Worse Than Death
By April Horowitz
(The Heart of a Horse Story, part 8 )
My drive-along with Kevin made a profound impression on me and raised my awareness of what I was getting into. I could not forget how the failure of people to put the horses first created unnecessary suffering for both the horses and the people involved with them. It made me even more determined to do something to make others understand this.
The Heart of a Horse website I had created began very simply, just a single page featuring the best photos I had taken of the horses at the boarding ranch. I had a website tech expand it to include other features through which I intended to educate the public about what I had learned. A “Barn Talk” feature posted news about the horse community and the horse abuse I had witnessed. At Kevin’s suggestion I had begun to visit various organizations that were dedicated to rescue, and I devoted a special section of the website to their stories as well. I also created a “Vet’s Corner” featuring advice from Kevin and information about colic and other health issues, along with tips for owners on what to be on the alert for. A professor of equine studies who had written a book called Trail Riding contacted me after seeing the website, and after we talked, he agreed to write articles himself. His name was Ken Marlborough and I billed him as “The Horse Professor.” He wrote regularly on topics like “Horses Imitate People” and how to wean horses from their fear of water. Ken also drew a regular cartoon featuring talking horses, which he called “Broomtail.”
Educating others about horses also meant making people feel an emotional connection to them. Only if they had such a connection would they be motivated to try to understand horses and get beyond their own feelings to the animals themselves. I had already made a stab at this through the portraits I had taken, which I posted in a “Gallery” section of site. I also gathered personal stories of people’s lives with horses.
I am a private person and do not normally socialize with public personalities or famous people, but I saw how other organizations attached celebrities to their causes to attract followers. Living in the Los Angeles area, I had friends who knew celebrities or knew how to contact them. I surprised myself by not being as shy as I normally was about asking people – especially strangers — for favors like this. Whenever I was about to get cold feet I thought of the horses I was trying to help and that worked to overcome my reluctance. I would just think about the horses and then approach famous figures if someone gave me a contact for them.
One of the first people I approached had been the schoolmate of a friend who went on to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. He gave me a wonderful quote that I put on our website: “We must care for the well-being of our oldest friends in civilization.” That summed up exactly what I felt, and what we were trying to make others feel. I had my web designer put up a beautiful film clip of running horses, and place it so that it was the first thing that came up when people clicked on the site.
Another person I asked was a talk show host named Greg Garrison, who had previously been a district attorney. His most famous case was prosecuting former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson for rape, which made national headlines. Mr. Garrison sent me a story for my website about his favorite horse, a paint named “King George,” whom he had owned for nearly thirty years and whom he called simply “The King.” The story was about the King’s last ride when he was already blind and had reached his final days. It showed the bond that existed between people and their horses, in a way that would touch others’ hearts:
“I knew he could not see where we were going, as he repeatedly searched for a cue from me for information and direction. But he loped, trotted, explored and reached out nonetheless, and in those moments the powerful and humbling truth of his trust filled and shrank me. He would canter through every turn blind, I guess trusting in my eyes instead of his own, and finally, with home ahead and that instinct for the barn still alive and well, I let him sprint into a dead run. Crazy for a moment, a hundred yards or more, hot and darkening air wrought tears from my eyes that blotted into my hair as we raced along the lower fence-line. He responded to my voice and the pressure of the rein, and we slowed, but the great heart pounded and the great nostrils whistled the rich wet air of evening. The way home was a parade of royal proportion as the King pranced, high-stepped, and tossed his mane in time with the march. But at the road, we stopped. We always stop at the road.
“There was a gaggle of lovely women at the house, and knowing the horse’s propensity for a regal moment, I took him into the yard for them to watch him pass in review once more. My eldest, Julie, who was about 10 when we got him, stood silently, wonderful eyes wide, gaze soft with the memory of all he had been to our family; my wife Phyllis stepped back and could not look at all. We took a turn around the yard as darkness overcame us, then he loped me back to the barn.
“I have said goodbye to other great horses, sent others on their way for a variety of reasons, but this old pinto will forever occupy a unique place in my experience with horses and the partnerships we strive for with them. He’ll go to sleep soon, the memories and lore surrounding him living on in the minds of those who knew him. But for my part what will ring and shine all my days will be the idea and the joy of having been privileged to once have ridden with a King.”
