It was December, but Bonnie’s Dad had disappeared.
The whole time Hogan the horse was living it up as a pampered pet at the boarding stable, Bonnie did not ride him.
Bonnie and her horse were spending less time together. It made her sad to think of harming him by riding him. She had to find a solution to the hoof problem, but it was almost unbearable to think about. She was nearing the age of eighteen now, but she couldn’t face the dilemma she was in.
She talked the situation over with her tired mother. Ava displayed her usual empathy, but didn’t know what should be done.
Ava had enough on her hands with hours of commuting to work, her youngest daughter being harassed on the way home from school, and her eldest son and husband taking turns getting into trouble. The horse and the continuous angst of her oldest daughter were the least of her worries.
The kitchen Ava had furnished so charmingly was often the scene of horrible dinners gone wrong. The kids’ father sometimes refused to eat. Dean particularly seemed to relish waiting until the beautifully-plated food was on the table, then pointedly pushing it away.
The four kids were shocked at first when they saw this – they were always hungry and knew they were lucky to have such beautiful food. Most of their friends ate pretty mundane meals and lots of plain white bread; Bonnie’s most affluent friend usually ate from tins. But Ava was an avid student of nutrition, ahead of the times when it came to serving attractive meals from all the food groups.
The food rejection was just one of their Dad’s interesting stunts. As soon as Bonnie’s sixteen-year-old brother got his driver’s license, he was involved with his father’s mischief as well as his own. Even as Steve ran his own experiments with intriguing alcohol varieties and dosages, he was called upon now and then to extricate their Dad from his.
Meanwhile, Bonnie came to a decision about her horse. She would put him in a boarding stable, hoping she’d find a solution to her frightening situation while having Hogan cared for by someone who knew horses well.
She doesn’t remember how she found the beautiful stable and the soft-spoken woman who owned it. She doesn’t remember if she rented a horse trailer or rode the horse there, since it wasn’t too far away. Bonnie doesn’t remember the woman’s name, though she vaguely recalls the lady saying she could not ride horses anymore. What she will never, ever forget is that woman’s kindness.
A petite woman with light brown hair sprinkled with a little grey, the stable owner told Bonnie she boarded horses because she enjoyed their company. Her husband, she said, was good enough to do the painting and heavy lifting.
Bonnie was delighted to discover the horses were kept in roomy, clean box stalls during the night, and let out into a green pasture in daytime. The place was storybook perfection, and Bonnie was happy to pay the boarding fee every month.
The day she committed to leaving her horse at the boarding stable, Bonnie explained her situation with Hogan . Dry-eyed, she told the stable owner what had happened, and how awful it was to take the horse down . She also told her what the vet had said after the second time.
‘Hmmm,’ the stable owner had said. ‘ We‘ll do our best to keep him happy, after all he’s been through.’
The horse liked the stable owner immediately. Hogan liked that woman so much that he became a pet, following her around as she watered and fed the other horses and sometimes putting his head over her shoulder.
Bonnie was a little jealous about the shoulder thing, but relieved that the horse seemed happy. She was busy working full time, navigating a new romantic relationship, and driving as far from home as possible to visit friends.
Things were often pretty weird at home. One of her brothers was sleeping a lot and often missing school. Her younger brother snarled at her. She was worried about her mother, but did very little to help her other than pay a few bills. She wondered why her smart, resourceful little sister was struggling at school. She missed seeing Hogan when she looked out behind the house to the big pasture.
The clouds were gathering, but Bonnie certainly wasn’t ready for the coming storm.
Callum slumped in a dark chair in the study. He didn’t want to be in this weird town, without friends. Again, his mother had pulled a crazy.
After the high school graduation, there was no university as Bonnie had dreamed. The family bills seemed to be piling up, Bonnie’s father seemed to be getting into more trouble, and the newspapers ran frequent articles about university grads who couldn’t find their dream jobs. She didn’t mind settling in to working.
Even though her brother Steve was just sixteen, he was out in the workforce too. Their mother toiled at the busy restaurant in Vancouver, then found a very different job at an elegant Italian import shop that required an even longer commute. Now, four cars crowded the driveway of the house in Port Moody, one for each of the parents, and one for each of the two older kids.
