Colin. It’s not a usual name for a horse. Especially a race horse (imagine the race caller – “… aaaaand, Colin is coming up ’round the outside, closing in, yes! Colin wins the race!” Hmmm – not very Melbourne Cup, is it?). In fact, when I talk about Colin people automatically assume I am referring to a person. But no, he is in fact a very big horse. I think of him as ‘brown’, but apparently the correct term is ‘chestnut’. I have actually been trying to find Colin a better home for some time now, but recent events have caused me to rethink…
We first met Colin about 6 years ago when my father in law, a hopeful budding race horse owner, bought him sight unseen in the paper. This is not a usual occurrence – I’m referring not just to the fact that he bought a race horse, but that he was bought sight unseen in the paper. It’s probably not the ideal way to purchase a horse, but like many punters, he had a ‘feeling’). After a long trip up the coast, Colin got off his horse float in a fury. I wasn’t there, as he went straight to a local horse trainer, but apparently they all thought he was mad, crazy. Regardless, he was able to be ridden, and had a few months of training before he was given a ‘spell’ – a bit of a break – in the genteel paddocks around our place. It was also hoped the quiet time might settle him down. And it did.
6 months later, Colin was off again, back to the trainer. This stint however didn’t last quite as long. After all, why gallop when you can walk? So when they tried to keep him in the gallop with a jockey wearing spurs on his boots, Colin made a fateful decision and came to a dead stop. From a gallop (good for you Colin). The jockey, needless to say, went over the top, and Colin found himself back grazing in our paddocks, where he has been ever since.
Unfortunately for Colin, I am not a horsey person. I love the look of them, the smell of them, and the wind in my hair when I cling on for dear life when I ride one, but I am scared of them and they know it. But when Colin arrived I nurtured great aspirations of learning how to ride him – he would become the horse I would ride off into the sunset.
6 years on, I’ve yet to sit on him. For awhile there before kids I tried learning basic horsecare, like how to brush him down, clean and oil his hooves (or is that ‘hoofs’?), feed him grain, get him to love me, and I him… but then I fell pregnant and his hind quarters just looked so muscley that I decided to steer clear for awhile. One year has turned into another and another, and the guilt has been gnawing at me to do something with him. A horse can live up to 40 years old. Colin is now 10, and he is the only horse on our property. The cows don’t count, because they are cows.
So I put out the word, but it seems horses off the race course (we’ll ignore the fact that he never made it onto one) are a dime a dozen. And thoroughbreds are known to be flighty, unpredictable and stupid thanks to all their inbreeding.
Stupid? I don’t think Colin is stupid! He may not be able to talk, but he does know his name. And other things, I’m sure…
For example, up until about 2 years ago, he did have another companion called Tadpole, an ex show jumping horse champion. But by the time Tadpole hit the ripe old age of 40, it was time to call it a day. This day is etched into my brain as surely as if it was yesterday. Most of Tadpole’s teeth had gone, which meant eating was incredibly difficult – no pureed grass for him. I had no idea that in the wild the most common cause of death for a horse is starvation, due to old age and no teeth. The only thing to do was get the vet in, who took him to a pre-determined spot on our farm and put a bullet through his head. Euthanasia at its best. I stayed up in the yard with Colin at the time, to keep him calm. He was very agitated as Tadpole was led off. He knew what was going on. I don’t know how he knew, but when Tadpole was led off out of sight, and we heard the bullet shot ring out, that horse lost it (as did I). We had to spend the afternoon with Colin to comfort him, only letting him out once the excavator had arrived, dug its hole, pushed Tadpole into it before covering it over again. But Colin did not leave our house area for a weeks. Day after day he wandered forlornly up and down our fence, seeking company. He grieved for Tadpole before finally heading off to find the cows. So don’t tell me Colin is stupid (flighty, maybe)… And surely there is something better in store for him than chewing grass at our place for the next 30 years? A show-jumping championship? A cross-country race? A dressage finals?
Our neighbour, Tony, a horsey practical man, took him for awhile when our ticks were bothering him too much. To be honest I think this was a turning point for Colin – I think he might have matured being away from home… and with someone who knew how to look after him. By the end of his stay, Colin was so familiar with Tony he was even putting his head into the kitchen window to say hello in his own special way.
But alas he could not stay, as Tony’s massive vegetable patch was a little too tempting. So back to us he came, but … I would say… mellowed.
Then some other locals – real salt of the earth bushies – thought they might take him, but Christmas got in the way, and I haven’t heard back.
And in the meantime, horses are a herd animal, and Colin is no different – he loves company, even if it’s human. For half the day, Colin hangs around our front gate, scratching on posts, rubbing against my car and breaking bits off it, and bonding with my children.
Baby James has learnt to say ‘Coln!’ and make a trotting noise with his tongue whilst seeking out all sorts of offerings from the garden for him. He climbs up to the 2nd rung on the gate where Colin is standing on the other side, and reaches up to pat him. Yesterday, I heard him squealing with delight, and looked over to see him rubbing the top of his head under Colin’s chin, as Colin moved his head back and forth, before lowering his head to smell him and give him a little nuzzle.
Colin Colin Colin. Through the boys’ delight in him, I am falling for him all over again, and the promise of my sunset ride – with the children riding tandem – beckons us forward. As Tony my neighbour says, ‘I think he’s realised now that this is where he wants to be’. And looks like we might have realised it too.
Now, to just learn to ride him without falling over the top.