High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
An Ode to Shasta
This is a story about people and animals. David and Cathy Schmeer live just outside Inyokern on a little ranch with some horses and a variety of other animals. Now the Schmeers are the kind of folks who make all their animals a part of their family. Cathy's favorite was a horse called Shasta. He was a white horse and he was a good and faithful steed. Recently, Shasta breathed his last and had to be put away. What follows is a story about Shasta and the part he played in Dave and Cathy's lives. It is an ode to his memory.
About A Horse
When I was a child, my grandfather worked out here on our somewhat extensive military installation. In those days, it was called N.O.T.S. Part of that base property includes a range of mountains where a number of mustang herds roam free. From the time I was old enough to have stories read to, he would tell me stories about the wild horses on the ranges and a white one in particular. I would sit and look at the mountains and dream of this wild white horse and how someday he would be mine.
When I was about 7 years old, I saw a movie at our local theater, The Ridge, called "Snowfire". It was the story of a little girl named Molly, who was the only one who could tame this wild white stallion that lived near her ranch. They communicated in a special way and long story short, Snowfire and Molly live happily ever after. So it fueled this dream. Often while sitting in class at Las Flores Elementary School, I would be gazing out the window picturing this white horse galloping onto the playground and I would run outside and climb on his back and ride away. In those days, you could see all the way to the airfield from the classroom windows. Then the sound of the teacher's voice (“Miss PADGETT!”) would penetrate the daydream and I would be reprimanded to pay attention. Looking back again, the horse would be gone and there would only be schoolwork to do.
I never outgrew the love of horses, though I am sure my parents hoped I would. I pretended horses when other little girls were playing hopscotch. I made paper horses and barns when other little girls were making paper dolls. When I reached junior high and other little girls were daydreaming about boys, I daydreamed about boys who had horses. :) Cowboys were always my heroes, and part of that was because my grandfather, a pure Texan, had also cowboyed in his earlier days and had a love of good horses. And at the age of 17, my dad finally decided I was not likely to outgrow this love and he bought me my first horse. Which is a whole other story.
When I bought Shasta in 1990, it was probably primarily because he was a white mustang. He was the dream. And it turned out, he had been owned by a number of other people before me who were actually afraid of him. I did not know his history until much later after he and I had become inseparable. This horse loved me and I loved him. And he didn't behave very happily for anyone but me. He tolerated my husband in those early days and my husband actually learned to teamrope on him. As did I. That horse loved to chase steers! But ultimately, Shasta and I belonged to each other and there is nothing we haven't done together. We have rounded up cattle, team-roped, team penned, done gymkhana and climbed mountain trails and crossed deserts together. Every morning I would look out my window first thing, looking for him. He would hear the door open and whinny when he saw me coming.
David working on team roping with Shasta
Cathy riding Shasta over a low jump
Over these years, he has survived a number of serious health crisis that on more than one occasion the vets told me he would not survive, including liver failure. But I would then pray for him and ask God what to do. Changing his diet, feeding him supplements and herbs for various things, God gave me 10 years more than many thought were possible. He was about 36 years old by the vet's most conservative estimates. That means, when he was born out there on the ranges, I was still that little girl daydreaming of the wild white horse.
This last month, he developed a breathing difficulty which the vet believed was a tumor mass that was spreading in his trachea. But he was hungry and alert and the vet just told me to feed him and give him fresh water and hope that when he was ready, he would simply not wake up one morning. Clearly he thought that would be easiest for me. I guess I was already grieving before this last week. But nonetheless, it was an awful day. Shasta came to the corner of his pen on Wednesday afternoon near my bedroom and was making the most awful sounds. I ran to him and was very frightened to find him in respiratory distress. He was struggling so and laying his head on my shoulder and clearly asking me to help him. I managed to call on my phone for help and got hold of my vet who is 2 hours away. He suggested some medication to help him relax, but other than that he could do nothing. I was able to get hold of our friends, Dan and Callie, and they were here right behind my husband to help. I was completely lost, trying so hard not to face this moment.
In the end, with my husband there and our good friends, I was sitting on the ground with his head in my lap. And I made the hardest decision of my life. My friend, Callie, called a local vet who is usually very hard to get a hold of but miraculously was able to be there in 30 minutes. I knew he would hang on for me and keep trying to get up for me, and that his heart being the only thing left that was really strong, he would suffer for a long time. I let the vet give him the shots that ended it all as I held him. And on either side of his pen, the other 3 horses stood quietly as if knowing the import of this sad moment in our lives.
Cathy and Shasta
Shasta at Home
We buried him Wednesday night, also with the help of our friend, Dan. Dan placed him with his head pointed toward my window and a flake of hay and 4 new horseshoes. He was wearing his blue halter and one of my t-shirts to cover his eyes to keep the dirt from them and 2 pictures of him and I with his name, so that if 50 or 100 years from now, someone were to find him, they will know who he is and that he was loved. And I am going to write this story for him as I had already planned to do in a series of stories I am writing about our ranch and the many animal stories that happen here all the time. But this story will be the one that has my heart. This story is the one that is the happiest and the most profound in all that I have learned from him and all that he gave to me.
David and I have our three other horses as well. One Thoroughbred gelding named Bid, and two quarter horse mares, Rosie and Dolly. They are each special and we love them all immensely. But Shasta was so special in so many ways that goes beyond my normal love of animals. For him, I was his heart and for me, he was mine. He confirmed to me something I always knew. That the bond you can have with animals can be very special and sometimes God sends you special ones that are sort of like guardian angels in your life. They possess wisdom and loyalty and love that we could all learn from. I actually believe that relationships with animals make us better people with other people. I think it might have been Will Rogers or maybe even Will James, who once said, never trust a person who doesn't love an animal. Shasta would agree with that.
Cathy and the power rake
Shasta, CAT and Emma
Shasta at home in his corral. He often had friends come to visit. See pictures below.
Shasta the Gentlemanly horse meets Emma the Princess!!!
Ben Yeakey drops in from up North in Washington to visit with Shasta the patient horse.