Remembering Bart
By Kim Shafer

 

 

This past summer, staff and volunteers of Central Kentucky Riding for Hope in Lexington, Kentucky said good-bye to a beloved member of their therapeutic riding team. Taw's Little Buck, "Bart," was a black Spanish Barb gelding who was truly beautiful inside and out.

Foaled in 1980, Bart came originally from Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio. Bart's paternal grand sire, Scarface, carries the Spanish Barb Breeder's Association (SBBA) registration number PF-1, indicating one of the five original bloodlines. Bart's paternal grand dam, A-Ka-Wi, was also a foundation mare of the SBBA. Bart's Registration Certificate

According to R.K. Walker, former Equine Director of the Kentucky Horse Park, Bart arrived at the park around the age of two or three. He had already been started riding and was already gelded. He arrived with two other Spanish Barb stud colts.

Bart was used frequently in the park's Parade of Breeds exposition and was given many important responsibilities. He often carried the flag for the opening presentation, and he often carried celebrities who were guests at the park. When special visitors arrived who were interested in taking a ride, everyone knew that Bart was the perfect choice. No matter who was on him, he would take good care of his rider. Applicants for Horse Park positions that involved riding would take riding tests on Bart.

Bart began his career at CKRH in 1994. Bart was an exceptional therapy horse, and a very intelligent one. Long-time CKRH volunteer Jay Twiss remembers that on his first night helping in class, his assignment was leading Bart. Jay had never worked with individuals with disabilities before, and was very interested in all that was going on in the class. So interested, in fact, that when the instructor began mounting Bart's rider, Jay didn't even realize it. But Bart did. Jay said he felt a nip on his arm as he held Bart at the mounting block. Still, it didn't really dawn on Jay what was going on, and he continued to let all the happenings of class take his focus off what he was doing. Again, he felt a nip on the arm, a little stronger this time. And this time, Jay got it. Bart was saying, "Hey, leader, this is important! You're supposed to be paying attention when my rider is getting on!"

Bart was loved by riders because of his smooth gaits. He had a very smooth, steady trot, and he would easily pick up canter leads and maintain a steady rhythm for as long as the rider wished. Riding through the Horse Park on trail rides, Bart was the picture of wisdom and maturity.

Bart would take good care of the most inexperienced riders, and at the same time, set an example for less experienced horses. He was often referred to as "rock steady," never spooking or wanting to turn for home. Bart carried many of our special riders to victory, earning gold medals and blue ribbons at competitions such as Special Olympics and the Paul Frazier Memorial Combined Test and Dressage Show, both held here at the Kentucky Horse Park.

In the herd, Bart's place in the pecking order was either the top or maybe one step below the boss of the herd. He commanded respect simply by his presence. Sometimes, one of his buddies would pick on a new horse in the herd. Bart would calmly walk over and stand between the two of them, as if to say, "We're not having this," and both of the other horses seemed to understand that Bart intended to keep the peace in this authoritative yet gentle manner.

In February of 2004, Bart was lame when he came up for evening feeding. It was so unusual to see this horse with any kind of lameness, as he had always been so hardy and "low-maintenance." Our equine director brought him in the barn and treated him for an abscess; however, from that time on, Bart never really returned to soundness. Despite rest and various treatments, our "rock steady" guy was really starting to slow down. Bart was used very lightly until after the summer of 2005, when he was officially retired. CKRH was given permission to allow Bart to live out his days on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park here at our facility, along with his buddy Churchill, one of the "founding members" of the original program.

By the spring of 2006, Bart had become so lame that he completely avoided putting weight on his left hind leg. He had a few good days when walking didn't seem quite as painful for him, and we helped him along with medication as best we could. As the summer grew hotter, we all came to terms with the fact that Bart's quality of life had declined. There were many days when we would carry his feed pan out to wherever he was standing, because it was too painful and exhausting for him to walk up to the fence line to eat. His other three legs were becoming deformed from bearing all his weight. He would not even put up a fuss when Churchill would try to take his feed tub away from him, and in years past, Churchill would never have dreamed of challenging Bart in this way.  

 

With encouragement from our veterinarian, we discussed possibilities for Bart. Would we have him endure the rest of the hot summer, and then another cold winter, hoping against hope that he would get better, or would we make the only decision that would make it possible for all of Bart's pain to go away? Although we all hated the idea of losing our beloved boy, we decided that euthanasia was the right choice. We notified several of our volunteers who we knew were close to Bart, and they all came to say goodbye in their own way. Bart died in the company of people who loved him, along with his pasture mate Elmo and long-time buddy Churchill watching over him. He was buried beside a few of his other equine friends that he'd known during his time at CKRH, Commander, Chieftain, and Nugget.

The spirit and beauty of any horse is amazing. The heart and gentleness of a therapy horse is something both wondrous and awe-inspiring. May we always remember our beloved Bart and the others like him and may we learn from what they have to teach us.

   
Special thanks to R.K. Walker, Sue Blake, Mary Smith, Peg Freitag, and Jane Dobrott for their assistance in providing information about Taw's Little Buck. Thanks to Sharon Greene and Neil Tollner for photographs.