lush grazing could only be described as horse heaven. A friend offered to box Starr and Redro up there, and when he asked how Starr boxed, I told him like a dream.

When the time came to get him into the box, however, the dream turned into a nightmare. I walked up the ramp, fully expecting Starr to follow, but he ducked around the side. I tried again, with the same result. Redro was already waiting in the box, but, try as I might, Starr was not going in that box. He would have followed me through fire, of that I have no doubt, but after his slip in a box on the way to Van Reenen, he wasn’t going to go in a box again without a fight.

Redro stood like a statue for 4 hours while we tried to get Starr in the box, driving it around to find a mound so the ramp was level, trying to push, cajole, tempt and drag Starr into it. Every now and then Redro would look around with wide eyes, but he never moved. Eventually I called the vet and Starr was tranquillised, after which it was just a case of shoving him in. I'll never forget how Redro stood so still through it all, however. We even tried taking him out so we could move the partition to give Starr more space, and put him back in when that didn't work, and he went up and down that ramp without a bit of fuss.

On the farm, I used to leave the stables open during the day, and it was so funny when it rained, and I'd go down to check on the horses, only to find the two of them standing in their own stables keeping dry, looking so smug at their cleverness. On hot days too, I would find them dozing in the cool stables, less bothered by flies than they would have been outside. Judging by the white saddle scars on his back, Redro had either been ridden for hours at a time, or had worn ill-fitting tack. I know nothing of his history, but he spent those last years running around in big grassy paddocks. Starr loved him, too. He was the best companion Starr ever had.

We had been on the farm for about two years when Redro died of a burst blood vessel in his chest, and all he had to see him through to the end was a painkiller. Even though I had told the vet my pony was in extreme distress, he didn’t bring the humane killer. It was so sad the way he chose to go into his stable to die stretched out on the floor, instead of out in the sunny paddock.

I still feel bad when I remember my poor old boy. He was such a sweetie; he didn't deserve to die like that. Even with the painkiller, it wasn't a quick end. He'd already been badly abused before I got him, but at least his last few years were happy and peaceful, and he lost the nervous, jittery look and settled down a lot, although I don't think he ever forgot what had been done to him.

After he died so suddenly, I was left with the prospect of Starr going ballistic when he found himself alone. I phoned the local horse rescue unit and took the unbroken 3-year-old they offered in desperation. They promised to deliver him that afternoon, so I had the sad task of having Redro's body dragged out of the stable where he had died. The neighbours pitched in to help, and when Starr came in from grazing he gently nuzzled and sniffed Redro's body, blowing into his nostrils, but not seeming to understand that his friend was gone.

We're not allowed to bury such a large animal in South Africa. We have to call the Lion Park. They took Redro's body away the next morning, and I couldn't bear to watch that. Even though Starr had the frisky 3-year-old who followed him around like a puppy, he screamed blue murder and galloped up and down the fence when that pickup drove away. Redro was such a sweet, gentle pony, who had lived such a hard life. He didn't deserve to be eaten by lions.

The 3-year-old, Tusox, soon wore out his welcome. He pestered Starr endlessly, wanting to play, and at 20 years old, Starr just wasn’t interested. After about six months, I sent Tusox back and got a retired riding school pony, Black Marble, whom we called Marbles. I knew at some stage the two would become separated and Starr would holler when he lost his Marbles. Those were good years, although Marbles was a bit of a bully. We rode in the veld and life was good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seedy Toes

By now Starr was twelve, and I had a new boyfriend. We decided to go on holiday to the Seychelles, and stay on my family’s property there for a month, camping out. I had to find somewhere to livery Starr while we were away, and found a place just around the corner, a nice woman who kept a stable full of huge cart horses. It seemed the ideal place, within easy riding distance, and so I left him there while we went away. I returned on the allotted date, and immediately went to collect my horse and pony. To my horror, Starr was covered in big, fat grey ticks.

I was shocked and disgusted, and wouldn’t have been any the wiser, except the woman had thought I was arriving the following day, and had intended to remove all the ticks before then, I must assume. I was furious, and so was Starr. I had left him in this disgusting place, and he was not happy with me. He showed his displeasure by nipping me on the arm, not even hard enough to hurt, but it certainly showed how angry he was with me.

About a month later, I noticed that there was something wrong with Starr’s back feet. The hoof wall was separated from the lamina, but I wasn’t sure what the problem was. For many years, a friend’s groom had been trimming my horses’ feet, since none of them was shod, and he seemed to do a good job of it. He was a lot cheaper than a farrier, too. When I discovered the problem, though, I immediately found a proper farrier and had him look at Starr’s feet. He said it was seedy toe, and the separated hoof wall had to be cut away. He cut and cut, while I watched with growing horror as my horse’s hooves vanished.

By the time Paul had finished, only about an inch of hoof remained below the coronets, and the outlook was bleak. He told me it would take about a year for the hoof wall to grow back down to the ground, and the chances were that Starr would develop one, perhaps even two, dropped soles. I called the State Vet, wanting only the best for my horse. He told me Starr would need operations, and his feet would still not recover fully, even then. He recommended that I put Starr down. I never called him again.

Preventing Starr from running around was impossible. He wasn’t even lame, and although I didn’t ride him for that year, he still galloped around in the paddock, and there was nothing I could do to prevent him. His hooves slowly grew back to the ground, and Paul kept their shape correct. One sole dropped, the other seemed fine, and a year later his feet were recovered and he seemed fine, except for being a bit tender on that dropped foot. I started riding him again, and all seemed fine. If he was lame at all on that dropped sole, it wasn’t noticeable. I thought I had dodged a bullet, and Starr had too. We continued our solo out rides, and all was well.

