A story about trust… and following your heart

Billy’s Story – Part 1

Originally published in the HoofPrints Newsletter – November, 2008

In the summer of 2008, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience… After years without a vacation of any length, my parents graciously offered to bring my 15 year old son Jordan and myself on an adventure out West. (thanks, Mom & Dad) To ensure that I didn’t worry about things back home, my husband Rob elected to stay here and tend to the farm and all the animals.

Our 2 week odyssey was packed with many miles and lots of sights and experiences as we traversed South Dakota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. The South Dakota leg of the trip included a stay at the HoofPrints Lodge in Lead, SD and trail rides guided by Andy’s Trail Rides.

HOW IT ALL STARTED: Our South Dakota Grail Ride - Left to right: Gina Keesling on Billy, Ron Stauffer on Trigger, Shirley Stauffer on Sage, Jordan Keesling on Dr Pepper
HOW IT ALL STARTED: Our South Dakota Grail Ride – Left to right: Gina Keesling on Billy, Ron Stauffer on Trigger, Shirley Stauffer on Sage, Jordan Keesling on Dr Pepper

When we arrived at the meeting point for the trail rides, I quickly sized up the waiting horses… nondescript smallish fellows of indeterminable breeding. They looked pretty lean to me – especially since I was used to looking at our Indiana horses who seem to get fat on air. The horses all looked bright and interested – except for the big bay Quarter Horse in the back. He just looked tired. He wasn’t even tied to the hitching post – so I figured he was REALLY tired to not need to be tied.

As I got closer, I could see that this poor old guy had been through the wringer. He had wire cut scars on more legs than not, a bowed tendon, white hair where a girth had galded him badly and lumps and bumps covering his body. His stance was that of a horse that was hurting all over. He was ugly and I felt sorry for him. Like a kid beside the merry-go-round, I quickly diverted my attention to the other horses. Would I get the pinto? the grey? No. Andy chose the ugly dude for me. His name was Billy.

After mounting up and riding off, I discovered that ugly Billy was actually a beautiful ride. He was light, responsive, and respectful. It seemed I had ridden him my whole life; we just clicked. Rental horses usually learn to ignore all but the “loudest” instructions – because they are ridden by so many folks who lack experience. The longer I rode him, the bigger this little plan in my head became… This thin old guy was not going to fare well for many more South Dakota winters… maybe they were getting ready to retire him? If they did, would he end up at the auction, and subsequently on a truck to a Mexican slaughterhouse? I wondered how much it would cost to ship a horse to Indiana….

SDBilly_headBLOGProbably every little girl that Andy ever took on a trail ride asked if they could buy the horse they were riding – so I felt a little foolish when I asked if he’d put a price on Billy. Ultimately it was determined that for a reasonable sum, after the trail riding season was over, Billy could be mine. A major stumbling block, however, was the transport cost, which I estimated to be likely more than triple the cost of the horse.

Later that summer, after my repeated calls and emails to Andy went unanswered, I began to feel like a bit of a chump. Probably he had just humored me by acting like he’d sell – after all, I was a goofy woman from Indiana wanting to buy a broken down old horse that wasn’t worth much anyway. Rob likely breathed a sigh of relief, as I already have two horses with challenging health issues that have caused me a great deal of angst AND cost a lot of money to manage. To knowingly bring geriatric problems into the herd was insane…

Imagine my surprise when Andy finally called in October – asking if I still wanted this horse… Winter is coming soon, and he wants him out of there NOW. OMG, my mind was racing… What if he (the horse) is getting ready to croak – and Andy wants to pawn him off on some idiot for a little cash before he does? Now that I am 1,200 miles away – what if I send him the money and I get no horse in return? I met this guy once. How do I know if he’s a crook? He tells me someone else is interested, but he thinks my home would be the best for Billy; a classic ploy to get a buyer to act fast… What to do? Do trail ride owners really care if their old horses get a good home? It would seem that many merely view the horses as commodities by which they earn a living. My head was spinning with distrustful thoughts. I decided NOT to decide – and to let the transport logistics be the determining factor.

