The summer passed. One morning while we were at the bank, our loan officer came out of his office and said he’d like to talk with us. Once inside his glass-fronted workspace, he asked a question that resulted in my mind immediately fast forwarding to the crazy possibility that I could one day own that little filly that ran in his pasture. He had a big (and I mean big) two-year-old sorrel gelding that needed to be broke to ride, and he knew Harry was the man for the job…if he had the time. Telling him we’d need to talk about it first, we left the bank, and on the way home, I was already hatching a plan to convince my husband to take that filly instead of a cash payment for the horse breaking job. I’d talked about her all summer; he knew I was mad about her.
Of course Harry agreed to break the gelding. He loved working with horses, and he was especially good at it, if I do say so myself. We talked again with Leander (not his real name), and found out that “Lea May Doc,” born on May 1, 1988, was not at all the offspring he wanted out of his mare. He had been breeding her for years to get a sorrel stallion with four white sox, and her 1988 foal was a filly, and a bay to boot. He didn’t have much to say about her at all, except that it seemed it was a lost year for his mare in his adventure to have her bear him the perfect colt. “Score one for me,” I thought to myself at the end of that conversation.
Fast forward to the end of the breaking session, and we returned the gelding to Leander, taking in exchange for Harry’s work the weanling filly I’d watched since birth and had only dreamt about ever owning. I can still see her hopping into our stock trailer after much coaxing. She’d never been in one before, and it seemed like it took forever to get up and in. I could not believe it. She was mine.
The next year and a half passed quickly. She stayed in a little trap pasture not 50 yards to the south of our house. She broke easily and was chock full of cow sense. Her pedigree read like a cowman’s dream: Dr. Cutter Bill x Doc O’Lena x Doc Bar on the top side; Leo Too x Leo’s Question on the mare side. I had my “once in a lifetime” horse. Her mature size ended up a bit tall for this 5’ 3” lady, but that was okay. I took advantage of every possible time I could saddle up in those early years.
The spring May Doc turned five years old, we discussed breeding her, to add to our remuda. Harry had “40”, a Blackburn bred gelding we’d brought from North Dakota. He was three years old when we came to Kansas in 1986. We had purchased a smaller made, black gelding we named “Chance” from the Kansas State University horse unit in 1989; he was two at the time. There was also “Buck,” another buckskin ranch horse that had more gas than most. He was fun to ride when things “got Western,” a term our son likes to use these days. Our three children all learned to ride on any and all of these mounts. Two rode because they had to when we needed them to help, one rode to help and for the love of riding. She started young, speaking loudly in her three-year-old voice, “Me ride, me ride,” every time her father got on his horse. 😊
One of our friends had a stout bay stallion with cow in his pedigree whose services we employed. We were all anxious for the new arrival in the spring of 1994. February 6, 1994; we moved to the ranch where we now reside, approximately 35 miles northwest of where we originally landed when we relocated to Kansas on March 1, 1986. It had been a tumultuous second half of 1993, and this opportunity to move to a new place was a step we felt we needed to take. Next to making the decision to move to Kansas, moving to the Wheaton area was the second most important decision we’d made in our married life. It turned out to be the absolute best thing we could have done for ourselves. It was the absolute worst thing we could have done for May Doc.
In anticipation of her arriving foal, we had been keeping May Doc on a lush green fescue pasture near our house at this new place. We’d contacted our local vet several times, wondering what might have been going on as she was at the three-week overdue mark. Nothing was ever figured out as to why she did not foal when she should have. The day all hell broke loose, Harry had gone down to check on her just like we’d been doing bright and early every day. May Doc had gotten her big bay stud colt halfway out and was paralyzed. With the aid of two other guys and a skid loader, he was able to get her into the stock trailer for the 35-mile trip to the Kansas State University vet school that disastrous morning.
