I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had in the world, today.

Well, I didn’t really ‘lose’ him – he went to join The Great Herd.

Let me tell you a little about him……maybe you’ll understand.

I met Solo a whole bunch of years ago. Probably about 14? I don’t know – I pretty much don’t keep track of years. Something like that, though. Close enough.

Before the ‘kids’ & I moved here – to Tierra Madre – we were boarding at a place not far from here & my kids were living in a field. Several other boarders kept their horses in a mare motel right across the lane from our field. There was one guy, though, who lived in the corner stall who never got any visitors.

One day, I asked the owner of that fine establishment why that was. She told me it was because that was her horse. “Oh”, I said. “What do you do with him?”

“Nothing”, she said.

I asked her if it was okay if I took him out into the arena & played with him every once in a while. “Any time you want”, she said.

“What’s his name?”, I asked her.

“Solo”, she said.

So, nearly every day, Solo & I would go out into the arena & chase each other around. I could tell that he was having as much fun as I was. Then, I’d say (pretty much out of breath), “Time to go home, Solo.” And he would walk with me to the gate, unhaltered – just the two of us walking side by side. Then, I’d get the halter on him & we’d go home.

A few weeks later, the woman asked if I’d like to have Solo for my own. “Hell, yes!”, I said.

The only stipulation was that if I ever sold him, I’d split his selling price with her. Well, now, I knew that’d never happen so we were good to go. The next day, I moved Solo in with the other kids & he’s been with me ever since.

Once we moved in here, Solo lived in the big field with all the other ‘originals’.

See – this is kinda tough, too. Because, of my 10 original ‘kids’, only two remain: Suze & Kiss. All the rest – John & Venture & my little Dawnie & the Moose & Bentley & Jericho & Tarzan – they’re all gone. And that somehow hits me in my mortality, too. An entire era is rapidly fading into the gloaming mists of time. But I digress……

In the field, Solo was John’s second in command. John was the king & Solo was his viceroy. For a time, we even referred to him as ‘Viceroy Solo’. Once John left us, though, Solo didn’t have his king to stand behind, so his standing in the herd changed, too. He didn’t seem to care, though. He was Solo & he was happy being Solo.

I used to give riding lessons on Solo. He had a trot like a metronome. Two or three times around the arena & each & every step was the same cadence. Finally, though, he began to develop a little sway back & we retired him from those duties.

Several years went by & Solo was just fine, although he’d have problems with abscesses in one or two of his hooves a couple of times a year. We always doctored him up & he’d be good until the next time, several months later. One thing about Solo is that he was one tough hombre. He never complained about sore feet. Never. He just dealt with them like a boss.

Maybe ten years ago, he developed another problem. He’d start kicking one of the water tubs – Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!. And, then, when I’d go out to see what the matter was, he’d run away. Couldn’t catch him. It was some form of colic & we’d eventually get John out of his Corner Office & Solo into it, so he was isolated & we could deal with him.

That was the problem. We couldn’t deal with him. Oh, after a half hour or so, we’d get a halter on him. I’d call the vet – & this usually happened at 10 or 11 o’clock at night – & one of them would come out. In the dark. However, none of the vets – my great friend, Dr. Rollins, included – could get anywhere near him with a needle to tranquilize him. Solo’d get up on his hind legs & fight. Dangerous. Very dangerous.

Finally, after a few hours, Solo would lie down. Just lie down prone. Sometimes, he’d lie there like that for an hour or more. Then he’d get up. And he’d be fine. Like nothing had ever happened.

This happened not once or twice, but a dozen or more times. Horribly nerve-wracking for me & not a helluva lot of fun for Solo, obviously.

Dr. Rollins finally made a SWAG (a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess), because we couldn’t do anything with him to really make a firm diagnosis. He figured that Solo had an entrolith, which is a stone-like substance – like a ball of hardened food – in his stomach. The only real way to treat one of those is through surgery, which, in our particular case, wasn’t an option.

Doc – being a pragmatist as well as a vet – said that there was an old wives’ tale that said that apple cider vinegar could dissolve entroliths. He’d never tried it, but seeing as how we didn’t really have an option, we gave it a go. We put a couple of cups of vinegar in a mash for him twice a day. And we did it for, maybe, three or four years. And his episodes became fewer & farther in between & the severity of them decreased. And then, miraculously, they went away completely.

I’m here to tell you that, in Solo’s case, anyway, that treatment worked. Worked like a charm.

A couple of years ago, Solo got abscesses in both front hooves at the same time. And he pretty much stood in one soft spot for most of the time. He & the other kids – Suze & Riv & Spencer – spent each & every morning in the arena, from about 5:30 to 6:15. But Solo didn’t want to go.

I could tell that, because his feet hurt, it was affecting his attitude, too. He was sad. And probably feeling a little sorry for himself.

I had an idea.

Because we’d let Bentley wander around the ranch on his own every morning, why couldn’t Solo, too?

So, we began letting him loose every morning. Pretty soon, he got to feeling better & he joined the others in the arena & then he’d get turned loose.

And he got happier. And happier. And his hooves healed. And he was loving his new-found morning freedom.

For the past couple of years, Abel would take the other three kids home from the arena & Solo would get turned loose. Each & every day.

And every morning, I’d see him walk past my front window & door & head for the treat can. “Morning, Solo!” “Morning, Jimbo!”

And he’d invariably knock over the treat can & then make his way to the little hay shed where we keep our Bermuda grass, timothy & a little alfalfa. And he’d partake of any & all of it, making a complete mess of whatever was left of the bales. Who cared? Solo was happy & that’s what really mattered.

He finally realized that I always keep a bag of carrots on my couch, just inside my door. And, like clockwork, there’d be Solo, looking at me through the window panes: “Yo! Jimmy! Got any of them carrots for me?”

And, yeah – I’d always open the door & he always got a couple.

Solo finally gained the moniker, ‘Mayor of the Breezeway’, because that’s where he held court. He’d try to get into the feed room – usually with only his front feet, though not long ago he was fully in the room. “Solo! Git yer butt outta there!” Solo: “Oh-kay.”

Over the past few months, his hooves had begun to go downhill. He was diagnosed with Cushings & finally developed laminitis. Now, I know that his diet didn’t help him at all. And for that, I’m having trouble forgiving myself. But I do not regret the past. Solo was happier the past few years than he’d been since I met him. And that stands for something. At least with me, it does.

Over the past couple of weeks, he faded fast. Lost a lot of weight. He was in a lot of obvious pain. His x-rays showed that we weren’t going to win. It was just a matter of time.

And, this morning, we gave Solo the greatest gift of love that we can ever give a horse: that of taking his pain away forever. And the last words that Solo heard on this plane were, “I love you, Solo. I love you, Solo. I love you, Solo. I love you—-“.

And, now, the words of White Elk resonate deeply in my heart & spirit:

“When you were born, you cried & the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries & you rejoice.”

Today, we cry.

And Solo rejoices.


My little brother.

Vaya con Dios, my brother.

Vaya con Dios………..

One thought on “JIM GATH: THE SAGA OF SOLO 6/12/18

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