And They All Said Goodbye
“for every goodbye, God also provides a hello.”
Donna Gable Hatch
This is an accounting of the tragic death of one of the best horses I have ever had the honor to share ground with. Unfortunately, I also shared her last hour as well. It is a true story and I hope I can do it justice. It was one of the worst days I have had with horses but it was also one of the most amazing spiritual experiences I have ever had.
Her official name was “Buff And Fancy” but we called her Buffy and the date was July 28, 2009. She was a big boned girl, had a pretty sorrel coat, and an intelligent, soft eye. I often described her as so light to pressure that you didn’t have to do much more than think what you wanted her to do and she was already doing it. Horse people know exactly what I am talking about. When handling or riding horses, you communicate through cue and release signals. The cue comes from pressure of some kind and the release is the end of the pressure. If you want to lead a horse, you just put slight pressure on the lead rope until the horse gives to the pressure and starts to move forward. As soon as the horse moves in the direction you want, you release the pressure or stop pulling and just walk.
Saying Buffy was light to pressure, was actually an understatement. It took very little to get her to comply with what you wanted her to do. It didn’t matter what deed we had to accomplish; she would do it willingly. She also had an uncanny ability to sense just how knowledgeable you were when you were working with her. If she sensed you didn’t have much experience, she would take advantage of the situation, not in a way that would hurt someone but with more of an uncooperative attitude on her part. I witnessed this in her interaction with others, but never with me. I personally have never experienced such good ground manners in any horse before or since. To top it off, she was a super mom. The little filly foal by her side at the time was born on May 12, 2009, at 1:20a.m. I know because I shared that hour with her as well.
Almost all of the foals born in my presence were born in the middle of the night, generally between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. I don’t know why that is the rule but it certainly seems to be. I can only remember one foal that was born during daylight hours. We use the word “foaling” interchangeably to describe a mare having a foal or when talking about a person being present during the birth to assist if needed. That said, when Buffy gave birth to her little filly, I was spending the night in the barn foaling horses. I wanted to be present for many various reasons. The potential of a medical problem was at the top of the list, but imprinting was a close second. My goal has been to imprint a foal when it is born and be with it from the start if at all possible. I want them to smell my presence as soon as the birth sack opens. Then I leave them to bond with their mother.
That night I had a couple of mares that were really close to foaling and, as always, I made it my practice to be there when it happened. Too many things can go wrong during a birth and you do not want to lose either the mare or foal, so it is best to be there. I have lost count of the number of nights I fitfully slept in the barn awaiting nature’s magic but I never tired of doing my part.
Some mares will not have a foal in your presence. They will cross their legs so to speak, refuse to start the process, and spend their time looking serenely about in the foaling stall as if it were just another day on the farm. Those horses wait until you go to the house for a cup of coffee and have the foal while you are gone, even if you are absent for only ten minutes. Then there are others like Annie, another one of our horses. She would actually wake me up if I had indeed managed to fall asleep. She would stick her head over the stall wall, grab my shoulder and give me a wake up shake when it was time. Annie knew she always needed a little help and wanted me there.
I had never foaled Buffy before so I didn’t know how she would behave. As it turned out, she was one of those mares that actually wanted me to be present. She didn’t have to wake me up because I started seeing the signs around midnight that foaling was imminent. She started pacing, sweat patches started flowing on her chest, and she was shaking her head and backing up against the stall wall. All of these are signs the show is about to begin. At 1:20 a.m., with a little help from me pulling during contractions, her big but healthy filly was born. After I opened the birth sack and blew a little air towards the foal’s face, I left Buffy to do her part and I went back to being an observer of nature at its best.
Sam Owsley of Massachusetts was Buffy’s owner. Over the years, we have kept several of Sam’s horses, mostly brood mares sent here to have babies. Little did we know that this little filly, foaled by Buffy and affectionately called Peanut, would be her last offspring. I have often thanked Sam for sending Buffy here to share time with us. I have also apologized for having to call him with such bad news and for the heavy decision that he had to make without being here. Bad situations often create a bond between those who experience them. This one did just that.
Even though our business relationship ended a couple of years after this chain of events, I still fondly remember all the horses I foaled and trained for Sam and miss that part of the horse business. Buffy’s foal was the last one to be born at the stables. The health challenges I had been facing for the year prior to that night made it too taxing for me to keep up with the demands this type of endeavor required of me. My time spending nights in the barn from late January until April of each year was over. I miss the magic of being involved so deeply with nature but I really do not miss the dusty cold barn.
Now, let’s move on with the tale at hand. It was late in the afternoon on a normally hot day in Kentucky for that season of the year. Buffy was spending time in the barn lot with her filly. The barn lot is a relatively small area. It’s fenced off from the pastures and has access to the back of the barn and the stalls for getting out of the sun or inclement weather. Buffy was enjoying being a Mother and biding her time until Peanut was ready to experience the fields and the high tensile fence that surrounds them.
Buffy and her foal Peanut, copyright 2009 Richard D. Rowland
Mr. Lee Graves was a witness to the accident that took place that afternoon and he relayed the following to me. Young Peanut started running toward the round pen1 located in the barn lot, adjacent to the barn. Buffy never much cared for her daughter being around the gelding that was in the round pen so she took off at a gallop and placed herself between Peanut and him. She was actually rubbing herself against the round pen panels as she ran, determined to put her body between Peanut and the other horse.
Peanut with the round pen in the background. Copyright 2009 Richard D. Rowland
Somehow Buffy hooked one of the round pen panel fingers with her hip. The force drove the metal into her side, struck and broke her pelvis and pulled part of it out. She hit with such force that she caused the panels to accordion together and bent one of the panels almost double. She knew immediately that she was in trouble.