Apache was the equivalent of over 100 human years old. He was also the Alpha leader in our ranch herd.
Before Apache assumed his ranch responsibilities with us, he had been an experienced cow-horse. Apache lived a rugged life of cows and cowboys; he had the scars and arthritis to prove it. Unfortunately, Apache was repaid for his hard work in the twilight of his career, with a trip to the auction block. However, fate nodded in Apache's direction at the horse auction, because Mama was there to save the day. That day "The Killer"--the dog food representative--was buying horses to take to the slaughter house. The bidding for Apache ended up just between Mama & The Killer. Mama and "The Killer" (dog food representative) battled it out, with Mama victorious. Mama had just given Apache a pension plan.
Apache spent his retirement years on the trail with us. When not enjoying trail rides, Apache loved spending his retirement logging many hours in his beloved arena, staring off somewhere at something, or a place, that I could never see. If there was ever a horse, deep in thought, it would be Apache looking out into someplace “nowhere.”
Apache’s 36 year-old birthday would have been July 26th, and a great celebration was planned. Papa received a gas grill for Father’s Day, and had been making the transition from the old charcoal Weber grill, practicing up for mass hamburgers and steaks.
However, Apache somehow incurred a mortal leg injury when Mama & Papa were not around. I knew Apache was in big trouble when he could not raise up from lying on the ground. X-rays yielded a terminal prognosis, concurred by 3 veterinarians. The injury had worsened, the hoof was considerably separated, and infection had spread well into the bone. Apache’s obvious pain & suffering, even with pain medication, told the whole story.
One day, a thunderstorm symbolically blew in; rain & cloudy skies appropriately remained with us throughout the week. Mama lovingly brushed Apache. Papa cut fresh grass, from Apache’s favorite grazing spot, and he relished every bite.
Apache received scratches in spots that usually itched; as well as caresses strategically placed where horses caress each other. Importantly, Apache was next to his horse friends, who were all just inches away and focused on the attention being given to their leader & friend. Of course, they too wanted some of Apache’s food goodies. Amazingly, Apache still asserted his leadership with the other horses when they got too close to his space or had bad manners. They all respected him, and he retained his leadership.
Thelma & Louise knew to not bark and the ranch enjoyed peaceful quietude.
Surrounded by those who cared about him, under a cool gentle rain, we all said goodbye as Apache left for greener pastures.
Apache now rests beneath his beloved arena.
After Apache was gone, Dusty (the youngest) cried out frequently.
Jazz, second in command, called out for Apache into the night, and we could hear her cries inside the house. Bobby, Apache’s closest friend, was silent and kept it in.
The next day we found the muddy hoof prints of Bobby, Jazz and Dusty, imprinted circularly, around the grave. None of the horses walked over the grave.
The morning after, Bobby would just face a dark stall corner and not eat. The horses were taking the loss very hard.
Papa tried smoothing the gravesite out, harrowing the dirt with the John Deere--to make it less prominent to the horses. Bobby would leave his stall corner to occasionally go out and stare at the grave, from a distance.
Today, the horses are solemn.
I miss Apache a lot. He was a wise-old presence. Apache was a very vocal horse, who would always yell out when he spotted us on the way to the arena. Apache always made his presence known, with an affectionate and playful nudge. Now, the arena stalls are silent and that large presence is gone.
Mama had always said to Papa, “Apache will outlive us all.” Apache truly had great strength, ability to overcome physical adversity, and a strong will to live. Papa said, "It feels as if Superman died." This large, powerful, almost indestructible, companion had taken all the pain he could take.
Now, he waits with the others and Queenie in that beautiful land of dreams.
On July 26th, we think "Happy birthday, Apache!" and give thanks for the day that Mama saved Apache.