A Death In The Family
Cameron could be turned out with anyone, even nippy, stupid, or belligerent horses, and never came in with a scratch. We used him to teach young horses how to be turned out with others properly; there were at least two with limited social skills (causing them to get beat up regularly) who learned how to go out safely after being put out with Cam for a while. He didn't kick, not even in play, and didn't bite at all other than what was necessary to play halter tag. He liked to play when asked, but he didn't bug other horses. The mare that Cam was out with was one with whom he got along wonderfully. They liked each other a lot, and since she was coming into season she liked him even more. So it was a huge shock to all of us when I went out to get him in the field and found him bleeding and literally three-legged lame.
I didn't really understand how bad it was until I called him and he lurched towards me holding his right hind completely off the ground. I wanted very badly to panic, but this was not the time, so I fought it down, hooked up his lead, and started to take him inside, shouting to Austin to grab the mare and take her in to her stall. Cam followed me willingly out of the field and halfway down the fenced aisle leading to the barnyard, hopping and scrambling for balance, but I paused for a moment to let him catch his breath and he refused to go forward again. I coaxed, I pleaded, I yanked on the lead, but he lowered his head and wouldn't move.
Austin finished putting the mare away and I had him stand with Cam while I ran for the barn owner. She was teaching a lesson to a young beginner, so I tried very hard to keep my voice level when I asked for help, but I don't know how well that went. She immediately turned the girl over to another boarder and came out with me, took one look at Cam's leg, and dialed the vet. I remember saying that it didn't look good, did it, and she said that we should wait for the vet before making any judgments, but she looked as worried as I probably did.
Cam stood in the mud of the run, still holding his leg up. It hung at an ugly angle and bled sluggishly. It was hot and he was sweating, and the flies were awful. I put his fly mask on him, and had Austin hold him while I dragged the hose out and started hosing the swelling. The swelling got worse instead of better, and I got more angry and frightened. Anger is easier to think through than fear, so I hung hard onto it. A shadow passed over us and I looked up to see a vulture circling us. I swore at it, cursed it, and if it had tried to land anywhere nearby I would have chased it down and killed it on the spot, for daring to suggest that anything was wrong with my horse. It was the only time I said anything about things not being fair. How dare it come to check and see if my pony was dead yet! If Death himself had shown up, I'd have gone right after him, too, teeth bared. No one was going to get my pony without a fight!
The problem with being willing to fight Death for someone is that sometimes He's the only one who can fix things, but I wasn't ready to think about that yet.
When I looked up again the vulture was gone, but the damage had been done. I couldn't hold onto my anger, and it slipped away until I was left with nausea and dread. My first thought in the field had been that Cam's leg was broken, and this hadn't helped to change that at all. I tried to tell myself that I wasn't a vet, that there was no way that I could tell it just by looking, but deep down I knew, had known when I saw him lurch towards me when I called his name. But if I had let myself believe it, I would have been useless to anyone, and Cam still needed me to be coherent. So I gritted my teeth and held myself together, mostly. I kept clinging to Austin at intervals, while my boarder friend did her best to keep all our spirits up. Time passed, and we waited for the vet to arrive.
Waiting for medical help for someone you love, whether it be for human or other animal, is the longest wait any of us will ever experience. We had to wait three times that night; once for the initial vet, who, bless her heart, had two emergency calls to go to and chose us first. There was too much swelling for her to feel if there were breaks, but I could see in her face that the outlook wasn't good. She said he needed x-rays immediately, and since my boarder friend's vet was a great deal closer, we called them out to do the x-rays. We had to wait for them and their x-ray technician, wait number two, and during that we managed to coax Cam the rest of the way down the run and into the first available stall. We then had to wait for the x-rays to develop and be interpreted, wait number three, and that was by far the worst, because now two vets had looked grim and shaken their heads, and it was the x-rays that would determine my pony's future.
Having to tell people that their beloved animal is not going to get better must be the absolute nadir of being a vet. They're there to do heroic things and save lives, and for whatever reason sometimes they can't, and it's not their fault but I imagine they feel terrible anyway. I remember yelping something about not hearing her clearly, because I wanted so badly to have misheard. But I hadn't, and I saw the x-rays to prove it; a bad fracture above the hock, very long, with several large slivers of bone detached. There's not much you can do with a break like that. You can't put a cast on it where it is, and a metal plate is a slim possibility but again, given the location and the shape of the wound, the prognosis wasn't at all good.
