Friday, January 2, 2009

“Horses lend us the wings we lack”

Note: I urge you to enlarge these amazing photos. All photos from BOHICA's archives. --Jesse

Guest Eulogy by BOHICA

I lost my partner of 34 years this last weekend, Alsaan's Raffon (095704) aka “Mr. Handsome”, my Arabian horse.

BOHICA riding Raffon.

It was the summer of 1974; I was sort of drifting around looking for direction as many of us were. I was working at Pete’s Mountain stables cleaning out stalls as a summer job between semesters at Mt. Hood Community College where I was using my G.I. bill. The previous winter one of the classes I had signed up for was canceled due to lack of enough participants. What to do? I needed credits to meet the number of hours to qualify for the entitlements so I went looking in the catalog. I needed some PE credits and there was a class, “Horsemanship 101”. It was held off campus just down the road at a big old stable. Sounded good to me and I signed up. When summer break came about, the instructor gave me the tip on the job at Pete’s Mountain and there was Alsann’s Raffon, a 16 month old stud colt for sale. I started letting him loose in the arena, getting to know him and decided to take the plunge and buy him. One of the deciding factors was he had the same birthday as me. $750 later, I was the proud owned of a pure bred Arabian with great lineage.

Me in the hat, my father on the left,  the man I bought him from on the right.
Me in the hat, my father on the left, the man I bought him from on the right.

Turned out at Pete's Mountain.
Turned out at Pete's Mountain.

3 years old and starting to fill out.
3 years old and starting to fill out.

For over 2 years I slowly trained him without actually getting on and riding him, since I believed if you want a sound horse, you don't rush it. Didn’t put a training bit into his mouth until he was 2 years old. Did a lot of lounging and ground driving. Walked him in hand down to the river teaching him manners. Gradually put on a bareback pad, then a saddle. Tied a pair of pants filled with sawdust on the saddle to get him comfortable with legs. Draped friends across back to let him feel weight on his back. When it was time for me to mount him for the first time, he accepted me without complaint and walked off just like he should. Now it was time to really get to work.

On a tear at 4 years old.
On a tear at 4 years old.

When I did start riding at age 4, we trained with an 80 year old Dressage master named Ward Wells. He could ride and make a horse do anything and you would never see him move his hands or legs, pure horse Zen. There were 20 horses in the class, 19 mares and 1 stallion. 20 minutes of a good trot in single file to “get us down to size” started each lesson. This training was the best thing that we could have done. It taught both of us control, balance, patience, and it was fun! Nothing like pairs and fours to the left or to the right, wheels where half the class went in opposite directions and you had to keep in line. Nothing like a cavalry charge with 20 horses all cantering in line and trying and succeeding in keeping him right in his place. Made for a spirited ride, but always under control.

For the next 6 years we did a lot of trail and urban riding. We boarded at a stable inside the city but close to a major park and open space where we could ride for hours. In 1984 I lost my right eye and started to go blind in my left one. Long story short, giant retinal tear after cataract surgery in the right eye, cataract forming in the left eye and didn't want to chance repeating the same outcome. For the next 8 years I was legally blind. That is why I wrote “partnered with”. For those 8 years he was my eyes and I trusted him to take me out and back. I wasn't totally blind just couldn't see for shit. In 1991 we move out to a stable called Magic Meadows and it is.

When we moved out there, I decided to geld him so he could be turned out with all the other horse in the same enclosure. Before, he always had his own paddock, although right next to all the other horses so he could still sniff and groom over the fence.

The big pasture is to the right.
The big pasture is to the right.

In 1992 I had successful surgery on my left eye and with a contact lens I'm back to 20-15 and we started riding all over the stable's 120 acres and the surrounding tree farms, parks and trails with a vengeance. Had to make up for lost time! Nothing like a full gallop across a mile and a half field to get your juices flowing. In the deep woods surrounding the stable there are Elk trails (a herd of 30+ migrate through every years) so feint you can barley see them, yet I would give him his head and he would bust on through with a grace and confidence that I knew I could trust.

A couple of years ago he started to slow down, had some teeth pulled and generally just started showing his age. So we cut down on the hard riding but I made sure that on New Years day and his (and my) birthday we get a ride in, come rain, snow or shine. Last year he started losing weight, but the vet checked him out and said it was just old age catching up and his coat was still shiny, he still kicked up his heels and ate all his feed. So he retired and we didn’t ride anymore. His regular routine consisted of free grazing out in the big field. He was the patriarch of the barn and after all the other horses are put out to pasture, they just open his stall door and he is free to go wherever he wants without any fences in his way. He just wanders out to the big field for a while and then about noon he walks back to the barn for a mid day snack of oats and apples, then wanders back out to check on all the other horse to make sure they are where they are supposed to be and then goes back to grazing.

Raffon grazing with large coral to left

On Saturday, December 27th, I got a call that he was down and couldn’t get up. I knew this was coming just not when. It was time. I called the vet and would meet her at the stable. When I arrived the stable hand, Carlin (who I can’t enough good things about), had said he had gotten up and they took him to the indoor arena where he laid down again. He was not in any pain and no sweats or thrashing like a horse would do if it had colic or was in distress. I stroked and talked to him while I waited for the vet and when she arrived we made the call. She did a short exam and mentioned that he had a bit of heart arrhythmia so he might have suffered a small heart attack. I held his head and scratched his ears while she gave him the shot. He went out peacefully. Monday, December 29th, he was buried next to the above fence line, in the pasture which was his domain.

I could not have asked for a more perfect horse, we were in sync with perfect trust. He rode like a rocking chair and could go hours at a time without tiring.

Raffon up close, showing back of his head

“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears”.
-Arabian Proverb

Two videos from 5 years ago