Written by: Patrick Corcoran
My wife and I drove along the narrow private drive with anticipation. It was our third weekend in a row spent horse shopping for her. She was a new rider and we had to find a stocky but short horse that was sane and mostly sound. Toss that in with the small budget we were working with and you could conclude that our goal was improbable.
The road turned to large jagged rocks, poor footing for horses I thought. When we reached the end of the drive we could see a barn in disrepair and fields with sparse grass. There were pieces of rusted construction equipment dotting the horse fields too. We noticed two horses in the field and it was obvious from a distance that one of them was a large draft breed.
Our hopes would build with every new prospect only to be disappointed. It was apparent we were in for more frustration.
The seller had been recommended by a friend so we decided to at least look at this horse to spare any hard feelings.
The owner was a pleasant enough man but he didn’t seem to know much about the care of horses. When I inquired about shots and teeth floating he thought I was talking a foreign language.
When the man went to get the horse out of the field I told my wife that I would spend a couple of minutes looking and then we would politely say, “No” and leave. We watched the man walk out to the field and hook a lead to the draft horse. The other one, a 14.2 hand chestnut followed at a distance.
The man came back to our location smiling with the draft horse in tow. “That one is too big.” I said.
“Oh no,” he said, “not this one, the one in back there. He won’t let me catch him but he follows this one everywhere.”
My wife slowly approached the smaller horse and gently took hold of his halter and I saddled him to try him out. He was old but you could tell he had good confirmation at one time and he had a real good handle on him too! Someone had taught him to neck rein very well, the lightest touch I ever experienced!
“How old is he?” I asked. “Twenty years.” he replied. My wife was doubtful but climbed into the saddle while I stood on the ground looking the animal over. He was a little underweight, had arthritis and there was something wrong with one eye. The man said the horse had the beginning of a cataract but could still see and the vet said not to worry about it. I noticed the horse was slightly head shy too.
We hadn’t talked about price but I decided to pass on the horse anyway and helped my wife from the saddle. The man didn’t argue and began to lead the horse back to the field but the animal wouldn’t take a step. The man had the horse’s halter in his hand and used it to slap him in the face. “Come on!” he yelled! When he went to hit the horse a second time I stopped him and said, “How much do you want for that horse?”
He paused to think but before he could say anything I stated, “I’ll give you six hundred if you throw in the saddle and bridle.” The man made the deal and we loaded Jake into our trailer.
Driving along the road my wife asked, “I thought you didn’t want that horse?”
“I don’t.” I said.
We drove in silence for a while as I pondered what to do with this horse. I didn’t think it would be the right one for my wife but I couldn’t leave him there in those conditions either.
The next day I rode the horse around a bit and was still surprised by the way he handled. I knew this horse had been an excellent little cow pony for somebody when he was younger.
After a couple months, Jake gained weight and I decided to keep him as a pasture buddy for my other horses. I called a vet to check out his condition. The vet said that Jake was in excellent shape for his age which was closer to thirty not twenty. “What about the cataract?” I asked.
“What cataract? That’s not a cataract that’s an injury from something hitting him in the eye. He’s totally blind in that eye!”
I had an idea how that had happened. I felt sorry for the old horse so I devoted plenty of time correcting his head shyness and putting weight on him. Jake become one of my favorite horses. Even though I was too tall for him I would ride him every so often just around the yard. I used to sit in the barn when it rained and listen to the drops hitting the metal roof and Jake was always there beside me. We comforted each other.
We knew that friends who didn’t know how to ride would be safe on Jake. He also taught several of our nieces and nephews to ride and was a great companion for my other horses and me. He befriended my black and white paint and the two were inseparable. In fact, in the April 2004 edition of the Paint Horse Journal, an article was published about my paint. Included in the story was a mention of his pasture buddy, a one eyed chestnut. A horse that a few years ago had been doomed to misery was now being mentioned in a national magazine.
Jake was truly one of my best friends. But like everything else, horses don’t last forever. We had stopped riding him and for two years we allowed to him to do whatever he wanted. We kept him fed and healthy and let him know every day that we loved him. One day Jake began falling and having a difficult time getting back up. I knew the time had come.
We slowly walked Jake from the field and even though it was difficult for him to walk he willingly stepped into the trailer. We took him to New Bolton Equine Center in Pennsylvania where Barbaro spent his last days. Very caring staff members clipped some of his tail hairs for us, then they gave Jake an injection and our old friend went to sleep.
My wife and I cried all the way home. To this day I still look at his photos of which we have many and I shed a tear for our old friend.
We are proud that we were able to increase Jake’s lifespan and make his last years comfortable. Jake did more for us than we could ever have done for him because friendship and trust from a helpless animal is a great reward.
We miss you Jake.