♥Bob♥ by Tim Manson / Tim

Another soldier passed away today. His name was Bob and he was a retired Sergeant from the U.S Army. I first met Bob in 1990 when he was 8 years old. I was leaving the Army because of being passed over for promotion and Bob was leaving the Army due to a medical condition. The Army has three 1860s era cavalry detachments and one is stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas where I was serving in the Army at the time. Bob was a member of the Ft. Hood U.S. Army Cavalry Detachment.

Neither of us wanted to leave the career we were in, but the requirements of the U.S. Army come first. Bob’s problem was that he had tender feet! Can you imagine being forced to leave the Army just for having tender feet? They said he couldn’t do his job as well anymore, which, come to think of it, did consist primarily of walking, running and jumping. I suppose tender feet could be a problem there. Especially since Bob had 4 of them! But, as I was talking with the soldiers who worked with him, I found out that perhaps Bob’s feet weren’t quite as tender as they thought. It seems that after taking a few jumps, Bob would start limping. They would then take him back to his stall and miraculously, he would stop limping!  Also, he would often refuse jumps at the very last second, putting on the brakes but sending his rider over the jump without a horse! Since he wasn’t conforming to military standards, it was decided that Bob would be put up for sale with the excuse of tender feet. Once he was with me, he never exhibited tender feet until he was well into his old age. And at that point, they really were tender.

1990 brought me a year of clinical depression from being forced to leave the service. Having to suddenly leave the career I so much wanted to maintain, feelings of loss, inadequacy, disappointment and low self esteem pervaded my very being, and I had no desire to talk to ANY kind of a therapist whatsoever. Four months before I left the service, I discovered that the Army was selling some horses belonging to the re-enactment cavalry platoon assigned to Fort Hood through their property disposal auction.. I was given permission to inspect and ride the horses up for sale. Bob was the first one I rode and I immediately decided he would be the one I would purchase. Unfortunately, at the property disposal auction I found myself bidding against an individual who was known to buy horses for slaughter, and he was bound and determined to have Bob as well. He actually beat me in the auction, but afterwards I managed to purchase him for just a little more than the price limit I had set for myself to bid. At that point, Bob kind of became my therapist for awhile!

My therapy began with endless hours of riding, grooming, feeding…..and talking. I told Bob of all the problems, trials and tribulations that were going on in my life at the time, without fear of condemnation, reprisal or ridicule. He allowed me to express all my emotions with a patience no human could ever possess or hope to emulate. I gazed deeply into his big, brown eyes and saw an understanding no human could show, a sympathy no human could offer and an unconditional love no human could possibly give.

Now, those that don’t understand these magnificent animals would say that I saw these things in Bob because I wanted to see them. That I felt the things I felt from Bob, because I needed to feel them. After all, he is ONLY a horse. What I do know for sure is that the time I spent with Bob during the first year of our relationship was the most healing year that I have ever known. Through Bob’s willingness to listen and seemingly even to understand me, I came to understand myself. From Bob’s sympathy and compassion, I was better able to sympathize and show compassion to others. From Bob’s unconditional love, I learned to love unconditionally. But perhaps, most importantly, from Bob’s quiet forgiveness, I was better able to forgive myself for what I originally perceived my shortcomings to be which caused my leaving the Army. I may have saved Bob from the slaughterhouse, but he, without a doubt, saved my life as well.

To my own dying day I will believe that Bob saved my life one day. It was in early February in 1998. The automatic water at the boarding facility we were at had frozen in Bob’s stall and I had to temporarily move him to another that opened into a large pasture. I had to walk into the pasture to get to this new stall gate. On this particular morning, there happened to be a mare in the pasture that was known to be a fairly mean animal. She didn’t care for humans much and had broken the arm of her owner twice and was known to charge people for no apparent reason. I was carrying a bucket of grain in one hand and hay in the other when she caught sight of me. She came charging towards me and just when I reached Bob’s stall she reached me. She reared and came down with one hoof into my ribs. I dropped the feed, clutched my injured side with one hand while the other hand for some reason hit the latch on Bob’s stall and unlocked it. Bob shot out of that stall and went straight to the mare. They both reared at each other and kicked and bit and finally Bob ran her off. I was still bent over holding my ribs as Bob came back over to me. Now, normally, Bob was a pig when it came to eating and would dive right into it, whether it was in the feed bunk or on the ground. This time, Bob came over to me and stood next to me, not touching his food. He stared at the mare the whole time and on two more occasions ran her away from us when she started to come back. Each time he would return to me and just stand there. I was able to grab his withers to help me stand straight again. It wasn’t until I put his feed in his stall that he began to eat. He never even looked at the feed as long as he was standing guard over me. I have no doubt that if it hadn’t been for Bob, that mare could have easily seriously injured or even killed me. As it was, I came out of it with severely cracked ribs. There is no doubt in my mind that protecting me was the only thing on his mind at that time.

We rode many trails together over the years and did many things from equine medieval recreation games to moving cattle to trail riding to Equine Assisted Professional Development. He was my constant companion for the next 18 great years. Over those 18 years I talked with Bob and let him smooth the wrinkles out of my life from time to time, with our long rides in the woods, the endless hours of feeding, grooming, cleaning and yes, just talking to one another. Let no one ever tell you that the four-footed friends we choose to share our lives with are only animals. They are much more than that. They willingly give more to us than we even realize at times. They are companions. They are care-givers. They are protectors. They are healers. And yes, sometimes they even become our therapists. Bob was all these things to me and so much more than I can scarcely begin to describe.

In November of 2008, he developed a serious abscess in his hoof. I treated it for two weeks, but it was obvious that it wasn’t getting any better. He had other problems as well, such as severe arthritis in his left knee with a big calcium deposit there as well. He was also in a freak storm in April of 2008 that spawned a small tornado with marble size hail that tore off half the barn roof and sent sheets of sharp tin through the paddock where the horses were turned out. Bob was injured by flying debris hitting him in the hips. While nothing was broken, it took a while for the old man to recover from that. He began losing weight as well. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep any weight on him. The abscess was the last straw in Bob’s health. The vet said that the infection had gone into the bone instead of coming out the hoof with the treatment. Bob could hardly walk and had to put most of his weight on his arthritic left front in order to alleviate the pain in his right foot. His quality of life went downhill. I struggled with the decision to send him on ahead, but I knew he was suffering. As my vet administered the drugs, I spoke to him and thanked him for all he had given me. I held his head in my lap as he breathed his last, calm breath. On November 27th at 10:45am, Bob was given his final rest, and this 52 year old man continued to hold his head in my lap as I wept like a child. But, I know he is now free of pain and able to once again run and buck across the Rainbow Bridge. I know he will be waiting for me just on the other side when it is my time to cross. As a retired soldier himself, perhaps he is carrying our fallen soldiers to their final rewards.

Farewell, old man. You’ll never be forgotten and you’ll always have a place in my heart. Say hello to Colonel for me.


Gone But Not Forgotten,
Tim Manson