The Handsomest Horse I’ll Ever Own

Scruples arrived 43 days after we bought the farm in 2002. I hoped he would be a Cinderella rescue story — a 16’3 Hanoverian with “a lot of chrome.” I’d learn from his many years as a 3-Day-Eventer. He was maybe 21 years old … with arthritis. Good food and care, some supplements and he’d bloom. And he would have a permanent home.

‘Scruples’ had none. He was a stall walker. Gassy. Peed as soon as he came in. Used the tank as his personal Water Pik. The vet and the dentist said he was at least 30. The farrier said I’d learn a lot about older horse issues. A horse mentor told me “those Eventers are really smart.” He was crafty and pushy and kept me on my toes.

Sometimes we saw the talent and grace of his youth, though rarely under saddle. He carried Rachel, Alden, my Dad and even Rus. Riding him was like steering the Titanic sitting in a hard chair. I’m the only one he ever dumped – because I wasn’t paying attention. I always told him he was “the handsomest horse I’d ever own.”

In the end he taught me about living with horses. There were the supplements and medical issues … MSM, devils claw, B&L, Corta-flx. Roaring, hives, heaves, scratches, abscesses, ringbone, puncture wounds, corneal scratches, stitches. There were the feed challenges of keeping a large horse without opposing teeth … 2nd cut hay, soaked hay, hay cubes, hay stretcher, beet pulp, wet grain. 200 pounds a week to hold his weight.

Then there was training me in equine behavior — scary, but things worked out. You can’t call a horse in from running up the road on a winter night. Never underestimate the speed or aerial theatrics of a 1300 lb animal getting ‘big.’ Don’t shake a grain bucket in hip deep snow with a toddler at your side. Standing between a lusty old horse that was “gelded late” and a pretty young filly is risky. Metal barns can be pulled back in shape. Fruit Lifesavers are not as tasty as spearmints.

Most importantly, Scrups taught me to respect his intelligence, size and strength. To always pay attention and anticipate what could happen. That dedication and patience will be rewarded with trust. And he taught me the value of a friend who is always there to greet you and quick to show appreciation, even if it means pushing someone else aside.

On his last day Scruples calmly licked my hands after he found a way to chew his spearmint. He walked quietly out to a favorite corner of the pasture, with only a slow circle and weak whinny to remind me to take care. He came to rest as gently as we’ve ever seen him lie down, near a patch of quidded up grass in the clover, confirming we’d chosen his final resting place well. We’ll plant spearmint next to the big sitting rock that marks his spot.

A friend gave me a beautiful red rose-bush that’s now blooming on his side of the barn.
‘Chrysler Imperial’ will grow “2 to 5 ft high and 2 to 5 ft wide.”

Odds are it will be a big beauty, thorny and sweet — in honor of the handsomest horse I’ll ever own.

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