At first he was an unremarkable,
rather plain, bay gelding. That would soon change.
I had been horse shopping,
serious shopping, for months looking for a horse for my eleven-year-old daughter,
Marcia. We had driven hours away, in all kinds of weather, trying one horse
after another. Marcia was a serious rider for eleven. She had been in USPC
(Pony Club) since she was five and was a rated D-3. She was ready to move
on from her first two ponies. It was time for a horse to carry her though
her teens and C ratings.
We saw a flyer about Prince
at a popular training facility, and after calling the owner, arranged to
drive to College Station an hour away and have Marcia take a lesson on him.
The lesson went well for a first ride and I took her back a couple days later
for a second look. During that ride, an interesting thing happened. The
owner/trainer, Jacki, was challenging Marcia and had her doing more height
than she was accustomed to on her pony. At one point, Marcia lost her balance
and slipped off to the side. Without missing a stride or changing rhythm,
Prince sidled that way and got back under her. Jacki grabbed my arm. "Did
you see that? He got under her! If that had been an adult he would have bucked
them off." She paused a moment and said, "Look at the hairs on my arm. They're
standing up. Listen, I don't know if you want to buy him or not, but I will
tell you this - he likes your girl. He saved her just then. He wants to be
hers. I've got chills." We bought him that weekend.
Prince was a perfect horse
for where Marcia was in her riding. He was better than she was, but not so
much better she couldn't manage him. He was a solid Beginner Novice eventer
and quite capable of moving higher. That first year they showed and rode,
went to camp, went to rally and fell in love. His appearance blossomed; he
got slick, shiny and very fit. He taught Marcia so much that first year.
The next year they moved up to Novice Eventing and Marcia got the first of
her C ratings.
He wasn't perfect - she
had to do her job and ask correctly for things and after several painful
discussions, she learned not to thump him in the back when they jumped. He
He also got to be a real
pain to load in the trailer. He was getting dangerous about it with his rearing
and histrionics. He would load fine at home but nothing on God's green earth
could get him in a trailer to come home that afternoon or evening. The second
time we had to leave him at the show grounds and go get him the next day,
I realized I needed more professional help to get a handle on this. I called
around and found a wonderful horseman and trainer and Prince and I went to
"trailer camp." This man had Prince's number in about a minute. By the end
of the lesson he had Prince asking me which side do you want me on, can I
step up or do I need to hurl myself in? An amazing hour and a half. We never
had another loading problem with him.
In the late summer of 2003,
Marcia and Prince were in first place in the Greater Houston Combined Training
Association point standings at the Jr. Novice level. We were very proud,
hopeful the last two shows of the season would go well, and she would have
a big fancy ribbon for her wall. But, not to be. I went out one evening to
let the horses out of the barn after their dinner and the second Prince turned
toward me, I knew he was lame - real lame. His stifle was swollen and hot
to touch and he would barely touch the leg to the ground. I took him to the
vet the next morning.
After the x-rays were
completed, the vet came in shaking her head. "Well, he doesn't have a fractured
tibia, or a ruptured ligament, like I thought. But you are not going to believe
what is wrong with your horse.""What?""He has a bullet in his leg." "WHAT!!!"
Someone had shot Prince with a pellet gun. I never found out who. Believe
me, I looked. I went door to door in my neighborhood, every house that had
a yard that backed up to any part of my pasture and had a boy...6 yards,
8 boys. Did you know, not one of those Texas country boys even owned a pellet
gun...not a one. Hmmmph.
Anyway, all that aside,
there was a pellet lodged in the muscle, right on top of the stifle joint.
Luckily, it had not penetrated the joint capsule, or he would have never
recovered. As it was, he was unridable for four to six weeks and then had
to be reconditioned. It took a lot of work, but Marcia rose to the challenge
and did everything the vets told her and they were soon back in good
To make up for missing the
last two shows of the Eventing season, I told Marcia that her father and
I had talked about it and if she and Prince could qualify for Pony Club Nationals
in Lexington, KY that summer, we would do our best to see she got there.
