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.