This week we received a call that we knew would come, eventually. Ricky, the mustang I adopted as a yearling and gave to my mother for her fiftieth birthday, had died in his pasture. Ricky would have turned thirty later this year. In his nearly three decades on this earth, Ricky touched a lot of lives and made a lot of fans.
There is something about some horses that stands out in a herd. It draws people to them, and makes them memorable. I’ve had two such horses in my life, so far – Ben and Ricky. That is not to say that other horses aren’t liked or appreciated; but there was something different about these two boys. Wherever they went they drew attention, and people remembered them long after meeting them. I suppose that I was subject to it from the beginning with Ricky.
The BLM adoption event I attended was very large – there were over 100 horses and about two dozen burros. I went on preview day and walked up and down the pens, looking for that horse special enough to gift to my mother. It was a tough choice, because these were some outstanding horses. (I would later find out, from the organizer, that she had diverted the horses intended for a Hollywood adoption event … hand picked to be the best representatives of the “ideal” Mustang.) By the time I left, I had not made a choice. I did have a half-dozen numbers written down – one of them a dark bay colt with a crooked stripe.
Ricky was in a pen filled with like colored colts of the same age and type. At a glance, you’d be hard pressed to pick him out of the crowd. Each time that I would pass the pen, the group would move as one to the opposite fence. As they reached the fence, one would always turn and walk halfway back to look me over. Each time I would check the number, and it was always 3434. There was something about that colt, standing proudly and cautiously but calmly, examining me as much as I examined him. In the end, that was the deciding factor to bring him home.
The year Ricky turned three, we were invited to bring him to another adoption event, as an ambassador for how Mustangs do in domesticity. There were other adopted Mustangs there, but we quickly found ourselves literally surrounded by people who wanted to pet Ricky and ask us about raising him. We were alarmed, as people pressed in from all sides – but young Mr. Ricky took it in stride. Later we would puzzle as to why so many people were drawn to our little bay horse. But the biggest evidence of his charisma was yet to come.
At a morning feeding, in the summer he was five, Ricky stood in his paddock not interested in food or doing much more than twitching an ear in response to his name. His temperature turned out to be 105 (F), and the vet was immediately called. By the time they arrived, his temp had reached 106. During examination they did a belly tap (to this day, I don’t know why, nor did the vet really know at the time why he made that choice) – out came some thick, nasty looking, green puss. It turned out that Ricky had a case of idiopathic peritonitis. He was immediately hospitalized at our local veterinary teaching hospital, and given a 50% chance of survival.
Ricky was an unusual looking horse. At 15.3 hh, he was a 1250 pound tank with trunk like legs. He was particularly stout, even for a Mustang. I suspect that in his lineage were some of the draft horses released into the wild during the Depression as well as in the period when the tractor made them obsolete. It was probably this unusual appearance that first caught people’s attention – that was certainly the case at the vet school. As I stood there holding our sick Mustang, students kept coming up asking what type of horse he was. Word quickly spread that the hospital had a Mustang in residence.
The struggle to save Ricky was a challenging one. His treatment involved, among other things, multiple belly flushes each day. To expedite this, they kept a huge catheter inserted in his midline, so they would not have to subject him to insertion each time. Well, they tried to keep it inserted! As soon as his temp dropped a bit, and he was feeling marginally better, he would bite and break the catheter! They tried three times to insert and secure it, before finally having to give up and just insert it each time they flushed. Most horses would have put up a huge fuss at this – but not Ricky. They didn’t even have to tranquilize him to do it. This gave him high marks with the vets and students!
At the time of his hospitalization, I had several friends who were faculty and students at the school. By all reports, students were wheeling and dealing to get Ricky duty. Particularly coveted was walking duty – several students told us how much fun they had walking the Mustang, and what a gentleman he was! Students gathered when we came to take Ricky home, many with cameras to get pictures before he was gone. Such was the memory of this horse that, three years later, when we had the ambulatory service out for another horse, one of the residence recognized Ricky. She was so excited that she asked if she could have her picture taken with him! She was returning home to Argentina, and wanted to show her friends the Mustang she helped save.
As Ricky’s life moved on, and we leased him to Pony Club kids, we would hear tales of his fan clubs. Kids from other Pony Clubs would look for the Mustang at camp, shows, and rallys. Along the way he became a favorite lesson horse for some kids and adults alike. Upon news of his death, many have posted their memories of and fondness for that stocky old Mustang.
Ricky was a very enigmatic fellow. He was not highly demonstrative, and one could easily have said that he cared little for the humans around him. But during his time in the hospital he showed a different side, greeting us with great affection. I watched him take special care of a little girl who lacked confidence, not long after watching him bucking around under her brother. And I was especially moved, two years ago, when he greeted us as long lost friends after nearly ten years of time apart. Under that hard Mustang exterior was a softer side shown only to a select few.
As humans, one of the measures we put on a life is how many people remember us when we’re gone. Ricky, you touched a lot of lives and you will live on in a lot of hearts. If there is something after this world, I hope that you and Java have found each other, and are once again playing “Stallion fight”. You may be gone, but you will not soon be forgotten, Ricochet!