Home at Last (Lost and Found)
Published in modified form in "America’s Horse"

Mark Crain and his daughter Cherie perched along the rail watching the beautiful horses at the National Western Stock Show hour after hour, year after year, learning the art of showing. They wandered the barns talking to trainers, Cherie petting or brushing horses as trainers came to know her face and invited her to help. At home her room was filled with Breyer horses and Cherie begged her dad to take her out to ride. A rancher had an old gelding that she would ride around a pen and she begged her friends in 4-H to let her ride or groom their horses.

Cherie’s devotion to all things equine and the treasured father-daughter time finally convinced Mark to buy her a first horse, an aged campaigner who had seen many a show ring as well as high mountain trails. With a borrowed truck and trailer, Mark brought the old horse home to a post and wire corral and the radiant smile of a happy eight year old little girl.

Mark borrowed pickups and trailers of all descriptions from many local friends to haul his daughter and her horse to 4-H shows and the county fair and he watched her place dead last with her crisp blouses and her beautiful French braided hair. He told her to keep trying, to never quit showing until she had left the ring. Cherie watched and listened and tried. Finally, at the Archuleta County Fair, Cherie won her classes, one after another, and left the show Grand Champion. She was ready to move up and onward.

It was a frigid February day at the Denver Coliseum when Cherie saw the horse of her dreams at a 4-H Team Judging Competition. Miss A Skippy Sis, nicknamed Baby, was a stunning four year old sorrel Quarter horse mare with a flaxen mane and so well trained that she had qualified for the Quarter Horse World show. Unbelievably, she was for sale.

With a bank loan from their hometown bank and a borrowed trailer, Mark and Cherie brought Baby home. The glow on ten year old Cherie’s face brought joy to her daddy’s heart. Mark built a two stall barn and learned the tricks of buying hay. A year’s worth of hay was a precious thing—it was time to build another barn.

Cherie went on to show Baby for eight years in halter, western pleasure, western riding, trail, English pleasure and equitation, and even soared over a jump or two that Mark had made. They brought home many ribbons. The 4-H program expanded into English riding and Mark remained involved.

Cherie grew up and went off to schools and missions in Africa, Russia and then to Texas. The decision was finally made to sell her very talented mare. A family friend introduced them to a compassionate horse buyer and Baby had a good new home.

Eight more years went by. Cherie was now a wife with children of her own. Her daughter, Josie, began to talk about horses and Cherie wanted her to have the same close contact with a wonderful horse that she enjoyed as a child. She began looking for a perfect kids’ horse and remembered the wonderful mare she had grown up with. Mark traced Baby to a ranch in Durango, Colorado, but it took Cherie four long years to find her mare, now 24 years old, by tracking AQHA transfers. The last owner, however, had not transferred the mare’s registration papers and Cherie thought that she was lost. Many phone calls later, Cherie learned that Baby was only one state away.

When Cherie went to buy Baby back, sight unseen, she found her dull and listless with her ribs and spine sharply visible, but at least she appeared to be sound. he mare had not been faring well on dry pasture, competing with other horses, and Cherie quickly brought her home to her Dad’s house. Mark had built another pen. Cherie called our office for an exam.

When my husband and partner, Dr. Jim Latham, made a farm call to Mark’s house, Baby weighed 955 pounds with a body condition score of 2.5. The mare dropped quids—saliva soaked wads of partially chewed hay, and she left some of her hay spread in her corral. Baby’s manure was intermittently soft, and she drank a lot of water but her eyes were bright. Jim could see one upper cheek tooth missing and another broken and a wave mouth with sharp points. Jim advised lab and dental, and we consulted on her feed.

Slowly Cherie introduced a senior concentrate, a vitamin-mineral-fatty acid supplement, and frequent small feedings of good quality hay. She dewormed her mare with half doses of ivermectin one week apart and then gave her a full dose three weeks later.

But Baby only gained five pounds in the first three weeks. Cherie scheduled Baby’s dental.

We sent in a blood panel and were happy to report that Baby’s blood tests were in the normal range.

With an audience of Cherie and four fascinated kids with millions of questions, Jim carefully sedated the underweight mare and placed the full mouth speculum. We could see two teeth missing, a premolar on the upper left and a molar on the lower right, and one severely worn. Opposing teeth had grown upwards into the gaps, creating a step mouth and a resulting obstruction to grinding. Baby could barely chew. Jim performed careful corrections with his power tools because this old mare’s teeth were no longer growing. The reserve crowns had all been used. Any tooth structure removed at this age would never be replaced. Luckily, Baby had little periodontal disease.

Jim also carefully ground off about one-eighth of an inch from the biting surface of Baby’s long incisors with an elliptical shaped burr. Every few seconds he would irrigate the teeth to keep them cool. An incisor reduction is done to allow the mouth to close more completely when the cheek teeth have worn relatively more than the incisors. Small reductions can bring the molars and premolars into occlusion for better grinding of the feed.

One month later, Baby had gained 56 pounds, her coat shown burnished copper in the sun, and she no longer dropped her feed.

As Mark drove home one evening, Cherie’s daughter, Josie climbed the panel fence. Baby stepped close by and Josie climbed aboard, and stretched out on Baby’s back as the mare cropped grass in the sun. Baby had come home, but she had one more trip to make. The family moved to Ohio where Baby would have a warm box stall at night and acreage to roam in the daytime, but her days were numbered. Baby spent the last year of her life with a family that would always loved her and she gave Josie her first long rides.

When Baby developed a problem with her uterus and urinary incontinence and eventually became uncomfortable with urine scald, Cherie had no choice but to say goodbye one last time. "We miss her very much." It had been a special year.

Baby and Josie
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