2019-02-09 / Columnists


A Good Life for Ibn Matuk
by Candice C. Dunnigan

“Somewhere in time’s own space

There must be some sweet pastured place

Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow

Some Paradise where horses go,

For by the love that guides my pen

I know great horses live again.”

- Stanley Harrison

Just as winter was beginning this year, a loyal and lovely horse died. He was approaching 35 years of age. In “horse years,” that means he would have been somewhere in his early 90s, or, to put it simply, extremely old. His name was Ibn Matuk. He spent 19 summers on Mackinac as a member of our family, and as a teacher to many Island children, as well as adults.

Ibn Matuk Ibn Matuk The summer of 2018 was Ibn’s last on the Island. He arrived again in fine form. Ibn trotted alongside with our two other horses arriving at the cottage. In reality though, Ibn had reached the point of tripping often, so he was not safe with a passenger on his back anymore, including me, but, on the insistence of family, Ibn was to spend one more summer with us. He was quite content to eat his hay, and from the turnout at Easterly Cottage enjoy the breezes that came from Lake Huron with his two stablemates. This year, though, Ibn did not even raise much drama when his buddies were saddled and went out for an early morning ride. Ibn was always keen to go, but he liked to sleep under the pine tree, too, and I think that he accepted that the latter option was also fine.

When our horses left in the fall, it was the same drill as departures before. Ibn was the “steady Eddie” waiting to be loaded at the dock onto the trailer. No fuss, a dependable loader. He unloaded just as easily once back downstate, and he picked up the usual routines down on the farm. Although he was only 14.2 hands tall, he dominated his “herd” (a 16.3 hand Thoroughbred and a 17 hand Trakehner). Both of these horses, although younger, were, in truth, plain afraid of him. They spent many an hour trying, and always failing, to maintain superiority over each other in the herd. Ibn reigned as their ruler.

The first Saturday of this past December, the morning was warm and thick with fog. My husband and I got a call from the barn that Ibn could not get up. He was found in his stall unable to use his back legs. They had been trying for more than an hour to get him to stand. We made the pre-dawn drive to the farm and arrived about the same time as the veterinarian. There was no question that the horse would have to be put down. The horse had suffered a stroke and the result was his hind legs were affected, and also his head - he could not hold it up. It was a horrible and final sentence. Ibn sensed things. He knew.

Shortly, the crisis was over, and Ibn passed. We were then left with emptiness, sadness, and the aspects of what to do next. Friends who are more like family came to our aid, and as if by magic on that December Sunday, the sun came out, bringing blue skies and a temperature that almost made it to 60 degrees. Details were smoothly worked out.

Ibn Matuk was an Arabian horse. He was also known as a “straight Arabian,” meaning that his lineage came from an unbroken line that can be traced back to the stables of Viceroy Mohammed Ali. Maybe it was his breeding, or just dumb luck, that he lived so long and had such a useful life. He was giving lessons to riders on his back for more than 30 years.

The horse was born in southern Michigan, and was started under saddle at the age of three. He remained a stallion until he was 11, and sired a few champions. Ibn was shown on the Arab Circuit in the state for a few years. We purchased him at the age of 15. Ibn had good, sensible ground manners and was wonderful to work with, but he was still full of “zip.” Our daughter (then eight) took him on has her personal challenge, riding him first that winter in a western saddle with wooden blocks duck taped onto the stirrups so her legs could reach. There are still some of us who remember the time he was the only gelding in a riding lesson with her at Great Turtle Park. There were four other young students riding mares, all in heat. Fortunately for all, he kept his rationale and his responsibility to the little girl who had the reins, and he was not a stallion anymore. Nevertheless, one could see Arabian presence, and flamboyance, and panache!

As the years progressed on the Island, and as he aged, Ibn became very tolerant of the young or inexperienced person on his back. We donated the horse annually to give lessons of varying degrees for the Mackinac Island Community Foundation and Mackinac Island Medical Center Auction. Ibn was a “go-to” guest horse for summer visitors as well as a last minute loaner for classes in the Island’s annual summer horse show. He won all kinds of classes from costume, lead line, jumping, and pleasure, carrying many people, besides our daughter, our son, or me.

Downstate, the horse managed to overshadow some of the bigger, flashier, warm-blooded breeds in regional and state dressage shows, and win championships. He was a favorite of the regional Pony Club. Ibn spent four years on our high school equestrian team, being ridden in everything from saddle seat, to Western Pleasure, to jumping. As a cross-country horse, the little gray Arab rode to hounds at the Waterloo Hunt. He was fearless, unless he had to deal with cows. Dairy cows would send him galloping away in the opposite direction. In all of this, though, Ibn was never lame. In fact, Ibn was never sick. Ibn’s only malady was a skin condition known as “rain rot.” For the last two years it seemed chronic on his hindquarters. Ironically, it had all but cleared the month before he died.

The worst thing that ever happened to Ibn was that he grew old. This brings me to mention euthanasia. It is a very emotional discussion and experience for pet owners of any kind, including horses. Some people even refuse to talk about it, however, as a responsible equestrian owner, lecturer, and writer, I do think the subject needs to be addressed. How long does one let an animal live when they’ve reached an advanced stage, especially a horse?

We were very lucky that our horse did not have to suffer long before he died, but he did. Ironically, for us, multiple horse owners for decades, we had made no plans for Ibn when he did die. We had four other horses. We were so fortunate that we were able to secure a final resting spot for him, find a backhoe on a Sunday morning, by chance, and have a nearly 60-degree day. We knew for a long time that Ibn was not getting younger. It was as if no one in our family wanted to wear the “black hat” and say we needed to pick the day and the time and put him down.

If we had the option, would we do this again? I, for one, would have opted for euthanasia. Others may disagree, but I feel that all horse owners really need to have some kind of plan about their horse. Keep it somewhere for reference, if and when that time comes, especially if you have an older horse. There is a lot of information out there to gather, and to think about, and it is important. Ownership of any animal also means responsibility along with love. I am so glad this horse touched many, especially those on Mackinac. Farewell to a sublime four-legged wonder.

“Horses leave footprints in your heart”… Anonymous

Candice Dunnigan is a resident, writer, and equestrian on Mackinac Island. She belongs to various national and local equine organizations.

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