|A somewhat younger me and Ticket|
This is the twelfth year since I lost my dear horse, Ticket to Ride.
Ticket came to us via a friend who wouldn’t sell him to anyone else. As a horse who’d been around the block a few times, he was feared by most in the local horse community. The general opinion was that he would be “a nice pet but unrideable”.
He cost us $200 and I can recall being able to stand under his neck without bending. With him barely reaching 15 hands high and me around eight at the time, I’m not surprised.
Ticket had not had an easy life before we got him. He’d been in several rodeos as a youngster, could darn near barrel-race and cut cattle with his eyes shut. He came out of it with a chunk missing from his left shoulder in the shape of a bull’s horn (in the photo, you can just make out a dent under the chest strap). It left him with a slight limp that was occasionally mistaken as him being lame. I’ve no idea how long he’d had it, but it never bothered him.
Someone, we believe a man since he was so wary of men in general, had also abused Ticket at some point. This left marks just behind his ears and at his throat where he’d been tied up with wire. He would suffer no whip and, at first, refused to go on a lunge rope.
He was such a firecracker that you’d never have guessed he was nearing thirty until you looked closer. Then you’d see the sway in his back and the grey peppering his otherwise chestnut face. If he let you get close enough, you found he had no top teeth in the front.
That didn’t stop him from being a cheeky sod. In fact, he’d often stick out his tongue at people when they weren’t looking.
We were first confined to riding in an arena, but once out on the road, he would pull all sorts of tricks to get home sooner. None of it involved bolting. His favourite was to whip the reins from my hands with such force that they’d fly over his head. He would then pick them up and trot off home with me on his back.
He also tried whipping me off by running under a branch. It didn’t work. In one of the few times he did manage to dump me, by pure accident, I believe, I startled the heck out of him by arriving at the house before him (I cut through the back paddocks, while he took the long way). Hard to stay angry at horse who is looking at you then behind him at the driveway.
Of course, there were times when the weather conspired against the weekend and confined him to the paddocks. Then, he got so excited that he’d take off up the driveway without me. I swear he looked more than a little sheepish when I called out and he came back.
I took Ticket to both english and western clubs, eventually growing as bored as he with the former. Jumping wasn’t our forte (he did it, it just wasn’t beautiful) and, though he would do a passable dressage, his shoulder was forever a bone of contention. When cantering in a circle, he always led with the right leg, which meant being marked down every time.
But the games … we’d no way of knowing for sure as he wasn’t branded, but we guessed he was part quarterhorse (crossed with a tank) as he’d quite the powerful hindquarters. Nothing local could beat the bugger in anything involving bending, he even broke free during one game to do the barrel-race … solo. A flat gallop. And the opposing team wondered why I hadn’t saddled him up to compete in it. I was riding english at the time. Short of strapping myself top his back, how the heck would I have stayed on?
That wasn’t the last time he got loose at pony club. He’d mastered untying all the quick slip knots and I swear he enjoyed trying to figure out ways to leave for home (I rode there every Sunday, he knew the way). Then he learnt of peanut slabs. Untying to escape became untying to go to the snack stall and pick out one of those chunky bars of chocolate and nuts wrapped in plastic. I never discovered how he managed to open them with bugger all teeth.
Even the western club could not divert his cheekiness, although, unlike the pony club grounds which had the handy access of a river, he could not escape the western grounds. But, like I said, he was an ex-rodeo horse and I swear he rolled his eyes when the instructors tried to teach me. I know he used to sigh a lot. Most of the time, he would not do as instructed, unless in competition. Dressage was the same. The arena had a mirror. Ticket, the vain sod, would stop and preen every time.
For all the difficult and downright annoying things he did, he was never a vindictive horse. One summer, I must’ve been fourteen by then, I took him out bareback and, while he was grazing on a bank, a duck gave him a fright. He leapt sideways onto the road. Now the bank dropped into a gravel slope. Ticket hit the road. I landed on my back on the gravel slope. As I lay there, unable to breathe, Ticket came to my side. He nudge me, snuffle over my face, then he grabbed my shirt collar and started dragging me home.
He was a jealous sod too. I’m certain he believed me to be his human and not my horse. Though we were uncertain towards his true age, I knew he wasn’t young and tried to retire him. Several times in fact. But I was unable to ride any of our other horses without Ticket attacking them afterwards. One horse, a sweet dope of an appy we called Pompom, would even start misbehaving if I took him out and Ticket was visible. Once we were out of sight, Pompom became his normal compliant self. And Ticket seemed to have an instant dislike for, Ricky, a full quarterhorse I’d gotten to train as Ticket’s replacement. Both horses were given up.
But old age and sickness took my dear boy in the end. At the age of fifteen, I came home from high school one November day to find him laying on the ground in obvious discomfort. He’d been unwell in the previous month growing thinner despite our efforts. We’d finally gotten him to a state where he was regaining both his strength and his weight. It was a shock to find him so as we had gone for a small, sedate ride the day before.
My family called the vet and – I say this with tears in my eyes – they had me make ‘the decision’. Though I wanted him to stay, I knew couldn’t let him suffer. I was there when the needle went in. I held his head as he died. I watched as they buried him …
He was the most special horse I’ve ever owned and those seven years we had together, though far too short a time, will never be forgotten.