Old Horse Charlie

Sat, 12/31/2016 - 6:45am

It was exactly five years ago this Christmas that I wrote a story for The Block Island Times about “Charlie the Wandering Draft Horse.” The story gave an account of a horse that was brought to the island from the Amish country in Pennsylvania by the Batchelder family, and along with two other draft horses was given a sort of equine-style locum tenens (standing in for someone else) on our farm.

With an abundance of green pasture and no horses of our own, we welcomed them. For years, they lived their pristine lives at Beacon Hollow until a severe drought one summer led them to be moved to greener pastures. It was a loss for all of us, but they eventually became a part of a Belgian breeding farm with the Batchelders and they were only a few miles away. One of their foals was actually named after my wife, both of which I thought were platinum beauties. Photos of Charlie, Babe, and Rodney adorned our Christmas cards, and seasonal farm pictures. Picnics with a backdrop of the Belgians were common, especially with children giving them marshmallows just to see their giant eyes light up. Rick Batchelder would harness them up for the parades — all three abreast. Charlie pulled a surrey with a fringe on top on summer evenings.

The Belgians never returned to the Hollow, and we eventually gathered another herd of rescued horses. I should say, except for Charlie. Belgians, like other large draft horses (about 2,000 pounds compared to regular horses 1,000 pounds), have a shorter life expectancy of about 25 years. Rodney and Babe passed on years ago but somehow Charlie survived when even five years ago he remained in great health. Now whether it was old memories, lonesomeness, or early Alzheimer’s horse style, he began to roam. While the Batchelders were away that Christmas five years ago, Charlie came home, so to speak.

As I approached our barn the week before Christmas here was Charlie in front of the barn. Our horses were suspicious of this giant, but remained social. The donkeys, one quarter their size, stood back and the goats ran for their lives. Charlie walked up to the grain door like he did so many years before waiting for a treat. I felt like we turned the clock back in time. I talked to him and he answered me with his eyes. Charlie knew me because of the years I have visited him with a pocketful of apple wafers, but being back at the Hollow with him was unique. That was essentially the Christmas story five years ago, and at the time, basically and realistically, I didn’t think he would be around for much longer. He had reached his life expectancy already.

The essence of this story is that five years later — this Christmas — Charlie is still with us. I periodically stop in to see Charlie and admittedly feel sad with the the thought that one day he just won’t be there in the green pastures. However he still is quite healthy. His age is about 30 years old now — unheard of in Belgian history. His face and coat a noticeable gray. One might say in horse vernacular he is a little “long in the tooth.”

Old horses have rear molars that still grow and need to be filed down routinely (called floating), hence the “long in the tooth” reference to old age. I would love for him to revisit the Hollow, but he is so set in his ways now, like any senior. His attitude is, “just leave me alone. I don’t need a ride in the park or change of scenery. I like where I am.” Charlie is not the “old gray mare that ain’t what she used to be” — but he is the old stallion that ain’t what he used to be.

Although by himself now for years, I think his memories are gone, his loneliness is gone and I see some bewilderment in his eyes. It’s the nature of the beast when you outlive all of your friends. We may all be there some day. He still loves to eat, had a trough full of grain the other morning and didn’t really want to be bothered. His pasture is still green and he rarely is seen in his shelter. The Batchelders take great care of the old boy and Charlie was still here for this Christmas. I’ll bring him his holiday treats.

We might be surprised to still see him here next Christmas.