Going Through the Roof

The years passed. My fiancé ran off with a blonde bimbo, and I rented the cottage we had been living in. For a while things were really tough. I had no income and my mum had to help out until I found a job. I sold my engagement ring and bought a car, since my fiancé had sold mine because it was registered to his company. He also sold Ebony, and I got a 16-year-old thoroughbred to keep Starr company. He ate me out of house and home, however, consuming a bucket of food per day compared to Starr’s quarter bucket.

I found a home for him, and gave a home to a sweet little retired chestnut pony called Red Arrow – Redro for short. He was rig, and about 26 years old, but he and Starr soon became firm friends. We weathered the tough times together, and Starr was always my rock, the one I could count on, always there for me, with his golden shoulder to cry on. Our bond was amazingly strong by this time, and when we went riding I hardly had to give him an aid.

When Starr was about ten years old, I decided to have his teeth rasped. I’d never done it before, but heard about it and decided to give it a try. As it turned out, Starr didn’t need his teeth rasped, as some horses don’t, if they have a good bite. Nevertheless, I got a farrier in to do it. We did it in the stable, with me holding Starr with a halter.

The farrier wanted to twitch him, but I didn’t fancy the idea. More fool me! When the farrier started rasping Starr’s teeth, I could see immediately that he really didn’t like it. Still, we persevered, but after only a few minutes, Starr went through the roof. Literally! He reared up, lifted me right off my feet as I clung to the halter rope, and smashed through the stable’s asbestos roof.

After that, I let the farrier put a twitch on him, and he finished the tooth rasping without incident, except now I had a big hole in my stable roof!


Starr bolted with me twice. Did I forget to mention that he was strong willed? That, combined with his competitive spirit, made him hard to control at times, especially in the company of other horses, which was why I rode mostly alone. The last time I rode with a group, everything was fine until the other girls decided to canter, whereupon Starr, thinking the race was on, proceeded to overtake from the back, with me hauling on the reins to no effect. When we reached the front, the girl in the lead decided to give us a run for our money. Boy, was that ever a mistake!

Starr took off. We were riding along the edge of the sugar cane fields at the time, next to a road, where telephone poles had steel cables that crossed our path at regular intervals. Starr, on the outside of the track, careered along it at break-neck speed, having already left the group behind. The cables whizzed past over my head, and, since I’d lost control of him, I couldn’t even guide him away from them. I decided the only way to slow him down was to turn him into the field. The sugar cane had been recently cut and the fields were ploughed. It took a great deal of tugging to turn him, but turn him I did, and we thundered across the ploughed up ground, the group now far behind.

I hauled on those reins, I yanked and yawed him, all to no avail. Starr was not going to slow down. He was a powerful horse with a lot of stamina, and I had visions of ending up on the freeway. There was a barbed wire fence around the sugar cane fields, however, and when we reached the far side, which must have been a good couple of kilometres from where we started – covered in lightning fast time at a flat out gallop – he allowed me to turn him, and finally stopped.
I rode home, and vowed never to ride with a group again.

So, we rode alone, and that was more fun in many ways, since I didn’t have to worry about other riders sparking Starr’s need for speed, or at least, for being in front. Then one day I cantered him up a long, fairly steep hill. I preferred to canter uphill, since down hills scared me, with Starr’s not so certain brakes and ticklish accelerator. About three quarters of the way up the hill, however, Starr decided this was far too much like hard work, and going down would be much easier. He swung around and took off downhill at an astonishing speed.

Once more, I hauled on the reins, but that only pulled me onto the Western saddle’s pommel, which I clung to. Each time I pulled on the reins, he would slow a little, but then I would overbalance, due to the steep incline, and loosen the reins, whereupon he would speed up again. We careered down a rutted road, heading for a much larger dirt road at the bottom of the hill, frequented by busses. My heart hammered in my mouth as we headed for this road, hell for leather. As we reached it, a bus approached, and I managed to turn Starr so we were racing away from the vehicle.

The passengers and driver of that bus must have been most surprised to be overtaken by a gold and white horse with a white-faced, wild-eyed rider. We left the bus in the dust, too. I never rode him up that hill again. Lesson learnt.

Learning to Jump

It was great to be home, and things settled into a nice routine. I rode several times a week, and by this time Starr was rising 5. I decided it was time to see what this show jumping lark was all about. I hadn’t had any lessons in jumping, having barely learnt to ride when I bought Starr. We would learn together, though, as we had done everything else. In fact, since I had had so little training before I bought Starr, I had invented my own aids.

Being lazy with my legs, I carried a riding crop and the aid to canter was a tap on his shoulder. I didn’t like trotting, so it became a gait we never used. We walked, and we slow cantered. Starr had a wonderful, rocking horse canter where I could sit back, with slack reins, and just enjoy the gentle rocking motion. While others were bouncing up and down at a trot, I was rocking along on my horse who could canter as slowly as they trotted. Bliss.

There was a riding school down the road from the farm where I lived, and I hired an instructor to teach us how to jump. Apart from the time he had jumped out of his paddock, Starr had never encountered and obstacle, and never carrying me. We started with little jumps, which Starr scorned, and trotted over them. The instructor raised the bar, and Starr picked his feet up higher. I, of course, was afraid of jumping, but determined to overcome my fears. Starr had no problem with it at all. By the second day, the instructor had raised the jumps to about two feet high, and Starr sailed over them.

The jumps got bigger, and my nerves frazzled. By the third day, the instructor was building jumps that were 3ft 3” with a 2-foot spread! Starr never so much as touched a pole, but every time he landed, I ended up clinging to his neck. I was bad like that. Of course, it would have helped if the instructor had told me to lean back when we landed. So, I became more and more afraid of these huge jumps, and, as a consequence I didn’t push Starr when we approached them. He would canter up to the jump, which looked like a fence to him, and, since I wasn’t asking him to keep going, he would simply stop in front of it. The instructor, thinking he was refusing, would shout at me to make him jump it.