When the connections I had with Rob’s former horseshoeing clients failed to yield any leads for hauling, I began to wonder if this was such a great idea. I posted to our Indiana Trail Riders online group – looking for someone who was perhaps returning from a trip out west with an empty spot in the trailer. The only response I got was from a woman named Pam from Minnesota who alleged she could perhaps help me out. “Great”, I thought. Someone else I don’t know. from far away, who could quite possibly turn out to be not what she says – AND take a bunch of my money. When I finally revealed the details of my impending scheme to my husband, I felt more than a little crazy.

My plan to “rescue” Billy was feeling dumber by the hour. Why should I spend all this money to drag an old horse of questionable health and soundness 1,200 miles, when there are hundreds of young, healthy horses needing homes right here in Indiana? What if it all ends up being for nothing? I was expecting two people I didn’t know, to orchestrate a meeting with each other halfway across the country, for someone they didn’t even know. About a million things could go wrong… Maybe I should forget about Billy and concentrate on my work; this time of year always brings lots of extra problems to be solved – with Christmas coming and folks ordering items for gifts. It’s a real challenge making sure the shelves are stocked; I was barely keeping up as it was and I sure didn’t need another distraction.

Billings DynamiteBLOG
This is Billings Dynamite (the other Billy) with his owner Marci Braddock. This Billy’s mention on The Fugly Horse blog was my encouragement to follow my heart concerning “my” Billy.

I am a firm believer that God helps us find our way in times like this, if we will only pay attention to the signs that He sends us. Here was my biggie; it couldn’t have been any plainer: That day’s entry on my then-favorite internet blog: The Fugly Horse – was a 24 year old ex-ranch horse who was rehomed and rehabbed into a successful show horse. He is solid bay, a Quarter Horse named BILLY. What are the chances of that? I guess God was worried that I might not make the connection – so He made it perfectly clear with this coincidental blog post.

So, I threw caution to the wind. I trusted Andy – that he was truly sending me a healthy horse. I trusted Pam – that she’d truly carry out the transport as agreed upon. And I trusted God to have sent me the right guidance to do all this. Even in a time when all we hear and read about is people doing bad things – to each other, and to their animals… I decided to take the chance.

Pam - Huckleberry Butch
This is Pam – of Moondance Transport. Actually, Pam is also part of a troupe of Old West Re-enactors, and this is one of her characters. She is also a veterinary technician and certified pet masseuse. Billy was in good hands. Those with a sense of humor will enjoy imagining my husband’s reaction when I showed him this picture of her and told him this was the woman I was paying big bucks to deliver my horse.

As it turns out, the trust I placed in Andy Holmes was well founded. He went above and beyond to make good on his promise to deliver Billy most of the way across South Dakota. And, the trust I placed in Pam Gordon of Moondance Transport was also well founded. She stuck with us through several changes in plans, rearranging her schedule each time. She rested Billy overnight at her place in Minnesota, and he arrived here in fine shape late the following night.

Here is the email update I received from Pam during the transport process:  “Just down to check on things before I sleep. I understand what you’re doing. I went over him a little just getting some burrs off and hitting some energy points on him… Not to sound weird… but you are doing something very special… he is truly a unique individual.”

Billy must have known about the trust-themed HoofPrints newsletter that I wrote about him and sent to my customers – as he obligingly followed my lead. He hopped off of Andy’s trailer at a truck stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota – drank some water, and stepped back onto Pam’s trailer without hesitation. He settled in happily at Pam’s place for his overnight stay, and after the 12 hour ride from there to here – he unloaded at yet another place in the dark, and followed me trustingly into his new stall. He was cheerful and alert – and not the least bit apprehensive or fearful. An attitude we all would do well to emulate in these uncertain times.

