Goodbye to Buck
Passed away April 13 2015
Just over two weeks ago, the day started with the discovery that our dear Buck had left this earth. He was in the range of 34 years old. A good long run. Those of you who follow our organization will remember that Buck has been at the top of my “frailest” list for a long time - even a couple of years. I’m deeply grateful to my boy that he left on his own, and didn’t make me send him onward.
It may then surprise you to know how hard this has been to write. I think if I finish and publish this, he’ll really be gone. Nevermind that I’ve missed him every day since; that Joyful is now in his house; that I’ve looked for him, as his ladies have, and felt a pang each time I remembered he’s gone.
My difficulty has not been because I didn’t know what to say - there is so much to say after 14 years. Going through 14 years of photos and memories has had me weeping and sad. I mean, he really looked terrible in his last months! He’d gone downhill slowly but surely for a long time so looking back to his photos even a few years ago, I realized how far he’d declined. And then I wonder, briefly, if I should have dealt with this earlier. But I remember even 10 days ago, talking to Buck, watching him control his ladies, dive into his feed, and shuffle out each day to join the herd. He still enjoyed his life, like an old grandpa in his wheelchair covered with blankets on the shore, puffing away on a big cigar and coughing violently! Yeah, he was failing. But he was enjoying every minute of the trip down.
So let me tell you what I knew of Bucky, during the 14 years I was privileged to know him. First and foremost, and a particularly favorite trait of mine, he was a caretaker. A big (17 hh) black Tennessee Walker in the old style (not the delicate practically arabian looking new style, but the big guys who covered hundreds of acres of plantations all day long), Buck was in his own mind the caretaker of lovely chestnut mares. He came to The Golden Carrot in 2001 with his love Hava, when his owners Misty and Jeff fell on hard times, and felt that their 20 year old horses should retire anyway.
During their years with Misty and Jeff, Buck and Hava did everything. Buck had been a show horse and had some rotten manners including food protectiveness. Jeff spent many hours getting him to realize it was not that way anymore, and I’d say did a great job as Bucky never gave me the tiniest problem in this area. With M&J, Buck and Hava went in parades, helped in search and rescue, and spent 30 hours a week on trails. There was nowhere they wouldn’t go. And it was Buck who made that possible. While Hava was a well trained QH mare, she was ... excitable. That’s the nice way to put it! And Buck was her rock. No matter how scared or nervous she was, if he went, she went. She had complete faith in him and he lived up. On trails, he would just flick an ear, or ease carefully over nearer to her if she got stirred up, and she would settle. When they joined the Carrot herd, it was pretty exciting, and she ran around with all that QH speed, with Buck partially-gaiting behind her. When they stopped, and various horses approached to meet them, Buck would carefully move to intercept without being aggressive, to make sure everyone understood Hava was his. And without a single squeal or bite or kick, just a look, a posture, and a little laid back ears, he made his point.
Buck had dignity. He had gravitas. He wasn’t hugely cuddly, but of course graciously insisted when it was time for his cookie. His focus was always on the other horses in the herd, but one on one with people, he was just so dang .... strong? Steady? Calm? I dunno. I never for one second worried about him with children, in fact, it always seemed to me that he liked kids better than adults. He didn’t need lots of pets or cooing or special hugs - he was complete in himself and had great confidence - and would stand with kids around him solid as a rock and mildly amused at their antics.
We were able to use Buck’s experience for a while - while arthritic in the door, with some pain management and the ability to move around all day long, he was doing pretty well. Because of his steadiness and interest, I put kids on him and he was very happy with that; and my neighbor adored Buck as his trail ride. (A side note is that my neighbor, who isn’t really part of this organization, loved Bucky so much that there was nothing he wouldn’t do to help him. He blanketed Bucky. He’d string out the hose all the way to give Buck more water and practically dumped the water barrel every time, needed or not! He helped modify Buck’s stall when he got cast. He reported to me every day whether Buck had left feed, or how he looked walking out. He’d tell me Bucky needed a new fly mask. He wanted the best for our boy, as anyone who knew him did)
Misty and Jeff told me that Buck liked to eat paper bags. Ok, well, I think we did a little better than that here at TGC! He loved carrots, he loved cookies and would come visit in case there were treats to be had. And when he was there, I didn’t worry about the pests of the herd approaching - everyone respected Buck and gave him his space without any discernable effort on his part. He was just that guy.
