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Full House Farm: Harmony With Horses

Philosophy History Articles
"The lasting revolution comes from deep change in ourselves."
Anais Nin
 
A Tribute to Clancy
Click photos to enlarge. Back to return.
Clancy at 33 years old with one of his "girls", Kona, in the pasture at FHF Sebastopol.
Summer Camp kids in Los Altos Hills decorated Clancy with feathers in his mane.
Clancy in the winter of his 33rd year.
My daughter, Eyla, in 1995 with Clancy in the Sebastopol pasture.
Clancy with Indie in 2003.
Always a watchful guy, Clancy followed Lyric and Indie everywhere.
Anna Komo (5 years old) and Clancy in Los Altos Hills in 1985.
Clancy between Lyric and Brannon in Sebastopol, in 2001.
At one of his last shows, Clancy (age 21) poses with Helena, Eyla (4 years old) and Christine on the grounds at Web Ranch in Portola Valley.

 

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A Tribute to Clancy

I was doing chores as usual when Dave, my husband, came through the pasture gate. I looked up when I heard the chain clang against the metal piping of the gate. He was carrying the manure fork he uses when he helps me with chores, which has not been so often lately. His own business has picked up enormously, so helping me is not close to the top of his list.

"Are you coming to help me?" I asked.

"Yes!" He called back.

"Are you sure you remember how to use that tool?" I teased.

For a few minutes we scooped up manure quietly. It had been a long day. I saw Dave heading for a pile in the center of the arena. "No!" I said, "I want that one."

"Why?" He asked.

"It's about ritual" I said. "That is Clancy's." Who would have thought picking up manure would take on such significance, especially specific piles. But, those piles were Clancy's and they were the last ones I would ever pick up. Twenty six years of picking up after Clancy and now he is gone.

Yesterday, when I went out to feed in the morning I noticed Clancy was not walking straight. He appeared to have had a stroke. For years now, Clancy had been struggling with arthritis. His knees were large and would not bend much. He learned to deal with it, for the most part. He would run when the other horses ran. If I watched, I would find myself running with him in my mind, whispering "careful, careful" in his fuzzy ear. I knew he could fall. In fact, over the last year he fell several times while I was nearby. He would not lift his stiff, old knees high enough and a hoof would catch on a rise in the earth or he would fall asleep and just fall over. Several times, Dave and I would help him back up since his hind legs were arthritic, too.

Just the same, I feel Clancy was happy. He certainly felt he had a purpose. When Indy was born sixteen months ago, Lyric gave birth in the pasture. Clancy was there when Lyric was born twenty-two years ago. Now this mare who was his close friend was having a baby. Clancy bonded with Indy immediately. When I discovered Indy had arrived on that balmy June night, Clancy was curled around him, nickering and licking him. Separating Clancy from Indy was excruciating for Clancy and it took about two weeks for him to stop pacing the fence where Indy and Lyric lived, neighing constantly. Once Indy and Lyric were allowed back with the herd, Clancy would play for hours with the rambunctious colt, teaching him to spar, how to be the best colt he could be. There was no better teacher for Indy. It was as if Indy reminded Clancy of his youth and their endless play convinced me Clancy was happy.

When I first met Clancy, he was living in Livermore, California, in a stable overlooking the Silicon Valley. His barred stall was way in the back of the barn. Once he was in the arena, I was impressed with the even swing of his stride, the way he pointed his toes. He seemed so proud of himself. I figured I could buy this horse, whose registered name was “Pick a Number”, and train him for resale at a profit. That was 26 years ago.

Clancy and I spent many long hours traveling around the San Francisco Bay Area, going to shows, clinics, the beach, and wonderful parks with miles of trails. Judges at shows commented on what a nice horse he was. Clinicians loved his spirit. I loved his loyalty. One show we went to, our performance brought us a first and a second place. The trophies were baskets of fruit. First place was raspberries, second was strawberries. Together, we scuttled back to our trailer where we delighted in the sharing of our prizes. By the time we were finished both of us had bright red lips!

Clancy was loved by many. He became my main school horse, teaching young and old. He was steady, gentle and infinitely patient. Although he was small for a Thoroughbred at 15.1 hands, he had heart. He was born in Mexico and then came to the states to live in Santa Barbara, California. From there he had gone to Livermore and then to me in Los Altos Hills. I kept Clancy in a large herd of mares and geldings. He ranked high and loved to play. His favorite game was what I called "the tongue game". I have never seen any horse play this game so vigorously and endlessly as Clancy. The rules were the horse who was "it" would have to stick his tongue out as far as possible and then clamp down on it so it stayed out, hanging limp. The other horse then had to try to catch the tongue. The one who was "it" could not move off his spot. Sometimes the horse who was "it" would go all the way to his knees to try to keep the tongue away from the other horse. When the tongue was grabbed the game would start over. Clancy would often get so excited by this game he would break from his spot and run at full speed down the length of the pasture, screaming all the way, flinging his head from side to side. Then he would curve round, never breaking his stride, and fly back to where the playmate still stood, screeching to a halt and sticking his tongue out again.

