I met Chrissy (BFF) in 1992, and one of our first things we did was go horseback riding out in the desert, she on her older horse Loki, and I rode Doc. I hadn't been on a horse in a few years, so she knew that Doc would be the best for me. I even rode bareback, up and down canyons and bluffs. Most gentle creature, Doc was, but if he felt you were comfortable with him (he always knew, too) then he'd get up a little spirit and race. As soon as he sensed nerves or discomfort, he'd go right back to a calm gait, would whicker at your leg, and just take it easy.
In the summer, Chrissy and I worked at the Teton National Park, and she would drive him up to be stabled nearby. (Loki had passed away at the age of 26. A terrible thing, but she still had Doc. Loki had come to her late in his life, she'd known him for 10 years.) Those three months without Doc was inconceivable. We'd borrow another horse and go ride all over the beautiful countryside of Moose, WY, or some days we'd just go out and bring him his favorites, watermelon rinds and tuna fish sandwiches. We'd stretch out in his arena, and he'd stand over us, lipping at our hair and clothes until he found the treats in our pockets. Clifford the Big Red Dog.
I moved back home, got married, had my boy. When he was three months old, my husband and I moved back to Southern Utah, where Chrissy and Doc were. Once my son was old enough (9 months old, and already walking) we headed over to the stables for his first ride on Doc. Chrissy's pets had never met my son before (this goes for Greatest Cattle Dog ever, Freckles, and Freckles, as a Dingo, did not like children. We always kept her away from them. But my son? She knew he belonged to me and added him to her fold, watching over him protectively. Dogs are great.) But Doc knew to be gentle. Quietly he'd huff near my son's face, making him laugh.
He nodded approval and we put him up there, Chrissy whipping her leg up behind him and climbing on, bareback, as we (and Doc) preferred. My boy had the best time, laughing, clapping, bending over and kissing the horsey's neck. We finally said goodbye, and my son slept hard for hours. (Hey, riding a horse is a lot of work!) We did that a lot, driving the short distance to where Doc stayed, bringing him watermelon and tuna fish.
I moved back to Texas after my daughter was born, got divorced, spent a few years getting things together in my life, met and married The Mr. We took a trip with the kids right before we got married back out to Utah. Chrissy took them both out to the beautiful pasture where Doc lived, at the base of a lovely red cliff face. She hopped on his back (she's an amazing horsewoman, and they all love her.) and raced him around a bit, to give the kids a thrill and to most likely give Doc a little fun, too. I gave him his hug and face kisses, he lipped over the kids' hair, making them laugh. (They were 4 and 3 at the time.) We hopped them up on his back for a walk, Doc ever gentle and sure footed.
The kids had a blast. Until my son rubbed his eyes (night was falling by this point.) His whole face began to swell. We raced him back to her house, washed him up, pumped him full of Benadryl. My son was allergic to horse dander, terribly so. One of the worst discoveries we ever had; my son wants nothing more in life than to be surrounded with animals.
After that, we had to visit less often. It was just too hard for my son to be around the horses. And even just being around Chrissy was like being around horses - dander gets everywhere. Chrissy and her husband moved to NM for his Master's, and Doc followed along. He was getting a bit older, but he was still close enough for Chrissy to go for a short run, see him, take him out, and give him treats. On one of those runs, her dog Freckles went ballistic and charged in front of her, hackles up. Just as she figured out what was happening, the rattlesnake struck. Freckles, protecting her Mama until the end, made it a few hours longer.
Her sweet husband made a grave, held my friend, and Doc took care of the rest. He always knew when his lady needed head butts. Horses are good for that. A few years later, they moved up to Michigan for her husband's Ph.D. Chrissy (and Doc) were desert creatures, but they adjusted. Chrissy took a job at a nice stable so she could board Doc there and be with him every day. Winters were below 20F. Doc grew a thick fur coat, Chrissy worked outside all winter hauling feed, breaking ice, Doc following along with her all day. He made friends with a Clydesdale and a Shetland, and they were a funny group.
Her husband graduated and took a job teaching at FSU. They would finally settle down, and best yet, they would buy a house with enough room for Chrissy to have Doc there at her house. No more stables, no more waits in between visits. She could wash dishes and look out the window and watch Doc gnaw on clover. They found a place that backed up to the national forest with enough room for several horses. Her husband rebuilt the shelter and fence line, she turned off the electric fence, because Doc didn't need that sort of thing. He got hosed off on hot days, he was free to wander the property, and Doc decided the bird bath was his personal trough.