A wise person once said that our animals trust us to make the right decisions for them, especially that final one, because they can't tell us themselves. They trust us to decide when enough is enough, when they're no longer enjoying life but dragging on day by day. Sometimes the decision is thrust upon us sooner, when an accident happens, and you have to make it suddenly when you're half in shock. It's one of those times when you have to listen to your heart, but mercifully it's also one of the times when your heart speaks most strongly- you hate the situation, you hate having to make the decision, you want to be selfish and keep them with you, but you know you can't, because you know that you have to end their suffering. It's not fair to let them suffer. And Cam was; he was obviously in terrible pain- the vets kept giving him more and more painkillers, but even the best ones only lasted about a half an hour per shot, and soon he was shaking and pawing again. It broke my heart to see it. It wasn't fair to be selfish and keep him with me, however much I wanted to. We had to let him go.
The vet gave him another massive dose of painkillers, so he was at least comfortable, and gently explained the process to me. I knew basically what was going to happen, having seen horses being put down before, but I listened anyway; three large doses of barbiturates one after the other directly into his jugular vein and he would lie down and be gone before even he knew he was going. I could hold him until the shots were over and then she would take the leadrope from me and wait for him to go down, on the small chance that he would rear or strike out on reflex as the drugs hit his system.
I knew I was making the right decision. It didn't make it any easier to have to lead him outside. Everyone was right there with him, coaxing him along as he lurched and hobbled on three legs out beside the barn, with me holding the lead and crying so much I could hardly see and promising him over and over that everything was going to be all right once we got just a little further, that it wouldn't hurt any more, that he'd get to see Rainsong and Bimmer and Rigel and Lincoln and all the other good horses that had gone before him. I stroked his head and told him that I loved him as the vet gave him the shots, and then I gave the vet his lead and clung on to Austin and Grey and cried my heart out as my beautiful brave pony lay down quietly and died.
The moment he went down heat lightning raced across the horizon towards us, huge red and orange flashes of it, and then that was all. I had the strangest feeling that it was because someone or something had come to get him, so he didn't have to make the jump to the next place alone. I was and am deeply grateful for that.
My memories of the rest of the evening are kind of sketchy- I was more than half in shock, I think, and fairly incoherent. I remember kneeling in the dirt to hold his head and cuddle him one last time. I remember asking for a knife to take a hank of his tail hair, so I could have it made into a bracelet, and the vet went and got me a pair of scissors from her truck because she was afraid the knife would leave rough edges that would be hard to braid. I remember feeling nauseous and wanting to throw up. I remember talking to people, but not so much what were talking about. I remember going home and being coaxed into eating, and staring at TV for ages. I remember being held while I cried myself to sleep, and waking up less than an hour later to toss and turn for the rest of the night, unable to get any of it out of my head long enough to sleep again. I remember being apprehensive about the next day, because someone would have to start making calls to removal services.
You see, losing one's pony isn't the end of the equation. The question was posed once by a friend of mine; what does one do with a dead horse? Well, if you live in Pennsylvania, you can't bury it (or any of your human family members, for that matter) on your property- something about contamination of the water tables, from what I can gather. Instead, the next morning, you have the most coherent member of your immediate family (Grey rather heroically took over that part of the job, because I couldn't put two sentences together without bursting into tears) start making calls to the numbers the vet has helpfully given you, and find someone over the state line who can come and take the body away. There are companies who for a fee come and collect downed livestock, this being the technical term for dead horses and cattle, and take them to rendering plants. I will not get into what happens there beyond saying that the bodies are turned into useful materials, which at least is something.
Oddly enough, knowing what was going to happen to his body was the least traumatic part- he wasn't using it any more. It had been broken and was only holding him back from wherever good horses go, so we helped him out of it, and now it was just a shell- "the vessel that contained him, " as Grey said later in his blog. I just needed to know that he was going to be taken care of. The removal company was good; they only took animals that were already dead (some less reputable places will put an injured animal down themselves, usually by means of a shotgun- not that I think it's cruel, as if done right it's just as quick or quicker than the injections, but I think whenever possible a proper vet should be involved when it comes to putting animals down, to make sure the right decision is being made at the right time) and although the owner was apparently a bit gruff on the phone, the man who came with the truck had horses of his own and was apparently very polite and respectful, which is another one of those little touches that I'm thankful for.
