A Love Story
1964 - 1969
A long time ago, in a place called the Garden State, a little girl jumped out of the car, grabbed her father's hand and dragged him to where the horses were waiting to be auctioned off.
She ran from pen to pen touching the horses and wishing she could have one of her own some day.
League City, Texas
Forty-plus years later, that little girl was still waiting for her horse. She learned about Habitat for Horses in Galveston, Texas, sent in her volunteer paperwork and waited to hear from them. She wanted to help. Finally, the call came, and she was out the door and on her way to the ranch. There she found herself surrounded by horses that had stories of their own to tell. This is the story of three of those horses and a little girl’s wish coming true in an unexpected way.
I looked around the ranch at all the unwanted horses, unable to comprehend how or why their owners had thrown away such beautiful animals. More baffling was how someone could starve or neglect an animal on which Jesus himself would be returning to earth.
I had four teachers at the ranch. Beth, Vicki and Jamie. It was Tecs, however, who taught me the greatest lesson of all.
I reported to the feed room and introduced myself to Beth, who was busy filling feed bowls for more than 60 horses. She handed me a stack of feed bowls and told me to follow Jamie, who explained how the feed bowl system worked. Top bowl starts here and the last bowl ends there. Easy enough I thought, until I tried to enter my first pen. A large sorrel pushed his face down into the bowl with such force that I almost dropped it.
Food was distributed and bowls retrieved for cleaning as horses were set loose to roam the ranch. My next job was to fill water buckets. That was when I first met Tecs and Noel. Tecs walked up to the barrel I was filling and began licking the salt block beside it. He was skinny guy and not all that attractive. Noel was a much bigger horse that followed closely behind Tecs. His knees were knobby and he walked slowly as if in terrible pain. I reached out to Tecs, and he let me rub his neck. I reached out for Noel, but he immediately backed away.
It rained that day so I went home wrapped in a beach towel because my jeans were soaked and filthy. I was as happy as anyone one person could be. I had spent a day with horses.
On day two, I had my first horsemanship class with Beth. I was thrilled to be learning about these majestic creatures. Day two was also the day when Tecs started following me around. As I filled water buckets, he came up looking for cookies. Noel, following, would take a few, provided there was no touching.
As the days turned into weeks, I fell in love with Tecs. Noel would let me put cream on his knees, but any other touching was still a slow process. They were an inseparable pair in spite of their very different personalities. I learned that Noel was so depressed that his very survival was in question. His former best friend, a horse named Natasha, had been fostered out of the ranch. Tecs, who had been seized from a family that wasn’t feeding him, took Noel under his wing and provided the “stand-in” companionship he desperately needed.
I spent a little over two months at the ranch and then put in adoption papers for both Tecs and Noel. I wasn’t going to be responsible for breaking up their friendship.
My husband, Alfred, stopped by the ranch to meet the boys and look at the fence. We were going to have to put one up at our recently purchased property in Hopkins County before they arrived. That's when Moose came into the picture. He adopted Alfred, as Tecs had adopted me. More papers were filled out. I had gone from no horses to three!
Hopkins County, Texas
As our moving day approached, I had to deal with leaving the boys behind until a fence and barn could be built. Alfred and I worked on the fence for two weeks and the barn finally arrived on September 9. The boys arrived on September 11 and I was filled with joy as they walked off the trailer into their forever home with us.
Hurricane Ike was due to make landfall on September 13, and I was thankful that the boys would not have to endure the harsh weather that would hit the Habitat ranch. The trip north from Galveston County to Hopkins County had been a long one. Evacuation traffic had them on the road for more than 10 hours. Tecs stood close to weak-kneed Noel helping him stay on his feet.
Tecs, who was famous for eating anything, didn't eat his dinner that first night. Not to worry, I thought, it was a long trip. He'll eat in the morning. The morning came, but he was not my Tecs. I called the vet who was out on an emergency, but came over as soon as he could, around 9:00 a.m. He gave Tecs a shot and suggested I give him some time to settle in. Friday came and went with Tecs nibbling some grass, but eating no food. Saturday morning I call the vet again. He came and put a tube through Tecs nose and into his stomach to expel gas. Again, I was told, he would be fine.
