On a perfectly sun-bleached Sunday two weeks ago I decided to take the opportunity to work my three ponies while Buster was home to look after Finn. As I passed Sapphire’s paddock, my 28 year old Welsh gelding, he was lying down in the far corner of the paddock. On first site I wasn’t too concerned as he often lies down in the sun to give his legs a break from his aching arthritis. As I called to him he didn’t sit up. My body started to prickle with panic.
As I walked towards him I could see that he was struggling to get to his feet. Tears filled my eyes. I knew something terrible was wrong with our boy. When I reached him, the first thing I noticed was he was slicked wet with sweat. He didn’t have the energy to lift his head off the ground even with the intrusive sniffing of Harry Noodle. Oh god I thought, I’m not ready to say goodbye to you yet Saffy – you have to stick around to teach Finn to ride like you did for me. I stroked his eye as tears streamed down my cheeks. I could see that he had been lying down for quite some time with the grass around him flattened. His gums were a good colour but his eye was cloudy and he was extremely dehydrated.
Sapphire is our cantankerous grandfather of the herd who plays by his own rules because he’s old and he can. Mum and Dad bought Sapphire from a older gentleman near a township in Bell on the Darling Downs. He was born and bred on a rocky mountainous landscape and we were told that he had never been over a trot with his ageing owner. He was originally intended for my brother and sister as I had a horse. When Dad trialled him he was a respectable, well-mannered pony who was perfectly suited for my siblings. When he arrived home on our property, he got a sudden burst of life and became a handful and so I started riding him.
Far from a push-button pony Sapphire taught me to ride and challenged me every step of the way. He had the cheekiest of natures – famous for slurping out of the punch bowl at pony club. As the above picture represents – I remember as a pony-crazed little girl sitting with him in the paddock, serenading him with songs and plaiting wildflowers through his mane.
A memory that stands out is my first jumping competition, trying to tame his shaggy white mane into respectable rosette’s, sitting uncomfortable in a borrowed showjumping jacket that was to small for me. We sailed over the practise jumps and I was confident that we had this jumping thing in the bag. But when the bell rang to start our round, Sapphire balked at the first jump. Tomato red with embarrassment, I would circle him around again only for him to do a sliding stop at the jump. Saffy never did give me the answer as to why he was happy to jump the practise jumps but get stage fright when it came to the real thing. Maybe it was his way of teaching me a valuable lesson of participation and not everything is as easy as it seems. I remember the tears, frustration and embarrassment. Sometimes, he would decide to cat leap the jump from a stand still and catch me unawares. Other times, it was my fault, we would get lost around the jump course, which is typical of my nature as to this day I have no sense of direction.
Back to Sunday, I rang the vet and in the meantime, Steven and our lovely neighbour John supported Saffy’s head. He drank some water from a bucket and chowed down on two apples while waiting for the vet. Even with the three of us, we couldn’t get him up. It didn’t help that he was going against gravity on the wrong side of a hill. We decided to roll him over to help give him momentum and the downhill slope.
It worked, shaky on his numbing legs he stood. After a few moments he was pulling at the lead trying to get away from me and nipping at the rope. He was fine, just caught short on the up hill and his arthritis preventing him from getting up.
I know our time with Sapphire is limited but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him yet.
Two weeks on and we had to put our Saffy down yesterday. I had found him in the paddock on two occasions where he had lied down and couldn’t get up. With the iciness of winter we were so worried that it would happen in the middle of night and we wouldn’t find him until the morning. We didn’t want our boy to suffer and our wish was that he left this world with dignity.
Saying goodbye was so incredibly hard. I knelt down beside Saffy and stroked his head while I sobbed and sobbed. I became sprinkled in his white hair, a final keepsake of a wonderful horse that taught me to ride. We had such wonderful adventures on the pancake-flat plains of the Darling Downs, he was my ticket to independence and solace all through my teenage years. He was cheeky with no malice. I gave him two juicy carrots while whispering to him that he’s going to heaven to be reunited with our horses that we’ve already said goodbye too.
And then I left to pick up Finn. I yelped and yelped in the car for my Saffy.
Saffy you’ll be missed everyday but your memory will live on in bedtime stories told to our children. You’ll be remembered as a gallant white horse who would dust you in white hair, had a sparkle of cheekiness in your eye, a penchant for drinking punch and would cat leap over jumps at a moments notice.
Farewell old boy. x