There were few gaited horses for sale in New Mexico in 2017 and we saw them all.  We hired our trainer to go with us for a few disappointments and others we saw on our own.

I found Ranse for sale on an internet site.  Right in Albuquerque so we arranged to meet him at his stable with our trainer.  Ranse’s nickname was Handsome Ransom as he was a beautiful horse.  16. 2 Hands, Chestnut , registered TWH.  He was named after a character that Jimmy Stewart played in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and he had competed as well as used to train riders.  He had spent most of his life in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is where he picked up EPM, but he showed no symptoms till he lost his buddy and was moved to Santa Fe.  Stress sets off the beginning of the neurological disease.  His owner/trainer was able to keep him collected so hadn’t noticed his early symptoms.

I just thought he had a very strange stride when it was my turn to ride him. They are supposed to be as smooth as silk, but he felt more like I was riding an elephant.  His owner called it a camel walk.  But what it really was, was a manifestation of a terrible neurological disease that horses pick up from being exposed to infected possum urine.  Something  that would be impossible in New Mexico, but common in Wisconsin.

None of that would have mattered to us if we listened to Ranse when he first rejected us.  He had no interest in being our horse or probably was already feeling ill.  So we walked away disappointed, and went out to lunch together before we headed home.

Our trainer called us the following week and said that she had an epiphany while drunk.  She, not understanding that the horse was sick, decided that he just needed an advanced rider and she would train Stuart to ride him well.  We trusted her, the owners allowed him a 30 day tryout period at her stable and she started to train Stuart on Ranse.  

Ranse failed the vet check miserably and our vet had no doubt the symptoms were from EPM.  Again, another point where we should have walked away, but somehow our trainer persuaded us to carry on with the possibility that an expensive drug regime would cure him.  The owners paid for the first 30 days and when that was over the vet said that he need a second regime.  Which the owners paid for as well.  In essence, we paid for everything as we paid full price for him when he really had no monetary value at all at this point.  No one mentioned that to us, that his owners should be happy that we would take this sick horse off their hands.

After the second regime, the vet thought he was much better and we purchased him.  Stuart and he felt that they could get him completely well.  We became friends with his old owners who would drive up and give us lessons on gaiting.  Our old trainer did not know how to work with gaited horses, so really couldn’t tell us what to do.

Ranse was rideable for about 1-1/2 years, but during that year he tripped often which ruined Stuart’s confidence on riding.  Stuart had had a bad fall in California and he was afraid to get hurt.  He only wanted to walk him, which was a natural self preservation, but held us both back in becoming better riders.  Desi and he were both very powerful animals and we could really get moving quickly as they would race each other.  But we only gaited a few strides at a time, unfortunately for me and the horses.  Stuart would stop it as soon as we started.

We would blame Stuart’s fear on Ranse’s imbalance and tripping.

So to show Stuart that Ranse wouldn’t trip if gaited well, I got on him late fall 2019 to gait him around the arena.   He fell flat on his face with me in the saddle.  His symptoms had gotten worse and he no longer knew where his feet where.  I didn’t get hurt, but it was scary to go down and then have that big head coming at me as he started to get up again.  I rolled off the saddle.  I no longer blamed Stuart and asked him never to ride Ranse again.

No one ever did ride Ranse again and he became a companion animal to Desi.  They were deeply bonded so he had an important job.  And we enjoyed interacting with him on the ground.  I was surprised, but Stuart wanted to continue to ride and we looked for our third horse who became Gunner.  We would pony Ranse with us when we went out on the trail.  

It was fun to pony Ranse when I rode Desi.  But we began to leave him home after I switched riding to Gunner.  Gunner was enough work as it was without adding another horse to the mix.

Stuart loved Ranse very much as he was his first horse.  I never developed a close relationship.  Unlike Desi who loved all the kisses you could give, I found Ranse to be standoffish and aloof.   But now that I look back with my better understanding of horses, I think that he was just always in pain and touch made him feel worse.  

We gave Ranse the best care that we could and he lived another 3 years.  He chose to spend most of his time in the stall in the last few months of his life. When Ranger joined us, he took on the job of watching over Ranse.  Ranger stood in the breezway outside his stall. He spent so much time guarding him that we bought a rubber mat for him to stand on.

Ranse would come out to eat with the others. He became more unstable and once stumbled and stepped on both my feet and smacked me on the head when I was leading him from the pasture to the barn.  There were scabs on his knees showing that he had been falling.  I discussed euthanizing him with Stuart at that point as he had become dangerous to himself and us both, but Stuart was not ready.  

Then one day, he didn’t want to come out to eat and I brought him his food which he barely touched.   He had some blood on his nose and Stuart called the vet who said keep an eye on him.  When I went out later, he had much more blood spraying when he breathed out.   I called Stuart who was working with the Vet about 40 minutes away.  I said that Mark needed to come look at Ranse.  This seemed very serious.

While we waited, I gave Ranse a small treat which he took from me.  Just one.   He didn’t want a second one.   He looked at me and seemed to send thoughts of deep appreciation.  A moment that I will never forget.  I understood that he was telling me that it was time.  

He had developed pneumonia and Mark said that his test results showed that Ranse would not live more than a few days.  He wouldn’t survive the harsh treatment and of course, what would be the point as his quality of life had diminished so much.  

We waited for Stuart to come home and choose a site to bury him.  Stuart led him next to a tree where the hole would be dug the following day.  We led each horse to over after so they would understand that he was gone.  Our resident ravens all seemed to have gathered by the barn to pay their respects.  The vet’s assistant, a native American, never saw that in his years of experience of euthanizing horses.  An hour or so later, Gunner went crazy running around the barn, and we wonder if he saw Ranse’s spirit.  

Ranse was the first horse that we ever buried and it was a deeply sad event for us and his herd.  Desi took it very hard and seemed to give up on life.  But the other two horses took over Ranse’s responsibilities and Desi seems very adjusted almost one year later.

Ranse was a registered Tennessee Walking Horse with the registered name Insight of Dakota.

Helen K. Garber

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