I would give Starr a little push with my heels, and he would simply jump it from a standstill. That was even more unnerving! That boy could jump! Even jumping from a standstill, he sailed over with room to spare, and never so much as rapped a pole. After three days, however, I’d had enough of this jumping lark, and decided I didn’t enjoy it after all, so what was the point of doing it? I quit the jumping training and went back to out riding, deciding to become a cowgirl instead. I bought a Western saddle and a walking horse bit, and we must have looked like a right pair!

Leaving Van Reenen

After a year in Van Reenen, it was time to go home. My fiancé had landed a partnership in a truck stop business, and we were heading back to Hillcrest. Now I had four horses – well, two ponies, a donkey and a horse - so transporting them home was a bit more difficult. With his connections in the trucking business, however, my fiancé arranged a horse transport truck to stop off and collect the horses. Naturally, I wouldn’t be parted from my Starr, and insisted on riding in the truck with them. Starr walked onto the truck without a problem, as did Donald and Ebony, but Cherokee, the little skewbald, would have none of it. Two handlers, however, simply took a back leg each, lifted his rear off the ground and trundled him up the ramp like a wheelbarrow.

A thoroughbred mare and her week-old foal were already aboard the truck, on their way to the stud farm so the mare could be covered in her foal heat. She was right at the back of the truck, and my four were loaded in behind her. As usual, Donald behaved perfectly when the need for it arose, whereas the rest of the time he was true to his donkey nature. He had shown me that when I had tried to train him to pull a cart, but that’s another story!

We stopped at Mooi River at about midnight, where the mare had to be offloaded, and the handlers decided to simple push the ponies to one side, but Starr, due to his size, had to be offloaded. I led him down the ramp, in the dark and into a strange place, and we waited while the mare was offloaded, then I led him up the ramp again. That was when the driver told me, ‘that horse would follow you through fire’. It has stuck in my mind ever since. My mum had organised a field opposite her house for me to keep my four animals, and we arrived at about 1 am, tired and stiff from the long drive. Thus, we came to Monteseel.

We were there for several months, during which time I sold Cherokee and Donald, and the horses lived out in a nice grassy paddock. Eventually my fiancé organised a cottage for us on his family farm in Hillcrest, which was about 30 km away. We decided that we would ride the horses over, and we did. It was the longest ride I’d ever been on, and the first time Starr was so tired that I had to urge him on. We made it though, and installed the horses in the place that would be Starr’s home for the next 12 years.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Van Reenen's Pass

A few months later, my fiancé got a job in Van Reenen’s Pass, near Ladysmith, running a service station, and I opted to go with him. He rented a horsebox and a bakkie to pull it, and Starr walked up the ramp, no problem at all. Donald, who usually wouldn’t do anything I asked him to, followed like a little lamb. We set off on the long journey to Van Reenen's Pass, about 300km away. We soon discovered that we had a problem, however, in that the bakkie my fiancé had hired wasn’t strong enough to pull a horsebox with a horse and donkey in it, and boiled on every hill. This made the journey longer and tiring, especially for me, sitting in the box with Starr.

The trip was a trial, and we had to stop frequently to top up the radiator. On one such foray to find water, my fiancé made the mistake of climbing over a fence into a field of cows to fill a bucket from the water trough. Somehow he got through the fence the first time without mishap, but upon his return he discovered that it was electrified as he straddled the wire. Ouch!

What happened next, however, would affect Starr for the rest of his life. My fiancé – inexperienced in driving horseboxes - pulled into a service station for petrol. The horsebox had concussion brakes, so when the bakkie braked, so did it. As he entered the service station, my fiancé braked too hard. The box braked, and the rubber mat that covered the floor slipped under Starr’s feet. He fell, sliding partway under the partition into Donald’s side. Within moments he scrambled to his feet again, however, apparently none the worse. That, I was later to discover, was not the case.

Further up the road, as it was growing dark, we encountered a police roadblock, and were forced to stop. Fortunately the officers spotted the horsebox and came to see if it was occupied. Seeing Starr and Donald in it, they stopped traffic and waved us through. Even so, the journey took far longer than it should have. When we finally reached our destination and unloaded Starr and Donald, I discovered that Starr had had his butt pressed to the back of the box for a long time - probably since he had slipped, and had rubbed the top of his tail raw.

We spent a year in Van Reenen's Pass, and I converted the double garage into stables, then bought a 13hh skewbald pony for my fiancé, who was a small man, and could have been a jockey. He didn’t fancy riding such a small pony, however, and after a few lessons I bought him a bigger pony, all of 14.3hh, pitch black with a small white star – a Black Beauty look alike – called Ebony. Our cottage faced the paddock, and the front door opened into it.

By this time Starr had figured out how to open gates and doors, and one day we returned home from shopping to find him and Donald in the lounge, chewing books and the radio aerial Apart from teeth marks in the cook book and a rather bent aerial, however, they did no harm, but I locked the front door after that. Starr was considered a big horse in that area, where ponies were the norm, and I had two Afrikaans farmers knocking on my door, asking if they could use Starr for stud. One wanted his size, the other his colour. I had a tough time explaining to them, with hand signals, since they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Afrikaans, that Starr was a gelding.

It was in Van Reenen that Starr saved my life. One day, while out riding, I chose to canter him up a hillside that had many rocks scattered over it. About halfway up the hill, Starr stumbled and fell to his knees. Naturally he was forced to halt rather abruptly, and I was flung forward onto his neck, which I clung to for dear life. Starr not only managed to keep his head up so I didn’t go headfirst into the rocks, but as soon as he stopped, he rose to his feet and just stood there, waiting for me to get off. Any other horse, in that situation, would have taken umbrage to having his rider hanging onto his neck, I’m sure, and either tried to shake me off, dropped his head or maybe even bolted. I inspected his knees for damage, and, since neither of us was hurt, I remounted and rode home.

