Feature Article

Tribute to a 'Damn Fine' Horse

By Milissa Farmer

It all started with an invitation to visit an Arabian show and breeding farm. I had been purely a hunter/jumper enthusiast but had cut my teeth on "King of the Wind", so as a consequence, possessed the love and admiration of one of the oldest breeds on earth. The stall aisles were filled with their soft-eyed intelligence, inquiring about the strangers walking past. I listened attentively to the histories and ancestral lines of several mares and geldings then somehow found myself inside the stall of a beautiful young bay. I still recall feeling slightly foolish afterward for having taken such liberties, but the owner simply inquired, "You like that stud, do you?" I had no idea what he was talking about. "What stud?" I stupidly retorted. "The stall you were just in, the dark bay stallion." I was incredulous. Without responding, I sheepishly crept back to the stall, leaned down for a closer look at his anatomy, then marveled, "Yes, he's beautiful!" "I gave that horse away last week," he commented casually, as part of normal conversation. I could not believe it. Where was I when this guy was handing out free Arabian stallions? This time my friend, Kathy, asked who the lucky recipient was. "Oh, some high school kid down the street." He was so nonchalant, it amazed me. I knew the market price for Arabs had just recently come down out of the clouds, and that his business was suffering because of it, but he didn't even seem to care if the horse would be cared for properly. Sensing my frustration (and desire), Kathy announced, "If this horse is still here in two weeks, I'm coming to pick him up." He agreed and in two weeks, to the day, we pulled up with her trailer, the owner handed me the horse's registration papers, and we drove away with not only my first Arab but also my first stallion! It had all happened so quickly. After reacting on a purely emotional impulse, I was faced with how to handle a four year old, unbroke, and sexually active stud. What to do? The irrational, irresponsible thing! I borrowed one of Kathy's young mares and bred her! I remember thinking: The only thing better than a free horse is a free horse and his foal! Looking back on all this crazy behavior, I can only thank God, He guided me through and 12 months later, a beautiful, black colt we named Pharaoh was the result.

This also being my first experience with foaling, I watched that mare like a hawk. We had the baby monitor hooked up and every time the poor girl urinated, I was flying out to check if her water had broken. Having just had a baby myself, the night of the expected birth, my husband had agreed to keep barn watch. I had my shoes and coat laid out, my barn bucket with Fleet enema, rags, bottles, nipples, iodine, etc. was at the ready, everything organized for 'the call.' When it came, I was so excited and 'discombobulated,' I missed the delivery! (I couldn't find my shoes!) But I dried him off, assisted his first step, watched him nurse and stayed and played with him every moment I could spare.

The colt and his mom rejoined the herd when he was a month old, and he was immediately accepted by every member, but especially his dad (who was, by now, a gelding). We weaned him at six months simply by returning the mare, but his adjustment was incredibly smooth. One of our mares quickly filled the mothering role and he assumed his dual position as underling, but also as the herd leader's son, which automatically imbued special privileges! I don't know if Kharibe could identify Pharaoh as his biological offspring or whether he just approved of his personality, but Pharaoh was the only horse out of the herd (then or now) that Kharibe would share even his grain with. This EX-stallion never tolerated hi jinx from any other horse, but Pharaoh could spar and engage Kharibe in some awesome matches, competing in who could reach the highest rear.

Pharaoh grew into the most generous, kind and amusing joker! There was no one that escaped his antics, though some were more tolerant than others! His favorite trick was to separate our Shetland pony from the herd, then nip him unmercifully on the hocks. Each time Blackie would kick, Pharaoh would rear. His timing was impeccable. If Blackie sought relief through escape, Pharaoh would race around, cut him off, and begin again.

As other foals were born he made it his mission to indoctrinate them into the ways of juvenile delinquency! The colts, Bo and Vic, in particular, were his domain. Pharaoh was ten when Vic was born and to watch them play, only their size could differentiate them. The three of them would race, spin, and buck then antagonize the mares until they were disciplined, then the trio would flee like fugitives, then spin and buck out their embarrassment! With only one filly, Mariah, did he develop a special friendship. Even the lambs and calves received Pharaoh's attention: our latest calf was born to a wild heifer who threatened us with her formidable horns if we even thought about approaching her little darling, but Pharaoh, 12 years old and as inquisitive as always, walked up to investigate and brought along his cronies. In no time, the entire herd had surrounded the little bull, making my husband's job of castrating a simple affair instead of life threatening!

