The Barbee Ranch

When I was 12 I was already a big boy. About 5′ 7″ 200lbs I could perform manual tasks that most 30 year old men could do, partially because I was so big for my age, but also because my dad believed that manual labor was as important as religion – and he worked me religiously. I remember one time when he bought 200 railroad ties and I had to spend an entire weekend loading them up on a trailer and then unloading them back at our house. We had stacks and stacks of them and dad had many plans for these railroad ties – but that isn’t the point of this post.

Because of my size I got a job on a horse ranch called “The Barbee Ranch”. Barbee came from the owner’s name, Wallace Barbee, an older gentleman who looked like a cross between Kenny Rogers and a garden gnome. He smelled of sweet vanilla tobacco which he smoked in a impressive looking pipe and he always seemed merry like St. Nick.

One thing about Mr. Barbee was that he always gave me jobs that I really wasn’t old enough to handle. For instance, at just 12 he allowed me to drive his new cadillac up the highway about 4 miles to pick up feed for the horses, he once had me drive an old standard Ford pickup truck, that didn’t belong to him, to the store to buy milk, and lastly he asked me to whip a horse that was mis-behaving while he wormed it and in return I got a swift kick in the leg.

Most of these were tasks that I handled without too much anxiety, but then one day he asked of me a task I couldn’t perform…

It was cold and rainy for about a week and so we had to put 2 pregnant horses in the round pen because we wanted to make sure they were close in case there were any problems with the delivery. If you have never seen a horse give birth then you might not know that sometimes those big baby calves get stuck and it is not only life-threatening for the baby, but also for the momma. So with the pregnant horses in the round pen I left for the day expecting to see new babies in the near future.

That night it rained and rained and I dreaded going into work the next morning. My rubber work boots always got caked with mud and manure and I went home smelling like years of horse dung suddenly resurrected by buckets of rain.

I went to the door to Mr. Barbee’s house to let him know that I was there as was my usual custom. He greeted me at the door with a rather somber look on his face and said, “Hey Eddie, I need you to do something, but you can say no if you’d like… I won’t mind if you need to say no….” I was a little nervous because Mr. Barbee never qualified a request, he always just told me what to do and I did it. He continued, “One of the mares gave birth to a baby last night and it appears that it might have gotten stepped on and it looks like it is brain damaged. We really need to put it down and if you could take a hammer and knock it in the head it would probably be best.”

You have to remember that I am only 12 years old. I have been cleaning stalls and driving cars and helping horses mate and give birth. I have seen babies and placenta. I have been bitten and kicked and stepped on and scared. I have been bucked and thrown. Most of these experiences were frightening, but most definitely not traumatic. This last request of Mr. Barbee’s would most definitely be traumatizing.

Of course I declined his request and he said he would take care of it later and not to worry about it. He closed the door and I immediately raced over to the round pen. There in the mud and the muck was a small brown baby colt half buried in the mud and water. It wasn’t dead. No, it was worse, much worse. Instead of laying there it’s legs were moving at breakneck speed as if were dreaming that it was in a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream, instead it was a sad nightmare.

The rain continued to fall, it’s cold drops pelting against my yellow raincoat. The rest of the world seemed to stop, but the little horse kept on running.

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