I received another testimonial from Marine Major General James E. Livingston, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor “beyond the call of duty.” I was particularly pleased to receive his letter because it highlighted the service that horses have performed in defending us in time of war. It illustrated the great sacrifices horses made for us, and emphasized the debt we owed to them in return. The oldest manual on horsemanship was written by the Greek historian Xenophon, who lived 400 years before the birth of Christ, and provided advice on how to choose and train a horse for war. It always amazes me that horses have served in war from ancient times, and even into the era of cannons and bombs. Because they are prey animals whose only real defense is flight, horses can be spooked by even slight noises that are unfamiliar. Sounds as innocent as rushing water can cause a horse to bolt. Yet with trainers whom they trust they are able to learn and accept the discipline of grace under fire. I was awed when I first heard the story of a small Mongolian mare named “Reckless” by the Marine Corps who served in the Korean War. Her deeds were so remarkable that she was promoted to staff sergeant and eventually honored as “the greatest horse war hero in American history.”
The Marines had bought Reckless from a Korean racetrack to serve them as a pack animal. They trained her to step over communications lines, get down when there was incoming fire and ignore the sounds of battle. In 1953, during the fight to retake an outpost called “Vegas,” Reckless was called on to make 51 trips on her own, without any Marine accompanying her. Weighed down with ordnance, she traveled over thirty-five miles through artillery barrages that were exploding at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. During these trips she carried over 9,000 pounds of ammunition to troops who had been cut off from their lines.
During one such trip, Reckless shielded four Marines who were moving up to the front line. She was wounded twice during the battle, but that didn’t stop her. Eventually, she was retired to Camp Pendleton in southern California, where she was promoted to Staff Sergeant in recognition of her service. At the ceremony during her promotion, there was a 19-gun salute and 1700 troops paraded by to honor her. When she died, a statue was erected at Camp Pendleton in her memory. In the 1990s Life Magazine devoted an entire issue to “Celebrating American Heroes.” There was a picture of the Lincoln Memorial on the cover and the issue told the stories of America’s 100 greatest heroes, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Sergeant Reckless was one of them.
The letter Major General Livingston sent for me to put up on the website was about another war horse, and though the incident took place on American soil far from the battlefield, it was another testament to the service that horses perform for us when they are called on to do so:
Marines and horses have one common noble trait — LOYALTY. My fondest memory of horses was when one day in the mountains of Northern California long before the ready availability of helicopters a young Marine was seriously injured and without timely action he would not survive. We had a wonderful horse packing gear for the party and the only apparent options to expedite his movement for medical support was to use the horse. It appears the horse sensed the urgency and was ever so careful with his footing to expedite the evacuation. The Marine survived and today hopefully has had a full life. This is a true example of Semper Fidelis.
General James E. Livingston
I posted these and similar stories on the Heart of a Horse website, which had begun to attract a lot of interest. I began writing letters to bigger celebrities and asking for their help. Among those who responded to my requests were Indianapolis 500 legend Andy Granatelli, and TV personalities Alan Thicke and John Stossel. Film director David Zucker, who had made such Hollywood hits as Airplane! and Naked Gun, sent me the funny story of a race horse he had owned named Powerful Lad, who was ahead of the pack his first time out when he just ran through the barrier and off the track and into the center field.
I recruited a student film crew and made some instructional videos with Kevin in which he went over the anatomy of a horse, and explained how to put together a first aid kit, and provided other useful instructions for horse owners. Because Kevin was such a good performer and a good sport as well, I had him do a series of interviews with celebrities about horses, which I called “Vet’s Q&A.” We produced one in which the pop singer Pat Boone and Kevin ended up doing a duo of “Happy Trails” on camera. Another featured sixties film idol Tab Hunter answering a question about an “I Love Lucy” episode in which Ethel and Lucy had dressed up in a horse costume. Our feature included a clip from the show. In another, Steve McEveety, the producer of the Academy Award winning film Braveheart, pretended to want to cast Kevin in Shakespeare’s King Richard III and say the famous line, “A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse.”
The comical bits were to get people interested, but we also did serious interviews with the same individuals. McEveety told how they had moved the whole production of Braveheart from Wales, where the story actually took place to a location in Ireland to get better footing for the horses. The series attracted a lot of attention in the horse communities and a lot of interest in our efforts to save horses that had been left behind.