Happy Trails, Dear Niko





Farewell, sweet boy.

There was a time when somewhere in Utah’s western desert, this wild Mustang was free to roam the land and run with the wind anytime he wanted to. Not that the pickings were always so great. I’m sure there were times of hunger in the winter when he and his fellow herd- mates pawed through the snow for some meager sustenance.

Niko was guessed to be a 5-year-old  when the Bureau of Land Management captured his herd. The girl that bought him from the auction had him trained, and he turned out to be a wonderful ride. Even children were safe on his back. 12 years later, for physical reasons of her own, Bobbi had to give him up.

Fortunately I was able to give Niko a good home. My thoroughbred had just passed away and I needed a herd-mate for my Quarter Horse. I was blessed with Niko for nearly 3 years.

Then three years into our growing relationship, I began to see this wonderful horse taking slow, pain-filled steps that made my heart ache and my gut twist. He never complained, but I did — to the most recent “farrier” who  wasn’t concerned — just said to exercise the “fat-ass” more… Tragically, it was the beginning of a debilitating hoof condition.

I regress for a moment to implore the importance of good farrier care. The excellent farrier I had trimming my horses for over 8 years passed away unexpectedly and I was forced to look for a new one. I went though three and none of them really ever cared about my older horses like Steve did. I believe that’s partly why Niko ended up with hoof problems.

There are far too many back-yard – just want to make a quick buck -wanna-be farrier’s out there. They really don’t care about the animal or realize the damage their doing. If you have to pay extra for an educated, professional farrier, do it!

As I was saying, one day a limp, and soon it seemed like Niko was walking on hot coals. I called my Vet. Was it lameness, laminitis? Was it something I did or didn’t do? My Vet thought not. Indications revealed that it was either Cushing’s Disease or Equine Metabolic Syndrome — debilitating regardless . Sadly, it happens a lot in the Arizona heat and especially to older horses.

At this point I had to decide to keep Niko as comfortable as possible with a series of  blood work, a strict diet, and constant medications until “natural causes” released him from the misery, or make the hard decision — surrender him forever to peace and comfort.

On Friday, July 28, 2017, I made the hard decision to end Niko’s suffering.  It was a quick and painless process and he went down gently. At only 22 years old, I surrender  him to our Creator’s kingdom.

It comes with the territory — animal ownership — having to let them go. They rarely outlive you, nor do you want them to. After all, who will love them better than you? And you don’t want them to suffer…ever…but sometimes you pretend they’re going to get better. You try to fix them so they’ll live longer because you can’t imagine life without them But eventually they will leave you — they must. If you’re lucky, they’ll die when you aren’t looking, but it’s mostly when you are.

After the Vet left, I called Trails End to take Niko away for burial and just as he’d done when Jo passed, Jack ran back and forth along the fence crying out for his buddy. It was confusing for the both of us. This tragedy felt different — like it was suddenly the ending of a significant chapter in my life. I felt suddenly unsure of what to do.

In losing my beautiful thoroughbred Jo, I gained Niko as a companion to Jack. But this  loss has been different somehow.

I know that I know that a horse shouldn’t be alone. They’re herd animals. When I lost my thoroughbred, I was certain right away I would have to find Jack a new herd mate. But this time…mmmm….not so sure.

At 27, Jack is no spring colt. A relatively strong and healthy Quarter Horse, yes with  potential to live several more years. Being a tad over 65 myself, I’m certainly  not too old to ride, but the inevitability and sorrow of losing another horse has knocked the wind out of me. Yet I’m not ready to throw in the towel either.

Horses are the best! They give so much of themselves. They can be very affectionate like other animals, but they also let you ride them! They trust you as they submit to you through reins or a lead rope. A thousand pounds or more under your control in innocent faith you will feed and love and care well for them.

Besides, I’m a writer. I don’t do gyms, so the exercise of riding and taking care of my horses has been important for my health, mental and physical. It’s therapeutic just to muck stalls and hang out with them…now just Jack. However, it seems to me that taking on another horse to befriend Jack would be like getting on the perpetual loss merry-go-round. Right now, I just don’t know.

As for Niko…Sigh…I have the memories. The smooth texture of his midnight velvet coat gleaming in the sunlight. His luxurious mane and tail flying in the wind of his own making. His soft nicker when he saw me coming out. His nosing for cookies in my pockets. I smile as I close my eyes and see this beautiful black Mustang running and bucking and altogether reveling in his spirited vitality.

It was my privilege, Niko. Happy Trails.


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