Grey said the man politely refused any offers of help and even more politely refused to let him near the operation at all, probably having seen enough grieving family members in his time. I didn't see any of it, being as I was at home, snuggled up with Austin and crying at intervals. I was okay with that; as I see it, I'd lost part of my family and he was certainly worth grieving for. Crying for someone you love is necessary, and nothing to be ashamed of.
What is it about horses that causes us to feel so strongly about them? Why do people who have never even seen the open range send money to mustang refuges, or those who have never ridden more than a hobby horse as a child flock to theaters to see Thoroughbreds race neck and neck down the backstretch? When I told my friends that I had lost Cameron, several broke down and cried with me, even those that had never met him, who had never even petted a horse, much less ridden one through a perfect morning.
Horses are in our blood, I think. They've been with us through thick and thin, for thousands of years, and somewhere deep down, most of us still remember this. They allowed us onto their backs, and in doing so, lent us a strength, agility, and stamina that even the strongest of us fall very very far short of. We could cross distances heretofore unimaginable and do it swiftly, swim rivers, hurdle ditches and chasms, gallop away from trouble or just for the sheer thrill of it.
I gave myself two days to do nothing but lay around and be miserable, and then I got up and starting doing things again. I'm good at multitasking, so I figured that I could successfully do something and mope at the same time, and it turns out that I was right. I went fishing. I cleaned up the house. I played video games. I ate ice cream. I watched TV. And through it all, I missed my pony. I still do, and I doubt that's going to change. But that's okay. He was an excellent boy, and we learned a lot together, and he's worth a good grieve.
It feels so strange to be without a horse. I've lost my wings. It's been so long since I've been without one that I've forgotten what it was like. I feel earthbound, slow. We sat down recently to watch Conan with my little brother, who had never seen it, and I watched the parts with horses with an envy that surprised me (while still critiquing the riding, of course). But I know I'm not ready to own another one, not just yet. There will be a time when I go looking again, but I'm still too hurt from losing this one. Which is part of why I'm writing this all down, and why I've written it in the order that I have- because now that I've gotten the part about his death out of the way, I'm free to talk about his life, which was the part that means the most, and the part that I am happy remembering.
Piano Fighter - 1989-2006
AKA Cameron, Cam, Cameron Frye, Camshaft, and JoJo The Idiot Boy, depending on the day and his or my mood. Piano Fighter was going to be his show name; I'd finally decided after three years of dithering. It's the title of a Warren Zevon song, about a musician who plays piano for other musical acts and lives a roaming, hard-partying, and potentially self-destructive life, which swung between being unbelievably exciting and incredibly lonely- I have always assumed it to be at least semi-autobiographical. It's one of my favorites, and although I knew no one would get it besides me, it didn't matter. I liked it, and I had decided quite a while ago that all of my horses were going to be named after Warren's songs.
I started looking for a horse in the spring of 2003. I was finally in a place for it; I had a place to put one, enough spare cash to manage board, a few lessons, and the occasional vet visit, and I had wanted a horse for as long as I can remember. I was excited just to be finally in a place where I could be looking. I wondered what kind of horse I would find; I figured that for what I could afford I'd end up with something very young and green, or an ancient schoolhorse, but of course I had dreams of finding the perfect horse for something I could afford. I clipped newspaper ads, scoured Dreamhorse.com, kept my ears open, and waited.
I did luck out, but not in the way I expected. I came to the barn for a lesson one day and the owner sought me out, to tell me that she had tried out a horse at another barn and was going to buy him. She said that I needed to try him, and that if I wanted him, she'd sell him to me for what she had paid. Otherwise, she intended on training him up for a couple of months and then selling him at triple the price. I said I'd give him a shot.
The next day she brought him home; a big bay thoroughbred with two hind socks, a strip of white on his right front coronet, a star, a worried expression, and the name "Cann." He had been advertised as being 16.2, and amazingly enough, he actually was, with a massive barrel and good-sized feet. His head was big enough that he needed an oversized browband and an extra-large fly mask, and his build was very bulky for a Thoroughbred. He had high withers and a fairly broad back for his breed; he wore a large girth and his blanket size was 84. More than once he was mistaken for a warmblood of various types- I can remember him being taken for a Trakhener at least twice, and a Hanoverian once.
