In Loving Memory of Cuervo


April 30, 2006 The Golden Carrot 

Today, after a sudden onset colic caused by equine enteroliths (intestinal stones), Cuervo Gold passed away.  Still sound, fit, healthy and beautiful, the death of this gorgeous Arabian gelding has grabbed us all by the throat and shaken us.  Cuervo was 24 years old - a mere baby for a healthy Arabian - and in the 12 years he’s had with the Golden Carrot, he has become so beloved for his character and mischief, the pain of this loss will linger for a long time. Cuervo was only 12 when he came to the Golden Carrot - the very first bona fide rescue effort of TGC.  He was about 300 pounds underweight, skinny, dull coated and passive to handle.  His previous owners were endurance riders, and controlled this dynamo by underfeeding him. His heavy rider then ran him up and down the hills surrounding Lake Elsinore until, as you would expect, he severely bowed both tendons in his left foreleg.  The owners then wrapped his leg and stuck him in his stall for 30 days, during which time they continued to underfeed him.  When the vet was called in at the end of 30 days, the leg was still grossly swollen, of course, and there was fungus under the legwrap which had never been changed.  Since he wasn’t better, the owners wanted the vet to put him down.  Cuervo’s luck was in that day, as the vet was willing to take him, in lieu of payment for the call.  He gave Cuervo to his assistant who cleaned up his leg and started rebuilding him with proper feed.   Cuervo found his way to the Golden Carrot, and was the sweetest little guy - about 15 hands, and still poor looking despite a month of care from the vet’s assistant.  His leg was also still swollen - other than running cold water on it when she had time, the girl hadn’t done much about it.  My vet, Dr. Woods at the time, gave him cortisone injections and gel cast him for 72 hours, which greatly reduced the swelling.  And then - time, which was all this tough guy needed.  In a year, you’d never know, except for a slight thickening of that leg, that he’d ever been hurt. This horse never walked anywhere.  He trotted or ran full tilt, often including a fancy spin when he reached his destination, running halfway back, spinning again and running back to where he wanted to go all along.  He did it for the joy of running, tail flagged, head up, eyes bright.  For twelve years, every time I wanted to bring him out for the farrier, he would play a 20 minute game of “catch me”, refusing to be caught, using the other horses to block me, and floating ahead of my steady walk just far enough to stay out of reach.  It usually took 20 minutes - and then he’d tire of the game, stop and let me halter him and walk out like a perfect gentleman.  He went through any open gate, or hopped a damaged fence without a moment’s thought - the minute he was out, he’d run maniacally along the fence line wondering why he wasn’t with the other horses. He knew how to shimmy under stall door chains too - if we left a lower chain undone, he’d go into the stall to see if that other guy was getting something better to eat, or just had a better stall.  Often, hilariously, although he could get in always, he often couldn’t figure out how to get out, and he would stand bugling at the top of his lungs for help.

He was perfect to handle - someone had definitely put a lot of training on this horse. But there were difficulties.  Apparently, the only concept he had of lunging was to run as hard as he could go.  It took me weeks, every year when exercising was begun after the winter months, to remind him that there are at least three speeds, walk, trot and canter; run was not what I wanted.  Yes, part of that was his high speed nature; but I think this is how his former owners settled him enough to ride comfortably - they exhausted him first.  Because without that, this boy was a pogostick to ride down the road.  He never ran away, but  he jogs or trots or canters almost in place, rather than walk.  Frankly, I was never able to ride him long enough to tire him out as much as he tired me.  No fighting you understand, just way too much energy.  Its not like I could take him out and run for a while either since not one other horse on this lot except Joyful and Shine could keep up with him so working him to his capacity wasn’t really an option.   He was a herd horse from day one - you couldn’t separate him from his friends, or them from him, without a lot of noise and fury.  The day before he colicked, for instance, Inch got her shoes done, right down the stall line from where he was, and he was crying for her the whole time.  And if another horse went out on the trail; or down to the round pen for exercise, or up to the farrier or vet, it was always Cuervo calling for them to ‘come back, right now!’.  Cuervo had many friends in TGC’s herd - he was sociable and alternatively dominant and submissive.  When his tolerance for strife was met, he would run to Inch and Mitey Nice and hide behind them like a little boy behind his mommy’s skirts.  But until then he could wear out Falcon, and Prophet, and Beau and Buck and PC with his ‘bite-my-face’ games, pass the stick back and forth, rearing and spinning around and playing hard for an hour at a time.  Other than Inch and Mitey, he wasn’t much of a lady’s man - so much a little boy in his manner and mischief.  But he and his buds had fun; and he loved to carry things around, like big sticks, or a hammer, or a feed bag.  In his time at TGC, despite being such a powerhouse of energy, Cuervo did give several youngsters some fun in the saddle.  But somehow, although always admired, he never really attracted a lot of attention from visitors.  Partly because he wasn’t pushy about coming to the fenceline for carrots - and partly because he had the excitable and sometimes reactive nature of a lot of Arabians.  If you were calm and still, he would be too; but if you were quick moving or loud his startle reflex would have his head fly up, and he’d spin and thunder off. 

He briefly had a sponsor, the first sponsor to simply drop the sponsorship without a word of goodbye.  It always surprised me that more people didn’t request to sponsor him as he was so beautiful and flashy with his tequila colored body and blond mane and tail.  It was my luck that he was, until the day of his death, an extremely easy keeper, with hard feet that didn’t need shoes, and great ability to thrive on very little feed.I’m sorry to admit that it is probably my fault he died.  I usually add cider vinegar to the feed of the horses from May to October (fly season), and it turns out this is a highly recommended preventative measure for stones.  Last summer finances were so short due to the reduced donations and my own finances so strained by my equine massage course and accompanying travel expenses that I didn’t feed the vinegar, and I can’t help but wonder if the stone that killed Cuervo started building then.  Alfalfa hay is a major cause of stones. You know I feed grass for one feed, and senior feed and grass pellets for another, but the third feed is always a flake of alfalfa. The high magnesium and phosphorous and calcium content in alfalfa as well as it’s diuretic quality combines with a little rock to start the process of stone-building. Without the vinegar to dissolve it away as fast as it builds, the results are tragic.   I’ve always said that each horse that comes to TGC teaches me a little more about how to care for these guys and Cuervo has taught me to keep that vinegar in the budget no matter what, and find a way to reduce the alfalfa intake if possible, and in particular watch his two breed buddies, Bruhad and Prophet. My reading has indicated that Arabians are much more prone to stones than other horses, partly because Arabians drink less water than other horses - I can attest to that in our herd. Add the alfalfa to the equation, and take away the vinegar, and I guess this was a foregone conclusion.  I can’t bear to think how my pinching yet another penny can be so costly. Cuervo did not die easily.  He was strong and healthy.  I gave him every chance I could, and kept his pain as low as possible with medications and massage.  But 24 hours of distress after 12 years of happiness and health is not too much, I hope. And we made the end quick.  As I lose each friend, my need to believe in a heaven where they romp in a happy healthy herd grows greater. My friend Sue Friley gave me a card some time ago which said “God forbid I should go to a heaven in which there are no horses” .....   As I lose more friends like Cuervo, the heaven I’m hoping is there is looking more and more attractive - I can’t wait to go see my buddies again.  I believe when I get there, they will remember, and forgive me. Goodbye sweet Cuervo - Romp on!

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