Sunday, February 08, 2004

A Good Mare is Gone

One of the reasons for my wanting to move to Abu Sir has been the wish to be able to spend more time with my horses. I have a small herd that I keep together in sand and grass paddocks with a large run-in shed for shelter. I started out with one chestnut Arab mare who was a present, the proverbial gift horse. Dorika and I had a rocky start because I'd spent twenty years out of the saddle when one of my husband's friends asked him if he could give me the mare. I had to re-learn to ride and no one in their right mind does this with an unbroken Arab mare. I had help in training her and a couple of calmer mounts to get me back into riding, so we both survived.

About a year after Dory came into my life, an American friend in Alexandria brought a lovely grey mare down from a stable in the Pyramids area. She had bought the mare for jumping, having been told that the mare was about 9 years old. When her mare refused to jump after about 3 weeks, Betty asked a British vet who was living in Alexandria to check her over. Rebecca checked as asked and announced that the 9 year old mare wasn't a day under 15 years and that, even more important, she was at least 5 months pregnant, which was why she refused to jump. Betty was at a loss as to what to do because she really didn't want to take care of a horse that she couldn't ride in the way she wanted to, but she couldn't exactly turn her out on the street either. Luckily for all of us, I'd fallen in love with this mare and I offered Betty to buy her for a relatively low price and the promise that I'd never sell her. Nimbus was mine. Six months later she delivered a mule that was the delight of all the children who frequented the stable and she and Dorika became inseparable companions.

Nim lived with me from 1991 until January 12, 2004. She taught innumerable children to ride and was my first choice of a mount for any friend who didn't know how to ride at all. Invariably, she was an honest, kind babysitter for the worst rider, and she was an opinionated, bossy, stubborn mare for those who were foolish enough to think that they knew more than she did. As far as I can tell, she had done everything that a horse in Egypt could do before she came to me. If the mood was upon her, she was quite capable of strutting her stuff in dressage, especially if there was a goodlooking stallion watching. Riding her clockwise on a grass racetrack in Alexandria past an empty grandstand, she showed me that she could remember very well what her job as a race horse had been. It didn't matter that she had no one to race with, the ride was hair-raising and wonderful at the same time. After that, I made sure that I rode in the opposite direction.

When we moved to Cairo, Dorika and Nimbus came with us. They each gave me a son after breeding them to some purebred Egyptian Arab stallions, and they raised their sons together in a small band that insured the boys learned their manners very well. By the time that we started doing a lot of desert riding, Nimbus was probably quite close to twenty years old. She never was as fast as the Red Rocket, Dory, but one time she got the chance to race her stablemate and win, and all of us who were there that day remember her happiness at finally putting Dory in her place. I never knew that a horse could gloat before that day.

For the past few years, Nimbus had been retired to the pasture for the most part, but she still enjoyed getting out for a nice ramble once in a while. We saved her for children who were small, light and willing to be cared for. Her snowy white winter coat was always a source of joy and delight as we never clipped her and left it long to keep her warm during the winter months. This year I'd noticed that she was losing some weight although she was healthy in every other way. We tried to tempt her with favourite foods, but she was just gradually withdrawing from life. During the week before she died, she asked to be moved into a paddock on her own away from Dorika and she decided that she didn't need the grain portion that she'd always gotten. We respected her wishes and granted them, moving her into the sunnier sand paddock, giving her a blanket against the chill, and letting her enjoy her sunny afternoons in her own way. The day before she died I was there checking the horses, and she was lying in the sun on the sand in her blanket. Usually she greeted me with a whinny when I showed up, but that day she rested there quietly, her legs drawn up under her and her elegant white head just gazing in my direction. I could feel that she didn't want to be disturbed so I greeted her from a distance, knowing that if I approached her she would have felt it necessary to rise.

The next afternoon I got the call that every horseowner dreads and that I'd been expecting. I was already on my way out, so I called the vet from my cell phone to tell him to come to attend Nim. She was in some distress, almost as if it were colic, but the signs were that her cardiopulmonary system was shutting down and her heart just couldn't pump the necessary oxygen to her body. We gave her an injection that would let her go without the pain of a full blown heart attack and I sat with her head in my lap while she left.

I still look for her when I go out to the paddocks. I know that she's not there and I'm thankful that I have her son and grandson, for Dorika foaled a chestnut colt by Nimbus' son about 18 months ago. She was a grand old lady. She did know everything.