He was more worried than usual when he arrived. Apparently, his owner had put him out to pasture when she started college, and left him there for two years. He hadn't been handled much in that time, so his ground manners were a little rusty, but he turned into a perfect gentleman in a surprisingly short time. I took him on trial for two weeks, rode him several times (including one hack with another horse and rider though some extremely nasty terrain, which we took safely, although faster than I'd have liked) mucked him out (I was worried since we were often stuck mucking horses when they were still in their stalls, but he was extremely sensible about the whole thing), pulled his mane (he never complained about it, even the very top and very bottom bits, as long as I would let him tuck his head under my arm and snuggle him at intervals), groomed him up (he was less touchy than any other Thoroughbred I've ever met), gave him a bath (he never minded hoses, even when they were being moved around and under him), learned about his quirks on the lead (occasionally, he'd act like a stallion when being led out to pasture; arching his neck and prancing as though I were taking him to meet a mare). The more I rode, the more I liked him, and although I had reservations about buying the first horse I looked at, I agreed to buy him on the third of June.
Buying your first horse is terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I wondered if I'd made the right decision. I wondered what little quirks we hadn't discovered yet. I don't really know anything about his life from before he came to me; I know he was tattooed, and approximately fourteen years old when I bought him. His tattoo was pretty much illegible so I never got his record, but I can make a few guesses towards him having at least a medium-length career; the jugular vein on the left side of his neck had rerouted itself, so much so that it because a matter of course to tell the vets to give him shots on the other side, which one commented on as likely having stemmed from scar tissue around the vein. I asked another about 'bute injections, which were widespread before they developed it in powder and paste forms, and she said that not only were repeated injections likely to leave scar tissue, 'bute was notorious for it, more than most drugs. He was ridiculously easy to handle on the ground most of the time, which pointed to a lot of handling, but sometimes when you took him out to pasture behind the other horses he'd do what I called his stud act; he'd arch his neck and prance and piaffe all the way to the gate like he was still a stallion, so I wondered if he'd been gelded late, or bred, or just improperly done.
It's all speculation, really, and I guess it doesn't really matter; I loved him for who he was, not who he had been. I sometimes wondered if I'd chosen the right horse, especially on our bad days, but even on his worst days there was no question of selling him. He was family, and although everyone has days where they would be willing to sell their various family members into slavery for two dollars or a bag of bananas, you never really mean it.
The name took me longer; I had a list of good horse names, but none of them fit his rather complicated personality. He was brave but worried, smart but inclined to let his instincts get the better of him. Finally I settled on Cameron, after Cameron Frye of Ferris Bueller fame. It was Grey who reminded me of the movie character, and both Camerons had much in common personality-wise.
Especially when it came to worrying about everything. Cam's original owner was apparently timid, and a timid rider plus a worried horse equals disaster. Cam definitely needed someone like me, someone who could just sit there and roll their eyes at his hysterics and kick him onwards until he found out there was nothing to be afraid of. All he really wanted was someone to tell him what needed to be done, and he would willingly do it. He needed someone to introduce him to being spoiled; to different kinds of treats (licorice was his favorite), being hugged, kisses on the nose, and a whole host of other little things you do for a beloved horse. And he was a stranger to most of them, which always made me a little sad.
He was also stranger to a lot of things that I considered necessary, the biggest of which was that he had no idea how to go on a loose rein. On one ride very early on in our career, I dropped him to the buckle on the long side during a trot stretch, and was startled when he slewed sideways, nearly fell down, and stopped dead in the center of the arena. It took a few minutes until I convinced him that he could indeed go forward on a loose rein, and I spent the next two weeks working him mainly on the buckle. He got so he quite liked his newfound freedom, and would get cranky in the warm-up if I didn't allow him his two go-rounds of the arena on the buckle before we settled in to work.
He had also never been barebacked, so far as I could tell. The first hot day of summer usually finds me at the barn in a t-shirt, shorts, hikers, and a helmet, as I can rarely be bothered to put on boots and britches when it's sweltering. I put a halter and two leads on him and led him out to the block, and when I stood on it and put some pressure on his back he looked at me blankly and started to lay down. My best guess is that he figured that since he wasn't wearing any tack, I wouldn't be riding him, and so he made the best inference he could about what I wanted. I told him that it wasn't quite it, and when he was standing up again I got on and was immediately glad that I'd left his mane long as he trotted away from the block in a bit of a hurry. He settled down quickly and even got into the spirit of things, enough so that by the end of the ride he let me demonstrate Around The World and the Dead Soldier to another boarder who had never seen them done. After that we barebacked a lot in the summertime, and he seemed to enjoy it, especially when he found out that when I was feeling lazy I'd just sit on him and let him graze.
