As a kid I was obsessed with horses, rode around on sticks all day pretending they were horses, drew them, thought up names for horses I might one day own in the future and dreamt of riding in front of big crowds. So the morning I walked into the bathroom and Dad said to me ‘I found you a horse’ is one of the clearest memories of my childhood! My very own horse!
When Dad said ‘horse’ he meant a scrawny racing Quarter Horse weanling that a local fellow was selling for $40 because the local QH Racing industry was shutting down and he no longer wanted her. So, not long after, CoaCoa and 3 other weanlings arrived! I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world (I was 7 at the time) and couldn’t wait to spend time with her. But, I had to wait until she grew up and was started, so she was quiet enough for me to handle.
Dad sent her off when she was one (goodness, far too young) to be ‘broken in’. She had quite the independent spirit and wasn’t going to let anyone on her back easily. But, with a gentle hand the fellow who started her had her working for him willingly. I could see her from the playground at my tiny school in regional NSW, Australia and would spend my morning tea and lunch breaks standing at the playground watching her.
She came back home to our beef cattle property and our time together began! I would spend every morning with her before school just doing what at the time to me was just playing. I would brush her, she would follow me around like a dog, we’d play games where she would chase me like I was the calf and she the horse in a cutting competition… never with a halter… and never once did she tread on me or hurt me. We bonded like cement!
After a time I was allowed to ride her and from that day, I rode her almost every single day, sometimes twice a day, we just hung out, poking along behind the cattle or pretending we were at some big show. If she ever got frightened all I had to do was say ‘it’s alright’ and she trusted me every time. And careful! My goodness, she was so incredibly careful with me. I couldn’t ride very well as I had never had lessons, I was one of these kids who just had to figure that bit out so I could stop falling off! But when I did fall off (which was usually when I was daydreaming behind a mob of cattle and CoaCoa, who was incredibly intelligent and very ‘cowy’ would be watching every move of the mob and move quickly to block an escapee and I would just drop off the side!) she always either stopped dead, or if she didn’t feel me go fast enough would come back, head down checking on me and waiting for me to climb back on. We were ‘mates’!
Through high school we went to Pony Club, competed a little in Gymkhana’s and campdrafts and never lost the connection we had. Off to University and I still remember the day I hugged her ‘goodbye’ as I was leaving… it would be the longest time I would ever have been separated from her and I don’t think either of us were happy about it!
Then started the dream of CoaCoa having a foal. Since I wasn’t able to ride her regularly any more it seemed a perfect opportunity. By this time she was 12 years old, perfect age for breeding! So we found a suitable stallion and CoaCoa was pregnant. It was a loooong 11 months of waiting, watching her belly grow. I remember she was always so itchy on her belly and whenever I was with her she would constantly sidle up for a big scratch! Having had kids myself now I understand!!
We waited and waited for her to foal only to be devastated with the result. She had foaled in the early hours of a September morning with her little filly foal perfect in every way except she was dead. I don’t think I had ever cried so much in my life, for CoaCoa as much as for the dead foal. Poor CoaCoa was clearly devastated too and took to following me everywhere, whinnying wildly if I got out of sight and nickering softly and nudging me when I was close.
Why the foal was dead we will never know, but, CoaCoa had had some hoof issues during her pregnancy (looking back it would have been due to chronic copper and zinc deficiency her entire life as our horses were never supplemented) and on veterinary advice had been on a biotin supplement (at the time I had no idea what that was!) and I wondered if that could have been an issue (it wouldn’t have been, but back then I didn’t know that). She had also accessed at some point some cattle feed and it was possible she had ingested monensin. Not enough to hurt her but there was always that lingering question of whether it had harmed the little foal’s heart.
And of course the big question was what could I have done better for CoaCoa, what had I missed in her care as a pregnant mare that might have contributed to the sad ending? And there, an interest in Animal Nutrition started to grow into the passion that has now turned itself into FeedXL!
And there is a happy ending. CoaCoa eventually joined me at University as my lead pony for all of our experimental horses, where her ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude was more than useful when I had a 16 hand plus thoroughbred either side of her for exercise… she had them all pulled into line and behaving in no time! I rode her to our wedding service on our family property side-saddle and eventually she did have a foal… a little colt we named Poet, who is still with me, too cheeky for his own good and very much like his mother. He is (sometimes!) a beautiful reminder of CoaCoa, who was the best horse any little girl could ever have dreamed of!
(I just cried several times writing that!!)
NERIDA RICHARDS, FOUNDER OF FEEDXL