Loyalty is a quality I find very appealing. My oldest daughter, Ashley, is extremely loyal, always going to bat for me when the chips are down. Pat is the premier example of the loyal hubby, taking to heart the words spoken to us at a Presbytery Conference shortly after we married. “Never speak negatively about your spouse. Be each other’s encouragers.” (Truth be told, I have forgotten those sage words of advice on one too many occasions!)
“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
As the grateful recipient of Ashley and Pat’s loyalty, my heart’s desire is to provide an equal measure of loyalty to them, as well as everyone I love, including my faithful equine. Smoke and I have been partners for over twenty-three years. He filled a huge void created years earlier when my parents divorced and I was forced to sell my two beautiful quarter horses, tack and all. Those years of simply watching horses graze in nearby pastures often caused tears to slowly fill my eyes. Fifteen years passed before I was in a position to be able to purchase, stable, and maintain another animal of this size.
Smoke was the last horse I considered in a long line of test rides. By the time I found him advertised in a horse publication, I was exhausted from driving all over heaven’s green earth, only to be disappointed when each horse failed my evaluation test. One ran off with me. Another had terrible confirmation. No emotional connection. Small eyes. Wrong color. I reluctantly called the number on the ad, asking the owner to bring him to me. Victorville was a good three-hour drive, and I just couldn’t muster the strength to travel that far. Surprisingly, the owner agreed!
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, for me, it was love at first sight as Smoke slowly backed out of the trailer. My heart was set on a deep golden Palomino, just like Coppertone, my unbeatable trail class winner. Although Smoke was a lighter Palomino, he had the size of sixteen and a half hands, the right age (seven years old), excellent confirmation, and offered a very comfortable ride—smooth as glass at the trot and canter. He was also a registered Appaloosa, boasting an interesting blanket of white spots on his rear. These, I loving refer to now as polka dots. This horse possessed one additional quality—large, expressive eyes, eyes that seemed to draw me into the very depths of his soul. I told the owner I would think about it and call her in a day or two. Then, an interesting thing happened as she attempted to load him back into the trailer. He refused to load! Smoke was a show horse so he was more than familiar with the load, unload, load procedure. But try as she might, she could not get him in! A full half hour later, I finally said, “Just leave him with me. I will get him vet checked, and if he passes, I’ll buy him.” She agreed. And, as they say, “The rest is history!”
Smoke and I have been through more than our fair share of excitement. At sixteen years old, he coliced. There are many reasons why a horse will colic. But the bottom line is they cannot pass their stools. They stop eating, and they will die if the cause is not identified and rectified within a very short period of time. After two visits from my local vet, and only temporary improvement on Smoke’s part, we determined that he had to take a trip to the Chino Hills Equine Hospital. Nine x-rays later revealed three huge stones in his abdomen—ten pounds of stones! These stones are similar to kidney stones in a human being, but a heck of a lot bigger! And passing these monsters were completely out of the question. The surgeon met with me in the waiting room and gave me our options: seventy-five percent survival with the operation, zero percent survival without. At that moment, I was so thankful I had equine insurance covering eighty percent of his medical expenses.
“Let’s go for it,” I croaked through my tears.
Smoke made it through this major surgical procedure and three-month recovery. Soon, we were once again saddling up to ride the hills of Orange Park Acres.
The next twelve years were problem free. During that time, Pat and I married, and Smoke found himself enjoying weekly rides through the San Bernardino National Forest. What a blessing it was to explore mountain trails after a winter snow storm that left six to eight inches of white fluffy powder. The stillness of this winter wonderland created extended times of deep reflection and gratitude for the life I was blessed with— good health, a strong Christian marriage, wonderful kids, a satisfying job, excellent church, loving extended family and friends, as well as a unique relationship with one of God’s finest creatures. Then, disaster struck …
It was a hot August Sunday in 2010. Smoke and I had just received the Hi Point ribbon, winning first place in most of our classes at the Los Vaqueros De La Montana Riding Club’s Western Horse Show. On Monday, my farrier, Craig, came out to trim Smoke’s hooves and give him a new set of horseshoes. On Tuesday morning, I discovered Smoke limping as he meandered between his stall and attached turnout. I will spare you the gory details and just say that after three long weeks of extensive investigation by two additional farriers and our local vet, Smoke was transferred to the same equine hospital and surgeon who had saved his life twelve years earlier. After a full set of x-rays, I was told he had suffered a coffin bone rotation on his right front hoof. Imagine your anklebone crashing through the sole of your foot, and you get the idea!