Getting into the spirit of things was one of his major perks- he was very brave, in his own way, and very kind, although his first reaction to anything new was to treat it with extreme caution. He had after all just come off a two-year stint as a pasture ornament, after being owned by a nervous girl who by all accounts needed a solid old schoolhorse, not a worried Thoroughbred. This does not build confidence in worried horses. When I tried him out it was only his second ride in as many years, but after a few initial problems (trotting in place, mostly) we had a perfectly nice ride. The day after that we went hacking with the lady who owned the barn and her event horse, and Cameron, despite not having been hacked in some time (if ever; sometimes I wondered about that) was still slightly less crazy than the event horse we were with. Yeah, we were still leaping over every slight depression in the ground as though it was a ditch and there was some definite speediness, but he was actually reasonably ratable given the circumstances (i.e. another horse acting berserk along with him) and he did stay behind the other horse the whole walk home, even if we were doing a creditable piaffe. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start.
He maintained a certain amount of bounciness through the first couple of rides, but once he figured out that I wasn't going to get angry at him for being worried, he settled down considerably, and when he found out I praised him extravagantly for little advances, he would try his best to do anything I asked. He was smart, and it never took him long to pick up whatever I was trying to teach him, but he liked to test his limits too, which meant that some lessons took longer than others to stick. It only took one instance to explain that he wasn't allowed to walk over me and leave the stall (I explained it quite loudly and at length) but to get him to stand still in the aisle without being tied took the better part of a year, as he felt the need to check how much he was allowed to move his feet and in which direction. I don't bribe with treats, just pettings, but he always came when I called him when he was loose in the arena, and most of the time when I called him in the field.
He had a terrific work ethic; he was happiest when I challenged him, and although he would offer downward transitions and halts when he got tired, he never protested being worked just that little bit more. He was always happy to finish the ride in a good sweat, although as he got fitter and fitter this was harder to manage. He loved doing counter-canter, trot extensions, and leg yielding, and enjoyed the occasional hand gallop around the ring. His left bend was extremely hard to obtain, at least for me, but his right was too easy so I had to work at not overbending him. He overtracked four full inches at the walk without trying, and could be coaxed into more with a little effort, and his canter was big and ground covering and incredibly fun to ride. All his gaits were big, actually; I never did get the hang of sitting his trot.
He was not a beginner's horse in any way, shape, or form, but I asked him to be one at times and so he did his best. I said, "Carry this rider, even though they're inexperienced, " and he did so. He paid huge amounts of attention to the beginners I put on him, and tried to be steady for them; I led him outside once with Austin on his back only to find a whole host of farm machinery had been moved into the driveway overnight. It was too late to retreat; we were already in amongst it when we came around the corner, but everything was fine. If I had been on him I knew I'd have had to be coaxing him by it while he threw his patented half-piaffe nervous fit, but with an unsteady beginner on board he hunkered down and marched past it all, snorting quietly with ears at half-mast but with a walk as steady at a rock.
He had his days of being a jackass, like everyone; I referred to this side of him as "JoJo The Idiot Boy." He had rare days when he looked around for things to stare and snort at, he still threw his stud act once in a while when being led in or out, he was very afraid of whips, and even after extensive conditioning would still often panic and try to escape when presented with one. I couldn't hack him alone, or even get him much out of sight of the barn without him growing gradually more and more tense until we were doing caprioles and I'd get off to lead him home. On one of these occasions he panicked at something on the way home, and I lost my temper and tried to yank him forward past it. He reared up halfway and (I'm sure accidentally; I was standing too close and wasn't paying enough attention) caught me in the ribs with one knee and knocked me flat on my ass. He knew he'd done wrong and panicked some more, trying to get away, but I thumped him good and proper anyway, took him back to the barn, and longed him extensively until I wasn't quite so furious anymore. The only other time he hurt me was also an accident; I was trying to put the blindfold on to get him into the wash stall and he was being disobedient about it for the first time ever. I fumbled with the nose buckle and accidentally stuck two fingers in his mouth and he caught them between his teeth- an accident, like I said, but it still hurt and I thumped him one anyway. After the initial reaction I always went on as though these incidents hadn't ever happened, like we're all supposed to, so he never developed any sort of head-shyness or aversion to people. Those are the only two incidences where he really did something to make me angry; the rest of the time he stuck to small instances of Idiot Boy behavior, which he quite often got over when reassured enough. He got over a fear of traffic cones when I picked one up and wasn't instantly devoured; after a few minutes of petting and reassurance he let me touch it to his nose and set it on his back. He accepted the noise of the table saw once we'd stood nearby and I'd petted him while he watched it running, likewise a power drill and hay elevator.
