It was time. After 25 years of hard work it was time for “Sox” to end his journey here on earth. Named after his four white socks, this Clydesdale horse weighing over a ton was to be ‘put down’ today. I walked to the corral where he stood so proud among his peers of Belgian and Percheron Draft horses. As I approached him, always easy to catch, I admired his white strip on his face and the magnificent white feathers as they covered his fetlocks and touched the ground…so traditional of the Clydesdale breed. As he walked toward me each step seemed almost animated as this gentle giant stepped high with such grace in order to plant his huge feet firm and strong. The concussion of his weight on the ground pushed back his beautiful white feathers in perfect symmetrical fashion. Oh what a sight!

But, it was time.

Fall was now turning to winter. You see, during the cold weather Sox would have difficulty getting up. After picking a suitable spot in the pasture he would lay down soaking up the warmth from the afternoon winter sun as he rested his mammoth body weighing over 2300 pounds. Old age and arthritis was taking its toll. His back hocks (knees) sometimes would fail as he would try to stand. As I witnessed this, I would walk toward him in the pasture. He seemed to know that I was there to help him, allowing me to halter him as he lay on the ground with his legs tucked in toward his body, his head upright and alert. After a short rest from his last attempt he would ready himself by extending his front feet to a forward position. I would now wait for him to make his move. As he struggled and strained to get to his feet I would pull the lead rope with all my might. When we worked together like this, it always worked. I then would remove the halter as he would shake the snow or dirt from his body and walk off toward the feeders.

But, it was time.

It did not seem fair to have him suffer. After all, he had paid his dues. As one of Denver’s first carriage horses 18 years ago, he then worked as part of a 4-up hitch as a wheel horse (the biggest and heaviest team hitched in first position to the wagon). In this small winter resort town it was only a few years before he was traded to an old teamster who sold him to me. I then returned him back to Denver City to again provide carriage service for many more years.

But, it was time.

When youngsters came to visit the ranch, it was a common sight to see 2, 3 sometimes 4 or 5 kids lined up on his back as he was lead around like a big puppy dog. As the kids smiled ear to ear, giggled and squirmed, old Sox just walked along seeming to enjoy the excitement he was causing. I’ll never forget the face of a physically challenged little boy as two ranch hands and I struggled to hoist him up on the back of this huge horse during the National Western Stock Show. Another time, when a farm team horse was injured, Sox didn’t seem to mind being matched to a Percheron to allow us to continue our hayrack bookings without missing a beat. So many great memories. Of more than 25 carriage horses downtown he stood out from all the rest with his Clydesdale colors, feathers and magnificent size. At 18 hands and over a ton he was the biggest horse in service with harness and show-housing that put him in a league of his own. Quite often drawing a crowd of city-folk admiring his looks and size. This horse trained over a hundred drivers over twenty years.

But, it was time.

As I struggled to reach up to his halter at over 7 feet, he lowered his head as he had done hundreds of times before. I then secured the buckle after adjusting the strap across his neatly trimmed bridle path. A slight tug with his lead rope and a voice command to walk, we now headed for the north pasture. I had decided some time ago that a rendering plant was not going to take Sox. I would simply put him to rest on the property. Not far now was a freshly excavated hole big enough for his 2300 pounds. As we approached “Doc” waited patiently there with an injection that would end his life I wondered if he sensed what was to happen.

But, it was time.

I’m convinced that when I bring hogs, lambs or steers to get processed that they can sense death. I think they can smell blood perhaps even death as an eerie sense of quiet fills the stock trailer of critters as I back to the pens for weight and processing. Again I thought what is Sox thinking? Does he know? I wondered. I stroked him gently and whispered “Goodbye Buddy” as we stood next to the hole. As I slipped his halter off his nose I was asked by “Doc” if I was ready. As a rancher and former rodeo cowboy I did not expect what happened next.

But, it was time.

I have witnessed horror and even death in my lifetime, but I cold not witness this. As I turned and walked away Sox, without neither coaxing, nor any voice command and now standing there without a halter or lead rope turned and followed me as if trying to tell me something. I looked to my side and watched as this magnificent animal followed me stride for stride. The “Doc” hollered “I’ll give you two some time”. I continued to walk away form the site. Sox walked next to me with a sense of calm I have never seen before. I stopped….he stopped. I walked on…he walked on. All the time staying unusually close. As I returned to the corral I have to admit a tear came down my face as I looked at that critter. Standing next to me, again with nothing on his face he patiently waited for me to open the gate. After considerable thought and solitude I dropped the chain from the gate post and Sox walked past me and cautiously returned to his draft horse buddies.

But, it was time.

When I returned to the north pasture alone, I could see “Doc” opening the back of the truck and putting away the required drugs to put him down. As I looked beyond the pasture to the beautiful Colorado Mountains I enjoyed a remarkable sunset filled with bright orange and pink. I gave a big sigh, one I have heard so many times before from Sox as he shows his contentment and calm when we work together.

It was time…but not this day, my friend.

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