Ike hit us that night and the rain flooded the barn. Alfred and I dug trenches around it, but nothing worked. I stayed with Tecs until 10:00 p.m., but I was exhausted from the previous nights of sitting in the barn and not sleeping. I prayed a mighty prayer before falling into a restless sleep in my bed.
At 5:00 a.m. Sunday, I ran to the barn to check on everyone. My beautiful boy was dead! I fell on my knees and grabbed his face hoping he would wake up. I ran to the house for Alfred. With tears streaming down my face, I tripped on the porch stairs and fell in a sobbing heap. Tecs was dead and I wasn't with him. “Oh God, what did I do wrong? Why did you do this? Why?”
I knew I had to pull myself together to feed Noel and Moose. I returned to the barn and with tears still falling, put out their food. I tried to console Noel, but he pulled away as always. Moose was comic relief as he ate and found busy work to do—checking pockets and chasing the dogs. Alfred came and we wrapped Tecs in two tarps. Grief engulfed me as the rain had engulfed our new home. I was drowning.
Tecs deserved a decent burial. I called Dr. Allen to see if he knew someone with a backhoe. He couldn't believe that Tecs had died, and only knew of the animal disposal company.
“Tecs was treated like garbage once before, he will never be treated like garbage again,” I replied.
I drove around the area looking for a backhoe in someone's backyard. In tears I waved down a man coming out of his driveway, “Do you know anyone with a backhoe?” He took my phone number so he could forward it to a friend.
We buried Tecs at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning, September 15, and that's when Noel started his vigil. Every sunrise and sunset, he stood at Tecs’ grave. It was the only time he would let me put my arm around his neck as I told him, “I will take care of you forever. Tecs loved you and I love you too.”
Poor Noel walked with his head down, nose dripping and tears running down his face. I called the vet and he came and gave Noel a shot of antibiotic. Nothing changed. He was depressed again, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Several days later Beth called. She and Vicki had been thinking about another horse for us, and Natasha, Noel’s old friend, came to mind. But how could we afford another horse—and would her foster family suddenly want to adopt her?
I e-mailed a prayer request on October 1 asking God to make a way. Could Habitat for Horses let us adopt Natasha and allow us to pay her fees over the next few months? Annie called me that night and said she sent the e-mail to everyone involved with Habitat for Horses.
I thought I could find a horse trailer for rent rather easily and go get her myself. I was wrong. No horse trailers could be found. When I opened my e-mail on Thursday morning, I couldn't believe what I was reading. E-mails were coming in from all over the place. A transport was being assembled and someone was paying her adoption fee. I sat and cried because so many people would put their hearts together for Noel and me.
I ran to the yard and approached Noel slowly so he wouldn't walk away from me. “Natasha is coming,” I said. He looked at me and I said it again. I gently took his face in my hands, kissed his nose and told him about all the people who were working to make this happen for him. He understood. That night he didn't stand at Tecs' grave.
Natasha arrived on Saturday and Noel was waiting for her as she backed out of the trailer. They knew each other immediately. They whinnied and touched noses. Once in the pasture, they ran around kicking their feet up and enjoying each other’s company.
Noel is a new horse. He actually has a sense of humor and shows it by sneaking up behind Natasha and nosing her behind. The boy’s knees must be killing him with all the running and prancing he is doing now.
Moose is still Moose. He likes to suck Alfred's bald head. I guess he can't find the salt block in the yard. He gives Natasha the cool guy look, but she only has eyes for Noel.
I silently thanked Jesus for the miracle that unfolded before my eyes and for giving me my childhood wish in such an incredible way. He silently reminded me there were many angels who worked to make this happen and to bring us such joy.
Noel and I would like to thank our angels:
Beth & Vicki – for thinking of Natasha
Toni & Kelli
and everyone else whose e-mail
names I couldn't figure out.
And most of all. . .Tecs