With people he had learned early on they were friends to be respected. Once, while I was milling in among the herd, our old quarter horse became impatient with Pharaoh and snaked his head around menacingly. The colt whirled around to escape his wrath and found himself face to face with me. I could almost hear him thinking, "I can't go through her, either," and he sat back on his haunches again and whirled in yet another direction. He could have made an amazing reiner. Instead, it made him the perfect choice for our son Vince. Even though Vince was eight and Pharaoh only three at the time, both of them fulfilled a part of the other. Under my instruction, Vince did everything for his charge to put him under saddle but not once did Pharaoh display any animosity toward Vince's lack of training experience. Together, they worked on sacking out (not much of a process; Pharaoh thought it was a game), long lining (the biggest challenge here was to keep from tangling the things), saddling and mounting (what are you doing up there?), and asking for a soft response when Vince touched the rein. Once he understood the first time, Pharaoh needed little reminding. However, it was not always so with Vince. One beautiful spring day, our first ride of the season, Pharaoh was feeling pretty fresh and Vince, also out of practice from his long winter's nap, was wanting to hold the reins too tightly in order to maintain control. Hesitant to release, and failing to heed even my admonition, Pharaoh kept trying to remind Vince of their contract: "I'll respond but you need to let go of my mouth." Eventually, tired of the argument, Pharaoh launched himself off all fours and headed pell-mell down the trail. This caught Vince's attention, and he finally employed the cues he had taught and within a few yards, Pharaoh stopped, dropped his head and calmly resumed their ride, no hard feelings on either side. Their communication was such that Vince and Pharaoh could lead the ride, meander in the middle or trail several horse lengths behind everyone. He never sped up until Vince asked him. But could he ever! A few years ago, we trailered the entire family, human and equine, to visit friends in the Mojave Desert. The Arabs loved the heat and sand but the real treat was visiting Pioneer Town, an old movie set. There, with the jail on the left and the saloon on the right, Vince and I, mother and son, raced neck and neck down the center of Main Street, on Pharaoh and Kharibe, father and son. The outcome is still in dispute!

Vince and Pharoah's first trail ride had been an all day affair from a park in Vernonia to an old logging camp up in the surrounding hills. Mile after mile, over ditches and windfall, through streams and mud, up shale slick hills and down, the two of them worked out their language and solidified their relationship. The next day, running barrels and relays showed them there was also a lighter side to life in the saddle. This set the stage for many camping expeditions and explorations. A four-day trek took us from Flying M to Tillamook. Except for saddling (he still couldn't place the saddle on without thumping him in the back), Vince lived with, and practically for, his horse. He fed, watered, groomed and tended wounds. Often during the daily rides, the two of them would be lagging far behind, not needing or missing the company of others. Though the trip started out fair, it soon turned sour. We woke with the horses shivering on their tether, the rain running in rivers off their drenched backs. We rode the entire day in the downpour, untacked, ate dinner and pitched our tents in it. The next day dawned beautiful and we all enjoyed our maiden run down the beach, Pharaoh feeling sand under his feet for the first time, as well. Whether viewing the vistas at Stagecoach in the Tillamook State Forest, racing through the snow fields near Quinn Meadows at the base of Mt. Bachelor, discovering lakes at Sheep Springs and Graham's Corral, near Sisters, attempting to stay warm and dry at Olallie Lake, jumping logs after the windstorm at Tryon Creek, crossing the flood waters at Mission Park, dodging the barbed cholla cactus in the desert, enjoying a peaceful ride at Silver Creek Falls, being bucked off on Pleasant Valley and chipping a tooth, or sweet talking the hermit threatening to shoot trespassers riding on his property, each adventure contributed to their enjoyment as well as spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical growth. There is just nothing like a horse to instill the character qualities of courage, patience, perseverance and ingenuity and Pharaoh helped Vince develop these and more.

