In Loving Memory of Simply Red

Passed away June 2005
Foaled in 1973 (approx.)
16 hand Thoroughbred Chestnut gelding

Simply Red was a ex-race horse and tremendously athletic jumper. I wasn’t sure Red would be a good school horse, but as usual, Shannon Lyons got on his back and he was super. His race horse training kept him well behaved as he was ponyed along and he is very close to completely sound. He came to me with a blown suspensory ligament, and several hundred pounds underweight. He’d had an undiagnosed abscess in the same leg as the blown ligament; and probably the combination of infection and pain help to bring on a bout of flu – when the abscess blew out of his coronet band and the swelling began to subside, and the antibiotics had a chance to work, he began to heal but the stable where he was living was unable to house him during a convalescent period. So he came to me. He was very poor – Red has needed many years of recuperation. He was too old to fight off a combination of problems like that too easily – but he’s now jumping out of his skin and the workout with Shannon was just what the doctor ordered. Red and Josh are inseparable friends.  


Sometime in the night of June 2, 2005, Simply Red simply let go and slipped away. Although I’d been feeling hopeful that he was holding his own, and perhaps even making progress recovering from his dental and knee problems from early in the year, apparently his advanced age was the deciding card. Red stayed mentally alert, interested in maintaining at least a distant contact with the herd, and always eager for his food right up to a few hours before his death. My guess would be that he laid down for a quick nap after his evening feeds, and died in his sleep. There was no sign of struggle, he was not cast, he looked like a little foal stretched out in the morning sun.

Red was a horse who never really caught a break. He was a handsome but unusual looking Thoroughbred, with a number brand on his lip indicating racing experience. He was shorter in the back than most TBs, and had a short head and little nose. But he was so fast, so agile, and so very willing to do anything asked of him, that his TB heritage was patent. I knew Red for many years before he retired to TGC, and marveled at his efforts to please his owners. I first saw him competing in a jump off with a 13 year old girl on his back, and marveled at his terrific speed, ability to spin on landing and set up for the next jump with no motions wasted. Always he was ‘on the muscle’, gleaming bright copper and jumping out of his skin. He was restive in a show situation, dancing and tossing his head. Again and again, despite a rider whose skills consisted mostly of holding on, he brought her in the top three; and again and again that same rider screeched that “Red didn’t do” what she wanted, “Red messed up”.

When I started TGC, I heard that the girl was ‘getting rid’ of Red – I tried to get him but he was sent to a stable in Temecula which did fox (“coyote”) -hunting. That farm only had Red for three months, and called me to say he ‘wasn’t working out’ and would I take him. When the horse trailer pulled up and Red was unloaded, I rushed to the driver and said, no, I think you brought the wrong horse. Sadly, Red looked that day so much like he did the day he died. In only three months, this healthy strong horse was reduced to bones, with a dry brittle coat and a bandage on his left foreleg. I was able to recognize him mostly from a distinctive pattern of veins on his left cheek. The story I was able to get was this: Red was rented to people who wanted to ‘fox hunt’ – and like all rental horses, he got riders who had limited skills. It’s hard enough for a horse to handle an off balance rider, but over jumps? In the field? Hell for leather after a running pack of dogs and a frightened coyote? At some point, Red developed an abscess in his hoof, probably a rock bruise. Such a bruise causes inflammation inside the hard shell of their hoof, and terrible pain. Proper care would notice the limp, and soak and/or cut open the hoof to relieve the pressure and pus. But Red was ignored, and sent out once again. Apparently he tried to avoid landing on that aching hoof, and in the process, strained his suspensory ligament – which provides support for a horse’s entire leg. His leg blew up and the ligament was treated. But with the untreated abscess continuing to cause pain and swelling, the leg didn’t heal as expected. On top of all this, Red developed a bad cold, with buckets of snot dripping out of his nose. The untreated pocket of infection in his hoof traveled up and exploded out of his coronet band relieving some pressure. But by this time, the fox hunting stable had had enough, and weren’t willing to support him through a time of recovery.

So he came to TGC. At first, he was in a paddock separate from the herd with Maker’s Mark, a new TB. Mark and Red became friendly, and then in a freak accident, Mark broke his own leg. Red by this time was in the main herd, but had hung out along the fenceline with Mark until Mark was ready to join the herd. When Mark was gone, Red stood alone until Josh came to TGC – a lost little boy who hated camp – and Red took Josh under his wing. These two had attended any number of shows together, but Red was a jumper and Josh was a hunter. And Josh was about 10 years younger than Red. So Red stepped up for this lost kid, and became his protector and mentor. In the next 6 to 7 years, the two were inseparable, with Josh always being the good boy, timid and well behaved; and Red being the tough guy. Red behaved, but he’d toss his head until he was sweaty; paw the ground, fidget around and always fuss. As time went by, I began to understand that Red equated cross-ties and grooming with “showtime”. He used that time to ‘amp himself up’ and get ready for whatever was going to be asked of him. Without that stimulus, Red was probably the calmest TB I’ve had at the TGC. He was relaxed, and didn’t move a muscle until he had to. Of course, he was pretty old. The best figure we would put on it when he came to TGC was that he was 20+. That means that on his death, he was at least 31 years old. And if he had racing in his background, as well as the long jumping career, those were pretty hard years and it is consistent with his intelligence that he would conserve his strength until it was needed.

Red continued to recover from the severe strain of that vital ligament and rebuild after all the other injuries and the many changes of his life. His only real job was to protect Josh, although as time went by Red’s years began to really slow him down and Josh developed some maturity so Josh became Red’s protector. Then in 2003, I lost Domino. Domino was the assigned consort and protector of our princess, Shawnee. Shawnee couldn’t do without an escort, and immediately assigned Josh. This is unfair – how could Red compete with this lovely mare? To give Josh some credit he did try to remain Red’s friend as well, but Shawnee would not share, and little by little she made Red unwelcome by Josh’s side. So once again, Red was alone.

And for whatever reason, another period of bad times came to him. He got an infected wolf tooth; he hyperextended the leg which had had the suspensory ligament injury and his knee blew up to the size of a soccer ball, all during the worst rains in a decade. He lost a lot of weight due to the pain. I made special mashes so he could eat, but he’s always been a horse who prefers any type of hay to pelleted or processed food. He ate, but only enough to keep himself going. He did love carrots, so got as many as he wanted; I added probiotics to his feed to keep his guts working properly (which can be impaired by antibiotics) and blanketed him months past anyone else. The tooth problem seemed to resolve; his knee reduced in size and moving on it was clearly much easier; and then he scraped his hock, which also blew up. This seemed to take longer to heal, and he started finding a comfortable spot half way between the stalls and the main paddock to stand and rest in the sun all day long. I put a water barrel nearby and fed him there so he didn’t have to move; and each morning we started with a battle for medication; and a ½ hour or so of grooming and massage. Red always knew when I was coming, and would stand head up, ears pricked, positioning himself to eat at exactly the same spot as the day before. When I groomed him and talked with him, he would keep an ear cocked toward me, and occasionally put his head up, and look back at me with a bemused expression (‘why do you suppose she babbles on like that all the time? I guess its OK, as long as she keeps brushing’). Each day he was either first back at his stall, or he would wait until I came to escort him through the herd. His mind never left me. His spirit remained willing until the very end, but as it will, the flesh failed. In his last act, letting go, he saved me from making the final decision for him. With him so clearly still ‘here’ in this world, it would have killed me to kill him. Always a sweet horse, who loved to be cuddled, he will shine always in my memory for that last kindness alone. 

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