Helen K. Garber

fine art photography


Ranse had died in October 2023 and we showed Desi that we would never leave him alone by ponying him with us on the few times we hit the trails before winter set in.  It wasn’t fun as Gunner made a big fuss having Desi by his side.

Desi had a tough winter, his arthritis and weakening back muscles making it hard for him to get up when he laid down.  We called Mark to check on him after it happened a few times in one week.  Desi was heading towards 24 years old so when Mark suggested a drug, we said fine, we wanted him more comfortable.

It seemed to work and then not so much .  Mark suggested that we euthanize him, but I was still fragile from putting Ranse down.  And Ranse and I didn’t have much of a relationship, not like Desi and I did.  Desi was my first horse and I was not ready to let go.  Our friend Barbara suggested that we double the dose and fortunately it worked.  Desi is still with us now in July and feeling pretty good.

We saw the Desi was going to be with us for a while and still had the problem of staying stuck by the ranch and not take the other two away for a ride to keep our promise of not leaving Desi alone.

So I woke up one morning deciding that we need to get him a buddy, so we can have a fun summer of taking Ranger and Gunner on adventures.

Gunner’s mom was available and since I had seen all these tik tok videos of long lost equine family members so happy to see each other after even years apart, thought she would be a good option.  Until Flo told me that Gunner had no interest in her once he was full grown.  It would have been a big deal to go get her in Colorado and bring her down.  A big problem if id didn’t work out….Which was a good possibility.

So I thought it more practical to go to the one hour away Horse Shelter that we supported with money, art and resale store purchases, and find an old broken down horse that we could help keep comfortable with babysitting Desi the gelding’s only job.

I had always wanted a Palomino and there was a 23 year old gelding at the shelter, so we made an appointment to see him.  He had no interest in us, but Stuart gave the manager a bottle of his skin formula to help with some sort of mange that the horse had.

We went back a second time and revisited the Palomino.  He still showed no interest in us and although the mange was better, had been suffering from diarrhea for months, and I wasn’t ready for another sick horse.  So we passed and asked Rhoda to show us who else was around.

No, no, no to the first few and then she stopped the Mule at a pen with two chestnut horses in it.  How about Spartan?  I looked up at him and he was about the same size and color as Ranse, but with a white stripe and a different shaped head.  He’s a thoroughbred.

Way too big, I said, he’s 16.2 like Ranse.  But she encouraged Stuart to put on his halter and longe him.  That lasted about two minutes and then he walked over to Rhoda and held on to Spartan’s lead rope while we chatted.  Rhoda must have been telling us that he was a companion only horse because he had a sesamoid injury that would keep him from being ridden.  She was hoping to place him as his buddy had to be euthanized due to severe arthritis, so his situation was about to change anyway.

Spartan(the Horse Shelter named him) then put his head on Stuart’s shoulder.  We were all so surprised at the unusual display of immediate trust and affection that both Rhoda and I took a photo.  And then we just said, well, obviously, he must understand that Stuart being a chiropractor can help him, so I guess we will take him.

Since he was lame and we were big supporters of the Rescue, we were charged the minimum, $250 donation.  With the understanding that we could bring him back if it didn’t work out.  He was due for an exam and vaccinations, so Rhoda said we could have him after the following Thursday.

In the  meantime, I suggested to Stuart that we should go visit him again and Stuart said no, he was sure it would be fine and if it wasn’t we would bring him back.

We prepared the barn for adding a new horse, creating a separate paddock and stall until it feels safe for him.  We let Desi know we were buying him a horse for his birthday, just 3 days later.

Rhoda delivered him the following Monday and our other 3 were secured in the paddock together.  Although he was only in the trailer and hour, I thought she should let him off his halter so he could move around before we sequester him in a small space.

To all our amazement he galloped around the perimeter of the 1/4 mile fence at 30 seconds per 1/4 mile.  I know because I videotaped it, which of course times the frames.  He’s not lame at all….

I almost said take him back because he was only 15, very large and not lame at all.  Not at all who we were looking for.

But we didn’t, and he was sweet and good looking and Ranger took to him immediately.  So we let him stay.  It took less than a week to allow him full access with the herd, it would have been shorter if Gunner wasn’t so insecure and mean.

In the meantime, I was curious about his past and began to research his paperwork.  Racing horses have tattoos and the Horse Shelter was able to give me his registration papers and lineage.  I was thrilled to find out that not only was Secretariat, that they had the same white markings on their head.  His grandfather was Seattle Slew but his lineage allowed him only one win in his over a dozen races over the years.  I was able to find his race card on the Internet which included a photo of him winning his one race as well as Rontonamo, his real name, standing in the winner’s circle.  I also was able to find out who his last owner was and wanted to find out how he ended up abandoned at the Sun land Park Racetrack stables.

I found his last owner and we became friends on facebook.  She was given Rontonamo by a friend to have her husband train him and then split any money from his winnings.  But he never won.

