The Plight of a Bush Horse Named Boots

I had a stint of camp-sitting at Rainbow Lake after returning from my bushwhacking ride to Dry Lake.  I was left alone in camp to doctor the injured horse we had.   As well I watched over the camp to make sure no critters (namely bears coming out of hibernation) got into things.  Chevy, my dog, kept me company.

Rainbow Lake Lodge and Camp

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Lake (dubbed for the rainbow trout that flourished in it’s waters) is the base camp for the southern half of the outfit I worked for east of Atlin.  The main lodge was a million dollar project the previous outfitters had put a lot of time, money and energy into.  It was a lovely place and almost felt like we were were in civilization.  There was flush toilets, a bathtub with running water, a wash machine!  Solar power and generators.  A fantastic pantry and large kitchen.  Besides the lodge there were numerous bunkhouses and guest cabins.  The corrals had a roomy tack shed.

It felt very modern and efficient compared to the northern half of the outfit that I had worked the previous summer.  Yet it still felt that I was cooking in someone else’s house, if you know what I mean.  It didn’t feel like it was ours.  It definitely had the feel of the previous outfit and sometimes it seemed I was stepping on their toes by doing things differently.

When I had first arrived at Rainbow Lake, Raymond introduced me to the horse herd and because I was the only able bodied and somewhat willing person, I was again delegated wrangling duties.  Here these horses ran with no hobbles.  Something I didn’t like, but that’s the way Raymond said this herd did it.  They would usually end up at the far end of the lake, maybe a mile or so beyond in some great grassy meadows.  It was the only good grass around.  Didn’t mean, they ALWAYS were found there—maybe I just caught them on their way there, but sometimes they were on the other side of the lake, or halfway up a mountain.  Go figure.  Horses never seem to go where you expect them to.

Thankfully we still had jingle horses that we would keep back in camp.  I would hop on (or saddle up) and go for a lovely jaunt along the lake.  The path here was like a highway in the bush.  Clear of willows, well-beaten down, and wide!  There were a few tight turns and spruce or pine that hugged the trail at certain points, but nothing to worry about when I was running flat out behind a herd of horses on the return trip.  The entire ride was probably 2 or 3 miles out to the meadows and then back.  Definitely some awesome rides chasing horses in with no hobbles to slow them down.  Only once did I catch them on the trail back to Atlin and managed to head off a disastrous day of having the herd retrace their steps to town.

Since we had trailed most of the herd up to Dry Lake to head off the problem of overgrazing the meadows at Rainbow Lake, only a few horses were left in camp with Boots.

One of the few pictures I have of Boots, the black with a blaze in the right of the photo.

When I first saw Boots, he was a lovely coal-black horse with white “boots” on his legs.  Shiny, glossy—an all round a good-looking horse.  EXCEPT he was limping terribly.  Coming from Atlin, Raymond had been riding him when, nearly to camp, Boots got his hind leg caught between two rocks.  We weren’t sure, but we assumed he’d either strained a tendon or wrenched his hock or something of that sort.  Raymond had to switch his saddle over to another horse to finish the ride and left Boots to find his way in to camp by himself.

There wasn’t much we could do.  His whole hind leg dangled useless and swollen from the hock down and he couldn’t put any weight on it.  My job was to soak his leg many times as day to try and take the swelling down.  We were hoping if the swelling went down we would see if the injury was one that would heal with time, or if it was bad enough to warrant putting him down.

There isn’t many options for injured horses that far from town.  Sometimes an injured horse will surprise you.  Deep wounds will heal up and the horse will carry on as if nothing had happened.  Other times, there is no recourse but to put them down.

It was so sad to watch Boots trying to hobble on three legs to find grass.  We didn’t have much grass around the corrals and the good grass was a 2-3 mile jaunt to the other end of the lake.  Thankfully the other horses spent most their time in the far meadows and he could graze without competition.  But you could see he was lonely.  Many times I would find him on the trail to the far meadows trying to find his way down to his mates.

Allan is tending to Boots behind Chevy the dog, at Rainbow Lake.

Soon Raymond and Romain came back from Dry Lake and some friends flew in to help with some trail cutting and camp clean-up.  We were busy cleaning up trails and putting things in order for hunting season.  One of my friends was a vet, she’d worked on horses in her early years, but she was older now and dealt mainly with small animals.  She looked over Boots and was 90 percent certain his hip was dislocated.  Since it had been weeks since the original injury the muscles were hardened into place and there was no possibly way without specialized equipment we could get his hip back in place.  For some reason, no decision was made at that point to do anything more about Boots.

