I remember the phone call from Sianna, her voice coming straight for my heart from across the Atlantic. “Dad, can you take Bud? He’s being retired and will end up at auction.”
My first response was “no,” or it might have been “Hell no” after reflecting on what Bud actually is, and what he would require of me as a farmer. Bud is an aging, all black Percheron draft horse whose ancestors were bred in France to carry knights into battle. They were war horses before the age of gunpowder.
Bud is two thousand pounds, a tractor with legs. He is eighteen and a half hands tall at the withers, or put another way, I am six foot four and can barely see over his back and can hardly reach his ears. His foot size is somewhere in the neighborhood of a medium pizza or pumpkin pie. He would need two hundred bales of hay per year, another burden on my old haying equipment and tired back. Saying “yes” just felt too hard.
Bud spent most of his twenty two years on asphalt, pulling carriages for my brother’s business, St. Louis Carriage Company. When Sianna went off to college in Missouri, she would spend many weekend nights driving Bud on the streets of St. Louis, giving rides along the Mississippi and historic riverfront buildings. Bud and Sianna were a team for nearly five years, and they made a lot of money, more than any other team on the streets. I attribute that to matching fingernail and hoof polish, and the French braids in both of their manes.
Sianna graduated and left Missouri, my brother sold the business, and Bud remained to pound the pavement under new ownership with many new drivers. The years kept circling, the work exacting its toll on his magnificent aging body. Finally the heat and humidity of St. Louis were too much for Bud, pulling those loads on hot city streets, labored breathing while soaked with sweat. He wanted to please, always willing.
Sianna kept in touch with the new owners across the years, and called me when she learned they were easing him out of service, his future unclear. That’s when I said “no” the first time, and again a few months later when he was moved to a crowded farm just outside the city. Saying “yes” still felt overwhelming, a new package of chores on a farm with no shortage of chores. At 63, my body was hoping for a little less physical work, not more. My plate was full, and Bud was something quite more than a side dish.
Several months went by, and during a visit with my brother, rather than leave well enough alone, I asked if he had any news about Bud. He said Bud had lost weight, perhaps due to difficult economic choices made by the new owner. Bud was also on poor pasture, and at one point he suffered a severe hoof infection that almost killed him. Understandably, the new owners wanted him gone, and I felt something start to shift. I started asking questions about caring for Bud. One question, as they tend to do, kept leading to another, and soon we were actually talking logistics for delivering Bud from St. Louis to Tamworth.
Finally, I said “yes,” maybe even “Hell yes.” We spend so much time saying “no” to our children when they’re young, it’s nice to start saying “yes” more often as we age. Saying “yes” meant a new connection with Sianna, an opportunity to share the love and care of an old friend. I wanted to give Bud a green grass retirement, far from the feel of asphalt and the smell of diesel. I thought maybe we could slow down together, just a little, two guys getting older on the same pasture. His needs are my needs; open space, good food, clean water, a gentle breeze delivering only silence. None of that is asking too much for an aging war horse or the farmer that brings him hay on winter mornings, hopeful and grateful for one more season together on this journey.