And they did. Marcia and Prince rode the beautiful Rolex course in July of
2004. She was the only Event rider in our region to qualify so was placed
as a fourth rider on a team of girls from Kansas. They were a great group
of girls and together as a team finished second out of twenty-three
Prince traveled all that
way like a trooper. In fact, he had a ball and enjoyed it very much. He liked
to see new things, although sometimes he took too much upon himself. The
first day we stopped at the Texarkana fairgrounds for lunch and to let the
horses stretch a bit (there were three going). Marcia, against her wise mother's
counsel, turned Prince loose in the arena to roll if he wished or have a
bit of a canter. Well, the fence was not very high and Prince was very fit.
He took the gate at a trot and cantered off into the RV park, with most of
the region's Pony Clubbers and parents in pursuit. He made a huge circle
of the fairgrounds at an easy canter then joined the other two horses to
tell them about it. Marcia kept an iron grip on him after that.
The next year they moved
up to Training level and Marcia got her C-3. It is very rare to find one
horse that is capable of getting a rider through all three of the C ratings.
Prince was that horse.
Marcia and Prince's time was growing short, however. After that year's
show season, Marcia wanted to move up to the Prelim level of competition
and work toward the Pony Club B rating. She had found a horse she could do
that with. Prince was not a big horse, only 15.3 and the Prelim jumps were
hard for him. None of us wanted to see him or Marcia get hurt, so Collin
became Marcia's next horse.
Prince, however, was not
finished with the Gibson girls yet. There was Lori, two years younger than
Marcia, still a D-3 because she never got the right horse. Prince was the
right horse for her now and in three months she had her C-1 rating and was
talking about Nationals and a future C-2 rating. I say now, because one of
the funniest things he ever did was take Lori for a cross-country ride during
a lesson. Lori was only about twelve and not as strong a rider as Marcia.
She rode Prince that day, I think because her horse was "off" or something.
Prince got bored just doing the same little jumps and X's. The trainer's
ring was in the middle of her field and she had a small cross-country course
set up with natural jumps. Prince, in the middle of the lesson, took
the bit and cantered off. He made a big circle and jumped every jump with
Lori sitting up top calling "whoa!" He was smooth and quiet. She said she
never felt she was going to fall, just that she had no say in where they
went. When he finished, he trotted back to Kimberly and they finished the
lesson. He just took Lori for a ride. We decided to wait a bit before she
rode Prince again!
Once they began seriously
working together, Prince allowed Lori to learn. He knew his job and did it
every time, smoothly and consistently. He never refused a jump or ran out,
so she built confidence and improved dramatically. She learned, real fast,
DO NOT thump Prince in the back. Once that little lesson was learned, they
became a team. She took off-campus PE with him that fall and finished with
an A. Her "final" in December turned out to be their last ride.
Prince was never a big chow
hound - unusual in a horse, I know. He routinely missed one or two meals
a week; he just wouldn't be caught to go in the barn. So, when Lori said
he wouldn't eat on Monday night, I was not worried. However, he was not hungry
Tuesday either, or Wednesday morning. Wednesday evening I had a vet look
at him. His temperature was high (103.5), but everything else was normal
- gut sounds, lungs, heart, feet cool. We started him on Penicillin, and
Bute. We drew blood and I ran a complete profile on him the next day (I'm
an RVT at a small animal hospital). All was normal except for a slightly
low white blood count, suggesting a viral infection, and Total Protein, probably
because he wasn't eating.
He did not start to eat,
but his temperature came down by Friday and he nibbled a bit of hay. I wanted
to let him out, but we were having a miserable time weather wise - the
temperature was in the low forties and it had rained for days and was still
raining. Everything was a quagmire. Prince was at least dry and blanketed,
even though he hated being locked up for so long. I did not want him wet
On Saturday morning I went
down before work to check him and was horrified. He was drenched in sweat,
foaming even, and panting. His eyes were wild. When I took his temperature
it was 105.2 I immediately called my work and said I wouldn't be in and took
him to the Equine hospital. By the time I got him there, the Bute had kicked
in and his temperature was 103. The Dr. repeated the CBC and it was normal.
She did not seem too concerned. She switched antibiotics, switched Bute to
banamine, had me give him some sort of viral antigen injections, start
pro-biotics and several other things. On Tuesday his temperature was back
to normal, but he had changed. He was very listless and depressed. Food put
in his mouth just sat there until gravity made it fall out.