Van Reenen’s Pass was a harsh place in winter. Although the horses had quite a large paddock, all the grass died and it resembled a desert. Having lived in the warmer climes close to Durban before that, I didn’t think to buy hay, and while I upped the concentrates so the horses didn’t lose weight, one afternoon Starr got colic. It was my first experience of it, but luckily I had an excellent vet book and realised what his problem was. I immediately called the vet, but he was busy and had a long way to travel. So there I was, leading Starr round and round to prevent him from rolling.

I phoned the vet again and again, as the hours passed and I grew exhausted. An acquaintance tried to help, but he didn’t pull Starr hard enough, and he simply flopped down. I had to smack and yell at him to get him back on his feet again, and took over the leading myself once more. It seemed like four hours later when the vet finally arrived, by which time I had run out of energy and taken Starr into his stable. To prevent him from lying down, I stood with him and rested his head on my shoulder. The vet gave him one injection, and it was as if he woke up from a bad dream. He raised his head, snorted a few times, and went over to eat his supper.

After that, I spent all day cutting grass with a bread knife, until we found a feed store that sold hay.


Several months later, I was out riding one day on a quiet road in Assegai, enjoying the peacefulness as we walked along, when Starr bucked without warning. I was flung onto his neck – I did that a lot – and he bolted. I had lost both my stirrups, and clung to his mane, trying to keep my seat as we careered along a narrow road with even narrower hedged verges. As it turned out, he hadn’t bucked, but had kicked the two Doberman pinchers that had attacked his hind legs. He must have hit one, for I’m sure I heard a soft whine. The Dobermans were in hot pursuit, but gave up the chase after a few hundred metres.

With my heart in my throat, I regained my balance, although not my stirrups, and, as we rounded a corner and started down a hill, I was able to lean back and pull on the reins. Starr stopped within a few dozen metres. I dismounted and inspected his hind legs, but could find no sign of blood. The dogs must have bitten him fairly hard, though, for him to lash out like that. The fact that he had not taken off until after they had bitten him, while he had probably been aware of them racing up behind him, was a testament to his steadiness, even at the tender age of four.

Then again, Starr didn’t expect to be hurt, and his trust extended to other animals as well as humans. After that, however, he was warier of dogs. Needless to say, my mum, when I told her the story, insisted I take her to the house were it had happened, whereupon she called out the home owners and berated them roundly about allowing their dogs to roam the streets and attack unsuspecting children on horseback. Mum to the rescue! When I rode that way again, the dogs were locked in the garden.

Also in Assegai, we had our encounter with what Starr considered to be the scariest thing he’d ever seen. A cement truck. These, of course, have that huge drum on the back that rotates, and this particular truck was painted a particularly virulent shade of orange with grey stripes. We were heading towards it, and Starr watched it warily, but continued to walk. Again, it was a narrow road with a narrow verge bordered by a hedge. As the truck approached, he grew more and more nervous, until, as it started to pass us, he decided he didn’t like the look of it at all, and tried to turn to run.

Unfortunately, by that time it was next to us, and swinging around only brought him closer to it. He turned away, into the hedge, and I hung onto the reins, preventing him from turning around so he could bolt. It passed us while he shuddered and shook, but then it was behind us. The next time we encountered a cement truck, I flagged the poor man down and forced him to stop while I walked past, but this time Starr was okay, and only snorted a little.

Some time after that, Starr developed a nasty cough, and I called out the vet, who diagnosed rhinopneumonitis and gave him a long acting antibiotic injection. He also left a few more shots with me, since one wouldn’t be enough. Now, I was okay with giving injections to any horse except Starr. Somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to stick a needle in him. I found a nice man – the father of a riding friend – who said he could give Starr his jabs. The first one went off without a hitch, but when he injected him the second time, Starr staggered and almost collapsed when he pulled the needle out. I let him out of the stable, since he was reeling around still, and raced to the house to phone the vet.

Dr Cairns told me that the kindly neighbour must have injected Starr in the vein, and the antibiotic had gone straight to his brain. I was lucky, he said, because most horses dropped dead off the needle. The next time the poor man came to give Starr his shot, he must have stuck the needle in ten or twelve times before he was sure there was no blood. Starr must have felt like a pincushion!

At that time, I was cleaning the stables myself, and noticed that right after Starr had finished his food, he would have a huge pee on the bedding. Thinking to reduce my workload by at least one pee, one day I took him out on a halter right after he’d finished eating, led him to the back of the stables where there were soft pine needles, and told him to ‘PEE!’. Believe it or not, he got the message, and from then on I took him behind the stables every day, and he would immediately pee. Smart boy!

The Race

At that time, I used to ride Starr in the sugar cane fields and forests close to where we lived, and one day we encountered a girl I had met at Greenmeadow Lane. She had a young thoroughbred she had recently bought off the track, which she bragged was super fast, and had only been kicked off the track because he wouldn’t go into the starting stalls. She went on and on about how fast her horse was - unbeatable, in fact. Eventually, she asked me if I wanted to race, so she could prove just how fantastically fast her horse was. We were in the sugar cane fields, which had broad, straight, grassy lanes running through them, perfect for a good gallop.

I already knew that Starr liked to be in front when we rode with other horses. He was rising four, but I hadn’t really galloped him flat out. He was old enough, though, for he had stopped growing, and now stood at 16.1hh. I accepted her challenge, and we halted our horses at the beginning of a long, green lane with a slight uphill slant. I said ‘one, two, three, go’, and gave Starr his head as she kicked her horse into a gallop. Starr needed no urging, and, since her horse had taken off a little ahead of him, he stretched out in a full gallop.

