GOODBYE TO OSO
Yesterday the winds died, as nature gave a moment of silence to say goodbye to Oso. As I knelt by his body, out flat like he was sleeping in his blanket, and realized he was gone, the stillness filled me and I closed my eyes hoping I was wrong. Trying to hold him to me, trying to feel my boy again. I had so hoped he might pull thru...... Let me tell you about Oso....
I was contacted in December of 2009 by Shirley Puga. Shirley and her friends had taken some horses from a feedlot in Nevada some 5 months earlier. Seeing that I was hoping to start a therapy riding program for Wounded Warriors, she told me of Oso, not doing great at the ranch of one of her co-rescuers. I agreed to take him and Anaba for them, and one cold wet day in January, they arrived after a long long trailer ride and overnight stay in the trailer. We had to walk the two horses the last mile to home as the dirt road was muddy and wet. And I wondered if poor Oso would make it. He was clearly exhausted, and seemed so small despite his huge head. He couldn’t hold that head up, and stumbled repeatedly as we walked.
When we arrived at TGC, he immediately laid down. We had a long road ahead to bring this guy back.
Oso was a 16 hand Belgian Draft horse. He had a thick coat, but even so you could see his ribs and backbone, and his head looked huge for his body. But he was thrilled with the pelleted feed, and after one gas colic I adjusted his feed to include less alfalfa, and he began to fill out. I had many volunteers in early 2010 and Oso was a favorite - they didn’t know much about horses, but they could see his poor condition and exhaustion. Early on he convinced one soft heart that I’d forgotten to feed him, and she prepared and fed him an extra bucket ... what a con man! Groups of ladies came out to groom the caked mud off him; feed him carrots; and just touch him - he stood quietly and looked very happy with all the attention. I think he worried the first few times visitors came to see him - sometimes that will mean a change for horses - but as time went on, he realized he was home, and that all these people were just visiting him. And he reveled in it. His beautiful looks and gentle nature called attention to him without effort, and he returned that attention 10fold.
Oso was always more a people person than a horse person. He didn’t like conflict - and his very size made every gelding pick a fight with him, and even the mares seemed to need to put him right in his place. He could defend himself, as this picture shows - he wasn’t taking that from Topper! But he didn’t WANT to fight - he was a lover, not a fighter, and avoiding conflict was his way. So for the first six months here, he avoided the other horses - standing alone all day long. I wasn’t worried for a while because he needed to recover; and each day it seemed he filled out a little more and his coloring became a little more vivid, and there was a more golden gleam in his eyes. The day he saw me coming for the evening meal, and cantered the entire length of the arena to greet me, my heart almost stopped in my chest ... first thrilled to see him running, and then a little scared he wouldn’t stop! Oso was a BIG boy - I have a fair number of tall horses here at TGC, with Buck, Joyful, Beau and Navigator all 17 hands; and many close ... but for sheer bulk, only Sara could compete with him.
Like all geldings, he was happy to go walkabout if possible. He could take down any fence here with no effort at all, and I remember the first time he did it. I was in my house working and the dogs started barking - I leaned over to look out the window, and saw a big golden butt walking out of the driveway! He’d taken down the arena fence, walked up the hill driveway and was trotting north, with Daisy and Anaba running wildly around him! It was a little early for him to be working that hard tho - northbound from here is uphill for quite a ways, and as I reached the top of the hill, I saw him, winded and pretending to eat some weeds, wondering what he was doing! He saw me, and I had to laugh at the conflict in his face - relief that I was there to bring him back, but embarrassment in front of Daisy and Anaba - he actually sort of trot/walked in place, pretending to continue the escape, but not going anywhere, so I could catch him and ‘force’ him to return! The girls, of course, followed us back, but Oso and I traded looks - we were BOTH blowing and agreed that wasn’t worth the effort! Although Oso escaped several more times, he never left the property again....
In December of 2010, almost a year after his arrival, Oso showed that his golden coat hid a golden heart. Buddy came in to TGC - a Morgan pony who was painfully thin, practically toothless and frail. He was a tough guy in personality, as so many ponies can be, but knew he was vulnerable in a herd. And he looked at Oso and knew right away this was a sweet guy, with the bulk Buddy needed. Oso dropped his big head, looked at Buddy with bemusement and said, sure Buddy, ok, you’ll be fine now, believe me! And the two were inseparable thereafter. For the first time I think Oso had a horse friend. Unwilling to fight to protect himself, Oso was happy to stand between Buddy and danger.
And once Keller joined the two, the three of them had the group courage they needed to wander thru the paddocks and over to the main stall line, just to look around, even grabbing a bite to eat in the main herd if they wanted. Their friendship opened up the whole place to each of them - but the relationship revolved around Oso. Oso never cared about horses until he found one that needed his help - and he stepped up, earning Buddy’s undying love.
During Oso’s final day, Buddy and Keller stuck to his side like glue, not even eating their breakfast until we were able to medicate Oso’s pain. As he lay napping, they stood by his side. When I came out that morning, it was Buddy who ran to me, insisting, hopelessly, that I help. I found Oso’s body with Buddy-drools all over it - I’m sure he tried to get Oso to wake up. And in these days since Oso’s passing, although Keller seems mostly confused, Buddy’s heartache is as obvious as my tears.
Oso never lost his love of people - despite the horrid condition he came in, somehow he always had faith that people would help him. He always came running for visitors, to get a carrot and a pat; he loved having someone on his broad back for a pony ride; he was always interested if people came around. On his final day, when I brought him out for the vet, despite his clear distress he tried hard to behave, and when the drugs began to kill his pain, I could see his gratitude in his eyes. When I took him back to the paddock, he stood by the fence looking at me, asking me not to leave him in the paddock alone - but I got Buddy and Keller back from where they’d gone running trying to find him - and the three spent that last afternoon together. When I fed Buddy and Keller in the field rather than make them all walk back to their stalls, and put Oso’s blanket on, he bumped his head in my chest. He wasn’t interested in eating the food. But as always, thanked me for bringing it.
This gentle heart was the most comforting presence I’ve ever known. All horse people know the hug of a horse, how wiping your tears in their mane can somehow help the most hopeless situation. But I’m not a typical horsewoman - I’m quick moving, even twitchy, and always running, stressed out, tired and often angry. But just approaching Oso would slow me down, I couldn’t resist touching him, patting his butt, stroking that thick neck, pulling his nostrils out to feel the velvet. And once I touched him I could feel my heart rate slow, my blood pressure drop. I’d look into his great golden eyes and for a moment, I was warm and calm. The two of us would breathe together ..... and then I’d be off, refreshed and happy. Seeing the glint in his eye each morning, patting his butt each night as he walked happily into his stall for dinner, giggling at his ‘poor starving me’ look when I was near the feed shed (and yes, I always gave him a handful of senior feed or a carrot, how could I not?) - Oso was my big O, my boy, my great goof. Like Swing’s Lew and Jet, he looked back at me, he saw ME, and he wanted to please me. The thought of what would have happened to Oso if Shirley hadn’t taken him off that feedlot is a horror too awful to contemplate. I will bear the pain of this loss a thousand times before I would want him or any horse to walk onto a slaughter truck, or down the slaughter chute. He didn’t have much time here - like Swing’s Lew, his happiness didn’t last near long enough. But I was honored to be able to restore him to health, and reaffirm his crazy faith in humanity. I will never forget him, and I will miss him forever.