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The Shoeless Horse, Episode 24 : Going To The Ground Again

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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 Shoeless Horse, Episode 19 : Searching For Salvation

in Nature/Spoken Word/Storytelling by

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.

The Shoeless Horse, Episode 18: The Magical Trip to the Lake. Flashback.

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After the boys in the car scared her out of her wits when they drove by and slapped her horse, Bonnie wondered if she should continue the ride to the lake.  She was still shaking like a leaf, and it was a long way.

The horse, though, had quieted. His hooves made a pleasing thud in the fine gravel on the shoulder of the road and the sun was still shining. She decided to press on.

As she rode slowly along, Bonnie gazed at the homes set into the trees that grew on the downhill side of Ioco Road.  Back in 1970, these were medium in size, but many faced the water and had expensive landscaping with long driveways.

As Hogan’s hooves thudded softly on the gravel, she thought as she so often did of her mother. Ada never tired of looking at lovely houses.  Though they were all still school kids, she’d instilled a love of beautiful things in her children.

When Ada saw appealing but expensive clothes, she sometimes bought a pattern resembling the outfit she’d spotted, and recreated it on her sewing machine. She was always strapped for cash, but she was determined, so some lovely things came off her sewing table.

Bonnie was amazed at what her mother could do, but she knew it didn’t come easy. Ada had almost no spare time, so she did most of her sewing at night when she was exhausted. There were special occasions when she sewed for her daughters, too.

In a way, Bonnie realized, the love of beauty was one of the traits that made her fall madly in love with the horse she was at this very moment riding. The day she first saw him, dancing sideways, tossing his long mane and gleaming like moonlight, she was utterly captivated by both his looks and his spirit.

Just as a messy family, too many work hours and a difficult husband soiled Ada’s dream of a magazine-worthy home, the reality of a horse who rolled in the mud,  sometimes had a bulging grass belly and occasionally escaped his pasture messed up Bonnie’s perspective on owning a real horse. When she wasn’t worrying about getting her homework done, she fretted about the hours she was losing at work and the cost of Hogan’s feed.

Today, however, she hoped she was about to do something wonderful.

Bonnie had seen riders and horses swimming together on TV. She’d been thrilled when the man she’d bought Hogan from had said this horse didn’t mind the water. It was about seven miles to beautiful Belcarra Regional Park and the lake. Seven miles back to Port Moody.  Would it be worth the hours?  Would it go the way she hoped ?

She doesn’t remember how long it took, but at last she rode off the road, onto a forest trail, and out onto the beach. The lake glittered in the sun and she could see into the clean, clear water of the shallows to the gravel at the bottom. Hogan was thirsty now, and dipped his muzzle to the water. There were just a few people in the park. Several of them stared, and Bonnie was both proud and embarrassed.

She was scared, too. What if the horse rolled over on her in the water? What if he got upset and dumped her on the beach? There were lots of possibilities.

“Ho, boy,” she said softly to the little horse. “Let’s go.”  She nudged his sides with her heels and clicked her tongue quietly, hoping no one would see how nervous she was. Could anyone tell she’d never done this before ?

Hogan was ready to wade into the lake. His rider, amazed she was living a fantasy she’d imagined for years, was delighted. She clung to his mane, leaned over and whispered praises into his pricked ears. Shaking with both fear and happiness, she urged him deeper into the water. He seemed to enjoy himself. Did his hooves lift off the bottom? Was he really swimming?

Bonnie didn’t want to press her luck. If the horse got panicky, it could go badly for both of them. She let her legs float a little, then turned Hogan back toward the shore. Her brothers would call her a chicken. Truthfully, she was scared to really, really swim her horse.  But it was enough. Hogan had again proved himself to be versatile and brave.  Again he was her hero –  and her jeans dried nicely on the jubilant ride home.


The Shoeless Horse, Episode 17: The Testing

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At last. Bonnie would meet a ferrier who pledged to be patient, to be open-minded with her little horse.

Hogan didn’t hate all men. He liked Bonnie’s boyfriend, even though Kirk was tall. The trigger was men with tools. When Hogan spotted a man carrying ropes and tools, he was a nervous wreck. It was obvious the horse had some very bad memories.