Her horse was fast, no doubt about it, but Starr gained on him with every stride. Then the most amazing thing happened. He seemed to find a sixth gear, and the rapid jolting of a normal gallop gave way to a wonderful smooth gait the likes of which I had never experienced before, or since. It was like low flying. Starr stretched out his neck and gained speed at an astounding rate. We passed our competitors with ease, and pulled away at an amazing rate. By the time we reached the end of the track, Starr was ahead by three lengths!

I pulled him up and turned to grin at my challenger and her super fast horse, whose sour expression had to be seen to be believed. She told me she had to get home, and off she went. I never saw her again. By now, I had started to realise that Starr had depths of potential far beyond my wildest dreams, and had visions of him winning major racing tournaments and making pots of money. Hey, I was eighteen, and full of dreams. This one didn’t seem to be so far fetched, however, until I discovered that only thoroughbreds were allowed to race in the major meetings. That seemed grossly unfair, since I had the fastest horse in the world, and I wasn’t allowed to race him!


So, now we lived in a cottage with three rather ramshackle stables, and Starr was all by himself. I didn't know this would become a problem, but I had much to learn about my young horse. For several weeks all was well, then one day a woman drove into our driveway and asked me if I owned the horse in the paddock up the hill. When I said yes, she told me that he had jumped out over the barbed-wire fence and onto the road, right in front of her car.

In a panic, my mum and I set off in the car to find him. We drove all over Assegai, searching high and low, me in a state of anxiety that he would gallop on the road and hurt his feet, end up with splints or laminitis or be hit by a car. Late in the afternoon, having searched just about every lane, road, paddock and garden in the area, we returned home exhausted, hoping someone had found him and brought him back with a belt around his neck. As we approached our driveway, I peered into the next door property's driveway. There was Starr, grazing on the neighbour's verge, close to the horses in his paddocks, no more than 200 metres from our house.

That was when I decided Starr needed a companion. I wasn't risking him jumping out again! I bought an old donkey who needed a good home, and who had been horribly abused. Flies had eaten most of the skin on his legs, leaving huge raw areas that they constantly fed on. I couldn't use fly repellent, since the areas were raw and bleeding. So I made him 'trousers' out of Hessian feed sacks, which protected his legs so the sores could heal. After months of battling to keep the flies away, his sores healed. We called him 'Happiness', because he always looked so miserable. Happiness didn't last long, however. He developed a strange illness that seemed to affect his mind, and he would wander in circles endlessly, in the stable and in the paddock, bumping into walls and fences.

The vet had no idea what was wrong with him, and he showed no signs of getting better. In the stable, he would eventually end up with his forehead pressed against a wall, but in the paddock he never stopped circling. A stream bordered the bottom paddock on one side, and once he fell in and we had to fish him out. I searched for a new donkey for Starr, and found a sweet, 18-month-old baby called Donald. Happiness was put out of his misery and buried in the vegetable garden. The vet did an autopsy at his own expense, and discovered a cyst in Happiness' pancreas, which, apparently, was most unusual.

Starr liked Donald, and the two were content together. At about that time, I finally got my own saddle, a Christmas gift from my fiancé . It was a Nautical III jumping saddle, since I had voiced a wish to show jump with Starr.

Leaving Green Meadow Lane

By this time I had made a couple of friends at Green Meadow Lane, and sometimes we trained together in the arena. One was Sarah, a nice girl who owned a young bay thoroughbred. One day Sarah and I were schooling our horses in the training arena when a few older girls led another young, skittish thoroughbred in on a lunging rein. I thought this was rather foolish, since there was a perfectly good lunging ring just outside the training arena, and rode over to ask them why they wanted to lunge this horse in the training arena.

The oldest girl, Robyn, informed me that she wanted to get him used to lunging without the benefit of a ring. I pointed out that other people were using the training arena for training, and a loose horse would definitely be a problem with two other young, frisky horses around. She waved away my objection without a second thought, and proceeded to let out the lunging rein and crack the whip. Moments later, her horse ripped the rein from her hands and took off across the training arena at a full gallop. Starr bounced and pranced, but obeyed my wish to not join the wild stampede. Sarah was not so fortunate. She did manage to stay aboard, but returned white-faced and trembling when she got her horse under control again.

Of course, I informed Robyn of how I had told her so, and that someone could have been hurt. She stomped off in a huff, and I thought that was the end of it. To my surprise, as I led Starr back to his stable, the owner of the livery stable and his wife came storming out of the house, a smug-looking Robyn trailing behind them. I don't know what she had told him, but he was positively apoplectic. He ordered me, in no uncertain terms, to pack up my stuff, take my horse, and get off his property before the sun set on Dodge. He even told me that if I had been a man, he would have punched me. All because I had an argument with Robyn about using the training arena as a lunging ring, and then been proven right? Odd! Need I mention that Robyn was a pretty girl, and the livery stable owner a rather overweight middle-aged man?

So, Starr was homeless, and the next day I saddled up and headed off into the wild blue yonder - well not quite. I rode him over to the house my mum had rented for us, which didn't have stables. There was a nice paddock across the road, however, and the owner had agreed to let me keep Starr there. My mum insisted on driving with me in her car, hazard lights flashing, as if Starr and I were a mobile disaster just waiting to strike. Mothers! Needless to say, he was as good as gold, and we arrived at our new home without mishap.

Starr wasn't happy about living alone, but the fences were high and kept him in. That was an unpleasant time. I had to run over the road in the middle of the night many times to put a blanket on him when it started to rain - and if he was lying down I had to persuade him to get up so I could! Then one day it got really cold and bucketed with rain while I was at work. My mum phoned to say that Starr was standing with his feet all tucked under him, shivering. I begged my boss to let me go home, but he refused. I phoned my mum again, and I would have left even if he'd fired me, but she assured me all was well, and she had brought Starr into our garage.