She had torn her meniscus during the pandemic and couldn’t take care of him.  She sent him off to a friend to care for him for less overhead.  It was that person who abandoned him and apparently never told her that he wasn’t getting fed.  The authorities picked him up July 2022 and the Horse Shelter took him in.  She tried to find him when she heard he had been taken, but could not get any information from the agencies.  I have to admit that her English was poor, my Spanish worse and I’m not really sure of the details.  But she was happy to see that Rontonamo was safe and was enjoying seeing my postings on Facebook.   She tried calling and texting me, but I didn’t want to get too friendly and only responded occasionally.  

On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, we came home from a Costco run to see a strange car parked by the barn.  I was so thrown by seeing a stranger there that I brought apples into the feed room, but didn’t close the door properly.

It turned out that it was Rontonamo’s last owner who decided to drop in and visit from 5.5 hours away.  We had plans for the night, but had to cancel them as the horses broke into the feed room while I was talking to her and ate too much of fly killing drug.  We had to give them Ban-amine and keep an eye out for colic.  But in the meantime, we allowed her to stay over and we tried to communicate as best as we could.  I had no idea if she had ulterior motives, or it there was a truck and trailer coming to steal the horses away and didn’t sleep that night.

But by the morning, I felt that her intentions were good and she was happy to see that Rontonamo would be well taken care of.  He didn’t seem to have any special attachment to her until she started to cry when she was leaving.  He went over to comfort her……I was relieved when she left.

In the meantime, we treated him as an equal herd member and ponied him and Desi around our enclosure to help cement his family membership.

I learned as much about Thoroughbreds as possible and found out that he needed a different diet than what we were giving our three other boys.  He was losing weight on their diet and his diet would allow Ranger to founder and Gunner to go crazy with its higher sugar content.

Spring had arrived, but not any warmer temperatures.  It was our 7th and longest winter here.  And then it snowed.  The last thing I wanted was to go out in the snow, but I knew it would be the last blizzard of the year and I wanted to photograph Rontonamo in the Snow.  He seemed to be having a great time and I went out with him for about an hour.

The Horse Shelter charity auction and luncheon is the first weekend in June and I thought that I would make a special piece about Rontonamo to donate and earn more money for the organization.  They were the ones who had rescued him and brought him back to life and I wanted to support them with more than the $300.00 that I had already given them.  They took care of him for 8 months before we adopted him and wanted to help out.

I created a 32 x 42 inch piece that is valued at $10,000.00 hoping to buy them a lot of hay.  We bumped into the auctioneer at the shelter store when we delivered the piece and I explained that the story behind the piece was very important as it had the racing sheet representing his old life as the first layer and him playing in the snow for his new life.  Held together with encaustic wax.  Encaustic wax is a mixed media process that has magical qualities and this piece turned out to be the most magical yet.

Although the auctioneer choked up as he told the story behind the piece, the Live Auction was poorly run and few people were paying attention.  But the couple who bought the piece, added another $2200.00 to their coffers and seemed to understand its value.

They came up to me at the end of the auction and we talked and exchanged contact info.  They seemed very nice.  I invited them over to meet the horse and they were excited to do so.

The wife explained that she grew up with thoroughbreds and now that we understood that he was sound, asked if she could spend time with him.  Exercise him and bring him back to his normal body weight.  We agreed as Rontonamo seemed a bit depressed to me and was losing weight.  Mark came out and confirmed that he was sound and started to work on his teeth that were preventing him from eating properly.

She was totally smitten with Rontonamo and he was very happy to have her dote over him.  She thought that he was ready to be ridden and put a saddle on him.  Even mounted him, but Rontonamo did not look happy with anyone on his back.

We brought over a friend who was very experienced with thoroughbreds who felt that it would be months before he would be ready to be ridden, if at all.  He was still very underweight and obviously very upset trying to manage a rider.  His last owner had said that he should be companion only, but couldn’t explain why in her broken interest.

The wife decided that he was too big a project for her to work with.  In the meantime, our trying to manage Rontonamo’s diet with our own horses turned out to be a disaster.  He was continuing to lose weight while our own were getting fatter every day.

We learned a huge lesson in caring for different breeds of horses in that experience and realized that we were not set up to care for him in the set up we had, and sadly asked the Horse Shelter to pick him up.  

His last owner was watching my Facebook account she caught on that we no longer had him.  I explained the situation to her American born son who was supposed to relay the message.  Instead, she showed up on the evening of my birthday, again uninvited and not wanted on our property. I didn’t see her, but Stuart told me that he warned her not to come back again, the horse was no longer here and we didn’t want her visiting ever again.  I thought it quite ironic that she managed to appear at our place twice in a matter of 3 months, but did not visit the horse for over two years when she owned him….

The summer is now over and my big plans for adventures with Gunner and Ranger turned to dust.  We pony Desi almost every time we exercise the other two and have only gotten out on the trail twice while ponying Desi along….At least Gunner now enjoys the job of helping to exercise Desi and no longer fusses while we pony him along.