[ A Wild Dance ] [ River of Life ] [ True Leaders ] [ Brave Boy! ] [ The Grace of Motion ] [ Wild Child ] [ Our Souls Laid Bare ] [ Letting Children Win ] [ Getting Dirty ] [ Flying with Horses ] [ Sea of Life ] [ A Tribute to Clancy ] [ A Tribute to Brannon ]
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
"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
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
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.