A few days ago, I visited my friend Sunny the Palomino. I hadn’t been down the dune for a few weeks, and I was shocked at how skinny he was.
He’s a big horse. I’m 5’7″ and his withers are about five feet high. When he walked away I saw streaks of dried diarrhea down his hind legs. And the big strong muscles that had carried me around the arena all those months ago had atrophied.
After feeding him several chopped carrots, I high-tailed it back up the dune to the ranch where I live, mowing down scrub chaparral as I went. I was furious and scared.
There’s a board listing phone numbers of the humans responsible for each horse. I don’t see Jamie’s name on it. I knock on the ranch owner’s door, but no answer.
Judy is down below, getting Jetson ready to ride. She asks how I am.
“Well,” I said, “not good. Sunny looks to be in bad shape. He’s even skinnier than the last time I saw him, and that was too skinny.”
I’d been telling P, the ranch owner, about Sunny for months. “There’s nothing Jamie can do about it,” she’d say, which usually pissed me off, but also shut me up. Sunny’s not my horse, he “belongs” to Jamie. And Sunny’s new digs belong to L, who has a lonely pony. Sunny’s there for company, and for L to ride. Her place is immaculate, which initially reassured me, knowing Sunny lived in a cleaner space.
“I’m frustrated,” I tell Judy, “I don’t know what to do.”
Next thing I know, Judy and I are bushwhacking down the dune back to Sunny’s. She’s been around horses longer than I have. Maybe I’m overreacting.
“Wow,” she says, “you can see his tail bone. And look at those hollows.” She points to his hindquarters.
“He used to look like Jetson,” I say.
“I don’t like that red eye either,” she says.
“That’s new,” I say.
We bushwhack back to the ranch.
P is there now, and chastises Judy for leaving Jetson with his saddle on.
I interrupt. “We’ve just been down to see Sunny. He’s even skinnier than before. I want to call Jamie. What’s his number?”
She shifts her weight, looks away, says, “There’s nothing Jamie can do about it.”
“You don’t know that,” I say as calmly as I can. “You’re not Jamie. You can’t speak for him. What if Magic were sick?” Magic’s “her” horse. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”
After half an hour of listening to how “delicate the situation is” (she brokered Sunny’s housing deal), P finally agrees to give me Jamie’s number. She invites me inside the ranch house, and we call him. No answer. P leaves a message.
I look out the picture window at the Pacific ocean. The sea is rough and choppy, but the sky is clear. “I am afraid that one day I will go down there,” I say, “and Sunny will be dead. If you saw him you would cry.”
“I don’t want to see him,” says P, on the verge of tears.
What kept me sitting there listening to P hem and haw instead of screaming and yelling is that the stakes are so high. If I continue to do nothing, if I continue to politely go away when P says there’s nothing anyone can do, then I become a contributing factor to Sunny’s death.
I am listening for a solution. Because there must be one. And I am not going anywhere until I hear it.
After listening a little longer I say, “How about if I talk to L? Without you?” L is one of P’s best friends. Her husband is P’s doctor. “I’m a stranger, we’ve no history, I have nothing to lose.”
P agrees, so I hike back down the dune.
Sunny, as usual, is happy to see me. I am an asshole for not insisting sooner, for listening to all the excuses, for making several of my own: not my horse, not my house, not my business. Total bullshit. He is a friend of mine, therefore his health is my business.
I ring the doorbell on the immaculate, beautiful house. The dog is barking, but we’ve met before, his name is Emmett (same as my best friend), so I’m not worried.
“Who is it!”
“Elizabeth, Sunny’s friend,” I say through the crack in the door.
L opens the door wider, bent over to hold Emmett’s collar. Both are scowling.
I drop my gaze. This ain’t the time to be confrontational. Over Emmett’s barking, I say, “I’m worried about Sunny.” I explain about his weight loss in such a short period of time.
“We feed him,” she says. “He was skinny when he got here.” Of course she’s defensive. I remember when someone called animal control on my Emmett instead of talking to me to find out that we’d been to six vets and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
I crouch down so this other Emmett can smell my hand and remember that he knows me. He immediately stops barking and wags his tail enthusiastically. Lick lick lick.
“I want to help,” I say to L from dog level. “Please let me help.”
Eventually L admits that she’s worried too; she’s been thinking about calling the vet. As Emmett runs rings around us, she takes me to where the food is kept. It’s quality oat/alfalfa cubes and senior horse pellets. (Sunny’s probably 25 or so, no one knows for sure.) So the food supply is good and plentiful. One worry down.
P’s theory, that I’ve been hearing every time I tell her that Sunny is skinny and won’t she please go look at him, is that Sunny needs to be fed separately. That since he’s a slow eater with bad teeth, he doesn’t get enough calories.
I venture this theory to L. “Maybe we could separate them for meals?” She nods, points out the halters hanging on the side of the shed. I grab one to bring Sunny down to the corral. He helpfully puts his nose in the halter, just like old times. L fills a wheelbarrow full of cubes, adds water, and wheels it in. Sunny immediately scarfs down. When he lifts his head occasionally to look at us, his lips drip green goo.
While we walk and work, I listen. Mornings are hard for L and her husband because they both work.
Aha. “I’m up at sunrise every day,” I say. “I could come down here after I feed Cisko.”
“Sure,” I say, “I’m up anyway. Let’s try it for a week, see if it helps.”
So we work out a deal: I’ll feed Sunny and her pony Allie in the mornings. If they are together, I’ll separate them (there’s an arena and a corral). L and her husband will feed at night. “You just got yourself a free stable hand,” I say.
She laughs and shakes my hand.”God bless you.”
Because I was able to remember the stakes — Sunny’s health — I did not stomp in like a righteous sumbitch casting aspersions and making demands. But as I told Judy later, “The sun was not going to set without a solution. There must be a change today.”
I was done with excuses, mine and theirs. Done with humans. But fortunately I am human, so I can communicate with them. Because Sunny can’t. And he’s my friend.