For the Best

By Kristi Daling

Sometimes the most amazing and marvelous things of this life can never be explained by the simple words of human languages. They would be better left to the infallible expressions of emotions. Babe was one of those things. From the day that my eyes first held her gaunt, repulsive form to the day that I finally hung my arms about her neck and felt her tired, gentle soul slip away, she was my everything. She was my reason for living. Even now, her precious memory is still my motivation for enjoying the everyday transition of life.
The first day I saw her was a warm, kind summer day in Western Washington. I was out on summer break from school and, like your average 15 year old, had nothing better to do than to help my riding instructor cavort about Puget Sound to collect several horses he had obtained for his school. It was on the final stop of that long day that I met Babe. Our mission concerning her was a mission of mercy. Babe and her companion, Hud, had been virtually abandoned in their field. This field was immense, divided in two by a small stream. Scraggly grass grew in patches everywhere and there was a large amount of weeds, mostly enormous blackberry brambles and poisonous plants, that made the field look as though it was uninhabited. A large amount of fresh manure and recent hoof prints told a different story. It took several minutes to find the horses we searched for in the mess of a field, and once they lay in our sight, it was almost impossible to not blanch with repulsion.
Hud was the larger and healthier of the two, despite his advanced age. We guessed he is about thirty-five. He was a shaggy brown grade draft horse with an unchecked pituitary gland problem. As a result, his hooves were falling apart in their shoes and his long shaggy coat wasn't natural, but instead what he had failed to shed at winter's end, perhaps from a winter years ago.
Babe was a small brown mare with sad, melancholy eyes and a tired, hanging head. Every bone stood out in full detail on her wasted sides and scabs, most of them dripping pus, covered her back and the lower part of what would have been her mane. The scabs were caused by the itching of a severe and unnoticed fly allergy, something that must have tormented her day in and day out.
Hud's outlook was not so bad, but poor Babe's outlook appeared truly grim. To bring her back to health, she would need daily care and who would be willing and capable to look after her each and every day? Who would want to waste so much time on trying to heal a potentially useless horse that was terribly repulsive to the sight? The answer was me. I promised with all sincerity to put my time into caring for her and in exchange, she would become my horse, my Baby.
With a diligence and love that may never be surmounted, I cared for Babe each and every hot summer day. The first week alone was a grim one with many questions as to whether Babe would live much longer, but as the days passed by slowly, Babe's chances of survival rocketed. Each and every day I was applying ointment to her scabs and sprayed her with fly spray to keep away the pesky bugs. More than that, each day, I gave her a good grooming, lots of love, and a handful of grain or a carrot as a treat. As the weeks passed slowly, her tired head perked up, her sides began to fill out, and her scabbed back began to heal. Soon, she was paying attention to everything in sight (I mean EVERYTHING) and displaying the level of energy of a foal. It seemed as though she were making up for her lost time and enjoying her life once more.
Yet for all the spunkiness we found her to have, she was still a gentle soul inside. I can remember the time that Renegade, a proud-cut appaloosa gelding, took one of our students back from a trail ride at a fast clip. He had every intention of running right into the arena but found Babe, who was in the cross ties at the entrance of the arena, in the way. Knowing I couldn't prevent a collision, I quickly got out of the way, expecting the worst from both horses. But when Renegade ran right into Babe's back end, Babe just sidestepped and waited for me to settle the situation and get the frightened girl off the giddy gelding's back. Babe didn't even show any sign of being frightened or angry. That rider remembers that day, and Babe, with affection. It was her first real adventure on horseback.
And then there was Misty. The twenty-eight year old mare had never been accepted by the other horses and therefore had to be kept apart. When we finally got Babe to leave Hud, since she wouldn't at first, we put her in with Misty. They were instant friends. Whenever one went somewhere without the other, they would neigh for each other. Misty, also the victim of neglect, enjoyed that portion of her life more, I'm sure, that she had ever enjoyed the latter portion of her hard life.
Soon after that, we began using Babe for junior classes with the little kids, part for the gentleness she showed towards children and part because that was all the weight we would trust on her poor back. She didn't care much but the kids loved her. Some students would even help me slather her back in sticky ointment. Everyone loved Babe. They came to me for reports on her health and each time I'd tell them how much better she was getting with pride.
More weeks passed slowly, each day in succession of the last. Babe and I spent most of our time together and if I wasn't actually with her, I would watch her grazing in the pasture, content to just lay my eyes on her. By then, it didn't matter to me that she was still ugly and scrawny, I loved her deeply. She was my everything, my life, my one good deed. Even thinking of her made my face turn up. She had courage and perseverance, two traits I loved in her. She was my Baby.
It was at the end of each day, when I held Babe's head on my shoulder, patting her scraggly neck, that I swear I could feel the way she felt. She told me how happy she was to be here, with me, with all these horses and caring people. She told me how wonderful I had made her life. We loved each other only too much, my Baby and I.
It was September and school started again. This fall I would start tenth grade. Meanwhile, Babe got even better. Early on, her winter coat began to come in as a silky mass of reddish brown fur. The few scabs that remained on her back quickly disappeared with this onslaught of hair. The only remaining signs of her previous hardships were her still thin sides. Babe became a horse again that month. Soon, it was hoped that we could begin using her for real riding and not just the junior classes. However, that was never to be.

