Pepper’s Journal

April 5, 2010

A year ago January, I made the decision to put down my Appaloosa, Pepper. He was only with me a short while (just under two years), but during that time, he taught me more about horses than any other horse I’d owned, ridden, or loved.

Then a few months ago, the training journal I’d kept was lost in a computer crash (stupid of me not to back it up). I’ve been thinking a lot about the event that lead up to keeping the journal and have decided to blog about Pepper, my new guy, Jigs, and our experiences.

Pepper was a tortured soul. He was in pain the whole time I owned him due to Uveitis. Like a high percentage of Appaloosas, he suffered from ERU. It’s a genetic fault, I believe, painful and not easy to treat. Most of the Appys who get it go blind.

He was also blind on the left side. The eye specialist at Tufts said his lens was sitting at the bottom of his eye. Most likely it was from a blow to the head. He had a deep muscle scar on his neck on the left side. Somewhere, somewhen,  someone abused him terribly.

Trust was an issue. Pepper did not like humans. He was withdrawn at best. And he had episodes of dangerous aggression. He attacked me, fellow boarders, without provocation, and from behind. He would be fine one moment and then lash out with no warning. I have a few scars. (And he liked me)

So I found a great trainer and we worked with him to gain trust. He did become a more respectful and I a better horse owner. He learned a few tricks and respect. For the most part, we had a good relationship.

Pepper was a WONDERFUL trail horse. Our last ride together was in the snow along the railroad tracks. We cantered and galloped for a few miles, both enjoying the rush of cold and the heat of sweat that morning.

But his demons got the better of him. Later that day he brutally attacked me, pinned me on the ground and held me down until one of the mares chased him off me. Three days latter, he savagely bit another boarder. It was then, I decided that he was no longer safe.

Responsible horse ownership.

So much is discussed(argued) about the unwanted horse problem. Slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico. Starvation and neglect. How many ads do you see trying to sell a horse “sadly outgrown?” How does one ‘outgrow’ a living being? Why is it okay to use up a horse and then pass it on?

I remember the day I got the call that Pepper attacked someone else. I was on my way to a meeting when I saw I had a voice mail. It was the barn manager telling me about the attack. I immediately called back. In my heart, I knew I had no choice. Putting him down was the kindest thing I could do for him. A gentle death. No more pain.

The next day I spoke with the vet. While she didn’t tell me what to do, she listened and was supportive. Later I found out she thought I’d made the right decision.

Pepper’s aggression surfaced the first day I got him. He had little patience with being lead and required a strong hand. That night, he bit the barn owner. I would have returned him but when I called the stable I got him from, they told me to hit him with a broom handle if he tried to bite again. I couldn’t send him back. It felt wrong.

So I hired a trainer to work with me and with him, but her techniques were more aggressive than I could be. Then I found Gwen. For a good part of a year, Pepper and I put a decent relationship together. We went on rides; taught each other tricks. We both had fun.

I moved him to a more relaxed barn where he could be outside all the time with a larger herd. He adjusted quickly and seemed content.

I hoped he would stay happy and comfortable but his eyesight got worse. He spooked easily and turned more aggressive. Even with me. It didn’t matter. His behavior was erratic. After attacking me and then another boarder, I  had to do the right thing for him.

I could have passed him on. I could have sent him to auction. But he was not going to get better. He was broken on the inside. One day, he would seriously hurt someone, or himself. I owed him for what he had given me. He taught me about respect. About setting boundaries.  About responsibility. The least I could do was give him peace.

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