And, in case you’re thinking that Billy may be a bit of a doofus and therefore too dumb to be worried about his fate, my informal testing of his intelligence ranks him pretty high. Our pasture consists of of a maze of fencing. To get to the barn, my horses have to go the opposite direction to find the gate opening – they canNOT utilize the shortest distance to get to their intended destination. The other two STILL forget this sometimes – and will gaze wistfully across the fence – crying for their herdmates – instead of traversing what feels like the wrong way to the gate. Billy mastered the “horsey-maze” in about two days.

I remembered that Billy was beat up, but once he was here and I was able to look at him closely, I was amazed at the amount and scope of damage that he had. There didn’t seem to be a place on this horse that has not suffered some trauma at one time or another. Billy’s path in life is mostly unknown. Andy got him from a rancher who was fed up with the fact that he would pull back and break reins when tied. The rancher got him from an outfitter, and before that is unknown. Whatever he did was hard work – his body showed it. Both sides have white hair in multiple places from an ill-fitting saddle. His withers had no hair at all on the top.

Horse teeth aren’t all that pretty anyway - but these are REALLY ugly. Fortunately he is able to eat without difficulty. Is he 16? or late 20’s? We don’t know.
Horse teeth aren’t all that pretty anyway – but these are REALLY ugly. Fortunately he is able to eat without difficulty. Is he 16? or late 20’s? We don’t know.

He’s got an old bowed tendon. Big wire cut scars. Ringbone. A cataract in one eye. Billy’s age is a mystery. Andy initially thought late 20’s, but then in reviewing his brand inspection paperwork the age was stated to be 16. I hoped that my vet Dr Hollendonner could solve the mystery once and for all when he came to float Billy’s teeth. Unfortunately, he could not. Like the rest of him, Billy’s teeth have suffered trauma. An old injury – the doc theorizes that maybe the upper jaw was fractured and several incisors broken off at one point in his life.

When I published Billy’s story in our company’s email newsletter, I got numerous calls and emails about Billy – and I was inspired to ask newsletter subscribers who are so inclined to consider supporting equine rescue. Whether you take an extra one into your barn, or offer up financial support to others who do, I can say from experience that it is very rewarding. Like many of us have found with abandoned dogs and cats – the feeling that they know that you are their savior – Billy is the same way. He is loving, and grateful, and I can tell he doesn’t take any of his new amenities for granted.

Maybe he was a champion hunter under saddle in his former life? However, I am not going to be trying him over fences any time soon…

Shown here is our third ride. I was a little worried when I saddled him up for this photo; he’d not yet worn a saddle the two months he’d been here, and had been basically stuffing himself with food and just hanging out. What if he was only a great ride back in South Dakota because he was too tired to buck or run away – and now that he was rested and fed – he might turn into “psycho-horse”? My fears were unfounded. Billy seemed happy to see a bridle and saddle, and I can tell now, that he is the kind of horse who is keen for an adventure.

He wears the snaffle bit like an old pro – and will take a working trot nicely. He carries his head pretty much like this picture shown – although he’s a little overflexed here as I was holding him back so we could get a picture with an uncluttered background.

You may be wondering what that funny place is on his rib cage. It’s actually the remnants of a massive injury that he sustained the Friday after Thanksgiving. Rob saw the whole gang galloping in the pasture – and shortly after when we went to feed we were greeted by Billy at the back barn door – with an absolutely GIANT cut that ran almost the full length of his side. Our pasture is obstruction-free, so HOW he did it was a mystery. Later we discovered the eyelet that we snap the gate chain to was covered with hair. It’s a big thick loop that doesn’t stick out very far – and it’s on the side of the opening that coincides with his eye that has the cataract – so he must have misjudged the distance and hit it going full speed.

Billy injuryBIGMost of you know that horses do NOT choose convenient times to get hurt. Friday night on a holiday weekend is almost as bad as it gets. Fortunately, we were able to catch our vet on the way home from his last call (with apologies to his wife) and he was able to come and sew it up.