He also knew what he needed. Our friend Dee Gleason comes by now and then, and offers some energy work for the horses. Her favorite method is just to walk thru the herd, and see who ‘calls’ to her. I couldn’t have been more surprised when Buck turned and practically commanded her attention.
He’s a stoic guy, not whining a lot about his various aches and pains. But Dee had something he needed, and he immediately and clearly let her know!
Some years ago, we found Buck down in his stall, front feet on the inside, and back feet on the outside, with the front windbreak post at his belly. He was cast. But he laid quietly while we tore that wall down, and removed the post, and slightly repositioned him, and the second he was right, he gave it his all and got right up. He was shaky - we think he’d been down a long time - but he started walking immediately out to the herd. A smart guy that Buck. Between his great breeding and his brain, you can see why he lasted so long.
Over the years, Buck was friendly with many. The first to break into the duo of Buck and Hava was our dear Falcon - after a trail ride with the two, Buck and he became fast friends, and once Hava realized they wouldn’t leave her, she enjoyed having two beaus. First, Buck lost Hava to a bad twisted gut colic, and he and Falcon became inseparable. Then dear Falcon died of congestive heart failure. It hurt my heart to see Buck stand alone, but his grief needed time to subside. In the end, it’s a chuckle to remember that he had not one, but three chestnut ladies to guard, and who fussed all around him (Joyful, Surely and Anya).
As his final years wound down, he started collecting his ladies. Surely was really first, but never pushed herself too close until he was much frailer. When Joyful lost her friend Sara, I moved her next to Buck, and she started watching over him, altho again at a distance. And in his final months, Anya joined them, so Bucky had an entire harem of beautiful chestnut mares who kept him company, and protected him. None of these mares was alpha, and would never stand up for themselves, but somehow, they provided protection for him, and his huge personality gave them the confidence to do so.
And frail he did become. My neighbor and I discussed his condition daily, determined to not allow him to suffer, but to put off making the final decision to the very last possible minute, because neither of us could bear the thought of a world without him. Why? I don’t know how to tell you. He was big, and kind, and dignified, and ... something that pulled at you. He had the fuzziest ears I ever saw in his final years, but you never were tempted to touch them - you would never play with him that way although I bet any child who wanted to feel them could have done so without consequence. His big liquid eye would regard you calmly, peacefully. And yet if someone threatened him or his ladies, he would swing that big head, lay back those fuzzy ears, and a piercing look drove off every horse on this place - not even the pushy Dominic would challenge him. How did this all combine to create such regard in his people? I don’t know. I guarantee you that if Buck had been a man, I’d have loved him from afar for most of these 14 years; and in fact, man or horse, I loved him anyway. He was pure - kind to his bones, THERE for anyone that mattered to him, he didn’t have a thought for himself ever, always focused outward. In his final year, he pushed himself to shuffle out every morning, and back at night. He responded to his ladies, if slowly, every day. He was their anchor, and mine.
Selflessness is a rare attribute. We rarely apply it to animals, and yet we see it there as often, or more often, than we see it in humankind. Bucky wasn’t flashy, or charismatic in the ‘normal’ way. He wasn’t a pest, or the horse who gets attention. He wasn’t shy and retiring either. But his outward directed attention made him irresistible - if he looked at you, he saw YOU. Who doesn’t glow in that kind of focus? In the kindest quietest way, he saw everyone around him, and found those who needed his strength, and gave it to them. Of course there’s a hole in our hearts today. Who else could fill it the way he did?