To be perfectly well-rounded, however, one must also expose oneself to the show ring! This was not Vince's idea, but good sport that he was, and always willing to try anything once, both he and his brother began the arduous task of preparing for 4-H Showmanship, Trail and Equitation. Under the rules, each participant must train their own mounts. This entailed daily sessions patiently teaching the horses the proper stance, turns, and movements. Pharaoh learned his routine flawlessly. Months dragged by until, finally, show day arrived. Spiffed up in their new duds, horses gleaming, they entered the showmanship arena. Vince carefully cued the haunch turn and Pharaoh moved forward; he cued for the forehand turn and Pharaoh stepped back; then to cap it all, Vince ducked under Pharaoh's neck to cue the reverse. It could not have been more disastrous if we had planned every detail. Vince, for not ever having wanted to participate in the first place, was crushed with this disappointing blow and his white ribbon. But there was not too much time to dwell on the catastrophe; trail class was next. This was fun for Pharaoh; he could see a point to this. He executed each obstacle with panache, while his brother's horse, who had been ridden over hill and dale, snorted at the most mundane contrivance. Now each had in their possession a white and red ribbon and were content to just GO HOME. I, on the other hand, could see no reason for not riding the equitation class. After all, they were already there, dressed up, with somewhere to go! After much argument, they conceded (had little choice, actually), and for the last time, entered the ring. It was with both sides of my cheeks clenched between my teeth, that I watched my sons and their horses, whom they had worked so diligently to prepare, ride each pattern perfectly, with Pharaoh and B.C. beautifully quiet and responsive. It was, truly, their time to shine. Though reluctant to enter the arena, they joyously exited, both clutching their first blue ribbons!

Deciding, one day, that Vince needed a little help with his seat, I put Pharaoh in the round pen, without tack. Vince then climbed on board with the help of the rails. Cueing him into the trot, Pharaoh immediately began crow hopping. Vince grabbed the upper rail and swung off as smoothly as he had mounted, but the intrigue had ended for Pharaoh. It wasn't long before he figured this game had a purpose as well, and Vince developed his seat independent of his legs and hands. This made it much easier for him to stay in place for Pharaoh's occasional 'spook and whirl,' especially when riding bareback! But they were, indeed, rare. One of his earliest exposures was the Hillsboro St. Patrick's Day Parade. The 4-H group doled out the sparkling green leg wraps, breast collars and hindquarter banners. Pharaoh took it all in stride, in addition to the crowds, bands and floats. His curiosity nearly always overcame his fear. Whether it was dragging lead ropes or tin cans, chasing cattle, or meeting a llama, he would try. A trainer I know taught me that I could not ask a horse never to be afraid, but I could teach him a safe way to handle his fear. Pharaoh's unique intellect and Vince's focused but easy-going style rendered this lesson almost unnecessary. Many people erroneously apply their prejudices about Arabs, labeling them as idiots, silly, or flighty. Pharaoh would have proved every adjective invalid: he was intelligent, serious (about his work), and unflappable. There is just so much, so many instances, such incredible memories that time and mind regrettably cannot sustain all of them.

His ability as an escape artist eventually led to disaster. He could always manage to work a lock or tied rope with his lips until he was loose, but the day I found him standing outside the barn, bloated from elbow to flank like a blimp, I never discovered how he had freed himself. I did not spend any time deliberating on it then, however. I ran to the house for my Infrasound machine, designed to deliver very low frequency sound waves into energy deficient areas of the body. I swept down his back with the wand, over powerful acupuncture points for stomach, spleen, large and small intestines, then addressed specific colic locations. I had worked on him for about a half hour when he shot a stream of diarrhea several feet behind him, but his gut sounds had begun again so I continued the treatment. By coincidence, I happened to have a bucket of water setting on the ground, and a few minutes later, he walked over and drank the entire amount. Switching off the machine, I manually massaged the areas I had covered with the Infrasound, mentally and physically wiping out the toxins. Experts in the healing arts say that intent is a powerful tool and I hope I proved it so that day, because Pharaoh then walked to the grass, urinated, twice what he had imbibed, then expelled the longest flatulence I have ever witnessed; he literally deflated before my eyes! Later that evening, I learned the cause: he had eaten a medicated sweet feed formulated for sheep. I watched him for days for any sign of delayed reaction, but none occurred. He appeared absolutely normal. However, in my ignorance, I failed to recognize the liver damage that resulted from his ingestion of the anti-coccidiosis drug, Lasalocid. The change that transpired was so subtle that months passed before I realized he was slowly losing his spunk, gloss and energy. At that point, I consulted with chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists. After his adjustment, he was detoxed with the homeopathic Nux vomica, and supplemented with cleavers, meadowsweet, dandelion and milk thistle. Within two months, he had made an amazing recovery. But I made another mistake based upon an erroneous assumption. Since he was doing so well, I gradually weaned him off the herbs. Again, several months elapsed before I observed the effects of that decision, but this time, they were not so easily reversed. A blood test, fecal and urinalysis eventually confirmed that his liver had ceased its regenerative function, but he had already lost almost 200 pounds.

