I have owned a number of horses in my life. Many have been special to me for one reason or another and some.....well, let's just say that some have been "not-so-special". But I don't think there is one that has been more special than Okie.
Okie was born in north central Oklahoma 23 years ago this June. A handsome sorrel with a big blaze and two back stockings, he had not seen much of humans until he was a scared three year old. There were three stud colts, each out of sister mares and the same stallion loaded into that stock trailer that morning. First a stop at the vet clinic to be castrated and then each dropped off at a different colt starting place. So it was absolute chance (or divine intervention as I like to think of it) that Okie came to be at the same place at the same time as me.
I wanted to learn to ride cutting horses and had called a friend of an old boyfriend to ask if he'd teach me. He agreed and I would work for him while I was learning about riding the cutters. One of my jobs was to doctor the cut on the front leg of that sorrel colt with the bald face in the second pen. I had no idea.......I entered the pen and walked over to the colt. His eyes were bigger than saucers and as I got almost close enough to touch him, he whirled around kicking and snorting and headed for the safety of the corner of the pen. The furthest distance from me. After several more attempts, I was able to touch the colt and eventually clean up the cut and bandage it.
The next morning was to be Okie's first ride. These guys didn't have time to mess around with ground work. They did things the old fashioned way. Snub the colt, saddle him and get on and ride. It went pretty much that way. Except for the riding part. He bucked that guy off so quick it would make your head spin. But he did it in such a way that I couldn't help but see his athletic ability and said to my friend, "if you ever get so you can ride that horse, I'd sure like to own him." It took a several months, but own him I did.
In the process before he came to Nebraska, Okie had some rough days ahead. All four feet were tied up with a throw rope to trim his feet. To this day, he has scars on all four legs. Empty Clorox jugs were tied all over him to tire him out so he wouldn't buck anymore. And he is still scared of noises on top of him that sound anything like those Clorox jugs.
But when he came to live with me his life was different. Every time I saddled Okie he was ready to go do a job. He was cowy and really liked to work cattle. He understood a lot of situations we were in and rose to the occasion. He drug calves to the branding fire and he carried me on a lot of long trips moving cattle. Okie was my calf tagging horse, my get-a-cow-in-in-the-middle-of -the-night-during-calving horse. So I decided to start him as a barrel horse.
I'm not really sure which profession Okie was best at. Ask anybody that was barrel racing from these parts in the mid to late 90's and most everyone at least knew of my sorrel horse. He was consistent. He didn't win every time, he didn't even place every time. He was not the best horse that ever stepped into the rodeo arena. But he was the best one I have ridden there.
When Okie was eight, he developed a limp on his right front foot. When it didn't go away after a few weeks off from being ridden, I took him for x-rays. He had an inoperable bone spur on his ankle. We tried several routes from different vets, but it looked like Okie was finished before he started. But I happen to see an ad in a magazine for some all natural products that got some rave reviews. After about 6 months, Okie wasn't limping. I gave him a few more months and decided that if I could even use him as a ranch horse, I would be grateful. It was calving time and we were going to pair out, generally just a lot of walking behind baby calves. But some heavy cows broke in and we had to give chase. Okie was doing his job, jumping gullies and cowing like he'd never had a two year break! I cried tears of joy that day!
Okie trusted me. That trust became evident when my friend, Virgilene and I went back east to some pro rodeos some 10 years ago now. The first rodeo was in a coliseum on a Saturday night. The crowd was loud and the music was louder. I hadn't been to a rodeo like this for quite a while and Okie....well, I'm pretty sure this was louder than weaning time at home. I could feel his heart pounding underneath me. He was scared, but heck....so was I. They called my name to run and I really didn't even know if Okie knew we were going to run barrels. But he did. And we did. He ran to first barrel like he'd been rodeoing his entire life and turned it like we were at our arena at home. The ground gave way at back side of the second barrel. He went down on his belly. Just as fast as he'd fallen, he jumped up and was running for third. The crowd loved it! Except for the fall we had a great run and finished a second out of first place....which for barrel racing is a looooong time. But I knew he had what it took to be a barrel horse. That was one of the greatest moments of my life....
I retired Okie from barrel racing about 8 years ago now. I knew he was ready to just be a ranch horse again. Matt rode him several times and Okie was good to him. The last time I rode him, we sorted cows and it was just like the old days.
This winter the pain from the bone spur came back. Then pain from where all the rope burns had been. Okie was so sore from arthritis that he didn't want to walk a few yards for a drink of water. My heart was broken. All I could do was try to help him to water and cry ..... he was still trying so hard for me. I knew it wouldn't be fair to make my old friend suffer like this after all he'd done for me. My dad said, "you know what you need to do." But first, I consulted a vet that I trust. We gave him bute for pain every day for several weeks. We also started him on some joint products. The old ankle injury still gives him trouble when it is really cold, but for the most part, he is doing much better. He gets extra grain and a nice blanket to wear. I give him the best alfalfa we have on the place. He has gotten pretty spoiled in his old age.
At the high point of Okie's career, my Dad, my (then)husband and I had gone to North Platte and had taken Okie to be shod. As we were leaving town, my (then) husband said, "Don't forget Okie." To which my dad said, "She might forget you and she might forget me, but she will not forget that horse." Dad was never more right about anything..............