Goodbye to Shawnee

Our Victorian Lady

Died June 7, 2015



Dear Shawnee died today. She’s been failing since the New Year, losing her appetite easily and her weight with it, and in the end, a dog bite that would not heal seemed to be the final straw. She also, in her thinness, revealed several huge lumps in her abdominal area and neck, which might have been what caused her decline to begin.

This lovely mare, an off track thoroughbred with a baby Arabian face, caught the eye of my neighbor about 25 years ago, in Palos Verdes. He approached her in her stall and offered a carrot, and was deeply disturbed to realize that she didn’t know how to eat it. It turned out she was for sale, and between him and I, we were able to purchase her. Now, we were told she was 15. If that had been true, she was almost 40 when she died. I don’t actually believe that.

The neighbor kept her at some crum-bum stable in the Lynwood area, where she stood in mud hock deep, was fed cow cubes, and once a week he came out and ran her up and down the LA River as hard as she could go. But this life depressed and upset her, this sensitive girl, and when I went there to be sure a farrier appointment was kept, I was aghast at her appearance and insisted that she come live with me. In a way, Shawnee was my first rescue.

Like so many thoroughbreds, she was excitable, picky about her food, and fanatical about having a routine. She felt that things were supposed to be a certain way, and if they weren’t, she was upset. If they were, she was brilliant. And once she was with me, she had turnout with other horses (my Bobby Sox and Bruhad), plenty of good quality hay and if she had a watch, she could set it by the routine I kept. So she began to gain weight and relax, as much as her personality would allow, right away. Each time she and I met and conquered an obstacle, she trusted me more, and the initial freakout was shorter and milder. To me, it’s the essence of courage to be so dang fearful, but willing to pull up your pants and wade in anyway, and that was Shawnee. She might never have done it alone, but if she was asked, she would try. And you really made sure it was safe, because you knew you never wanted to betray that trust.

I have a fond memory of her that I’ve always cherished. While living in Aguanga, I rode Shawnee a few miles to Pavoreal (once John Wayne’s ranch), and home again. Despite not wanting to leave the other horses, she moved out easily for me with just an occasional glance back over her shoulder. It was really a nice ride. And then we turned for home. Only my Inch ever gave me a ride to compare with that one. While she never ever broke out of a trot, or actually ran away with me, a distance that took us 45 minutes to cover on the way out, took 10 minutes to cover on the way back! I wore contacts at the time, and was surprised to find them still in my tear-filled eyes when we got home! The second she saw the other horses, she slowed to a normal walk, and was good for me as I cooled her out before letting her go. Huh, I was cooling me out too - what a RUSH! And I did ride her a few times in our little arena, and she was a jewel. So responsive - all you really needed to do was think about where you wanted to go, and you did. Power steering, power brakes, and jet assisted take off if you needed it. And all the will in the world to please you. She was a great one.

I don’t want to say she never had attitude. She had a funny head swing she would do - sorta snaky out and half circle. It reminded me of a very genteel lady shaking her head or her finger at you - For Heaven’s sake! She’d say. Now, you behave!. She could put some emphasis on it, but it was sort of a soft insistence or expression of resistance. But very well mannered, nothing aggressive about it, no attempt to whack you with that head, just a gentle reprimand. Most often, I saw this during work, so we went a lot of years without seeing it. And then, in this last year, I saw her use that to warn other horses away from her and Hershey. Mostly they were respectful of it!

She wanted a boyfriend - a gentlemanly guy, not mean - and in her years with me, she chose several. First was Domino; then Josh; then Beau. When Beau passed, she seemed to stand alone a lot, and I worried for her.

but lo and behold, she chose Hershey to be her next swain. For the first time, it seemed she was willing to take care of someone, and Hershey blossomed into her caretaker as well. He’d always been a confirmed bachelor, but who would resist that lovely face, those long legs?

And, maybe, a mutual recognition of their frailties, and need for help. While she had always let her men take care of her in the past, this last lovely relationship was more give and take. My heart aches for Hershey today, having lost yet another friend....

While she was sound most all of her time with me, it was so clear how much she loved her men that I never had the heart to take her out after that last ride. The neighbor probably rode her on trails once or twice, but her boyfriends couldn’t go with, so it didn’t happen often. Despite feeling that she wanted to be taken care of, it can’t be coincidence that her men were pretty crippled. Maybe she fancied herself taking care of them too .... and put on a ‘helpless me’ attitude to bolster their male egos! Her gentle approach to Hershey shows that same kind of consideration. Hershey and Josh in particular bloomed into emotional maturity when faced with her need for protection. So for the protection she got, she gave strength to her gentlemen ......

I have used words like “gentlemen”, and “swains” , because in her own way, Shawnee was a lady. A Victorian lady maybe - needing to be protected and asked gently, in her ineffectual way trying to care for her gentlemen, trying to cooperate and be brave. A little frightened, nervous, but curious as a child and wanting to please out of a purity of heart, not for personal gain. In real terms she was never exactly abused, probably going to that stable in Palos Verdes right from the track, and then to me. She was physically fine for the over quarter century that I knew her. But she could have the vapors, and she could be reactive. I wonder if the right person could have loved and cared for her, but honestly, like my Inch I think she loved her herd as long as she had a bodyguard, and needed its calm. Certainly, by all the reckoning we can do, she was well into her 30s when she passed, but still the gentle little lady who wanted to please, and wanted her safe routine.

When her end came, I wanted to let my neighbor make the decision. He always considered her “his” horse, and paid for her farrier work all these years. And no surprise, he couldn’t make the decision. It’s so hard to do. I’d been asking him each day, what do you think? And just this morning as I went over the list - her hind leg is not responding, although the foreleg has clearly improved, but she still left far too much food, but her poop looks ok if too little, we have to medicate her for the pain if you want to go another day - he said to me, as long as she can get up if she goes down, I want to keep trying. It was already way past that, but .... when I went to check her, I told her what he’d said. And I thought my heart would explode in my chest when, just 10 minutes later, she went down. The neighbor wanted to make her get up, but I refused to allow it. I can’t not listen when they speak so clearly. I know she would have tried, if we insisted. But no, it was time. Our timid little warrior princess ran into the sky. I hope she can find her men waiting for her - I bet they are. And I know she’ll be watching over Hershey too...waiting for him. And Heaven better have a good feeding routine with proper hay...

Shawnee’s passing is the end of an era for me. She was the last horse here that I’ve ridden. She was part of a life I used to have, where horses were fun, riding was part of my life, and I lived and worked a fairly normal life. In my heart, my proper little lady went thru a lot of changes in my life with me, a constant in the chaos. I'm older now, and I don't like change.  Looking into that field and not seeing her will hurt for a long time.