Prince Among Men

Appendix Quarter horse

March 1994 - January 18, 2007

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 hated that!

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 form.

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 teams.

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 and chilled.

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 walls.

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 different.

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 down.

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 here.

This is far too long but it seems I didn't say a fraction of what I wanted. Do any of us, ever?

We miss you big guy, our Prince Among Men.

Lisa G.

Prince's Support Group Honoree page.

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