Every time I learn more about Argus' story, it just keeps getting sadder. How did Argus survive such madness?
Dr. Miller and I have never met. On Wednesday, he visits my farm, and I get to meet the energetic and passionate vet who (he won't take credit for this) has saved Argus' life. Argus is wary, so Dr. Miller stays away while he drags out his dental tools. Adrenaline tends to overcome sedation. We've decided that our first order of business is teeth.
"He was locked up for nearly ALL of his 16 years," repeats the vet. "His whole life. He has never really been out of that pen."
Argus' life has been sad in a way that is nearly incomprehensible. This sadness has kind of seeped through me, like cigarette smoke in a bar. I cannot get the smell out of my hair.
Yet in front of me is this beautiful white horse, with kind chocolate eyes and a desire to live.
And a fear of needles.
Dr. Miller proves his skill as he calmly hangs onto Argus for dear life, me rising and falling each time Argus gives a half-hearted rear. Yet as terrified as Argus is, he is very careful not to bolt forward over us. "You can see he doesn't want to hurt us," the vet says as he hangs onto the syringe sticking out of Argus jugular vein.
Finally, a dose of sedation. The dormosedan does its work. We get a look inside Argus' mouth, surprised by a perfect set of molars needing only mild floating. Some horses have all the luck.
His lower incisors are another story: chipped, broken, and rotten. Dr. Miller will tackle them another day.
Argus walks stiff-legged from his daily turnouts in a small paddock; he's not used to so much exercise (which is saying a lot ---- his "turnout" only measures 16 x45). The vet says it's arthritis, no doubt brought on by all the years of standing and weaving wildly. Argus weaves at my place, but never wildly. "Come see this video," and the vet summons me to his truck.
It's Argus' old home. Something I want to see and something I wish I could forget. Dr. Miller has taken photos, video. The video shows a white horse so filthy that it's hard to distinguish him from the bay horse next door. He's swinging his head in a huge half-circle, like a clock's pendulum. He moves his front legs in time with each swing; when the head swings left, the right leg crosses over the left leg and does a little step. No wonder Argus' knees are so sore.
The dental work over, and Argus still sedated, Dr. Miller decides to groom Argus. First brushing and trimming his mane and forelock, then vigorously currying his body. It must be so satisfying to the man who worked so hard to free Argus from his filthy prison. With Argus relaxed, Dr. Miller adjusts the painful Atlas area of his poll.
Dr. Miller also shows me photos of Argus old home. It's hard to believe it until you see it. Here a feed cart filled with white bread. A feed tub full of rotting lettuce. A case of lettuce fermenting in the sun. The horses' water so putrid, I doubt anyone had cleaned it in many, many years. No wonder Argus loves his water tub here so much. Trash everywhere. The pictures are horrifying; the only thing they have not captured is the sickening smell.
There's 32 bales of hay neatly stacked and tarped, too. But that wasn't fed to the horses.
Six days after meeting him, I love Argus fiercely. He and I have spent many, many hours together. I try very hard not to cry in front of the vet.
Argus is gaining ground. He can now do all these things without shaking: go into his stall, walk the 36 feet from his stall to his little turnout paddock, let me approach him. He likes people and touch and loves to be groomed all over, but your first approach must be made slowly. I have developed a funny habit of walking over to him, hunched over like an old lady, eyes down. I make first contact by placing my cheek against his shoulder. Then I slowly bring my hands forward, and stand up.
This is a kind, kind horse. He is scared and has had many chances to hurt me, but he tries very hard not to.
Here are some photos of Argus in his little turnout. They were taken the very first time he was ever turned out. He was very sensible!
This is Argus with his friend, Ridge, a sweet boy who was rescued from slaughter in 2006. They are both grey Thoroughbreds, and they look like book-ends. Ridge is so kind; he stays with Argus even when he doesn't have to. In fact, he's been most unlike himself this past week. When I turn Ridge out into the pasture, he stands forlornly next to Argus' paddock gate, waiting. These two look so much alike --- that's Argus on the right:
Here is Demi, my daughter. She is 12-years-old and loves horses almost more than her mom. She provides unfailing support and help each time a new rescue horse comes to our farm. I really could not do it without her. Demi is an active Pony Clubber who rides a mule in dressage and jumping events!