His last two weeks were his finest. Pharaoh stopped eating, save for a nibble or two of the finest alfalfa I could find. I prepared daily cocktails of probiotics, electrolytes, immune builders, liver stimulators, Vitamin B, brewers yeast, wheat germ oil, molasses, honey, yogurt, peppermint oil, ground herbs (slippery elm, milk thistle, kelp, burdock and dandelion root} and syringed them down his throat several times a day. Though he did not care for any equine company, he always whinnied when he saw me coming (and I'm sure he was not too delighted to see the pabulum I had concocted for him)! Sometimes he stood up to greet me, other times we just sat on the ground together. His attitude, as always, was to try. He remained alert with forward ears to the very end. That last morning when I came out to spray his flower essence for exhaustion and endurance into his mouth and nostrils, he was too weak to stand. His diarrhea had sapped most of his strength but not his indomitable spirit. I immediately ran for the Rescue Remedy and the homeopathic, Carbo veg. I even stimulated GV 26 with a hypodermic needle. He needed no reviving. I called vet after vet to come out and administer emergency intravenous fluids, but no one was available. He did not need an IV, either. What he needed was a new liver and he knew it before I did.

My friend, Pam, arrived while I was still in this frenzied mode, to offer emotional support and even dug the blackberry root our mutual friend and naturopath, Linda, had prescribed to stem the rampages of the diarrhea. My best friend, Tanya, came and helped moxa various acupressure points, while I attempted to syringe molasses, electrolyte, and Chinese herb water into Pharaoh's parched system. Finally, after almost five hours of ministrations, the realization that I might lose him began to dawn on me. Our other friends, Mark, a vet, and Gina, arrived. It was apparent from the look on their faces that they, too, knew Pharaoh would not survive. They hugged me and promised to help in any way. Mark was willing to dose the fluids, though warned it would only provide temporary relief. Stroking Pharaoh's cheek and peering into the depth of his eye, silently begging for the right answer and his desire, the truth sunk in, as the tears I could no longer contain, formed tracks down my face. I could feel Tanya's hand on my shoulder and another's hand on my back, but I was somewhere so far away. I could remember the races, his humor, the fun. I could not contemplate the death of this great horse, the end of all the adventures, that final decision I could not rescind. Slowly, as if swimming in slow motion, I resurfaced, long enough to ask Mark to put him down. By the grace of God and one of His Providential miracles, Mark had the sodium phenobarbital to assist this wonderful animal in a gentle transition from this life. Silently, Mark and Gina prepared the syringes while Pharaoh and I said our final good byes. Mark knelt behind me and slowly injected the lethal liquid into his vein. The only movement anywhere was the sweeping gaze of Pharaoh's eye. I kept smoothing my hand over it to encourage him to slip quietly away but he would have none of it! I knew he was gone when his eye finally ceased its search. I told him we would have a great ride in heaven. I hope he won't be too impatient about my arrival.

Telling Vince, who had been away at college, was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever encountered. Their camaraderie and kinship had been so incomparable. Pharaoh entered his life so young, made lifelong, indelible impressions, and sustained him through so many transitions, even those of which he was, most likely, unaware. The growth and maturity gleaned from their partnership could and would never be replaced. After relating the details, and encouraging him to grieve and remember, I asked if he would like to be left alone. He nodded and as I turned away to leave, Vince thanked me for having done all I could to save Pharaoh's life. That meant so much to me.

Pharaoh died at noon on January 26, 2001, from liver failure. He would have been thirteen on his next birthday, March 15. He was so gentle, I could put any beginner on him; my shoer loved him and offered to buy him regularly; whenever the family rode together, it was Vince who received all the compliments. (Even though I would sputter and say that I was riding the father, they ignored me.) As the lyricist, Adam Duritz, sang, "The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings." Pharaoh was worth every penny. Bo and Vic already miss their cohort, but Mariah, when sniffing his cold and lifeless body, was the one who licked his ear in the most tender gesture of recognition and sadness. To the family, he was someone very special, yet everyone that knew him would agree, he was 'a damn fine horse.' He was loved and he is missed.

About the author:
Missy Farmer is the owner of Centerfire Training and Bodyworks in Beaverton, OR. Her love of horses has been lifelong but her research into herbal remedies began 25 years ago. Since her realization that the missing link in horse training was body pain, she has combined the two disciplines and added Chinese medicine and acupressure, homeopathy, cranial sacral and myofascial massage, the use of infrared and low frequency sound wave therapies and energy work to holistically affect the health of her own and client's horses. She can be reached at (503) 628-3552.