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  • Writer's pictureCheri Marks

The horse I called Jess

We moved in to our farm in May of 2021. Shortly thereafter, I learned of a terrible place called kill pens. I had no idea they existed, I had no idea that auctions were terrible places for horses to end up, and that eventually, if horses were not purchased from an individual or a rescue, they would be at the last stop before a terrible and cruel end to their lives. I knew there were unwanted horses, and many years prior to buying our farm, I had a desire to give them homes, although I knew very little of how to care for horses. In late summer 2021, I decided to start looking for a horse in hopes I could learn to ride. I wasn't quite sure where to begin, but, during my search, I began talking with a nice woman who pointed me in a direction that would change my life forever. Looking back now, I can see how our chance meeting was part of the journey to lead me to a horse that would have a profound impact on my life.

There is a kill pen in Stroud, Oklahoma. A woman with a good reputation, gets several horses a month from that kill pen in hopes to find homes for these discarded horses and ponies that shouldn't be in the kill pen (NO HORSE OR DONKEY SHOULD BE IN A KILLPEN!!) having said that, I will move on. The time is short that she gives the horses to find homes. She's not a rescue, it is her business, there is a difference. She gives each horse/pony 30, days, if there is no buyer in 30 days, they go back to the pen. I was pointed in the direction of this business. She had pictures of a pretty chestnut roan mare on her page, well trained, quiet and gentle, why on earth she was dumped, I'll never know. I made the trip north about 2 hours to meet the horse I would name Eliza. While talking with the woman who had Eliza in her care, she mentioned a horse that she had in her barn that was going back to the pen in Stroud. I asked why? She said that he was spoiled. I asked what that meant, I really didn't get an answer that satisfied my curiosity, so I asked more questions. Is he mean? No. Does he kick or bite? No. Can he be ridden? yes. Then what is wrong with him? She said again, he was spoiled. I asked if I could see him, somewhat reluctantly she had her son ride him out so we could see him. Here he came, a large black horse compliant with his rider, yet his eyes told me more. He looked at me for a moment, then shifted his gaze to the ground where it stayed as we talked. In his eyes I could see great sadness and no hope. As we talked about him, and I watched him, it was almost like he could understand our conversation, tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched him and heard her say "he doesn't have the happiest of endings." It didn't take any time to decide we would give him a home. I had no idea what I was doing that day, buying 2 horses, but I knew I would try to give them the best home and love that I could. What I didn't know, Jess would be my teacher.

On the afternoon Eliza and Jess arrived at the ranch, Jess seemed stoic and unimpressed. They immediately took to the pasture grazing and taking in their new surroundings. Little joe was absolutely ecstatic that 2 horses had. joined the farm, they were completely unimpressed with him. Joe ran up to the 2 like a little kid getting to meet his favorite superhero, just to be ignored. I felt bad for Joe, that too would change. Jess was compliant and to some degree mannerly, I could tell he had absolutely no trust and no interest in people, I really couldn't blame him. I delightedly watched Eliza and Jess for quite a while that day, just observing and hoping they would settle in and be happy. Later that evening, I opened the envelope I had been given upon purchase of Eliza and Jess. One paper was for Jess and one was for Eliza. Each paper gave information about the horse, what auction they were initially sold in to, gender, color, markings, general information, and not much to go by. Eliza had been put in to auction a couple of months prior to ending up at Stroud, she began the ugly auction journey in a small town in Oklahoma. Jess's paperwork showed a different story. His journey began in Missouri of January 2021. My heart sank as I read it. How many times had he been to auction, not purchased, then loaded up in the truck and moved to yet another auction, during the cold winter months, then the hot summer months, with limited food and probably limited water, as well as handled by people who generally don't treat the animals with much care and dignity. Jess was still wearing 1 shoe, I don't know if it was left from January, or if shoes had been put on him during those months.

The afternoon Eliza and Jess arrived at our farm.

Fall would become winter soon, so I began looking to purchase hay for the winter months. The new friend I had made not only pointed me in the direction to purchase hay, but also introduced me to someone who could teach me to care for my horses. Rae became a cherished friend and a person I greatly admire. Rae generously visited the ranch every week for about 2 hours each time, for many months. During those sessions, Rae taught me basic ground manners, the horses knew them, I did not. Jess particularly was not amused with the fact that he was taken back to kindergarten. When his halter was removed after lessons, he would dart off, from standing to all out run. I felt like it was his way of sticking his tongue out at us for insulting him in such a way. Jess would do this same routine to me for a while, even when letting him out the gate to the back pastures. It seemed he had no intentions of putting his trust in a human again.

A few weeks after Eliza and Jess arrived, Reagan came into our lives. He was from the same place. His 30 days were up and no home, so we bought him too. The day Reagan arrived, he was curious, and friendly, and a bit nervous. He too tried to join Eliza and Jess, but was snubbed. He would graze at a close distance to them, he wanted so badly to be accepted, but he was also patient. Reagan, bore many physical scars from auction life. His journey began in Montana summer of 2021. Reagans emotional wounds did not seem as deep as Jess's did. Reagan loved Jess and after a couple of months, became good friends. Wherever Jess was, Reagan was not far away. When we lost Jess, I thought his loss would be the most difficult for Eliza, I was wrong, it was Reagan who grieved the most.