That was another plus; once he got used to something he was nearly unshakable. We rode in the indoor most of the time, as half the year it was too dark in the evenings to ride outside, and the other half involved too many bugs, and he was very nearly bomb-proof in it. We rode in the indoor while summer thunderstorms blew in and out again, when the only thing louder than the rain pounding against the tin roof was the crash and roll of thunder, but he never spooked and rarely even looked up. Likewise for the snow coming off the roof in the spring; I rode in the ring with other horses who threw massive fits when the snowbanks slid, but Cam rarely flicked an ear. I can only remember him spooking twice in the indoor; once when we were standing by the darkened lounge and a cat jumped up on the windowsill right next to us, whacking the glass as it did so, and once when a small child darted out of the barn-side doorway and right in front of us. Both times he did a quick sideways leap, but it was pretty mild in the great scheme of things- I was always grateful that he didn't have that leave-you-in-midair teleport spook, as it always makes me part company with the saddle.
Speaking of falling off, he was a complete gentleman about that as well. Although I never got to test it in all situations, in the ring he simply stopped in his tracks when separated form his rider. We first found this out with Austin on the longe; Austin was trying to learn to post, was generally flailing about, and Cameron mistook one of his flails as asking for canter. He was at a bad point in his stride for it, and at that point in time his canter transitions were not exactly comfortable, but he lurched up into it and Austin began to slide off the lefthand side, taking the saddle with him. As he fell Cameron stopped and planted his feet so quickly that Austin's foot never left the stirrup; it wasn't stuck, Cam had just stopped fast enough that it didn't have time to fall out. The saddle was pulled over onto his side, and I tightened up on the longe line, expecting him to go backwards, but he lowered his head and stayed still, with a general air of "What do you mean, go forward? I'm not moving until you fix this!" So Austin stood up, we reset the saddle, he got back on, and everything was fine again.
I thought it was a fluke, but I was barebacking him one day, and on a downward transition from canter to trot I didn't grab mane like a smart girl, thinking something along the lines of "Oh, I can do this." As it turned out, I couldn't, and I fell off rather abruptly. When I looked up Cam was directly beside me and looking down in a somewhat puzzled manner; he must have stopped in his tracks the minute I left his back, and seemed quite bemused when I led him over to the mounting block for another attempt. I always wondered if he'd be that gentlemanly if I pitched off during cross-country; it's hard to say, I suppose.
He was always keen to jump; there was nothing he wasn't game for, and I am very sorry that we never got a chance to do some real cross-country jumps, because I think given some experience he would have turned into a brave and canny course horse. He had good form, got us out of trouble when I muxed up our spots, and almost never refused; for a while in the beginning he'd even go when I was jumping ahead, but he soon learned to be a proper schoolhorse and stop short when I got too far forward. Again, when I was on track and sitting properly, there was nothing he wouldn't try; I put up a 2'9 oxer for fun once and he took it each way at a cavalier canter as though it wasn't hardly worth bothering with. If I had been steadier we would have tried quite a bit higher, but I was out of practice and afraid of catching him in the mouth, so we mostly stuck to middle-sized grids. He never complained, and would always come back to his flatwork the next day with renewed enthusiasm.
He was forgiving; over the past couple of years I have been working through the mysteries of sustained contact, and he never got angry when I was inadvertently asking for two conflicting things at once. When I was on the right track he was soft and responsive and giving, and helped me to start developing the elusive concept of "feel." He looked good under saddle, especially when he was going well; I wish I had a few more pictures of our better moments.