We’ve been lucky to have had many years of horse ownership without a major injury, so I guess we were about due. Once our teenage son Jordan got over his horror at the sight of all that blood – all he could talk about was if I’d be sharing the story of the accident in our newsletter… Initially I didn’t think all that gore was newsworthy – but he documented the whole incident with his camera just in case I changed my mind.

But once it was all healed up, I was so grateful that it wasn’t any worse. It truly was “just a flesh wound”. Had Billy hit the point of his shoulder on that post the outcome would not have been so good. As you can imagine, an after hours / holiday weekend vet call was not an inexpensive endeavor. My thoughts turned to the many horse rescues throughout the country who routinely take in and treat horses with all sorts of maladies. They need financial support for more than just feed and bedding.

Please consider supporting equine rescue. Not all of us have room to take in another horse, but we can help in other ways. Monetary donations are always good – but donations of other items needed – halters, feed tubs, blankets, etc are always appreciated. Who doesn’t have some good usable stuff laying around collecting dust? And donations of time are helpful too. Many of these horses have issues – and need to be around people who are nice to them – and have no expectations – for a while. A great way to de-stress – both them and you! Be sure to check out any rescue you consider helping – as not all are what they claim to be.

from a HoofPrints email newsletter subscriber: “I want to commend you for taking in Billy, and for using your contact network for spreading a good message about older horses.  Your words will have a greater impact than you realize… There are a lot of throw-away horses out there, especially in today’s economy.  If there is ever a time horses need people, it’s now.  The message you gave – has the ability to spread great distances and possibly help other horses.”

Those who know me know I am typically not one to plunge in and do seemingly unsensible things. As this adventure unfolded so smoothly I was surprised – I really could tell that I had, indeed, been seized by a “Big Story” (as described by Robert Moss below). I has been a wonderful journey, and the experience has left me slightly less sensible, MORE adventurous – and on the lookout for the next “Big Story”, whatever it may be. I pray that I am up to the task to navigate in the best way, and to share with others so they may also be inspired.

Author Robert Moss says it best: “The Australian Aborigines say that Big Stories hunt for the right people to tell them. Sometimes a Big Story seizes us through a riff of coincidence we simply cannot dismiss. When we are seized by a Big Story, our lives are different. We have the power to cope with everyday dramas with greater courage and grace, because we are aware of a deeper drama. We now travel with a sense of mission, we draw different events and people and opportunities toward us.”
Author Robert Moss says it best: “The Australian Aborigines say that Big Stories hunt for the right people to tell them. Sometimes a Big Story seizes us through a riff of coincidence we simply cannot dismiss. When we are seized by a Big Story, our lives are different. We have the power to cope with everyday dramas with greater courage and grace, because we are aware of a deeper drama. We now travel with a sense of mission, we draw different events and people and opportunities toward us.”

10 thoughts on “A story about trust… and following your heart”

  1. This is SO LOVELY — I love your message of trust and following your heart — and your horse rescue! We have an adopted Mustang, from when he was a yearling — and I cannot tell you the critics that we’ve met along the way — but he is my Big Story! xox

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    1. Thanks for the kind words about the story. It really was quite an adventure, and certainly one I did not go looking for – though I had multiple opportunities to have jumped ship and let it pass on by.
      Kudos to you for taking on a Mustang – they really do need all the advocates they can get – and not many folks have the wherewithal to gentle a wild one, either. Well done!

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  2. Gina, this story about Billy is so wonderful and heartwarming! I, too, rescued a horse a little over 4 years ago. I had known the horse for several years prior and had always wanted to get my hands on him and it finally happened! As it turned out, he was anemic, had nubs for teeth, his feet were long and cracked, he was abused, and was 27 years old! I went almost completely broke getting him healthy. Today, at 31, he is a happy boy living the good life, going on fun trail rides, doing parades, the Horse Expo in PA where we were part of the showcase of Tennessee Walkers! He strutted around that ring showing everyone that he was just as beautiful and as good as all those younger horses and stood in our booth’s stall talking to all the kids who loved on him and was in everyone’s photos. He even got ‘Horse of the Year’ through our Walking Horse club. Like Billy, he’s an old gentle soul with lots of experience, but always grateful for what his life has become. Our ‘Big Stories’ will forever be engraved on our hearts and will always be with us to comfort us!!