I was at work at a part-time job the day she foaled, helping Dr. Kirk Gray collect and freeze bovine embryos at Cross Country Genetics just west of Manhattan. Harry called me after the initial prognosis, which was pretty desperate, and as soon as I finished for the day, I went to see her. I will never forget that moment when I first laid eyes on her. I bawled my eyes out as I cradled her head and talked to her as she lay there motionless in that cement stall at the vet school. It was determined that her failure to foal was due to the fact that she’d been on a fescue grass diet, which inhibited the production of oxytocin, the hormone necessary to allow milk let down, which in turn triggers the birthing process to begin. We had no idea that fescue would have that effect on a pregnant mare. Harry had been raised with mares and foals in North Dakota and there was no fescue grass in that country; I had never been around a pregnant mare situation in my life. We were totally unaware of the hell we’d put her through the last weeks of her pregnancy…Harry told me her bay colt was beautiful. I never did see him as he went straight to necropsy that day for vet students to cut open and learn on. He was already dead when Harry found him that morning. On the way home from the vet school that evening, I nearly wrecked the car as the tears were just streaming down my face. I still honestly only remember hearing the incessant horn honking. Thank God the other driver was paying attention.
Long story short, May Doc was there for about three weeks I believe. I visited her often. The students loved her. She was one intelligent horse. All the IV fluids, antibiotics, vasodilators, use of a sling to help her stand, urinary catheterization, uterine lavage and antibiotic infusions, hydrotherapy and ointment for her pressure sores used to treat her were successful. I remember the initials DMSO-something that was used in her treatment process. I believe that was an anti-inflammatory treatment. At one of my last visits before we took her home, one of her caregivers, I believe the veterinarian who was the lead on her case, looked at me as I held her halter and she stood before me and said, “I swear this horse understands English! She is so smart!”
Summer was in full swing. The stress of searching out a different environment to continue our ranching operation in 1993, and then May Doc’s foaling catastrophe had me on the ropes. I was down to 110 pounds, and simply going through the motions of chores, childcare, and trying to be a wife. Our children were 10, 7 and our baby had just turned 2. I don’t know how Harry survived that time period…he carried the weight of our move on his shoulders, took care of all of our animals every day, calved our heifers and cows that first spring at Wheaton in an old red decrepit barn with no electricity, held down the fort when I went to my lab tech duties at the embryo transfer company, kept the financial books, and kept his faith. As he was at nearly his wits end with me, he contacted my brother, a family practice MD. We arranged to meet, and it took no time at all for my brother to look me in the eye and say, “Sis, you are living with depression.” That started years of various dosages of varying medications, intermittent counseling, lots of times when I tried to work on it, and lots of times when I just got angry at God and could not understand why my brain was wired so differently from the “normal” person. It’s impossible to get the journey into this entry…not gonna happen. But now you know how it all started. An animal triggered it, and that same animal is still in my life today…
In the few years that followed May Doc’s foaling wreck, additional surgeries were needed to fix tears that occurred during parturition. We opted to take May Doc to a horse specialist veterinarian over at Valley Falls. He did a tremendous job, and my mare was truly back to her old self.
Years passed. I had my May Doc back; a faithful mount, cow savvy, and yet a gentle soul when it came time to give rides to the little ones in our family, as nieces and nephews were being added by both sides at a pretty good clip. We had friends in Iowa who had twins, and they wanted a “bomb-proof” horse for their children so they could learn to ride. At that time in my life, I had another younger horse that my husband had broke and finished for me, and our children either had horses of their own or were seasoned riders, so May Doc, at age 19, spent the next several years teaching Sam and Sally (not their real names) about “everything equine.”
And this spring, on May 1, my May Doc will turn 32 years old. Pretty unbelievable for a horse. She will be coming back to Kansas to our ranch, so she can teach yet another generation of little ones the beauty of God’s most amazing animal. My husband and I have been blessed with nine grandchildren, (a tenth is on the way in August) and the younger seven of them need a “bomb-proof” horse. I am beyond excited to have her back in our lives. God used her to bring my depression to bear twenty-six years ago. It’s been quite a ride. Literally.