There are so many little things I remember about him that crop up in odd moments. He loved being curried roughly after a long workout; I had a solid rubber Grooma curry with long teeth for his winter coat, and he really enjoyed a long massage with it in the groom-down after harder rides, leaning into it enough that I had to lean back to keep from being pushed backwards. He never gave the vets trouble; he allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do with him. He had issues with his right front leg being pulled forward, but my new farrier was really good about it, showed him that it wouldn't hurt, and it only took three visits until he was letting him do it without protest. He had to be blindfolded for trailers with ramps, but would quite happily go into step-up trailers without a fuss. He liked cats a lot; if you held one up to him he'd touch it gently with his nose and sniff and sniff. He worried about people and animals; I had Megin on him once while her four month old daughter Alaina sat in her car seat at the end of the arena, and when Alaina started crying Cameron tried to drag Megs to her daughter. If he'd been afraid he would have been sweating and spooking and snorting, but he wasn't doing any of those things; he was obviously distressed, but instead of trying to get away he tried to take her down to her baby. She got off to walk down there and he followed, and only calmed down when Megs held Alaina so he could sniff her (through the stall bars- he never so much as looked wrong at any human being ever, but I didn't take chances), I guess to make sure that she was okay now. He loved anything licorice flavored, and even ate some licorice Allsorts once when I was out of his proper treats. He was extra careful when eating apples out of your hand, and took tiny bits to avoid the possibility of biting you accidentally. One of the boarders gave all the horses chunks of animal corn on the cob; I was mucking at the time, and Cameron munched all the corn off his, turned, and tossed the denuded cob towards my wheelbarrow. When he was feeling nervous he liked to tuck his head under my arm until he felt better again; even after he got over his farrier issue he often still liked me to hold his head through it. It was also his reward at intervals for standing still while I pulled his mane. He was prone to mud fever but was very healthy at all other times; he injured his front leg once, had a bout with choke once, and other than that never gave a moment of vet trouble. He did tend to go lame for a few days after about every third farrier visit, but he just had sensitive fronts and it always cleared up after dosing him with Reducine. He apparently knew the Reducine helped; whenever I'd get the can out he'd take one sniff and then pick his foot up for me to apply it. He always picked his feet up without being asked when I wanted to pick them. He loved to jump, and it took me ages to convince him that single poles on the ground could be trotted over quietly instead of being hurdled as though they were crossrails. He often went out of his way in the field to jump over the stream. He never had to be coaxed to jump; rather, he'd drag me to them, but his first Prix Caprilli test blew his mind, especially the bit where he was expected to leg-yield after a vertical. He had severe show anxiety, but I was never very competitive so I didn't mind. He really liked mares, and would try to show off whenever we rode in the ring with them, which was the closest I ever came to getting him to do piaffe and passage under saddle. He was too polite to bolt when he saw horses galloping in the field, but he would tense slightly and grunt to let me know that he'd really prefer to be galloping along too. He never learned how to play with a stallball, even though his friend Flynn tried several times to teach him- mostly by whacking him in the nose with it, which I suppose wouldn't endear it to him any. He loved to roll in the mud and was widely acclaimed as the dirtiest horse in the barn, narrowly beating out the only white-gray for sheer amount of surface area covered. He was the easiest horse to tack up that I have ever met; he always sought out the bit, put his head into the bridle, and stood stock-still when being saddled even when he was untied in his stall. When turned loose in the arena for exercise he'd play by himself for a while, and then come find me and stay by me as though I had him on a leadrope; I could change directions and jump over crossrails with him right by my side. While grazing, he liked to snort dandelions up his nose and then sneeze.
I could go on for pages and pages- even though I only had him for three years, that's still a lot of anecdotes. But I guess I don't need to list them all here and now, in one big lump- there are some which deserve their own essays, and some which need their accompanying pictures to really get the point across, and those can wait for another time. So I'll bring this to a close here by saying that Cameron was above all things a good horse, my hardworking partner, and my friend, and he's free now and gone wherever good horses go, which is a comfort to those of us who love him and miss him.
When you hear the thunder
for those are my hoofbeats
upon your heart
deep in the night.
Do not fear the lightning
and remember me
for my hooves strike sparks
so you may see
in your darkest hour.
And when the rain falls
for those are my tears of joy
as I run with the sky herd
free of rein and pain and heavy burden.
Look up and remember me
for you will see the shape of my
fiery head thrown high
among the clouds,
warmed by sun but even more
because you remember me.