I found it rather hard to imagine a 16hh horse in our garage, and wondered how my mum had managed it. As soon as 5pm came, I raced home. My mum is no horsewoman, but Starr was no ordinary horse. I found him standing at the centre of a positive spider's web of string. My mum had put a halter on him and used every bit of string she could find to tie him to every possible hitching post in the garage, including the junk that clogged its corners and lined the walls. Starr turned to look at me with his white-ringed eyes, standing like a lamb in mum's web. His welcoming neigh told me that he wasn't at all sure about the web my mad mum had weaved around him, but he was warm and dry.

I was still schooling Starr pretty much every day after work, and he was becoming quite the well-behaved horse. One day I decided to show off to my mum just how good he was, and climbed on him in the paddock bare back, with just a halter. I wanted to show her how I had taught him to side-rein and stop when I pulled on the lead rein - look mum no bit! Of course my control was somewhat imperfect, and he took a route under a tree with a low branch. Judging by his surprised look when he found me sitting on my butt under the tree, I don't think it was intentional. Okay, I fell off three times.

At that time we had a mongrel bitch who loved Starr. She was my sister's dog, called 'Santy'. One day we were standing at the fence petting Starr, and Santy was sitting gazing at him with adoring eyes. Starr leant over the fence and nibbled her head, and she loved it. Next thing I knew Starr had gripped the skin on the top of Santy's head and lifted her until her front paws were off the ground. Evidently his grip was too gentle to hurt, because she didn't cry and when he dropped her she went into paroxysms of delight at his attention. I had to marvel at his gentleness.

A few months later, we rented a cottage with stables down the road.

Falling Off

The two times I fell off Starr weren't exactly his fault, but due to his being a baby and scared of things like plastic bags, men in long raincoats, storm drains and cement trucks. By this time we were going outriding on our own, which, oddly enough, wasn't a problem at all. The first fall, however, happened when I was riding with a group, cantering along a pleasant dirt road through a forest. I knew Starr was afraid of plastic bags, and spotted one on the right hand side of the road ahead.

I took the precaution of leaning away from the bag, fully expecting him to leap sideways when he spotted it. Starr, of course, spotted something else, on the left side of the road ahead, and jumped right, with me leaning left. One minute there was a horse under me, the next, he was gone. Surprisingly, although the road was fairly hard and my bum not too well padded, the contact wasn't all that painful. The group stopped when it found a loose horse in its midst, and I picked myself up, red-faced, brushed myself off and remounted my errant and fleet-footed steed.

The second time, it was a man in a long, flapping raincoat who was standing next to the training arena. A simple matter of 3-year-old spots flapping coat, leaps sideways like a gazelle and leaves rider sitting on air. Boy, was he fast! That time, the grass was a lot softer. Starr never had any intention of dumping me in the mud, though, and after the second instance, seemed to realise that if he leapt sideways like a jack-in-a-box, I'd end up on my butt in the dirt. He never did it again.

After that, whenever he saw something he didn't like, he would slam on brakes, or shudder and snort, sidle sideways and generally try to stay as far away from the object of his fear as he could, but without the sideways leap. Naturally, since he was such a baby, I had to introduce him to frightening things like drums, storm drains and plastic bags. As soon as I dismounted, I could lead him up to them and persuade him to sniff them, while reassuring him that plastic bags and storm drains didn't eat horses.

So, he learnt fast, and I never fell off again. In fact, I think after that he strived to keep me in the saddle, since it was fairly easy to get me out of it!

An Unpleasant Encounter

It must have been about this time that Starr developed a nasty habit of gate crashing. He knew it was much more fun in the paddock with his mates, and he knew that gates were how to get there. When I schooled him in the training arena, he would be as good as gold all the way around it, until we went past the gate. Then he would head for it with all the determination of a mule, ignoring my hauling on the reins. The rubber snaffle was way too soft, apparently.

So, he would arrive at the closed gate and, since he couldn't open it, would wait for me to get off and do it for him, which, of course, I didn't. Eventually my rein tugging and cursing would get through to him, and he'd reluctantly leave the gate for one more lap around the training arena, or so he thought. Of course, this was rather annoying, to say the least, not to mention embarrassing, and I was determined to teach him the error of his ways.

Once he set his sights on the gate, however, no amount of hauling on the reins would turn him from his purpose until he reached it. Needless to say, there were spectators, and eventually my attempts to control my wayward horse became too much for one bystander. So out he stepped and shouted that he was going to report me to the SPCA for pulling on my horse's mouth. By that time, Starr had reached the gate and stopped, waiting for me to get off and open it.

I stared at the man, flabberghasted. I wasn't supposed to pull on the reins? How was I going to control my horse, then? Was I supposed to sit on him in front of the gate all day? Perhaps I should just let him go back to the paddock and give up all notion of ever riding him? Apparently, in his opinion, that's what I should have done, because inflicting my will upon my poor stubborn horse was just too much! Of course, being only seventeen, I said none of these things, but managed to persuade Starr - who by that time had realised I wasn't going to open the gate for him - to take me back to the far side of the training arena, where I stayed for the rest of the day.

Needless to say, I eventually cured Starr of his gate crashing habit, when he realised that his tactics just weren't going to work and I was just as stubborn as he was. I also upgraded his bit to a soft snaffle. Basically, the problem was the rubber bar snaffle was just too soft to make an impression on my strong willed horse.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trials and Tribulations

So, now my horse was three, and we were still schooling in the training arena, never having ventured out. His schooling was progressing well, and he was still on the rubber bar snaffle. I wanted to keep his mouth soft, and it worked fine. I discovered that he had inherited his Saddler grandsire's smooth, effortless gaits, including the rack and triple. Starr's grandsire was a champion palomino American Saddler called Golden Sovereign. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with him at that stage, apart from outriding, perhaps show jumping or dressage.

