In the equine world, Tully is never going to win a beauty contest.
She’s kind of big and a little clumsy and slow. She’s 14 years old, definitely middle aged in horse years. Her sire was a Percheron draft horse, her dam a quarter horse.
Tully was born for one reason and one reason only — so that the urine collected from her pregnant mother could be used as a drug typically prescribed as hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women.
It’s a dreadful life for a horse. Tully’s mother stood in a straight stall for six months, unable to move around or go outside like a normal horse, never seeing the sun or feeling the wind in her mane.
Can you imagine any fate worse for a horse? They are herd animals. Their four legs are meant to move, to carry them from grass patch to grass patch, to roll on the ground with four legs kicking in the air. They are made to run, kick, buck and stand nose-to-tail in the shade switching flies off their equine friends.
As a mare — a female horse — Tully could have ended up next to her mother: nameless, impregnated over and over again, constrained to a stall for six months for the sole purpose of urine collection. Or she may have been sold, destined for a slaughter house.
Fortunately, fate intervened. The pregnant mare barns were shut down in the United States. And Tully was rescued, and found her first home.
A Wellsboro couple, Mary and John, took the black yearling in, transporting her from Michigan to northcentral Pennsylvania. They gave her a home, a barn, lots of attention and another horse companion.
They also gave her a name: Tully, which is Gaelic for “gentle one.” It suits her.
Mary and John and their children also gave their new companion lots of attention. Mary recalls eating pizza in the barn with her family, fondly watching their young horse. A neighbor trained Tully to the saddle and bridle and she and her companion would carry the family on slow, meandering rides through the hills.
Like I said, Tully is no beauty queen but she gets to you. It’s summer now. I know her black coat almost gleams white in places as she stands in the hot sun. The white diamond on her forehead is obscured by her long, crimpy forelock from under which she gazes at you with big, gentle brown eyes while nuzzling your shoulder for a treat.
My daughter Faith met Tully four years ago when she spent the night with Mary and John’s daughter. She woke early the morning after the sleepover and saw the gleaming, big black horse in the pasture through a window in the camper. And she lost her heart.
Nine years had passed, since she was adopted. Tully’s equine companion had died, Mary and John’s family was evolving and Tully needed a new home. Seeing how Faith was smitten, Mary asked: Would our family like to adopt Tully?
Faith had always loved horses, loved to ride, wanted her own horse. Was this the opportunity to get her a horse she wanted?
I remembered my own love for horses and am grateful to this day of my parent’s sacrifice to provide me with a horse. So we agreed.
Tully arrived a week or so later. We put her in the goat pasture, which was filled with chest-high grass. She immediately set about eating it down to near bare ground.
She made friends. One goat, Clyde, would often walk beneath her belly, his horns rubbing against it. She accepted it all calmly. No goat was kicked to kingdom come, although she did accidentally step on one. The goat’s leg sank into the soft mud under 1,000 pounds of horse. I pushed Tully over and the goat scuttled off, uninjured but deeply offended.
Tully loves water. Every time Faith refilled her trough, the horse stood beside it, begging silently to have water sprayed on her. Faith obliged.
And roll. Tully was the rollingest horse I ever met. She would drop to her knees, and her big butt would kerplunk down and she would roll from side to side, back and forth, before climbing to her feet and shaking a cloud of dust into the air.
But then our lives changed. Faith graduated from high school, got a job and had less time to spend with Tully. When she enlisted in the Air Force, it was time to look for a new home.
Faith was leaving in November. I knew it would be near impossible to find Tully a home at that time of year, so I prepared to keep her through the winter and try to find her a home in the spring.
Still, I reached out to a few horsemen and women I knew, asking if anyone was interested in a 13-year-old Percheron-quarter cross mare.
And miracle of miracles, someone was. Jen wanted a horse for her two young daughters. They had a variety of livestock and dogs and wanted to get a horse. Their riding instructor had a Percheron cross that they loved and hoped to find one like it.
They came to see Tully, threw a saddle on her back and rode off. I stayed behind, nervous. You can trust a horse, but you can never completely trust a horse. While Tully had always been good for us, you never know when something might trigger an unexpected response.
They came back and Jen asked what I wanted for her. All I want, I said, is for Tully to have a good home. She cost me nothing, I want nothing for her except that one thing. We shook hands.
The next week, we loaded Tully into a trailer and she left. It wasn’t the same without her.
But Jen sent me a friend request on Facebook and I’ve been able to watch her daughters with Tully.
There are pictures of them as they comb her long black tail, sit bareback on her while she wears nothing except a bridle and a purple fly mask to protect her eyes. It looks spanking with her black coat.
Two other horses have joined Tully on Jen’s farm. Mom and daughters are pictured with their mounts, making memories to last forever. I get messages. “She’s amazing.” I smile.
Can a horse look content? I don’t rightly know, but to me Tully looks like she is. She has a purpose, taking care of her young rider. They, in turn, give her lots of brushing and conversation and, hopefully, a few water baths. Plus she has friends to run after, play, kick and stand nose-to-tail in a shade tree.
She’s no beauty queen, but Tully will forever hold a special place in the hearts and memories of three families. We should all be so lucky.