As the days went by, the swelling went down in Boot’s leg but it still dangled useless.  He just adapted to walking on three legs instead of four.  In fact he got good enough to make it all the way down to the meadows to graze with the herd.

We were so busy that I think everyone forgot about Boots for a while there.  I was the only one wrangling and so was the only one who saw Boots every day.  I was impressed how well he managed on three legs, but you could see it was wearing on him.  His once glossy coat was dull and rough and his ribs were showing.  His useless leg had atrophied and shrunk.  His hip bone extending abnormally large above the other one.  He looked horrible.

I knew he was in rough shape, but every time I mentioned doing something about it, no one wanted to make a decision.

Finally one morning as I was jingling the horses back to camp from the far meadows, I got behind Boots who was RUNNING as fast as he could to keep up with the herd.  Since none of the horses were hobbled they could run very fast.  Boots surprisingly kept up for a while, but then he started lagging and then stopping.  I was crying by the time we made the corrals because it hurt so bad to watch Boots valiantly trying to make it home.  He’d hop and stop, hop and stop.  His sides heaving with effort and his neck lathered up.  He finally hopped into the corral yard and just stood there hanging his head to the ground.  The once proud head as low as low could be.

I looked at Raymond and he hung his head.  He knew that it was time—in fact, way past time for Boots to be put down.  So after Boots had rested up, we walked the poor beast away from camp to an area the horses didn’t frequent or a trail didn’t run by.  It was awful to see how trustingly he followed us and know that we were going to end his life.  He was in constant pain, it had to be done, but it was still awful.

One shot echoing through the mountain valley and his suffering was over.  Both me and Raymond cried our way back to camp.  Sure we were in a hunting camp, death of animals isn’t something new to us.  But Boots was more a friend, a co-worker.  We had a relationship with him.  He trusted us, and it felt like we let him down—betrayed him.

A few days later we spotted a grizzly mama with her two cubs on the carcass.  They were having a jolly feast.  I know you may be sickened by this, but it’s the circle of life, and I felt glad.  Boots wasn’t wasted in death.  His death provided for a family of bears, making their life of survival a little easier.

Young Grizzly having a feast.

Now I know this is a bit of a stretch, but in just a tiny way, this story reminds me of the Easter story.  And maybe because Easter has been so recently and I’m thinking this way already.  But I was thinking of trust and betrayal and death needing to happen.  And life coming out of death.

If you read the account of Jesus’ betrayal, interrogation, sentencing and execution in John 18-19, maybe you too will find similarities.

Jesus was betrayed by a close friend, someone that should have been trustworthy.

Jesus was abandoned by his loyal friends.

Jesus didn’t deserve to die.

Many couldn’t make a decision what to do with Jesus—they washed their hands of the decision.

Obviously, in many areas the stories differ.  For one, Boots didn’t know that he was being led to death and he didn’t choose to die, where as Jesus knew perfectly well (and in advance) that he would die and he still chose to do so out of obedience and love.

However, like Boots, Jesus went quietly to his death.  He made no fuss.  He bore up under the pain with dignity.

They died.

Boots on the side of a grassy swamp and Jesus on a wooden cross planted on a rocky hill.

In their deaths they brought life.  Boots stayed dead, but his death provided sustenance for a family of grizzlies and other animals.  His death was necessary, and it did bring life in a round about way, but it was STILL death.

On the other hand, Jesus rose to life, conquering death and providing everlasting life that doesn’t diminish.  He didn’t STAY dead!  His death brought LIFE and keeps giving LIFE to all who believe.  God, through the death of Jesus, has set everything right between Him and me.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him” John 3:16-18 (The Message)

That is the Easter story for me.

And when I think of how Boots followed me to his death,  (The look in his eye.  The willingness.  The trust.)  I think of Jesus and I thank Him every day for choosing to go to a cruel cross for me.  The willingness.  The love.  The absolute reckless love!

This is the kind of love Jesus has for me—for you:

“Love is invincible facing danger and death.
Passion laughs at the terrors of hell.
The fire of love stops at nothing—
it sweeps everything before it.
Flood waters can’t drown love,
torrents of rain can’t put it out.
Love can’t be bought, love can’t be sold—”

Song of Songs 8:6-8 (The Message)

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