I spent many hours just watching and observing these beautiful animals. I watched how they moved, how they interacted with each other, their quirks, habits and learned their personalities. I learned Jess loved his stall, but did NOT want the door to the corral shut ever! Even if he was contently eating, and the door shut, he became very distressed. We learned quickly not to ever shut his door, except for the morning of January 17, 2023, he didn't care that the door was shut. One day while Rae was here, she noticed Jess doing something that I had seen him do a couple of times, but had no idea what it was or what it meant. Jess would stand at the gate and weave back and forth. It's a behavior that can be brought on when a horse feels anxious. Jess also hated being tied to anything. He was fine if you held his lead rope, not if you tied him. I had to wonder about the things in his life or what might have happened to him while the many months in auction and at the Stroud pen. Had there been some terrible things he had experienced that had to do with being shut in a stall? and did being tied up bring back some horrible memory? I finally realized Jess had anxiety, possibly been spoiled by a previous owner, but, the reality was he had terrible anxiety about several things. Maybe Jess had 1 owner all his life, Jess was not about 19 years old. He was clever and smart and knew alot, he had been well trained. Or perhaps Jess was with his previous owner for a long time and Jess loved that person, that person spent much time grooming and caring for him. Jess loved to be groomed and bathed and hosed down during hot days, clearly these were things he was used to. And who wouldn't want to spoil and love this magnificent horse who was smart and kind, yes, kind, he was letting his guard down some.

Jess would always come to his stall when I was in the barn

Little by little, Jess began to want to know more about me. Maybe he could sense that I understood his anxiety. One who has anxiety, understands anxiety in another, I think he sensed mine as well. I had anxiety around he and Eliza for a while. I didn't have an ounce of trust, and I was afraid of them to some degree, I believe he knew that. It was Jess that first began to trust me, then he showed me that I could trust him. That big, magnificent horse took this 59 year old grandma to school! Rae taught me alot, books I read about horses taught me too, but Jess, taught me the most. Jess would watch for me, and if I headed to the barn, he went to the barn, straight in to his stall, stall #1. If I was in the barn working, Jess was in his stall. I'm sure some of the attraction to being in the barn while I was there, was hoping for a treat, Jess loved treats. I believe during those times, he observed me as well. I would spend time talking with him, and asking him questions. There were times I would tell him to do something, just to see if he knew what I was saying, there were times he did as I asked, he was incredibly smart. As spring of 2022 arrived, Jess had stopped rolling his eyes at me for taking him to kindergarten and had stopped the running off after talking his halter off. His guard was gone, he trusted me and there were no more games. Jess wanted me to trust him as well and he showed me daily, I could trust him. Jess would stand patiently for me to brush him, or put on his winter coat, he cooperated with everything I asked him to do.

Jess was a very social guy and extremely curious. The ranch was now his home and he wanted to be included in all the daily happenings. Our friend Mark was working for a time on the ranch, building our little barns. Ed had a question for Mark one day about the hinges on the stall doors, the 2 stood in stall 4 discussing what needed to be fixed, along with Jess standing in between them listening. I wish I had my phone to take a picture when I saw the 3 standing there. It was a curious sight to see. Jess was head of the herd. He didn't demand that position, it came quite naturally to him. As the herd grew, he welcomed each new member. He led with gentleness, kindness, care and patience, he was quite the gentleman always. He protected the ponies and little Alfalfa. His herd loved him and trusted him, the followed him.

Jess always curious with daily happenings.

the trust of his herd

There was nothing special about the morning of January 17, 2023. While enjoying our coffee that morning, Ed and I discussed our plan of putting the Cole's Ranch sign up sometime during the day. We had picked the perfect spot to put the sign, in the front pasture near the drive to the cabins. While we were talking, our daughter in law came in the house and let us know that the horses and donkeys were all in the yard. We changed our clothes and went outside to find everyone happily grazing in the yard, except for Jess, he was standing right next to the house near the front door. I quickly looked for the gate I most likely did not latch. All were closed, but I noticed a panel of fencing that was down, what happened? For a moment I panicked and thought maybe a predator had been chasing the herd and they ran through the fence to get away. They were all there, so I then started checking everyone for any injuries. I noticed Jess had moved from the house and was standing quietly in a different place, alone. As I walked up to him, I noticed he was sweating profusely and shaking. His legs were bleeding, not horrible, but, he was injured. I had no idea what had happened, but immediately called the vet, they had not arrived at the office as yet, because it was early.

I moved Jess in to a stall, he was still shivering, and sweating, but he was very still. I offered him breakfast, but he had no interest. I offered a treat, no interest, which was very odd, Jess never declined his meals or a treat. I thought he had a traumatic experience in what ever had happened earlier and he would need time to decompress. It seemed to take forever for our vet to arrive that morning. When she did arrive, she let me know that she thought it was a colic event. She began to look Jess over closely, she lifted his lips to check his gums and said, "he's not going to make it." I'll never forget those words that morning. She continued to examine Jess and by all he was physical signs he was exhibiting, she believed that he had a tumor wrapped around his intestines. He was going quickly and it was time to say good-bye.

January 17, 2023

We decided later that day to put up the sign, I had been looking forward to getting our new sign in place. It was bittersweet, as I admired the newly put in place sign to Cole's Ranch, for there was Jess on the sign, happily grazing in the pasture he loved so much. He would always be there.

There are so many stories of Jess that I will never forget. He was a very special horse, I loved him dearly, and he will be forever in my heart.

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Jul 16, 2023

I just read the beautifully written story you shared of Jess. My daughter & I read it together. I smiled. My heart was warmed, and I cried being so moved by Jess, by your connectedness with him like his "Mother Mare", your close bond together to each other. What a beautiful story of rescue, redemption and sanctuary for Jess. A beloved horse, as well as Eliza, and the triumph of love for both human and horse.

His life was changed forever to beauty when you chose to enter his life and deliver him from a certain tragic future. What makes life have purpose? Moments and opportunities to be better than the evil that exists in this world. To help th…

Cheri Marks
Cheri Marks
Jul 16, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Julie, your comments are so very kind. We who love animals know they are a gift from God and we are to help them. We look forward to seeing you and your sweet family again!

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