After exhaustive conversations with the surgeon, I privately asked Craig for his opinion. His answer sent me into the stratosphere. “Of the seventeen horses I have cared for over the past fifteen years who have been diagnosed with this extreme trauma, none have survived. I would put him down.” I felt as though I would faint as the reality of Smoke’s condition sunk into my heart, soul, and mind. My friend of over twenty-one years, the one who depended on me for his care, now faced a lifethreatening fork in his trail. What was I to do? Allow me to skip to the end.
After one full year of exhaustive rehabilitation, a $10,000 medical investment including a six-week hospital stay, a complete dietary change, medications, supplements, an unexpected surgical procedure, special orthodic boots, and a ton of prayer and love, Smoke and I once again saddled up to ride our local mountain trails. It was a day I will never forget, filled with a nonstop stream of thankful tears. Together, we had beaten the odds, said “No” to the easiest way out, listened to the divinely inspired advice of my farrier’s wife, done our research, and allowed the process of healing to have its way.
I often wonder if somehow, someway, Smoke sensed twenty-one years earlier that he would not once, but twice, need his caregiver to demonstrate one hundred percent loyalty to him, someone who would place his emergency needs at the very top of her list, sacrificing her time and limited financial resources to demonstrate that every once in a while, the impossible IS possible? Is this the real reason he refused to load back into his trailer? I really wonder …
Once the decision was made to move to Hawaii, my concerns shifted to Smoke and the special care he would require for the rest of his life. By this time, I had made the decision to allow him to return to the way God had created equines to exist—no metal shoes nailed to their hooves. But finding a qualified, highly trained barefoot farrier on the Big Island would be similar to trying to locate a single quarter, painted with bright red nail polish, and then thrown into a sea of quarters within an area the size of Texas! What were the chances?
With God, the impossible IS possible. Within four weeks of arriving in Hawaii, I had been divinely guided to Susanella. I lovingly refer to her as “The world’s finest barefoot farrier.” What a plethora of equine knowledge. What a lover of all sizes, shapes, breeds and conditions of this majestic animal.
The first time we met, we both talked so fast it made our heads spin. Quickly, we realized we were on the same page in regards to Smoke’s continued physical needs. She basically tucked us under her maternal wing, providing the painstaking care that, over the next year, would result in beautifully restored and functioning hooves, “Healing from the ground up” as she so often refers to her meticulous work. The fact that we are the same age, A-type personalities, and totally committed to the care of our equine friends has made this sometimes frightening journey so much more enjoyable. Susanella is more than my farrier. She is my dear friend, confidant of all things equine, and the one I call when Smoke and I need help!
On April 28, 2012, we celebrated Smoke’s thirtieth birthday–the equivalent of eighty-six and a half human years. I felt he deserved it after all he has been through in his adventurous lifetime. I inserted fragrant ginger into his braided forelock, mane and tail, tying a bright orange lei around his beautiful neck. Susanella, along with a dozen neighbors and friends, stopped by to enjoy pupus and champagne while sitting on hay bales scattered near Smoke’s pasture. We all marveled at this amazing example of equine flesh. But I knew Who truly healed my horse–the Great Physician–the only One who not only healed the lepers, raised Lazarus after four days in his grave, stopped a woman’s flow of blood after twelve years, caused the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the lame to walk, but also rose from His own grave, fellowshipped among the multitudes, and then ascended back to heaven to be seated at the right hand of His heavenly Father. Jesus Christ heard my panic prayers and chose again to answer “Yes,” giving Smoke and me an untold number of additional years together to enjoy life on the Big Island. We are truly blessed!