Goodbye Swing's Lew

Today, June 29th, as I distributed the morning hay for the Golden Carrot horses, I listened to the sad cooing of the mourning doves. I don’t know if they are always calling, or if I heard them today because the sound was the sound of my heart, grieving the loss of the fabulous Swing’s Lew yesterday. Let me tell you what I know of his story…

Lew came to The Golden Carrot a mere 15 months ago, after being bought at auction by Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue for $110. He and two others came here as our first quarantine horses. This 16 hand grey gelding, covered with freckles, was immediately Pepperpot to me ... despite his thinness, he was perky and interested in the new situation as well as the mare that came with him. He immediately made me laugh when he picked up his alfalfa flake and plunked it into his water bucket! He happily accepted a blanket, looking directly into my eyes as tho to say, Hi, thanks for the blankie! SCTR later advised me that his name was Swing’s Lew, and Lew he became, but I always thought of him as my Pepperpot.

Lew was a Seattle Slew grandson through his mother, and his sire was Swing Til Dawn. And his life is a testament to that royal breeding. He raced, and won almost $100,000 before his left suspensory was badly damaged. His owners nursed him thru the initial injury, but he would never race again, so they placed him in a "good" home. He worked for over a decade as a hunter jumper lesson horse, and I bet there are a slew of girls somewhere who had their first jumps on this kind gelding. But this was not an ideal career for a horse with an old suspensory injury - all those landings were bound to hurt him again, and yes, he reinjured the suspensory. He was then, to the disgrace of that stable, thrown to auction. After a decade of earnings for them, he wasn’t worth rehab and just flat work or heaven forbid a gentle retirement. And thus, he ended up in quarantine here.

Ladies man that he was, Lew captured my heart with that first glance.

I knew immediately that I was going to ask SCTR if I could keep him, and could not have been more relieved when they said yes. Once they removed the other horses who came to TGC with Lew, I moved him into my main herd, and was delighted to watch him meld right in. Lew was so dang smart - not since Jet have I seen a horse who used his gray matter so well. He casually strolled around the edges of the herd, polite to all who spoke with him but moving on always, for two days. Apparently, he was deciding exactly WHICH geldings he would have to dominate, and WHICH mares he wanted! In a flurry of action on his third day, he cut out Chacha, Star and Song to be HIS mares - really the only one he wanted was Star, but she was a package deal and he was fine with that. And in the following months, it became clear that these were just his ‘core’ herd - when appropriate, he was "friendly" with every mare on this property, up to and including Bruhad’s girls, Sara and Joyful. (In this herd, Bruhad is the dominant gelding, and Joy and Sara are ‘his’ mares). What a Casanova .... no mare was unwilling to have Lew by her side!

Maybe that’s because he showed such joy in his time here. EVERY SINGLE MORNING Lew cantered out - on cool mornings, he ran as hard as he had while racing - mane and tail flying, thundering from his stall gate out to the main paddock and sometimes circling two or three times before he was willing to stop and start his breakfast. Even in the heat, Lew never walked out - he loved to run. And he played with the other geldings - bite my face, swords, racing - he enjoyed a game at any time. He was Mr. Popularity here - it seemed to be alright with everyone that he was second in charge so quickly. And this had to be due to his kind and gentlemanly nature - he was first to help Brave, when Brave tried to access the herd. He seemed to know immediately that Brave was blind and would gently insert himself between Brave and an obstacle, guiding him around it. He was always concerned with the welfare of other horses. When Rocky lost track of Surely and began to call and run wildly around looking for her, Lew would follow him until he hooked up again. When everyone else was eating at night, he was calling for the last stragglers - reminding them it was time for dinner.
He was always perfectly mannered when handled, and loved carrots! He was kind to visitors and interested in all that went on. And I had the enormous pleasure of riding him, although only once. I had him out for my then-volunteer, Sierra, to ride, and rode him briefly to demonstrate something to her. He was perfect for me, and I had the same connection with him I’d had with Maker’s Mark many years ago. I knew exactly what they wanted from me, and got exactly what I wanted from them, with no effort. How horrible that each died exactly the same way…

Lew usually brought his core herd back each night for dinner, and wouldn’t go into his stall (unless I insisted) until they were in. Last Sunday, the girls came back without him. I was hoping that he’d connected with another mare, but when all were in except Peanut and Dion, I saw Lew standing with them, bobbing his head up and down. I knew right away something was wrong. He would not bear weight on his right fore. When I went to check it out, it was clearly swollen, but not enough to justify his refusal to bear weight. I picked up his leg and immediately felt a huge pulse, like snake under my hand, and then the crunch that almost stopped my heart. I knew.

I called the vet, but he couldn’t get out until late Monday morning. We talked about the possibilities, but I could hear in his voice that he believed it was a break. He pointed out that this "good" leg had been taking an extra load ever since Lew’s first left suspensory injury years ago, and all those years of jumping where he almost certainly landed on the good leg more; that the second suspensory injury took a long time to heal and all during that time the good leg carried an extra burden. It would only take one wrong step..... and I knew he’d taken that step.

I gave him a huge dose of bute and left him right there, eating his dinner. I knew. I checked on him a couple of times in the night, and he was standing quietly, dozing. I listened to his breathing, quiet and calm. In the morning, he had moved all the way into the main paddock area, as though he were looking for breakfast, and in fact, he was eager when I brought him his morning hay. His leg looked the same. I knew.

I stood by his side as the herd came out for breakfast - I didn’t want them rushing him. He was perky and interested, chewing his breakfast. Star sniffed noses with him, but went away immediately. But Joyful and Sara came and stood on either side of him, eating breakfast with him and protecting him. Bru stood behind. There’s no way they didn’t know. I knew.
He spent his last hours in the herd he loved. No one messed with him and his bodyguard. When the doctor picked up the leg, I was sickened when I saw the way he moved the limb. The break was between the fetlock and hoof .... I had a few minutes, while Dr. Z got ready, to apologize to Lew, to tell him there was nothing I could do. He rubbed his head on me and looked at me with those sweet kind eyes. I know that he knew too. And like everything about this wonderful game competitor, he lost gracefully too. He fell, no, drifted gently to the ground, and was gone.

I don't know if the above really conveys who Lew was.  The dry facts tell you what he did and a little of how he lived.  But a horse like Lew is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I was privileged to know Jet, and now Lew, but both for painfully short times.  When you look into the eyes of a horse like Lew, the connection is like a hand squeezing your heart - immediate, intimate, impossible to miss.  I thought I had time with Lew, time to let him be a horse for a while. So I let him be.  But every night we spoke at dinnertime; every evening I patted his butt when I let him in for dinner; every morning he teased me while I put on his fly mask.  And every contact with him was - complete.  There was nothing routine or ordinary about it.  That's the kind of horse he was.

15 measly months. He deserved so much more. This is my definition of tragedy. A waste of a truly wonderful person. Gone before his time. Gone before he could truly enjoy his just reward. He deserved SO much more....

© 2011 - The Golden Carrot is a 501c3 public benefit charity