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  3. Thank you for giving Billy his forever home, I always keep Underwoods Horse Medicine on hand for those situations, it would of saved you lots of money and healed with barely a scar. check it out on their website, look at the testimonials page it is some awesome stuff, works on dogs,cats,poultry,horses and donkeys, I have used it on all of my critters,..

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  4. I just signed up to your blog and have been catching up on this story and others. What a wonderful boy Billy must be and yes, rescues/ rehab animals seem to know how much you care and they are so very grateful.

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  5. Your stories about your dogs and this wonderful horse make me so happy yet sometimes I a shed a tear.. You are a God sent to these animal and all of us that follow you here on HoofPrints.. I want to share my Shawnees story with you and your readers..
    I lost the love horse of my life a year ago this Halloween.. My heart still aches to hug her. I rescued her at age 18 from a barn where we boarded our Dakota Kill Pen rescue Mi-Ladi. (Another story). Shawnee was an American Tobiano Tri Color Paint that was bought to breed.. She had produced 2 beautiful foals but hadn’t taken since.. So she was locked up, fed, watered and left alone in a stall.. She lived in this stall with over grown hooves and longing for a friend.. I fell in love with her from the first whinny as I past her stall daily taking our Mi-Ladi for an outing in the paddocks..
    I began sneaking her apple slices and carrots for a couple of months. I would stop and hug and un-matte her beautiful mane.. I fell head over heals in love with this horse.. I ask the owner if she’d sell her to me. She refused at first but came back to be in a few days willing to sell her for $1,500. She said she was 10 years old.. I told her I’d have to think about and I’d like to see her papers.. Upon her showing me the papers, I found that she was 18 years old and from Texas. Seeing this, I offered her $1,000 and she finally excepted.. I had her hooves trimmed leaving her a bit sore for a few days.. I had my Vet come and check her finding she had Laminitis in one hoof.. I bought her anyway because she needed me and I needed her especially since our PMU rescue adopted my partner over me.. I later found a wonderful treatment for founder and cured the laminitis, but the hoof stayed a bit flared.. I was warned by several people that boarded there that she refuse to except a bit and she was a bucker.. I rode her with a mild hackamore and just a bridle.. She was the most gentle loving horse I’ve ever met.. She was hugger for me only.. She’d take her head and pull me into her chest and we’d love one another.. She loved being sung and talked to.. I can’t express how much I loved that mare.. Shawnee was her barn name. I mounted her after all the warnings and she stood so still and turned as if to be sure it was me and we moved off like she’d been doing this forever.. She never bucked with me or anyone that rode her.. She had a smooth gait. Cancer entered our lives in 2013.. Started with tiny couple of little sores. We did everything my Vet and another he consulted to cure it.. It spread all over one side her vagina.. And finally spread under her tummy into her udder and she began losing weight.. I’ve never in my life prayed so hard and long, but I did for my precious horse to be healed…. I’d pray with her and she’d put her head in my chest and close her eyes.. But God must have needed her more, so due to my Vet saying she was in pain we decided it best to allow her the dignity of dying before she lost use of her legs and etc’…. I spent the evening and part of the night before with her, but I couldn’t bare to watch her breath her last breath, so my partner went out the following morning and spent those last moments with her.. I miss her so.. I’m trying to make the same kind of bonding with my Solid Palomino Paint, Brezzi..
    Bless all of you that have lost a horse, or any animal that you love.. They stay in a special place in our hearts forever.. Don’t they?

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