Starr was a fast learner, being intelligent and willing, but at times too strong willed and a tad stubborn, but then, so was I. We had our disputes, which I ensured that I won, by hook or crook. He needed a strong hand, or he'd have just run roughshod over me to get his own way. A friend went to see him while I wasn't there and later told me 'that horse will kill you'. This was because of Starr's white-ringed, 'wild' eyes.

Starr had inherited his Arabian granddam's toughness, cleverness and hardiness, and gained weight rapidly. At that stage, his quarters were still taller than his withers, but that soon caught up, as he was still growing, I discovered, to my horror. We started going on outrides with a friend on a lead rein, and he went well, although he was somewhat skittish, being a baby. Soon he didn't need the lead rein any more, but I still rode with an older horse. One day when we were returning from an outride, my friend Adore stopped her car on the side of the road to chat to me. While we were talking, my 'friend', on the other horse, got bored and decided to head on to the livery stable, which was only a couple of kilometres away.

That was when I discovered that Starr did not like to be alone. He wanted to follow, and when I stopped him, proceeded to swing around and back away. I didn't fancy a wild gallop to the livery stable, especially on a busy road. Starr turned in circles, and I had no control over where he went, I was only able to prevent him from following the other horse. We spun into the road, and Adore rushed out to flag down the cars. Round and round we went, right across the road, stopping traffic. When we reached the far side, we encountered a knee-high bank. No problem for Starr, he just hopped up onto it, with me hanging on for grim life, to his mane as well as the reins. Upon reaching the top of the bank, he stopped, finally. With more haste than dignity, I quit the saddle in double time. Once on the ground, I had him in control again.

My friends raced to the livery stable to call back my 'friend' who had left me so much in the lurch, while I waited with my reins wrapped around a tree branch, just in case my strong willed horse decided to drag me home with him. Of course, my fears were unfounded, but I was still getting to know him. We made it home safe and sound, but that was when I realised that my horse had rather more character than I had bargained for.

The Beginning

I was seventeen, and had moved to South Africa from the Seychelles after the death of my father on 12th July, 1977. It was July, 1979, and my birthday was coming up on the 7th. I wanted a horse, more than anything in the world. I loved horses, although there are none in the Seychelles. Still, I had had a few riding lessons and loved it. I was searching the Farmer's Weekly eagerly each week, and saw the ad that would change my life forever a week before my birthday.

2-year-old palomino for sale, R300.00, breeding potential, Cato Ridge.

The 'breeding potential' part worried me a little, as I was not looking for a colt, but I had a feeling about this ad. It stirred something inside me. It conjured up visions of a golden horse. I had decided I wanted an exotic colour, black, piebald, skewbald, or a palomino. I phoned the number and made an appointment to view the horse the following weekend. A day passed, and I grew anxious. What if someone else bought him before I had a chance to see him? What if he was the horse for me, and I lost him because I didn't act quickly enough? I had to go and see him, quickly! A sense of urgency suffused me, but I didn't know much about horses, so I asked a lady friend of my mum's who knew much more about them, to go with me.

It was a week day, so I had to go after work, and the middle of winter, so it got dark just after 5pm. I didn't care. I had to get there before it was too late. He was my horse; I just knew it. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. My mum drove Adore and I up to Cato Ridge. It was dark when we got there, but we met the family, a farmer, his wife and three kids, whose name, regretfully, I can't recall. He was good enough to take us to the shed where he kept his horses, with the benefit of a torch to light the scene. He had seven, mostly mares, but he showed us to a thin, pale horse who was busy eating his supper in a stall.

I couldn't see much in the weak torchlight, mostly a rolling eye, long legs and quarters higher than withers. He was two years, eleven months old, the farmer told me. 15.2hh, which was about the size I wanted. My knowledgeable friend could see no more than I could, and her only comment was 'good legs'. I told the farmer I'd take him, and collect him on the weekend. I had only saved up R150.00 though, but my mum said she would contribute the other R150.00 as a birthday present. I was ecstatic. At last, my very own horse. We returned on Saturday - looking back, I don't know what I was thinking. I had no horse box to transport him in, no bridle, no saddle... nothing.

I had R300.00 burning a hole in my pocket, though, and a conviction that this was my horse. He looked a good deal better in the daylight, although his neck was too long and his head too big, plus his coat was a pale fawn, since it was winter. He had good legs, though, and nice strong hooves. The farmer told me he'd bred him from his palomino mare, an Arab X American Saddler, and his sire was a chestnut Thoroughbred, which he described as 'gigantic'. Also, apparently, he had covered one of the mares before they had gelded him, so I have no idea why they advertised him as having 'breeding potential', since he was a gelding.

The farmer also told me that my horse's mother had drowned in a flooded river when he was a yearling. They showed me pictures of him as a foal, and a few of him growing up. His name was Star. Of course, I hated the name, being so common to horses with stars, and he did have a perfect, diamond-shaped one right between his eyes. They put a halter on him, and helped me climb on his back. The farmer's wife commented that I was the first heavy weight Star had carried. I wasn't that heavy, I thought, at 50kg. They led him around, and I fell in love. I paid the farmer, then came to the problem of how to transport him to the livery stable where I had booked a place for him, a place called Green Meadow Lane in Hillcrest.

