An odd couple of equine companions make a long day a little shorter. Photo by cctm/Shutterstock
I sighed as I watched Gander growing smaller in the distance, tail flying and dust clouds rising behind him as he galloped toward the open gate in the back field. Watching your patient run away is a familiar sight to most equine vets. And when horse and owner have to leave the state with updated health paperwork in three days, coming back at a more convenient time to draw blood and vaccinate is not an option.
I exhaled in frustration and tried not to glare at Ronald, the ruddy little man standing silently next to me. My day was already double-booked, but if I didn’t get the blood shipped to Denver today, Gander’s results would not come back in time.
Ronald lifted his hat and rubbed his forehead.
“Well dang that gelding anyway, Doc. Guess I should have shut that back gate.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Or set this appointment up two weeks ago, Ronald.”
“Well, I didn’t have the trip planned two weeks ago!”
Ronald and Gander were joining some old friends on a round-up ride in Oklahoma.
I began a lecture on the importance of planning ahead and being prepared, then shook my head wearily. Ronald would never change, and we had to figure out a way to catch Gander—one that didn’t involve me trudging through an enormous field.
Ronald had an idea and disappeared quickly into a nearby garage. A chugging sound came from the building and clouds of blue smoke emerged from the doorway. After about five minutes, the chugging stopped and Ronald reappeared, looking defeated.
“Plugs are bad. Knew I should have changed them this spring!”
He wiped his face with a grubby handkerchief and shook his fist in the direction of the building. “And my other truck won’t make it over them culverts out in that field.”
He scratched his forehead again, then looked hopefully at my vet truck.
“Well, Doc, maybe we could …”
I cut him off. “No way, Ronald. You got me stuck in that field last year, remember?”
I’d also broken three bottles of expensive medications when I’d lurched over a big log and sent them flying.
I was muttering to myself and pacing around the outbuildings, trying not to look at my watch as Ronald puzzled over the situation. I wandered in frustration around the corner of an old barn as a small fuzzy creature with very long ears suddenly appeared and honked loudly at me. I scrambled backward, clutching my chest, squarely into Ronald.
“What on earth, Ronald!”
The little man grinned at me. “That’s my mini donkey, Ruthie. Watch her now, Doc. She gets a little pushy with folks.”
Ruthie marched briskly up to me and inspected my pant leg in annoyance. Her back was level with the middle of my thigh, and I marveled at the little donkey, her long ears standing at attention. She had a barrel-shaped body and tiny, perfect hooves. I moved to stroke her neck, but she stomped her feet, whipped her head in the air and trotted off, tail swinging haughtily from side to side.
Ronald watched her adoringly.
“Ruthie’s pretty sure she runs the place. And she’s mad because her buddy just ran away.”
He stopped short and held up a finger.
“And that gives me an idea, Doc! Don’t move!” Ronald grabbed a halter from a peg on the side of the barn and hurried after Ruthie. “If anyone can bring Gander in, it’s Ruthie!”
Soon Ronald was leading Ruthie toward the open gate, or rather pulling hard on her when she refused to move, then running frantically after her when she got mad and raced past him. I’d been given a bucket of grain and a metal spoon and instructed to bang it loudly when Ronald gave the signal.
When Ruthie spied Gander in the distance, Ronald unclipped her lead rope and she ran toward her big equine companion, her mane bobbing briskly. Gander’s head came up, and when he started trotting toward Ruthie, Ronald cried, “Now, Doc!”
I banged on the grain bucket, and Ruthie turned so fast, her little feet went out from under her, and she went down in a tangle of limbs and ears before scrambling up, unhurt. She tucked her tail and sprinted furiously back to the barn, her little head and long ears bobbing through the tall grass. I laughed until I cried.
Gander was in hot pursuit, and as the two galloped into the yard, Ronald swung the gate shut. Soon after, I was happily drawing blood for the Coggins and vaccinating Gander.
Ruthie had been relegated to a small pen, and she paced furiously and honked some more as Gander munched the grain.
Ronald shook a finger at Ruthie.
“You don’t get grain, you chubby! However …” He entered the pen and pulled some peppermints from his pocket. Ruthie tugged impatiently at his shirt as he unwrapped a mint for her.
I was starting to pack up, but Ronald called to me,“We still have to do Ruthie, Doc! Did you bring enough shots?”
“Ruthie’s going too?” I said, puzzled.
“Well of course she’s going!” said Ronald. “I can’t leave her here all alone!”
Of course Gander’s special equine companion would be making the trip.
Drawing blood and getting shots into the opinionated donkey was a challenge, but Ronald and I eventually succeeded. We leaned against the wall of the barn panting while Ruthie sulked in the corner of her pen.
When he’d caught his breath, Ronald pointed at her.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth, you little devil!” Then he snickered. “But how about that wipeout in the field, Doc? That’ll cheer me up for a month!”
I chuckled to myself for quite a while after that visit, so I guess Ruthie cheered me up for a month, too.
This edition of Dr. Diehl’s Vet Adventures about a unique equine companion appeared in the March 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Courtney S. Diehl, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She is the author of Horse Vet: Chronicles of a Mobile Veterinarian and Stories of Eric the Fox, first place winner of the CIPA EVVY award. She is currently working on her third book.
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