Bonnie’s mother tried to use public transit. For awhile there was public transit for workers in Port Moody – the Barnet Fast-bus. It was a help for anyone commuting directly into downtown Vancouver, but Ava had to cross a bridge onto the North Shore and make multiple transfers, so she abandoned the buses in favour of a skinny little Toyota wagon.
‘Everyone in the family uses and abuses my station wagon,’ Ava often fumed. It was true – anytime anything awkward had to be moved, including bales of hay and muddy dogs, Ava’s Toyota was borrowed.
Bonnie and her brother ranged around the hills of Port Moody and into other communities to see friends, and they both enjoyed driving. Having a car was a ticket to freedom. For girls, especially cautious girls like Bonnie, a car also provided the ability to get away from a party that had gone sour, even scary.
Bonnie got her license immediately after turning sixteen. Sometimes she had to drive her Dad around, as he’d mysteriously lost his. After some driving experience, she had a new understanding of the craziness of driving up to a horse at high speed and smacking him from behind. She shuddered every time she thought of the day it had happened. She knew she’d been bloody lucky.
For Hogan the horse, life was peaceful since Bonnie had stopped putting rude and inexperienced riders on his back. Only Bonnie and her friend Leah rode the horse now. Hogan loved young Dawn and her gentle ways, and seemed fond of the cats, who were still hanging out by the trough when he had his sweet mash. He was tough in all seasons, refusing to use his shelter no matter what the weather did.
The rides grew less frequent as the next hoof-tending session drew nearer. The horse’s hooves were ragged. Bonnie’s heart was pierced with guilt whenever she looked carefully at those hooves.
It took a few months to save up some money. Her earnings at Roy Rogers Restaurant were barely over minimum wage, and she paid her mother some rent along with a couple of other household bills. Bonnie had been angry at first about the rent, but later she understood. Her good-looking Dad had a new job, but spent lots of money everywhere he went, and he was getting around. It wasn’t long before Steve was helping with the bills too.
When Bonnie had enough cash put aside, she called Pete Barker. Grudgingly he agreed again to help. The vet was summoned.
Few sights are more terrible to witness than a creature of flight that is drugged, trapped and pulled to the earth. The second take-down event in the pasture was just as horrifying as the first. Hogan’s grunts and his desperate struggling again seared into Bonnie’s soul. The pale horse fought fiercely to stay on his feet, to stay up and be ready to run.
This time, though, something was different.
“I had to give him so much,” the vet said of the medication that took Hogan to the ground. “Next time it may kill him. I gave him the amount that I normally use for a much bigger animal, because he wouldn’t go down.”
The vet and Pete looked tired and sad. Bonnie was in a state of numb horror. As the men worked over her crazy-brave, lifeless-looking little horse, the vet’s new recommendation banged in her ears.
“He can’t go on with this. You need to think about putting him down.”
The dress Ava made for her daughter’s high school Grad was beautiful.
Bonnie was graduating. Formally, she was about to graduate from high school, and informally, she had just passed another course in the School of Hard Knocks.
After bringing down the horse, not only was she struggling to force herself to concentrate on her end-of-the- line schoolwork, but she had to work several days a week, argue with her brothers, care for the horse and her dog, and try to catch glimpses of her busy mother and sister. And then, there were the many ups and downs of life with her Dad.
Since her father had become an executive of a brand new company, the happy ‘ups’ were fewer and the exciting stuff was happening more often.
She went to the store before Father’s Day one afternoon, and was struck by the lack of cards that had appropriate greetings for a Dad like hers. Bonnie’s Dad was prone to a wide range of behaviours and comments that didn’t fit the dreamy and warm messages she saw on cards in the store.
The Father’s Day cards in the stores all spoke gratefully of fathers who were always therefor their children, always supportive and inspiring.
There were no verses that offered an ode to a father who was not always there, who yelled and screamed at his kids every second Saturday, and who sometimes tormented their mother with a flood of awful put-downs.
Dad wasn’t always mean and temperamental. He could be really funny, and sometimes very kind and generous. He enjoyed the pets- the whole menagerie – even though he liked to lead his sons in some serious taunting about the horse.
The thing was, Bonnie’s dad was unpredictable. He’d slump into long periods of silence, walled off from his family though all five of them were just steps away. When he was in the miserable periods he wouldn’t speak to anyone, and was downright dangerous to disturb.
