To say that our New Year's Eve did not go as planned would be an understatement. We started the day with a farm full of healthy, happy horses. We ended the day with the loss of Thor. His loss came out of the blue with literally no warning, and at that this point it would be safe to say that both us and his owner are still in shock. In all of our years of running a retirement farm this is only the third time where a horse has simply gone from healthy to gone in an instant.
Thor and his mom
Ironically Thor had actually seen the vet earlier in the day for a minor injury to one of his hind legs. We had kept Thor in a stall to keep him from further aggravating his leg and he had let us know his displeasure about our decision by pawing at the door anytime we were in the barn aisle. We stopped by the barn after having dinner with my mom to hand out some carrots and all was well. While we were there Thor ate his carrot and took a big drink from his water bucket. He could not have been more normal.
enjoying a nap
grazing with friends
We went to the house to change clothes and went back to the barn a little over thirty minutes later to do our final night check to top off water buckets and pick stalls. We were beyond shocked when we saw that Thor, whom we had just fed carrots thirty minutes earlier, was dead in his stall. He was laying down looking very peaceful and there were no signs of a struggle. Whatever happened it was thankfully instantaneous.
playing with Merlin
Thor and Fabrizzio
Jason and I had a few moments of stunned silence as we both attempted to process what had happened. Once we recovered some of our faculties Jason immediately called our vet who was shocked when we told him what had happened. I called Thor's mom and in my struggle to tell her why I was calling promptly burst into tears and lost almost all ability to string together a coherent sentence. Even as I type this 48 hours later the thought that keeps going through my mind is "but I just fed him a carrot."
waiting for dinner to be served
grazing with friends
Thor and his mom met each other eight years ago. She had decided to return to riding after a 15 year hiatus. As she told me, her kids had reached the age where it was no longer cool to be seen with her at the mall. She was determined not to become a helicopter parent and started taking riding lessons at a local barn.
Thor looking like a ghost horse in the morning fog as the sun was rising
trotting through the pasture with a purpose
Thor, a 17 hand Holsteiner/Thoroughbred cross, was the very first horse she rode as she re-entered the riding world. Thor's owner at the time had taken ownership of him as repayment for a debt that had been owed. His owner rarely came to the barn so she allowed them to use Thor in lessons.
being playful with Walden and Merlin
more playtime with Lightening, Fabrizzio and Walden
Thor's mom began to ride him regularly and when his owner decided to sell him in 2005 his mom did not hesitate to buy him. She had no plans to buy a horse at the time but she knew that she wanted to be Thor's person. So she decided she was going to make it happen and in 2005 she became Thor's mom.
napping with Fabrizzio and Walden
Thor and Walden
Thor's mom had always had a passion for dressage so she began working with a dressage trainer. She found that although Thor tried very hard and had a great work ethic he got worried and nervous very easily. Their first few experiences at dressage shows really brought Thor's insecurities to the surface. She realized she was going to need to do more than simply take dressage lessons with Thor and began to seek out ways to help him be more confident in both himself and her when he became worried.
running through the pasture with Lightening
grazing with Snappy, Noble and Merlin
His mom began studying and learning the Parelli system with Thor. She and Thor developed a very strong relationship on the ground which translated to their dressage work under saddle. After five years of partnering with each other Thor began to struggle at times with the hind end engagement needed to do dressage work. She decided that Thor had more than earned his retirement and set out to find him the perfect retirement home which was how we came to meet them.
Thor and friends enjoying their retirement
Thor joined us from Florida almost three years ago. I have to admit that as soon as I heard about all of the natural horsemanship work she and Thor had done through the Parelli programs part of me wondered just what type of ground manners we could expect. Through the years I have learned to have my inner radar go on alert when I hear the terms natural horsemanship, parelli, or anything similar. This is because the horses we meet who are supposedly products of these programs have either the best or the worst ground manners imaginable, there seems to be no middle ground.
fall grazing with Lightening, Fabrizzio, Merlin and Walden
running through the pasture with O'Reilly and Lucky
When Thor walked off the trailer after his 12 hour ride any concerns I had about his manners were immediately put to rest. Thor had the most perfect manners of any horse we have ever worked with. He was a total gentleman about everything from grooming to standing for the farrier to loading on a trailer. He was always very attentive and attuned to whomever was handling him and he had the patience of a saint.
grazing with Walden and Lucky
Fabrizzio, Merlin, Walden and Thor
There was only one set of circumstances where Thor was ever anything other than the perfect horse. Thor was always very easy to catch in the pasture with one exception. Through the years we learned that trying to catch Thor when it was wet and windy meant we were going to have to hoof it around the pasture for a few minutes until Thor decided he'd had enough fun and was ready to be caught. He would channel his inner wild child and gallop and cavort his way around the pasture saying "catch me if you can." However once he decided he was ready to be caught perfect Thor would return and he would stop galloping around, walk over to you, and shove his head in the halter.
enjoying a dusty roll
Thor was very self confident in his interactions with other horses so he had a very easy transition to life on our farm. When we were first introducing him to his new pasture mates Thor walked out in the pasture and pretty much took over. Jason's comment as we watched was "there is a new boss in town and his name is Thor." He was the perfect leader as he was what we referred to as a benign ruler. He never snarked at other horses just because he could and believed in diplomacy first. However if diplomacy didn't work Thor had no issues reminding anyone that he could and would lay down the law. If he were a person he would have been a legendary Secretary of State and had countless books written about him.
Snappy, Thor and O'Reilly
Lucky and Thor
Thor was so perfect at balancing diplomacy with dominance that on a few occasions we partnered him up with new residents that were having a really hard time learning social skills. We would put Thor in a temporary paddock with the social newbie and Thor would teach them how to be a horse. It was amazing how quickly he could get them comfortable and confident. This is a role that very few horses can fill. It has to be a horse that is self confident enough to be separated from their friends, dominant enough to teach the newcomer about social hierarchies and finding their place in the group, yet kind enough to do so without scaring them. Thor was a master at this.
Thor spent a week in a temporary paddock teaching Merlin how to function as part of horse society.
Once Merlin realized Thor was never rude for no reason he quickly started getting comfortable being around other horses and learning all of the social niceties.
Walden, Fabrizzio and Thor
His passing was so sudden and unexpected that it still does not seem real to us. Selfishly I have also wondered who will fill Thor's role of teaching and transitioning any new horses that need one on one learning from another horse. He has certainly left some big shoes to fill.
It was a true pleasure getting to know Thor and his mom over the last three years. He certainly made the most of his time with us and spent his days with his friends grazing, playing, grooming and napping. In the end Thor gave as much back to us in his patient teaching of newcomers as we gave to him. His presence on our farm was a true asset and in many ways feels irreplaceable. Thor had a way of quietly making his mark on the world both with people and horses. Although I wish our time with him could have been longer I am thankful that we had the opportunity to know him and learn from him as we watched him mentor other horses.
Rest in peace Thor, we miss you.