The words echoed through my mind when I heard them that cold, September day. They taunted me when their painful meaning struck me. Babe had colic. Something so common was a terribly serious threat to one so old, thin and weak as herself. She had been found Sunday morning down in the mud, writhing in pain. Throughout the early hours of the morning, she had suffered, wasting away with every minute that passed.
As soon as I heard the terrible news, I rushed out to see her, praying for her safety and knowing deep down it would all be in vain. Baby raised her tired head when I entered the stables that day as she always had done in the past but her wilting, pained body was unmistakably obvious. The task of comforting her drew me like a magnet as it always had and immediately I set about trying to console her.
I soothingly stroked her smooth neck and looked into her kind, expressive eyes. The pain I saw in those eyes was like a dagger in my gut being twisted back and forth. Baby, my Baby was here, suffering before my eyes and all I could do was sit there, stroking her side and longing for her safety. I couldn't even stay the night with her since another long school day loomed over my head and soon I had to head home to my utter dismay. I desperately didn't want to leave Babe, but I had no choice.
Late that night, I woke up suddenly and inexplicably. A peaceful calm seemed to permeate my room and enveloped me in its warmth. Through a dim, sleepy mind, I understood that Babe had died then, peaceful and content only a matter of minutes before. I knew then deep in my mind what had happened but it wasn't until later when I came home from school that the whole truth struck me. That whole day I cried for her, for my Baby. Her image echoed in my mind, teasing me with its realism. But Baby was gone. I would never see her again.
We all missed Babe through those first few weeks after her death. Trying to explain to the kids in the junior classes what had happened was the worst. If someone would even mention her name, I would break out in tears.
Misty missed her companion also, only too much. Exactly two weeks to the day after Babe died, Misty came down with colic. She lasted only one day longer, but right before we had to put her down, she painfully walked over to the pasture where she and Babe had spent their time. Once there, she lifted her head, put her ears forward, and I'm sure she wanted to neigh, though the tube in her throat prevented her. It was Babe she was looking for, trying to figure out what had happened to her. I know it was Babe she saw in her mind as her own life slipped away.
Now, a half a year past then, I smile at Babe's memory. We had only been together for two months, but those two months were the best for both of us. She taught me many things about the nature of life, many things I couldn't explain even if I tried. She also taught me how to understand exactly what a horse is thinking, something that often surprises even my riding instructor who trusts me with handling the most troublesome of horses.
In return, I gave Babe the dignified end to her hard life that every living creature deserves. Nothing could have been better. I don't regret Babe's death anymore, and any tears that I may shed for her are in happiness, not sadness. At least Babe didn't die out there all alone and in total pain. That I am very grateful for. Perhaps, in the end, it was all for the best.

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