Horse of a Different Colour
Reader's Digest Canada|October 2020
Horse of a Different Colour
During Roany’s final days, our extraordinary bond only grew stronger
Pam Houston

LAST SUMMER, I put my old horse in the ground. But there’s way more to the story than that. Roany spent 39 years on the planet, and 25 of those were with me.

The first thing I noticed about him were his kind eyes; the second was his size—just under 17 hands (1.72 metres) at the shoulder. The Santa Fe cowboy who sold him didn’t tell me much, but within days I came to understand Roany’s intensely good nature. Each morning when I went out to feed him, he greeted me with a just-happy-to-be-here chortle.

He was as solid a trail horse as I’ve ever ridden, never flinching in big wind or while crossing water, or even when two mule deer, hidden by some willows, leaped in front of him. He was so bombproof that the county search-and-rescue team enlisted his help a few times a year to find and deliver a wayward hiker.

I bought Roany the same year I moved to a ranch in Creede, Colo., because Deseo, my alarmist Paso Fino horse, decided it was the scariest place he’d ever been. I counted on Roany to keep the whole barnyard calm, not just Deseo and the miniature donkeys but also the ewes and lambs, the recalcitrant rams, the aging chickens and me.

Like all roan horses, Roany’s coat marked the changing of the seasons. In the dead of winter, he was burgundy with tiny white flecks. In March, he would shed to a dappled grey with rust highlights. By midsummer he was red again, but not as rich. And when his heavy coat grew back in October, he was solid grey for most of a month.

I stopped riding Roany when he turned 33 because I thought my old friend deserved a lengthy retirement, though he stayed strong until a few months before his death.

His decline started with a bout of lameness in April and a longer one in May. By late June, he was limping more often than not. When Doc Howard came for a ranch call, he said, “There’s a number associated with this lameness, Pam, and it’s 39.”

I DID THE THINGS there are to do: supplements, an ice boot, various anti-inflammatories and painkillers. We’d had very little snow and no spring rain, and for the first time in my tenure the pasture stayed dormant all summer, the ground extra hard on sore hooves.

Roany loved nothing more than the return of the spring grass, and it seemed radically unfair that in what was looking to be his last year, there wouldn’t be any. I watered, daily, a thin strip of ground between the corral and the chicken coop and called it Roany’s golf course.

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October 2020