At school over the first days of the week, Bonnie was more miserable than usual. Concentrating on her work was next to impossible. She was in a state of suspense, wondering how the visit with Pete Barker would go.

When the day came for Barker’s visit, Bonnie got home fast. She charged up to her room, jumped into her jeans, then raced to the kitchen for a snack. She yelled to the brother she’d spotted to fold some laundry, and then waited for the doorbell.

Pete Barker arrived right when he’d said he would. He wasn’t a big man. He was slim and wore a classic plaid shirt. His face was lined, and he looked both kind and weary. Bonnie’s heart thumped. She was breathless and scared.

“All right,” said Pete Barker, “Let’s have a look at this horse of yours.”

Bonnie got some of Hogan’s special feed, the stuff with molasses that the horse was crazy for, and went around the back. Pete was carrying a piece of burlap. They walked together into the pasture, and Pete explained what he planned to do.

“I’m going to greet him,’ said Pete,” “and try to make friends with him a little. I don’t have much time, but we’ll see what we can do. I’m going to rub Hogan with this burlap – we call it Sacking Out.”

Bonnie felt helpless. She understood the importance of the horse accepting the touch of the strange man, and knew she had to stay back. She lured Hogan into his lean-to with the bucket of sweet meal, and pulled the board across the exit.

The horse began to munch greedily. Bonnie slipped out of the lean-to, trying to stay calm.

“The thing is,” Barker told her as headed toward the horse, “we will know how serious this problem is if he kicks while I’m touching him. If he kicks out with one hind leg, he’s not that bad. We can work with him.”

Pete walked up to Hogan with a calm, matter-of-fact stride, and touched the horse’s neck, talking quietly. He stroked the horse’s shoulder, and moved around to the other side. Hogan seemed to like him, and continued munching.

“If he drives out with both back legs,” Barker said, running his hands over the pale hide, “we have a bigger problem. A problem we might not be able to fix.”

Bonnie’s stomach was doing flips. She tried desperately to keep herself calm as Pete Barker moved smoothly around the little horse, his hands empty, his touch gentle. He slowly tugged in the burlap, and put it up to Hogan’s nose to sniff. Hogan blew softly. Barker gently rubbed the burlap over Hogan’s forequarters, then along his neck. The horse remained where he was, shifting his weight from one hoof to another.

Now Pete needed a long stick. He attached the piece of burlap to one end, and walked out of the lean-to. From outside the half-wall, the ferrier slowly slid the stick with the burlap on it towards Hogan’s hindquarters, gently touching the horse’s body with the sack. Hogan was restless now and Bonnie’s heart pounded.

Pete’s burlap rubbed gently, inching toward the horse’s back legs – and the explosion came. The stick was smashed away as the horse drove both hind legs straight out, breaking the lean-to planking and catapulting the pieces into the field.

“Oh, poor Kirk,” Bonnie thought stupidly, “he worked hard on that wall.”            Her mind was fighting the implication of the gaping hole in the lean-to.

“I’m sorry,” said Pete Barker. “I don’t think we can work out the problem with your horse.”

Oh, God! What was she going to do?


The Shoeless Horse, Episode 13: Journey into Fear

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This was the day. Bonnie would ride Hogan to Burke Mountain Riding Stables, and a farrier would trim his ragged hooves. It would cost some serious cash, but it had to be done.

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The Shoeless Horse, Episode 12:  The Weight of Responsibility

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Hogan, who might have been a pinto in another life, had multicoloured hooves.

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The Shoeless Horse, Episode 10: Horse Whisperer in Pajamas

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One weekend day, Bonnie and her horse, along with the dog, rode down the highway toward the power lines in Coquitlam, then slowly climbed the slope below the lines. It was a perfect day, with sunshine that was comfortably warm, and a gentle breeze.

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The Shoeless Horse, by Diana Earth Episode 9: Melancholy Joy

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His neck was satin smooth in summer, and his outlined eyes were lovely. To Bonnie, the pale little horse smelled wonderful, and when he pranced around tossing his head, his long mane and tail tousled by the breeze, her heart swelled. Keep Reading

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