Doc began to be lonely. He'd been used to being around other horses, and they're social creatures. Chrissy cast her net out, found a horse that was in need of love, and Caroline came to join them. She and Doc hit it off instantly. Sure, it was a May/December romance, but no one seemed to mind. Caroline got nice and filled out, Doc watched over her protectively. One night, that I detailed (with pics here) Doc went nuts. Screaming with terror. Chrissy raced out of bed in a flash, worried a cougar was on the property. Caroline wasn't getting hay belly, she was pregnant. And now she was giving birth. (Doc is the Joseph in this immaculate conception tale.) Chrissy's husband, who followed her in his boxers and a flashlight, dropped his shotgun and raced over to help grab the baby. That's when Junior Brown joined the family.
They made a cute family, too. Doc shared his food with the colt, and Doc never shared his feed. (Pretty typical for males.) He watched over his step-son (hurr) and played ball with him. Nothing cuter than watching a baby horse kick around a beach ball, unless it's an older horse kicking it back to him. The kids enjoyed that visit, but my son was sad he couldn't be out there with the horses. Finally we hit on a solution, one my son came up with. He'd wear his swim goggles! And the crazy thing is, it worked. We all went back many times, rode Doc or just walked around the yard with him in tow. He was a good horse.
He was getting lame, though. He'd injured his ankle, and everyone knows that leg injuries to horses can be fatal. Doc just favored that back leg. He still liked to be ridden, he still liked to play. But he was getting old. Chrissy took him for a walk along the river, and his back legs got stuck in a deep patch of mud. He was falling over, and Chrissy, being a tiny thing (but strong) wasn't strong enough to get him out. A truck drove past, she flagged them down, and they used a tow rope to pull Doc out. She wouldn't ride him outside the pasture (which was sizeable) any more.
Doc lost his teeth along the way, and she fashioned a cover for his tongue when it got cold so it wouldn't freeze. He looked like he was constantly giving raspberries. He was still such a sweet guy, it just added to his charm. This year, though, he started struggling to stand up. Horses can't lay on their sides for long, they weigh too much. There were times that Chrissy had to get help to get him back up. It was happening more frequently. This past weekend she called.
Doc was falling down, now. Almost every day. It was time. He was pushing 30, that's a long time in horse years. The vet was called, she'd come Tuesday. Doc didn't wait, though. Sunday evening, he fell down. It was hot. Chrissy couldn't get him back up. She turned the hose on, kept him cool, sat in the arena with him, cradling his big, sweet head. He just looked back at her, and she hoped he knew how much he'd meant to her. All the hard times, all the lonely times, all the time they were free, running over desert hard pan, the sun shining down and his legs stretching so far it was like flying.
She stayed with him all night, crying out the pain of losing her longest, dearest friend. 24 years is a long time to be with someone, be it human or horse. The vet came earlier than scheduled. Monday, mid-morning, she came and administered the shot that would stop the pain in Doc's body for ever. Chrissy held him the whole time, telling him over and over how much she had loved him. He died knowing it. Caroline and Junior Brown stood vigil the whole time, lipping at him, whickering for him to get up. After he was gone, Caroline screamed and ran off. Junior walked around the pen, almost as if he was looking for his dad.
Chrissy went inside to call me as her husband dug another grave. If you've ever seen a horse, you can appreciate the Herculean task before him. He managed to get Doc into his new resting place, under his favorite tree. Chrissy married a good man. The horses have been walking slowly near that spot, smelling it and being calm and still when they're near Doc. Don't ever try and tell me animals don't feel.
So this is to Doc. I've known horses my whole life. Some are animals, some are feisty and have great personalities, but none ever seemed like they actually knew what we were thinking, feeling, or what we needed like Doc. Many friends and their children had their first ride on him; he was the greatest ambassador to the horse world that there was. The loss in my friend's life is tremendous. I'm crying as I write this, and not just because I'm sad that I'll never see Clifford the Big Red Dog again, but because I know that Chrissy has lost a part of herself. I just ache for her.
Doc & the BFF, in his New Mexico days, licking his lips after a tuna sandwich on whole wheat, his favorite
Doc, in his Florida Retirement, what all old gentlemen want, right? :)
May we all be so lucky to have a friend like he was.
Doc, January 14, 1983--June 6, 2011
ETA Because it's too funny and great to not share. I was just reminded by Chrissy about the time her little brother thought he'd play cowboy. He stood on a hay bale behind Doc, took a leap (to land on his back, very "Hi-ho, Silver, awaaaaaay!") and face planted right into Doc's butt. Doc was such a great horse that he just looked back at the kid and laughed, as horses do. Not any danger of being kicked, like you might worry with another horse. Really, he was the best.