Fortunately, the farmer had a truck large enough to carry him, although it was an open vehicle, and a far cry from a horse box. Nevertheless Star had no objection to being loaded onto it, and the farmer's eldest son and another man sat on the roof of the cab, holding Star's halter. I recall asking if they shouldn't tie Star's halter down, but they assured me it would be fine. I climbed into the cab with the farmer, and off we went. As soon as we left the farm, Star started neighing for his friends, but seemed otherwise unperturbed. The journey to the livery stable was about 50km, and about halfway there, on the freeway, Star reared up and put his front hooves on the roof of the cab, fortunately missing the farmer's son and his friend. They got him off it, and then tied his halter down. The rest of the journey was achieved without incident, and we arrived at Green Meadow Lane.

Of course, the truck didn't have a ramp, and the livery stable owners had to pile some bales of straw behind it for Star to step down onto. We got him off the truck without incident, and he was at his new home at last. So, I had an unbroken 2-year-old, and no tack. I saved up for a grooming kit and a halter, and Adore gave me an old bridle. I bought a rubber bar snaffle, and a friend loaned my a large, old saddle. First, I put the bridle on Star in the stable, so he could get used to the bit in his mouth. He chewed and chewed it, and tried to spit it out, but all to no avail. When he had accepted it, I added the reins and placed the saddle on his back. He looked around at it, tried to chew it, and shivered his skin a lot.

When he had accepted it, I fastened the girth, loosely. That didn't bother him much at all, so after walking him around in it for a couple of days, I tightened it and started to put my weight on his back. I put one foot in the stirrup and lay across his back, expecting fireworks. Nothing. Emboldened and excited, I plucked up the courage to sit properly and use both stirrups. Still, no fireworks. I took him into the lunging ring, and we had our first ride together. The first time I asked him to trot, he bucked, just once, and hardly enough to bounce me. That was it. After that, it was on to his schooling.

It was about that time that I decided to change his name. Not entirely, but to something better than 'Star', which I thought was a naff name. I opted to add 'Tybolt' to it, since I really liked that name. So, the skinny 2-year-old horse I had bought became Tybolt Starr. He also turned 3. That spring, he shed the pale winter coat, and his summer grew out deep gold. With his pure white mane and tail and silver socks, I realised that my horse was indeed beautiful, and not a yellow palomino, but a silver one, a far rarer colour.

Tribute to Tybolt Starr

Tybolt Starr: Born 24th October, 1976, died 17th February, 2010.

He was 33 years old. He suffered from Cushing's disease for almost 10 of those years. He was my friend, my pride and joy, and the gentlest, sweetest, kindest horse I've ever known. He had a heart as big as a house and an indomitable spirit that never quit. He was extremely strong willed, courageous and loving.

Although only average in stature at 16.1hh, he was a giant amongst horses. Children could swing on his tail and play between his legs. Even though other horses might bite and kick him, he never retaliated. He never harmed a single thing in his life. He carried me safely, swiftly and softly for countless kilometres, over hills and vales, along roads, over bridges and through streams- even over the occasional fence. When the owner of an ex-racehorse challenged us to a race, we left him in the dust. My Starr always had to win.

Starr never refused anything I asked of him, and it was once said of him, 'that horse would follow you through fire'. His love for me was evident in his welcoming neigh, bright eyes and time he would spend licking my hand, nibbling my ear or lipping my cheek. He came running when I called him, and followed me around like a dog when he could. My love for him was evident in the way my heart swelled at the sight of him, how I loved to hug, cuddle and kiss him, and how I fought long and hard against his disease.

At 31 years old, with arthritis and a dropped sole, he carried me proudly on our last short ride, and wanted to canter even though I would rather he walked. He longed to please me. He could read my mind and, from his 7th year onwards, I hardly had to use an aid - he just knew. He even saved my life. No one else ever rode him. I bought him as a wild-eyed, unbroken 3-year-old when I was 17, and I have not ridden another horse since then. Nor do I want to, ever again. He was my one and only, my perfect horse, and no other will ever compare. He was simplythe best. Better than all the rest - in my eyes.

Starr was a silver palomino, with a deep gold coat, a pure white mane and tail, silver socks and a perfect diamond-shaped star between his eyes.

Yesterday, I had to put Starr down. He was suffering from a badly rotated pedal bone in his dropped sole, and the bone was also infected, plus he had end-stage renal failure and a worsening heart murmur. He was in a lot of pain, but his suffering is over now. On Thursday he went lame, on Friday he was hopping on three legs. The vet didn't know if it was an absess or his pedal bone - one a quick fix, the other fatal at his age. The swift onset indicated an absess. I had to be sure. He soldiered on while I waited for vets and X-rays, and on Monday the verdict was passed. My hope was snuffed out, and with it, my last shred of joy.

During the waiting period, he went down twice and couldn't get up without help. I almost lost him twice, but twice I pulled him back from the brink, and the sound of my voice and a little help from friends got him back on his feet again. My heart bled for his pain, but I had to be sure. He refused to die as long as I begged him to live.

When there was no more hope, I would not set an execution date. I decided that the next time he went down, that was the end. I would not put him down while he was still on his feet. He would decide when it was his time, and I would not call him back again. Yesterday at 11:30 am, he lay down for the last time.

I held his head in my arms and promised to meet him at that rainbow bridge. I told him how much I loved him and that it was okay for him to go. Although stretched out on his side, he still ate the chopped carrots I gave him. I gave the vet the nod, and he injected the tranquiliser, then the first fatal injection. I was gazing right into Starr's eye when he gave his last, great sigh. I watched the light fade from his eye, and a part of me died too.

The tears are running down my cheeks as I write this. I thought he would only need the one shot, but 6 minutes later the vet told me his heart was still beating, and gave him the second injection. His big, strong heart just wouldn't quit. I wept. I still weep. I don't know if I'll ever stop. Within two hours of his death, he was laid to rest at the back of the paddock, next to some trees.

My Starr has gone out, and my heavens are dark. My life is empty without him.