The weekend, and our recent loss, brought conversation about the Amazing Jack. Usually, we
talk about our horses starting at the beginning. But our little impromptu gathering started the
reminiscing near the end. His last few years had been a gift, and not one of us had taken it…or
him…for granted. It seemed poignant that the conversation was sparked in front of Buffy and Joey’s
stall. Back then, Joey had been a curly-haired, crooked-eared baby, and we had just weaned him. He
was, of course, about as naughty as a donkey could be; full of life, literally (thanks of course,
to Red Bucket) and in addition to being highly opinionated, he was the most irresistible character,
with perhaps the purest heart…except maybe for Jack’s.
We might credit both Jack and Joey with one of the most precious parts of our culture…the
commitment to the herd. Jack had started to look and act old; his body had started to creak, and it
became more concerning after Styles died. But of course, Jack had already lost the others…McGraw,
Ledger and Brimer. He became depressed, lost interest in his food, and started standing in the back
corner of his stall in isolation. Partly out of desperation, and probably also because of our
tenacious unwillingness to let him slip away from us, we put Joey in Jack’s recently partially
vacated paddock. Joey responded to his new environment like a toddler in a playground, only Jack
was the jungle gym, and Joey was determined to climb him…and he did.
At first, Jack would gently lift his leg, and Joey would slide to the ground, rebound
enthusiastically and then get a running start, launch himself at Jack and try again…and
again…and again. When Jack started walking away, we nudged him in the direction of the gate…and
into Finbar’s arena, and soon Jack was trotting creakily about in order to avoid Joey’s antics, and
when Joey grabbed Jack by the fly mask and “ferociously” hung on, Jack slowly and carefully raised
his giant head, dangling the little donkey a good six inches off of the ground, where Joey swung
and swayed until the fly mask slipped and Joey and the mask thudded to the ground with more than
just dust, but joy. Joey, with the mask gripped tightly between his Chicklet-sized teeth, darted,
dashed, and lapped Jack. The tide turned, of course, as Jack in turn chased Joey, playfully trying
to retrieve the fly mask, while those of us who had previously feared the worst felt our hearts
leap with every gentle tackle and tumble of the rambunctious sport. Night rounds, from that point
forward, found a spent little Joey slumbering in a puddle of shavings, with Jack stoically standing
over him, guarding and protecting his little charge. That was the first time that Joey saved Jack,
but there would be other times as well. But perhaps that is another story altogether.
Brinkley joined the little herd next, and Jack started to drag us to the turnout where he and his
beautiful Cover Girl would groom each other for hours, keeping watch on their naughty little rascal
of a charge, giving a richer definition to enrichment, happiness and life. We slowly added friends
to the herd…Winni, Roulette, Buck, Donny, Turner…and other horses who benefited and
blossomed…enriched in mind, body and spirit. Jack the patriarch would alternate between his two
great loves, engaged in the beauty of reciprocal grooming with Brinkley and playing with the
irrepressible and boundless Joey, but always leaving the often needed discipline up to the real
boss, Brinkley. Those golden months brought treasured memories and the loss of other friends,
and in the last year a reversal of roles. In the final months, night rounds would find the mighty
little donkey standing over Jack’s large slumbering form, stiller than a soldier at Buckingham
Palace with a determined stance of protection, guarding and watching over his beloved Pop-Pop. For
a good many hours after we said our final good-bye, I sat with Jack’s beautiful big head in my numb
lap, unable to leave him and failing to help Joey understand that Jack was leaving us, and it was
Joey who grieved the hardest. For months Joey lost the bounce and rebellious effervescence,
standing alone in the herd, unwilling or unable to engage, deeply grieving the loss of his friend.
It was losing Charlie that somehow churned the pot of tender nostalgia. Of course for Charlie, we
really only had the beginning, leaving us feeling robbed of celebrating his future, which he
deserved and we wanted desperately to give him. Too little time for Charlie to experience the years
of life and love that we all so earnestly wanted for him. And yet, in his final hours…and then in
his final breath… we held his glorious head and gently reassured him that he was loved…and home.
While there is a culture and mindset that denies that equines can think or feel, we are profoundly
reminded daily of just how extraordinary these four-legged friends really are, and are touched
daily by loving them, and being loved in return. Our beautiful work is life and death, and while it
is impossible to have one without the other, the members of Red Bucket stand with unwavering
conviction and commitment in protecting the lives that we save and serve, and in the daily
dedication of making every day enriched…and very moment matter.
This culture message is dedicated with love to the Amazing Jack, our cherished Charlie Horse,
and of course….the thinking, feeling, loving little Joey.