They had tried hard to save him, yet again, but this time the awful inflammation of blood-vessels between the hoof wall and coffin bone progressed too rapidly to be forestalled by anti-inflammatory meds and days-long ice-water foot baths.
He went to his end calmly but with his ever-present mischief: grabbing a big bite of the green grass that he had been restricted from for so long. Chant, his buddy of many years, and three times his size, waited quietly and looked back only once as he was led alone back to the pasture and stall he had shared with Stormy for many years. Chant’s caretaker described the scene to me, saying it appeared Chant was saying “Are you coming?”
But of course horses don’t have those kinds of thoughts or feelings, do they?
I wanted be there to say goodbye, but we had not yet returned to Massachusetts after spending the winter in Florida. The condition had been reoccurring for many years, so I knew it could be any time when kindness would dictate we had to let Stormy go.
He came into our lives because I brought my American Paint horse, War Chant I, home from the boarding stable. I knew horses were herd animals and I imagined he was lonely without the company of his pasture buddies. We needed another horse, but our pasture was small, so I decided to stretch our limited grass by getting a miniature horse.
We located one for sale nearby and I fell in love with Subra’s Little Lightning: her sweet personality, delicate, dished-face and tiny hooves. It sealed the deal that she was almost an exact image of Chant shrunk to a quarter his size. Two flashy, painted red-and-white equines grazing in the pasture appealed to me.
But Lightning was pregnant. That would mean an additional two horses in the pasture, but I decided the two would still only equal half a regular-sized horse.
Lightning was a brood mare and I was excited to learn that she had thrown matching pintos seven times before. Maybe she would have a little filly that looked just like her. That would mean three matching-coated horses grazing together!
Although I had been around horses all my life, I had never seen a birth or raised a foal and I was looking forward to the experience. But Lightning’s Little Firestorm, aka Stormy, was born when I wasn’t there.
It was merely a 20 minute break to go to the bathroom and find an ice pack for my hay-bale-bed backache. I had thrown together the impromptu lounge after seeing Lightning circling earlier in the evening. When I spotted her enlarged teats, I was sure she was going to have her foal that night so I camped out in the barn.
Many hours later I wondered if I had misjudged the signs. The tiny mare was quiet, sleeping on her feet, when I left to get the ice pack.
When I returned, expecting to spend the rest of the night uncomfortable and restless, I heard a faint whiny. I assumed it was Lightning, but as I opened the door to the stable she wasn’t poking her head over the stall wall. When I looked in, she was just getting back to her feet.
And there he was—already standing, his bony-kneed legs stretched wide, wobbly but definite. And he was already nickering. I imagined he was saying to the world, “Here I am.”
“What a firecracker!” I said. And that was his first nickname, soon changed to Storm as a connection to his dam’s registered name.
His mother was 33 inches tall at the withers, and 280 pounds, but Stormy was teeny, about 25 pounds. And he wasn’t a matching pinto. I could see his coat’s overall rich reddish-brown, even though he was still soaking wet. He had a bright silver patch on his rump—a traditional Appaloosa pattern—and his shaggy mane and tail were the color of creamed coffee with silver overtones.
I took a deep breath and tried to remember what the book said to do first. I cut the umbilical cord, disinfected the stump and saved the afterbirth it in a pail to check it for tears later. Then I left them alone for a few minutes of bonding.
Fifteen minutes later, I called my sister-in-law, Annie, sharing the delight of listening to the tiny colt’s faint whiny. We laughed and cried as I described his stormy rushing into the world. I complained that Lightning feigned sleep so she could hurry to birth the foal when I wasn’t watching.
Then I got my imprinting kit. I had read about a new way to start training a foal at birth and I had the items assembled. It was difficult to get Stormy to lie down, but finally I cradled him in my arms and eased him flat on his side. I rubbed him all over with soft rags, crinkly plastic, leather straps and rough lead ropes. I checked his mouth and wiggled my fingers in his diminutive ears. At first he struggled and tattooed me with a barrage of kicks from his surprisingly strong legs, but after a few minutes he calmed down and peacefully allowed me to handle his tiny hooves and tail. I had read that this early preparation would serve to make future training much easier. I couldn’t stop smiling.
When I finally released Stormy, he sprung to his feet and I left him nursing energetically.
Stormy’s name would prove to be fitting throughout his life. He would follow us anywhere, including up the stairs and through the house, but we never could stop him from nipping people, usually when someone turned their back. We found that he loved kids, and usually would stand for their prodding and poking, only nipping them on rare occasions. But he disliked being handled by the farrier and the veterinarian and would struggle and rear straight up into the air. At first it was easy to wrestle him into compliance but as he grew and outgrew, he became more challenging.
Stormy loved to run around the pasture and leap on top of any stool, log, or overturned pail. He even hopped up on Chant’s side when he lay flat in the pasture sleeping.
He was an equine comedian and delighted in stealing tools out of people’s hands. He dragged off rakes, stole ropes and snatched the file out of the farrier’s grasp. He chewed things that were left around, destroying any tack he could get his teeth on. He had to be locked in when the propane delivery man came because he attacked the hose which had to be stretched across his pasture to reach the propane tank.
One year he played a reindeer at the church Christmas Fair with a pair of soft antlers affixed to his head, and delighted the children with his antics but when he got tired of it, he charged around breathing fire until everyone was afraid to approach his pen.
His mother and father were small mini’s, 30 and 33 inches at the withers and Stormy should have ended up between their heights, but he fooled us and continued to grow until he was 41 inches, with the build of a miniature work horse.
He was big enough to be a rideable pony, and over the years we placed many small children up on his back. He was compliant and gentle until we loosed our hold, and then he would hop a bit to dislodge the annoying burden on his back.
After Lightning died, Stormy became unruly when Chant left for a ride or was allowed to graze in the pasture without him. He refused to stay quiet when he was loose in a separate stall, running in circles and attempting to climb the walls until he had to be tied tightly when Chant was gone. Eventually, we allowed him to stay with Chant in his stall and Stormy learned how to share the space, sleeping flat in a corner away from the big horse who could so easily injure him.
But sharing the pasture was more difficult. Chant was aging, and for optimum health, he needed long hours grazing. When Stormy began developing laminitis, we tried to keep his consumption of green grass to a minimum without limiting his time in the pasture by making him wear a rubber muzzle with only a tiny hole in the bottom to limit his access to a few blades of grass at a time. But it made Stormy furious. He would race around the pasture and smash his head on the barn wall or a fence trying to get the muzzle off so he could eat his fill.
The children going by in the school bus or riding by on their bikes watched him stampeding around, careening into the fence or barn walls and christened him The Evil Pony, making up stories of the fierce little horse who had to wear a muzzle so he wouldn’t rip children’s fingers off. But kids who got to know him fell in love with the little pony who pressed his face into their chests and then reached up to kiss their faces with his rough tongue.
Stormy lived only 10 years. He was a small horse and lived a short life, but served to leave a big impression on many people – some impression with his teeth but most with his huge little heart.