Sometimes these moods lasted for weeks. While her dad was in this state, she and her brothers and sister could not risk bringing friends home – not after school, not even on the weekend. It was a pain, but they lived with it.
For Bonnie’s mum, Ava, the pain was literal. She’d suffered with migraine headaches since she was twelve years old. She got them so bad, they knocked her right off her feet. Sometimes, Ava lay in the dark for days, the door closed and her voice behind it frighteningly weak.
The pets made everyone laugh. The two young cats the Pinda Brothers had sent home with Bonnie and Dawn raced around the house as they grew, wreaking havoc with the décor and skittering around so comically that sometimes the whole family laughed themselves silly. The dog was difficult when she faced the world outside the house, but affectionate and endearing with her favourite people. The horse was… well. You’re listening to this story.
Bonnie’s final year of school brought some distraction from the challenges that had come along with the horse of her dreams. She understood now that even without the hoof issue, she had not accepted how difficult it could be to properly care for a horse. Sometimes she felt guilty. There was plenty to graze on in the generous-sized pasture, but was that any excuse not to pay attention to Hogan some days?
When the time since the last trimming went by and Hogan’s hooves grew again, the girl understood two things. First, it would soon be time to stop riding him, to protect his hooves from her weight. Second, it was time to get prepared for another ‘humane treatment’ at the hands of the veterinarian and the farrier.
Though her mother had toiled to produce a stunning dress for Bonnie’s graduation, the girl was haunted by those other plans.
She shuddered whenever she thought of it: her horse, shocked and dazed, struggling bravely against unseen forces to stay on his legs. Her handsome, defiant little Hogan, horribly drunk and pulled down to the ground in a defenseless heap.
She was worried sick now about two unavoidable obligations – attending Grad with a boy she didn’t even like anymore, and participating in the next awful bringing down of Hogan.
The pale horse staggered along the path in the sunlit field, his head heavy on the girl’s shoulder. Never in a million years could Bonnie have imagined a day like this.
The three of them, concentrating grimly, moved as close to the horse as they could. Each was ready at any moment to leap, either away from a flying hoof or out from the path of a tumble.
The vet had slipped the tube into Hogan’s neck, and the anesthetic was trickling into the horse’s bloodstream.
Hogan was now angry and frightened, realizing that the three people around him were working to hurt him somehow. It took long, terrible minutes for the anesthetic to affect him. He began to stumble, and made a herculean effort to keep his balance. Bonnie’s heart felt as though it was being pulled apart in her chest.
Hogan worked to stay up off the ground, to stand and face his enemies. He stood, swaying, his head hanging, and watched the two men with increasingly unfocused eyes.
‘Okay, watch it, watch it –’ Pete’s voice gritted, ‘get ready- he’s going to go down soon.’
Pete had one line, Bonnie the other, each ready to turn the horse’s head in the direction of his impending fall once they could see which way it would go.
The horse collapsed to the right, sinking part way to the ground, then made another desperate effort to pull himself back up.
In the kitchen of one of the houses on Portview Place that overlooked the field, a woman was standing in front of the window, her eyes riveted to the scene below. Tears were streaming down her cheeks when her daughter came home from school.
‘Mum!’ said Bonnie’s friend Marion, ‘ What’s wrong?’
Her mother was shattered by what she was seeing in the field below. The little horse had meandered through Sylvia’s back garden during one of his escapes. He’d munched on their roses. Today she watched as the horse was being tortured in what looked like a deadly tug- of- war.
Down in the pasture, Bonnie was dizzy with horror.
Hogan fell to the other side, rolling almost to the earth, then lunged over his forelegs and thrashed in a semi-circle, his back legs useless. Pete pulled Hogan’s head toward himself, trying to roll the horse down to the safety of the grass.
At last, the fight drained out of him, the pale horse lay motionless on the damp earth.
For the girl there was more fear and guilt. There was no tarp. No bedding. Hogan’s white form was a stark contrast to the dangerously cool ground. The two men quickly worked over the downed animal. The vet examined his teeth.
‘You were told this horse was eight years old?’ the veterinarian asked. ‘Looks to me like he’s closer to twelve.’
Barker clipped and filed the hooves.
‘He’s going to be dopey when he gets up,’ the vet told Bonnie.