Clancy loved to run and play, but when I rode him we were like two dancers, like sun and water, like wind and trees. No other horse matched me like Clancy. He was comfortable, present and we were utterly connected...until we weren't. And that was what endeared him to me the most. This horse who behaved like the "good child", always doing the right thing, taking care of hundreds of students, carrying himself with such dignity would on occasion completely lose it. I learned to start the truck before loading him in the trailer because he hated to stand still. He would throw himself around until he had cuts on his head if the wait was too long. I would load him with incredible ease. All I had to do was point his nose in the direction of the back end of the trailer and he practically leaped in. Once inside the trailer, he preferred to be free of restraint. I would not tie him. Then, I would jump in the truck and off we would go. No room for dilly-dallying, I learned.

It was that very display of preference that bonded us. I was the one who chose most of the time. I had plenty of ideas that played out in his life. But, when I came up against one of Clancy's unmovable preferences there was no mistaking it. His eyes would harden, his nostrils would wrinkle up and his lips would get tight. He was not moving on this one, he would say.

As Clancy got older, his ability to give physically was diminished because he began to suffer from arthritis. He showed signs of this even in his late teens. I gave him the latest remedies, saw improvements, and then watched him progressively get worse again. He was most affected in his knees, but his back was often sore, as well. He adored being the center of attention as a school horse, but after years of trying to keep him involved, I retired him from riding at 28.

By now he lived with me in Sebastopol. He led the herd, all mares, for a couple years until one day the lead mare, Brannon, made a point of stepping up. He gave her the crown then and took up second in command. Lyric held third and even though as the years cranked by she was capable of moving Clancy, she did not. She had known him from her beginnings and she respected his vision.

When Indy was weaned, Lyric was lonely and Clancy became her constant companion. He considered himself her protector and hero. All the girls in the pasture were important to Clancy, but Lyric was his queen. She treated him with kindness and only occasionally became exasperated by his sometimes obsessive hovering. However, I am sure Lyric learned long ago that when Clancy prefers something she might as well just let him have it. So, he preferred her company to all others and she let him have it. She always gave up her spot for him.

Early last week, I noticed it looked as if Clancy had injured his left hind leg. The ground was wet and muddy from the recent October rain. I examined him to see if I could figure out how he was injured. There was no mud on his body. At night he was living with Brannon who is gentle and kind. There was no way she had kicked him or caused him injury. It was a mystery. I waited to see if he would improve. A few days went by and he seemed to move more easily. He was as hungry and determined as ever. Routine was his salve.

Then, on the morning of Saturday, October 30, 2004, I went out to feed and found Clancy having terrible trouble walking. He waited at the gate as usual, so it was not until I opened the gate and watched as he made his way towards the hay that I noticed he was walking sideways. With great effort he made it to the hay, circling several times as his rear end did not want to cooperate. I knew if he fell he would not be able to get back up, even with my help. I knew then that I had to say good-bye.

Clancy loved his life. He ran like a wild thing down his path. He never held back on subjects that really mattered to him. He never sweated the little things. He immersed himself in others with abandon and devoted himself to giving. I stood in the barn at lunchtime where he was munching on his Senior Equine for one last time. He was in the isle, in the center of his herd, the place he cherished most. Indy banged his bucket against the wall, making lots of noise the way kids are prone to do. Brannon, Lyric and Missy ate their grain, too. It was peaceful. I ran my fingers over his old cheekbones and fluffed up his scraggly forelock. His jaw crunched and he looked at me with his soft brown eyes. He knew. I thanked him for all the years, for being such a good friend, for being there for Indy and for teaching me so much. Running my hand down the crest of his once strong neck, I embraced the moment knowing we were parting ways only in the physical sense. He leaned his head against mine and we breathed together. We breathed each other. I cried. He held me.

Later, his body infinitely smaller than it was moments before, now just a body, his spirit gone, I looked around and wondered at how none of the horses seemed to care. They just kept still and quiet. The vet said that was not unusual. I wondered anyway, over and over and out loud. I got my answer when the truck left with Clancy's shell of a body in the back. They cared! All the horses stood up straight and alert, necks high, eyes and ears on the truck. Each and every one called out a final salute to a mighty soldier, a heroic lover of life.

 

 
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Photos Copyright © 2004 Barbara Bourne Photography, all rights reserved.
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