As most of you may know, we lost our friend Bennie this week. By now, plenty has been written and said about Benburb, the Canadian champion and winner of over a million dollars. He was victorious over AP Indy and any number of other terrific racehorses during his career, and has been at Old Friends for several years now.
Bennie, like many gray horses, had melanoma and in the end the disease was too much for him. But the melanomas never seemed to bother him, and I often told people that Bennie had no idea those lumps on his body were an issue. He just wanted to enjoy his life, and he did. By the time I knew him Benburb the sleek racehorse had become a big, wide-bodied gelding; I always thought he would have made a terrific pleasure riding horse. Or even better, put a fancy silver-laden western saddle on him and some sparkle on his hoofs–he would have been a great old-time TV cowboy’s horse. Silver, Champ or Trigger would have had nothing on Bennie.
The thing about Benburb is it never mattered who was around him, what horses he was turned out with or what treatments he needed to receive. He was the same to everyone—kind, sweet, unassuming. I remember introducing him to some student farriers a year or so back. I told them a little about his racing career while his feet were trimmed. The whole time, Bennie nuzzled the person holding his lead rope, and when his feet were done, the farrier took the time to introduce Bennie to all the other students. That horse just had that kind of effect—once you knew Bennie, even a little, you wanted everyone else to know how special he was as well. People often assume that Thoroughbreds are a high strung breed, and certainly some Thoroughbreds are, but Bennie was the complete opposite. I have never known any horse, of any breed, that was calmer, gentler or less troublesome than our Bennie.
Bennie was kind of a calm, wise old uncle with other horses–he was the one tapped to pair up with young horses just off the track, and he would show them the pasture ropes. It didn’t matter if the youngster was aggressive, high-strung, or tightly wrapped. Bennie just did his thing and calmed the situation down. Bennie’s first young ward was Smokey Stover, and since then he has been paired with any number of bays and chestnuts. But I still think of him with Smokey–the white horse and the black one, contentedly grazing side by side.
During his time at Old Friends, Bennie lived in various stalls and paddocks all over the main farm and at the various annex farms nearby, depending on where his special skill set was needed. Most recently, Bennie lived at the annex farm in Midway, a couple stalls down from my friend Wallenda. While Bennie thought carrots were great, I always made a point to save a couple of Wallenda’s mints for him. That Bennie did love his mints!
You know, when some horses die, they leave a behind an empty space that no other horse can fill. And I mean that literally—I will only ever think of Black Tie Affair in “his” stall. Flying Pidgeon always occupies his paddock, no matter who else uses it. For me, Awad’s paddock will always be Awad’s, and Fortunate Prospect will forever be napping in the field behind the farm’s office. In my mind, Bennie will always be the distinctive, big white horse in a misty paddock next to some barn, teaching his newest buddy how to just be a horse.