‘He’ll have a hard time with his balance. He might fall. You’ll have to help him, and stay with him for a while. Walk with him so he can work out the anesthetic.’
Mercifully, it wasn’t long before Hogan began to stir.
‘Okay,’ Pete Barker said, ‘Bonnie, get ready to help him get up.’
Hogan rolled over and propped himself up as the three humans watched carefully. Lying on the ground but with his head up now, the horse tried to gather his wits. He struggled to rise, and couldn’t get over his legs. He rested, then suddenly rose, staggering straight for Bonnie.
Was he going to attack her? Fall on her? She was frightened for Hogan and for herself, but she found herself beside his head, holding his halter, talking to him.
When Hogan laid his heavy, heavy head over her shoulder, leaning on her, she was overwhelmed. He trusted, needed her.
Stumbling under the weight of her horse’s head and her new burdens, she walked with the wobbling horse along the path through the soft grass, warmed by the sun.
The girl was riding her horse less and less. Filled with both love and regret, Bonnie for a time avoided dealing with Hogan’s problem.
She fed him, visited with him at the fence, and cherished him from a distance. Out in the pasture, his hooves were mercifully invisible. Though she was petite, Bonnie now felt that riding put too much pressure on his messy hooves. Slowly but steadily, the joy of owning her dream pet was eroded by guilt and worry.
Her parents were busy with their own challenges and conflicts. Despite their many differences, Ada and Blaineboth loved animals. They not only tolerated several sets of cats, Bonnie’s troublesome dog and the little rabbit who was brought home from a hilltop just in time to give birth to more rabbits, but they also enjoyed the horse. However, they were socially reserved at the best of times. Neither of them had friends in Port Moody yet – and absolutely no connections with anyone who knew horses.
A few times, when the night sky was clear and the moon was full, Ada stood at the bedroom window on the upper floor of their new suburban home, and watched as the small white horse raced around the pasture, glowing in the moonlight and full of high spirits.
Bonnie didn’t have many friends at her swanky new high school. She didn’t know anyone from the hip crowd or the horsey gang. She did have a friend named Linda, a kind and intelligent girl with a delightfully squeaky laugh, who at least provided sympathy. Marion, a witty and quirky girl who lived down the street, also provided – if a bit reluctantly – a sounding board at times.
After the disastrous ‘sacking out’ procedure with Pete Barker, Bonnie’s options had been explained to her. She’d since been trying to forget them. Her heart felt unbearably heavy whenever she let herself think of it.
“If you’re not going to have him thrown again,” Pete had told her, ” You will have to get the vet in and put this horse under anesthetic to knock him out and lay him down. Then while he’s out I will come and trim his hooves and float his teeth. It won’t be cheap.”
Oh, God ! How would she ever pay for all this? Tormented by guilt and worry, Bonnie rarely rode the horse. She worked to raise the funds.
Time has erased some of the details, but I for one would like to believe the girl raised all the money herself, and borrowed nothing from her family. Somehow, she managed to accumulate money to pay both the veterinarian and Pete Barker.
At last, she made the next fateful phone call.
“I’m ready,” she said to Barker, her heart like a brick in her chest. “What do I need to do to prepare?”
On the appointed day, the vet and Barker arrived within minutes of each other. Bonnie was terrified but kept quiet and rigidly attentive. She had treats ready for the horse. She’d picked out a spot in the pasture where the ground was soft and the grass was short.
Pete had told her that they would need to have two lines on either side of Hogan’s halter, to make sure they could pull his head to one side or the other as he fell to the ground. It made her sick to think of it, but she would haveto do her best, because the things they were planning were dangerous for her horse .
The horrifying facts had come at her one after the other.
“We have to give him just the right amount of anesthetic, or we could kill him,’ said one. ‘And if he’s out too long on the ground, he could get seriously chilled.”
“We have to make sure the horse doesn’t flip when he goes down,” said the other, “or he could break his neck.”
Numbly, she poured some of Hogan’s favourite mash into a bowl, and the horse plunged his head nose into the treat. The vet pulled a brown bottle, some plastic tubing and a scalpel out of his kit. The ferrier tied the lines to her horse’s halter and braced himself to pull.
The sun shone and mercifully warmed the ground, the scalpel cut into Hogan’s pale neck, and a thin stream of brilliant red coursed down to his chest.