(Editor's Note: This is another cowboy piece from Bruce Heiden, the “other” Bruce Heiden of Buckeye, Ariz.)
There is a grave with a metal cross on it that I drive by on occasion. I passed by it yesterday. It reminded me of my old friend. His name was Paint. He was 20-years-old, and he had become like a family member. We buried him out on the family farm a few months ago. I had purchased him when he was 13-years-old. We were looking for a horse for the grand kids to ride. They were 5 and 3 at the time.
A neighbor called me and asked me to come by his house. When I did, he took me out to his corrals and showed me this horse. He was a Paint, just under 14 hands high, and weighed right at 1,000 pounds. On his right foreleg was an enormous scar, apparently an old wire cut. He had several Indian brands on him in various places. When I walked up to him he snorted at me.
I asked my friend if I could bring the kids over to inspect the horse, which we did. Lindsay and Ryan climbed all over him with no bridle or saddle, and rode him double around the corral. We made arrangements to buy him and take him back to the farm with us. Lindsay asked me what his name was. I responded that it was Paint. That little girl spent an enormous amount of time on Paint during the next seven years. It would be safe to say that he had a big hand in her upbringing.
There was no way of knowing how entrenched this old horse would become in our family and in our lives.
We had him in good health for five years. During the last two years of his life, he was being treated for a skin cancer ailment that is prevalent in light colored and Paint horses. Our vet told us that the problem was treatable, but likely not curable. He had undergone a half-dozen surgical procedures the last two years. Finally the cancer recurred to the point he had to be put to sleep. Lindsay insisted I not put a new horse In Paint's stall for a long time after he passed away.
Had no pedigree
Paint was not a registered horse and had no pedigree. His disposition was snorty by nature, but never with kids. He possessed adequate speed, plenty of athletic ability, had cow sense, and a good attitude. His build was low to the ground and strong. He had more heart, honesty, character, and try than many people I know.
We dug a grave for him with a backhoe, and buried him wrapped between two plastic tarps. I made a six-foot metal cross for his grave out of one-inch pipe in the farm shop, and we took it over and put it up for a permanent marker. A graveside service was held the next afternoon at 2. A number of family members and neighbors attended. I noticed small tears in the eyes of some of the adults. Everyone there had known Paint.
Smile and wave
My son-in-law told me of an interesting happening after the service was finished. He explained that they were the first to arrive at the ranch before the services started. They waited up in the front area at the stalls where we keep the horses. Some people drove by out on the county road in front pulling a trailer with horses in it. They waved, and Lindsay smiled and waved back. Her dad asked her who the people were. She answered: “I don't know. But out here, you smile and wave at everybody.”
Lindsay has had plenty of other horses to ride since we lost Paint. She told me a few days ago that she likes all the horses she has been riding, but still misses Paint. I continue to notice fresh flowers on his grave. We all remember him fondly. He was family.