Column: There seems to be horse stories everywhereIf you are keeping a list, there is one more reason for drinking coffee or, at least, for having coffee close at hand. If you should be called to help with a horse brought down by encephalitis — sleeping sickness — you will need coffee.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — If you are keeping a list, there is one more reason for drinking coffee or, at least, for having coffee close at hand. If you should be called to help with a horse brought down by encephalitis — sleeping sickness — you will need coffee.
A Texas veterinarian, Ben K. Green, wrote a memoir that recalls his terrible days battling equine sleeping sickness in those years (1930s, 1940s) when sleeping sickness became a plague all across America. It was important to keep an ailing horse on its feet. If a horse falls to the ground, Ben Green wrote, “no matter how much treatment and care a horse may get … he will never be the same because damage to his central nervous system will leave him more or less stupid and without good coordination.”
Green would get calls, often hour by hour. He couldn’t be all places. “I would instruct that a quart of strong black coffee be given by mouth every two hours until I got there. This was another way to keep a horse awake and on his feet.” When it was impossible to get Dr. Green to a phone, telephone operators had heard Green so often they would instruct horse owners, “Give the horse a quart of strong black coffee.”
It is curious, the hold horses have on people and the sentiment people have for horses. We have two wars going, as well as a financial crisis. Along the way, Congress is considering the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. A clutch of U.S. senators and representatives wants to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States. Thousands of people are taking sides.
I always have had great feeling for horses although I never owned a horse. I never lived on a farm but I had five uncles living on farms. I remember the dread from those days of horse sleeping sickness.
We went to visit my uncle Henry Brinkman and his family one Sunday afternoon. Henry had a beautiful team — oh, I think they were called buckskins — light-colored horses with cream-colored manes. When we arrived, the horses were down in their stalls. It is not a right time to visit people. There was economic loss ahead. It was as though someone said your car is done, you will have to buy a new car. More than this, horses were a part of families. Horses have names and personalities. A farmer and his horses spent many hours together. When horses were stricken, people mourned.
I suppose no one knows the number of horses lost to sleeping sickness across our region in those years when encephalitis was a plague upon us. It would be a number in the thousands.
Not too long ago, everyone — man, woman, child — could tell a horse story. Horses were a part of our lives. If nothing else, we saw the garbage man making his rounds with a team of horses. (You have a horse story?)
Editors are putting horse stories in print. There is a market for them. Tim Brady has written a book (The Great Dan Patch and the Remarkable Mr. Savage) that recreates that day and that hour which people at Worthington — people at Brewster, Jackson, Fulda, Luverne, Sibley, Lake Park — people across the land told of again and again.
A warm September afternoon: Sept. 8, 1906. There were 93,000 people in the stands and bleachers at the Minnesota State Fair. The incomparable Dan Patch, Minnesota’s own, greatest of all harness racers, ran one mile in one minute and 55 seconds — one mile in fewer than two minutes.
I remember another time — well, I have a newspaper clipping. It was 1935. We went to see Uncle Bert and Aunt Maggie. Lightning had set fire to their barn in Bloom Township, north of Wilmont. Maggie told her horse story.
Bert ran to the barn to lead out some calves, to grab a host of things valuable. Maggie went to save the horses. The horses reared and then balked at going through fire.
Maggie took bandanna handkerchiefs and tied them over the horses’ eyes. She got the teams out of the barn as burning hay began to fall.
That was a horse story to take your breath away.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.