The End of Hansom Jimmy

The End of Hansom Jimmy

by Dan Verniero of Snowmass, CO

Fuche’s Gulch is a good place for Jimmy to lie. I got permission to cross the Sample’s ranch so the walk there would be easy on him. His hind fetlocks were pretty swollen lately, being as broken down behind as he was, and I wanted it to be easy on him. I knew a spot up there at the head of the gulch, or one of the heads of the gulch. I’d found it out hiking one day, I’d followed a steep old trail down off the Boiler Spring road, barely visible, hard to find, but it led down to a sweet bottomland.

The Sample brothers had spread lots of grass and clover seed in their years of looking after cattle in the draws, and each little bottom up through there is well grassed. There’s a good seep in this one draw, so the grass is especially good for a ways below it, especially since it’s been at least ten years since any cattle grazed it. Access from the Boiler Spring road was steep and difficult, and I wouldn’t have asked Jimmy to do it, but through the Sample ranch it would be easy, so when I got permission, it had sealed his fate.

My astrologer friend had divined the date and time, and as a practical matter, it worked well. I’d made the decision last year that I wouldn’t be putting him through another cold, snowy winter. Could he have survived another one? Maybe. Would he have enjoyed it? No. He was old and tired, he had served me well, and he’d had a good retirement, with plenty of company. He’d always been healthy and handsome, and I loved hearing his whinny in the morning. But even as I shoveled the feed into him, his body wasted away; he had no muscle left, and no fat. I had to start blanketing him overnight in July, or he’d be shivering in the morning. I wanted to record his morning whinny, but even that faded; he seemed to be too tired to belt it out anymore. So it was, in a general sense, time. But how do you say, okay, this is the day I’m gonna do it, just cuz it’s convenient? There has got to be a better way to choose such an important, if morbid, day. So Shelley’s proven expertise in cosmic matters took that onus off of me. She checked her charts and said Sunday the 16th, at 5:20 is when everything lined up, in that the other horses would be okay, I’d be okay, and Jimmy, well, he was already okay with it. So early that afternoon, Kate dropped us off at the Samples’ gate.

He was well groomed, his long mane and thick tail all brushed out. I had paid extra attention to his feet the last few months so they looked great. I had everything I needed in my pack, and he was eager to go. I hadn’t ever ridden him up in that country, but we lived close by for years, so I know it felt familiar to him. I had not de-wormed him the last couple times with the others, so there would be no poisons in his body. I hadn’t ever been to where we were going from the Samples’ gate, but thought I could find it okay, and there wasn’t any special rush. So we wandered over by some old apple trees, and he ate a few. He’d learned to bite them with his incisors repeatedly and then eat the mash to make up for his long-standing lack of molars. But he wanted to see what was up the trail, so away we went, and I had to stay out of his way, he really wanted to go. He always was good on trails, never one of those sourpusses that has a going-out and a coming-back speed differential.

It’s a couple miles back in to where we went, and about halfway there, the trail goes opposite of where I wanted to go, but we found the cutoff alright, and progress slowed. There was lots of grass to eat as we moseyed along, and finally we got to the meadow I was looking for. I tied him loosely so he could graze some more, and brushed him down one last time. I took some pictures in the late afternoon light, and braided a little bit of his mane. I hugged him and told him just what a great horse he’d been, and I hoped to ride him in heaven. I smell his soft red coat deeply, and at 5:10 (cuz my watch was slow) I had him eating another apple as I pulled the trigger. It clicked, he jerked his head at the noise, and I was a little dumbfounded. But I pointed the gun away, ejected the unfired round and watched as another loaded itself. I turned back to my wonderful, apple munching friend, and this time the shot went off, his knees buckled and he went down on his left side in a soft, grassy spot I had cleared of sticks and rocks.

I lay across him and cried while I listened to his heart beat for another eight minutes. Then I arranged his legs in a sort of running array, and made sure his mane and tail were well laid out, too, and after sitting there with him awhile, absorbing the finality of what I’d done, I packed up all my stuff, and left my horse there. I was barely out of sight when the jays and magpies started calling, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before his body would be feeding the wildlife. One of the reasons I chose that gulch is the number of bears who seem to visit, and I saw lots of bear scat on the way in. I hope his spirit lives on through the wild animals that share in the bounty of his well-nourished body.

It’s been ten days now, and I’m still absorbing it. But it feels righter and righter as time goes on. Not many horses go out when they are healthy, most go under the pain of colic, or serious injury or whatever; lots get put down for unsoundness that isn’t even their fault. He went out with grass in his belly and an apple in his mouth. He even had dates to pay the ferryman, thanks to Kate. He never had to learn about a new owner, or even a new farrier. He had lots of adventures and several jobs, and got to see my next generation of horses. He never had soundness problems until old age, and even then I don’t think he was even in pain. And while I was never a perfect owner, sure never pampered him, I took good care of him and enjoyed him from the time he was a foal to the very end, 32 years later. Thanks, Hansom Jimmy.

When I re-checked my watch later that day, it was only 9 minutes slow – what kept that bullet from firing? That delay meant that the shot went off perfectly timed, instead of a minute early, and proves once again, to me at least, that God truly is everywhere and works in mysterious ways.