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Life and Times of a Working Cowgirl

It’s Better to Have Loved and … Won


It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before, may be a true statement however it’s my experience it’s even better if you don’t have to lose. I have a heart bigger than Texas when it comes to animals, kids and lost causes. I willingly spend my time and resources helping, healing and loving anything and everything that falls on rough times. This is frequently thankless work that doesn’t always have a happy ending. Unfortunately love and persistence can’t fix everything and sometimes extreme kindness leads to tearful goodbyes when my only hope is to be a calming and loving presence as a soul passes between worlds. The hardest part for me, is having to be the one who decides when that happens. Nature doesn’t always run her course gently and frequently it falls on my shoulder to make the call to end any undue suffering. I agonize over these decisions and after heavy thought and deliberation I make a choice. Often it’s to wait twenty four hours, allowing my soul and the soul in question time to heal or find acceptance, after a day things are often much clearer. This was the plight in February when my big grey roan Gunsmoke stuck something into his eyeball. His injury in and of itself was not life threatening however Gunsmoke is a fractious, damaged soul and the combination of his personality with blindness was frightening to me and I was afraid overwhelming to him.

After serious consultation with two vets, my farrier and my close horse friends I decided to try to save as much of Gunny’s sight and eye as possible and relieve as much pain as possible, then determine if he was capable of living with limited sight. The following days and weeks were excruciating for both Gunny and myself. He was in tremendous pain and extremely frightened by his lack of vision. I was in extreme pain from treating his eye and being continually stepped on and tossed across the barn and fearing I was not helping this horse just torturing him without much hope of a positive end. After a few weeks it was clear the efforts to save Gunny’s sight had failed but his physical pain had subsided now it was time to see if he could function with only one eye. I was so afraid all the hard work and suffering would end with a horrific accident that involved him panicking and running head long into or through something. Turning him out the first day nearly gave me ulcers but aside from a few missteps he managed just fine.

After some time in with the geriatric and young horses I decided it was time for Gunny to be reintroduced to the herd. For weeks he stayed on the outskirts of the herd. Taking special care not to get cornered or surrounded, he made some new friends and reestablished some old friendships and eventually had a small group he trusted enough to eat with. Bonnie a big belgian mare was the first to take the role as guard on his blind side. They would stand shoulder to shoulder while they ate with her on his blind side. If Bonnie moved off the hay Gunny knew other horses were present and he would move with Bonnie. This allowed Gunny to eat in relative peace and regain some standing in the herd, his life as an outcast was nearly over. Little Joe however, filled the role of antagonist.  Now Little Joe is also disabled, he has a crippled leg but never mistake him for lame. He understands that one needs to live the life you’re dealt and crippled or not everyone must contribute something valuable to the herd. Joe would intentionally get in Gunny’s blind spot at the water tank or in the pasture and wait for Gunny to bump into him. As soon as contact was made Joe would bite and chase Gunny as though he had committed some egregious act. At first I though Little Joe was just being a prick but soon I realized he was giving Gunny every opportunity to use his other senses like  hearing and smell. If Gunny failed to notice Joe was there to drive the lesson home, Gunny may have lost sight but he had other ways of detecting the presence of friends and predators alike.

After a few months back with the herd Gunsmoke had resumed a fairly normal life. No one else could watch the herd and pick out the half blind horse.  His movements were natural and fluid and he traveled in the middle of the herd. He stress and anxiety levels were lower than they had been before the accident and he was moving well. I contemplated riding him but I really wasn’t sure if that was a good idea for either of us so I just let him be a horse. Spring turned to summer and summer to fall and Gunny became more and more accustomed to his limited sight. He began coming to the gate and asking to come in the barn when we would take horse out for rides. We would let him stand in the barn and eat along side the other horses, we would brush him and love him then turn him back out. It seemed Gunny had healed and now it was time for me to do the same. Although Gunny losing his sight was in no way my fault, he is my horse and so I feel responsible. I know horses are homicidal and suicidal and accidents happen but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been responsible for adding to the pain and suffering of an animal who had already suffered far to much. I was willing to just let him live his days out on the ranch before I would risk doing him any further harm. What I hadn’t realized was Gunny wanted to get back to his old life, he wanted to be ridden and he was literally begging me to listen to him.

So after eight months Gunny and I were both ready to go for a ride. I admit I was scared. I had no idea how he was going to react and although he had had eight months off he is still a big strong boy capable of seriously hurting me. As soon as I placed a saddle blanket on his back I honestly think he smiled. He stood still and polite not tense or nervous for the entire saddling process. I decided to pony him for the first part of the ride to see if leaving the ranch would cause him any stress. I started by ponying him on the side he could see me but it soon became apparent he would rather have my horse on his blind side. Like with Bonnie as long as he could feel my horse he knew nothing bad was happening on that side. My horse also knew Gunny couldn’t see him and was very tolerant of the occasional bump to keep Gunny going straight. Finally I decided it was time for Gunny and I to head off on our own. Liv took my horse and I mounted Gunny. Without a hitch we were off straight as an arrow, calm, confident and willing. After eight months I finally exhaled, at long last I knew I had made the right choice for Gunny. With tears in my eyes and overwhelming joy in my heart Gunny and I enjoyed our day in the sun.

Barney’s dad has a saying, ” you make a decision and then, you make it the right decision”. It’s really good advice but not always easy. I wanted so badly to make the right decision for Gunny but it was Gunny who had to make it the right decision. No one would’ve blamed me for putting Gunsmoke down on that fateful day in February. As a matter of fact my vet recommend I consider just that for the sake of Gunsmoke and my safety but I decided to give him the opportunity to heal. By  making that decision I took a huge risk and made an enormous commitment to Gunny. There was no quitting for either of us through some very difficult and painful times, my life, my plans, and my finances had to come secondary to what he needed. It’s only through the tremendous support of my family and friends that I have the ability to commit myself so completely to cases like this. I wish everyone could feel the joy I felt riding Gunny again, I wish everyone could know how my heart swells every time I kiss LeRoy on the nose or hear Milagra nicker but helping these animals isn’t a job for everyone or just anyone. In a perfect world we’d all be able to donate our time and resources to the less fortunate creatures on this planet but this is not a perfect world. Everyone is limited to what they can or, are willing to do. If the chance arises for you to help a sick or injured horse please keep Barney’s dad in mind, if you make the decision to help will you be able to make it the right decision? I’ll keep sharing my stories so everyone gets a chance to feel the joy and share the pain no matter what decision you make because it really is better to have loved and won.



  1. This post makes my eyes cry and my heart smile. I’m so happy for you and Gunny.

  2. Barney said his office got all dusty when he read it : ) Thanks for the support and I hope your eyes dry and your heart keeps smiling.

  3. As someone once said: ” the reason doesn’ t have to be sound as long as you make it a sound reason”. Sometimes St Francis wears boots and a big hat.