11. She Died Too Young
She died much too young. I remember Laurie taking me to meet her for the first time when we were juniors or seniors in high school. To get to where she lived we had to drive into Martinez – about a fifteen to twenty minute drive from the town in which Laurie and I lived. Martinez was a solidly middle to lower income town then. It hadn’t been hit by the sky rocketing cost of living in those days, and those of us who lived in Benicia looked down our noses at the slightly seedier sections of town. She lived outside of town, however.
Laurie drove me to the far side of town, and up a rather steep “hill” who’s road became less and less well maintained the higher we drove until her mustard yellow Toyota Corolla just couldn’t take us any farther. We then got out and walked. I remember thinking, for the first time that day, that I had not worn appropriate footwear. As we reached the end of what was now a fairly well maintained gravel road, we reached the gate. Laurie had a key that got us past the sturdy metal chain link fence, and we continued for a few dozen or so more yards to the private estate where she waited for us.
She was tall, and rather fragile looking, not unusual considering her age. Spindly, somewhat klutzy legs, beautiful silky grayish hair, and a flighty nature that made her seem awkward at times, but for a two year old Anglo-Arabian mare, she was rather pretty.
Laurie loved her more than any creature on earth. You could tell by the way she treated her. I’ve written before about my great friend Laurie, and anybody who knows her will back me up here…she’s a slob. She is a true life Oscar Madison, matched in our married life to my Felix Unger. She DOES NOT clean. Yes, when I lived with her you could find a sandwich in amongst the bedclothes. Dirty laundry? clean laundry? Who can say, as long as it’s not too wrinkled? Vacuum? Make the bed? Why? You just need to do it again tomorrow…Wait! I can hear you all saying. What the hell does this have to do with a lanky gray horse? Well, the thing is, Laurie would no more let that horse stand in a dirty stall overnight than she would have allowed her only son to wear a dirty diaper. No, in fact she will not do the dishes in the sink, thank you very much, but she will, in fact, go clean a horse stall before class on a freezing January morning.
Desert Sandpiper was her name. Laurie had trained her, and I was very impressed. My father loves horses, so I had learned to ride years before, so I knew the basics, but horses aren’t really my thing. They seem more sport/hobby than pet to me. I don’t do sports. Especially one that requires a shovel, but Sandpiper was easy to like.
Laurie and I would go on trail rides with me riding pillion. She gave me riding lessons; I had learned western, which Laurie looked down her British nose at. I would have to learn some English style if I was to ride Sandpiper. I even horse-sat when Laurie had to go out of town.
You’d think visiting a horse and taking her out for the occasional ride when their mistress was indisposed would garner you some loyalty, but she wasn’t that type of filly. She was more Mr. Ed than My Friend Flicka. One afternoon in the late eighties – Laurie was out of town for at least a week for some reason – I drove North, out of Davis on road 104 to the old farm where Laurie was boarding Sandpiper. I was nice enough to get her out of her stall, saddled up, and out on the trail to burn off some energy, when suddenly we were running all out towards the acres of newly planted fields that surrounded the old barn! There was absolutely no indication that the crazed horse had any intention of slowing until she was exhausted, or one or the other of us was lying dead of a broken neck in the bottom of a drainage ditch. She appeared to be fine with either outcome as she, true to her inelegant nature, tumbled head first straight into a drainage ditch. I, of course, went ass over tea kettle over her head, and manage to fall without breaking my neck!
I hopped up grateful to be alive, and furious with a stupid horse that hadn’t the sense to watch where she was going, or the grace to avoid what was there, to see a dark gray rump trotting back home to the barn. Ten minutes later, with me jogging ten feet behind, and masterfully controlling my temper so as not to startle her into running the wrong way, we arrived back at the barn. I will admit to hitting her once I had hold of the reigns, but I’m sure the whack on her butt hurt my hand way more than it did her. I think I remember feeding her before I left (after the required rub down, of course). I’ve never believed she didn’t throw me on purpose.
She would prove, however, to be rather dumb over the years. She was always terrified of bicycles, tree limbs, butterflies, and any number of inanimate objects that might jump out of thin air to taunt her. Her feet knocked together in a way that Laurie almost managed to train her out of, and I’m not sure she ever would have turned the almost white gray that Laurie always hoped for, but she was actually rather charming.
She was only moved a few times. It wasn’t something you wanted to take part in more than once, and I was glad I wasn’t there the day they moved her to the stable in Woodland. She never liked horse trailers, and this time no manner of coaxing would make her willingly go inside. In fact, on the last try, just as they managed to wedge her inside, she reared up, slamming her head into the ceiling, and biting cleanly through her wildly protruding tongue. Laurie told me later, in a fascinated way, that she ad to sit on Sandpiper’s head as the vet sewed the dangling tongue back together.
The next few months were a regimen of antibiotic injections and grain mush feedings with a syringe, but, magically in my opinion, the tongue healed. No infection, and she didn’t even seem to be that bothered by it! I remember the day she got her first solid feeding. The vet was happy with how everything looked, and a little bit of solid grain was given. She seemed to do fine, and we hoped that that was the end of the vet bills that we couldn’t pay. We went home happy.
We woke up to a phone call at two in the morning that put an end to the happy. Sandpiper was down. Most likely colic, said the nice couple who owned the stable we had rented for her. They couldn’t keep her from rolling on the ground. I had been around Laurie long enough at this point to know what that meant. If she managed to twist her intestines, there was no surgery in her future. The vet met us at the stable, and we managed to keep Sandpiper on her feet. The only advice the vet had was a common one that Laurie already knew- keep her walking. And so we walked. We walked her around and around. We walked for at least an hour, maybe more, and occasionally she would try to fall to the ground and roll. Her stomach was gassy, we hoped. Anything more wouldn’t have a happy ending.
Somewhere around hour two we began to lose hope. The only solution we could see now, was to put her down humanely. If she had a twisted gut, a portion of her intestines were likely to be starved of oxygen and lead to necrosis. Parts of the intestines dying in a very painful manner. We had the stable owners call for us, but for a moment we had hope! We were sure for a brief 30 seconds that she was having a bowel movement. If her intestines were working, she’d most likely be fine. Then down she went, strangling and convulsing for a brief moment as she died. The vet would arrive much too late.
Desert Sandpiper was 8, and indeed, this beautiful creature died much too young.