PHOTO BY AUTHOR THELMA LUMPKIN
Thelma Lumpkin is one of PKA’s Advocate’s most gifted writers. We hope you will enjoy this wonderful horse story.
JIMMY BUCK TAYLOR
BY THELMA LUMPKIN
There should be some trace of the horse who lived here for so many years. The stall is so neat that it looks sterile. The empty barn is lifeless. The handsome face and dark eyes that met me every day are gone. But he was too present, too indomitable, too spirited to be gone, and so he is here, and it doesn’t matter that he is not. This is his place.
Many years ago when I had a young Thoroughbred, Jimmy Buck came as a companion horse. He was 16 then, and he knew his job from the start. He asked for nothing; resented none of the attention that bypassed him to be lavished on the Thoroughbred; required no special favors, no fond pats, no embracing arm around the neck. He slipped into his place here with no expectations.
For a long time after my Thoroughbred died, I mourned, and in my grief I did what was necessary for Jimmy Buck but offered nothing more. That, too, was all right with JB. He offered nothing more than acceptance. He grew a thick winter coat like a wooly pony, took a bath regularly by staying out in the rain and snow, always asserted his right to resist being caught by anyone with or without a lead rope, never had an accidental injury, never caught any of the airborne or contagious equine diseases.
JB was all horse. He was sufficient unto himself until the last few years of his life when we both set aside our reservations and allowed a little love to creep in.
I started grooming him every day, sometimes while he ate, sometimes in the cross-ties, and he played it calmly indulgent either way, but he leaned into the curry or the brush and stretched his neck when I hit the right spots. I found out that he preferred ginger snaps to horse cookies, and he knew when to nudge me for them. He learned words and phrases that applied to treats or mealtimes or a few hours in the pasture. He learned his name. He nickered when he saw me coming to the barn. Most surprising of all, he stood in the back yard paddock opposite my sun porch and watched me work at my computer until it was time for me to come out with carrots, and when I did, he was waiting close to the back door.
When JB was in the back yard paddocks, his favorite pastime centered around a small memorial garden I have for the horses and Corgis that I’ve owned through the years. He nudged each of the five horses’ name signs until they were tilted off-square, then he nosed the lawn jockey until it fell off its tree stump platform. And maybe just for good measure, every now and then he tipped over the wood bench alongside the memorial. In the last few months of his life, he no longer tweaked the name-signs, just stood quietly among them. I don’t want to think why.
I never rode Jimmy Buck. Oh, I did a few turns around the paddock on him just to see what he was like, but I had my Thoroughbred– the love of my life– and riding him was all the riding I wanted to do.
It took a long time for me to stop comparing JB to my Thoroughbred, but I finally did– which is why I had to write this memorial to him. While in the beginning I may not have loved JB, he had my most serious respect, and in his last few years, he came as close to being loved as he would allow. Those last three words are the key part of that statement. JB allowed me to come just so close, then he reminded me of his grasslands heritage. A pat on the neck, some kind words, a scratch on his withers, even a stroke or two on the flat of his head, then he had enough, and I’d be looking at the bottom of his chin. And that was all right with me. He had a right to be all horse.
As an all-horse horse would, he never went down during the last month when at age 40 he stopped eating for ten days, then for the last three stopped drinking water. The veterinarian did all he could with treatments and procedures to dislodge the impaction, but it held fast. So did Jimmy Buck. He met those last days standing to meet whatever was to come– gallant, stalwart, resigned but not cowed. He walked to his grave January 19– the grave that was dug for him next to his friend, the Thoroughbred– and the vet said he went down quickly. But I don’t think of him as “going down.” Standing tall, he met what I think he knew was to come. The remains are what went down.
And so, there will be a new sign in my memorial garden, and the barn will be empty. But JB’s pawing marks are still on the rubber mats, and I can see evidence of royal snorting on the walls. They won’t be removed. They’ll stay until they fade, but when they do, that won’t be the last of Jimmy Buck Taylor. He’ll still be here even if a new horse moves into his stall.
Some people say that a horse is a horse… that they’re all alike. But I say that those people just don’t pay attention, and some few special horses will wait until they do.