To my dying day I will regret
not taking him back to the vet, but I had other issues in my life as well.
No excuses though. I wish, wish, wish I would have done so. I think Prince
began to die that night, but he was so strong and had been so healthy, it
took him two days to do what others do in a few hours. On Wednesday, I checked
him one more time before bed, late, about 11:30. He was the same. I filled
his water, made sure he had food, hay etc. and left. When I went to the barn
Thursday morning, he had broke with terrible diarrhea. It was all over the
I had to go to work, but
left early. I called the vet and arranged to meet the two doctors (different
ones) at their clinic. I got home, and poor Prince was so weak he could barely
get in the trailer, but he did. My husband went with me but not the girls
- thank God. What happened next was so heartbreaking and traumatic I am glad
they don't have those memories.
Prince couldn't get out of
the trailer. He just stood there, hanging by the trailer tie, leaning against
the wall. He was knuckling over with his hind legs. We unclipped him and
he sank down. The two doctors and Steve grabbed his tail, lead rope and legs.
I got in the truck and drove out from under him. He just laid in the front
yard, in the pouring rain. The doctors simply said, "I give him a 10% chance.
What do you want to do?" My husband, bless him, said, "Do it." I told them,
"We can't just pull the plug the first time he ever gets sick. We have to
try." And we did.
We got two IV's going, every
drug they could think of. He would seizure, leaping and plunging around the
yard with Steve hanging on to the lead rope, trying to keep him from crashing
into pavement or walls, then he would collapse. We finally got him into a
run-in shed out of the rain, but that didn't work. He would thrash and get
up and crash again. He burst the gate and fell into a small side pen. One
vet said it was as good a place as any, it was too dangerous to try and treat
him in the stall - he was a train wreck. After about two hours, he rolled
sternal and then staggered to his feet. He fell over on his other side and
began to "paddle." The vet stood up and said, "That's it. He's dying. Say
goodbye, Lisa, there is nothing more we can do." And she walked out of the
pasture. I knelt down in the cold water and mud, cradled Prince's head in
my lap, and he died in my arms.
I will never forget it,
ever. Somehow, I missed something, three vets missed it, all of us. He had
something and I don't know what. I should have done so many things
After all that, I had to
come home and tell my girls. Marcia, her face turned white as a sheet and
she screamed NO! She threw things and beat her pillow. Lori just stood there
and then threw up, it was such a shock. She cried so hard. I let them all
I had Prince necropsied.
Sweet, brokenhearted Marcia drove all the samples to TAMU the next day. She
said it was the last thing she could do for him. The results were toxic shock
of unknown origin. He did not grow salmonella or clostridium or any of the
bad bugs. He did not have any of the EE's, West Nile, tetanus, rabies, anything.
All he had was an empty, inflamed gut. Toxic shock of unknown origin. It
tells me nothing, it tells me everything.
I know I am grieving for
a horse I never rode, but he was such a part of our family. He had such a
personality. He just bloomed with two little girls' love and care and he
helped them both become the wonderful young women they are. I will always
be grateful for that.
Sometimes he would "hide"
from Marcia. He would go stand behind a pine tree and peek out at her, like
she couldn't see his big barrel behind that skinny tree. Sometimes he would
play hard to get and really be frustrating. After Marcia began riding Collin
though, he was so jealous. He would follow her and push her with his nose.
He would back his ears at Collin. He was so happy if Marcia bridled him and
took him around the neighborhood for a little trail ride. He was a good horse
for Lori and they worked well together, but Marcia was his girl.
The picture is of Marcia and
Prince in the Rolex arena in Lexington, Kentucky. They are doing their formal
dressage test at the USPC National Championships. It is July 2004. For those
of you who are dressage afficianados, the reason she is not in her formal
black coat and tie is, it was hot. Actually, we here from the Gulf Coast
thought it was lovely, about 85 degrees, but the Pony Club-Powers-That-Be
thought it was too hot for all that formal wear, so they made them remove
them. So, my one formal picture of Marcia is in her shirtsleeves. However,
it is lovely of Prince, so it is what I have included
This is far too long but
it seems I didn't say a fraction of what I wanted. Do any of us,
We miss you big guy, our
Prince Among Men.