Prince was the bombproof horse.
In his early years, the Egyptian Arabian carried a girl through state 4-H competition, and carried the girl’s father elk hunting in Montana. The father would shoot from the saddle, and Prince would pack them out with the carcass draped over his rump.
In his last years, Prince was comfortable in a neighborhood a little north of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Jets made their descents right over his field, and he kept grazing. The howitzer training and night firing didn’t faze him.
But last Friday, someone set off three illegal explosives near his shed and drove the bombproof horse to his death.
This neighborhood, where I happen to live, is not anti-fireworks. Military veterans, hunters, boilermakers, rugby players, long-timers, newcomers – we’ve all enjoyed legal fireworks during July’s eight-day gunpowder fest in unincorporated Pierce County.
Tonight after my holiday shift, I’ll point my Adirondack chair toward the best displays and watch other people burn their money.
But on the way home, I will drive past the crushed grass in the roadside ditch where Prince fell.
Friday night was the first night for legal fireworks in the county. Someone figured it was also time for illegal fireworks – the powerful “goes up or blows up” kind it’s against the law to detonate outside tribal lands.
Prince and his companion, Angel, were asleep in their shed. The horses’ owner, Denise Gunder, was pasturing them with Robin Landon. Gunder had planned to give Prince to Landon.
“At 10:30, we heard three great big bombs,” Landon said. “A short time later, we heard screeching tires, and someone said ‘Horse.’ I called the vet immediately and went to the ditch, and there he was, lying on his side.”
Prince had broken through the barriers in his shed and corral, zigzagged through outbuildings and gates, and bolted down the drive to East 96th Street.
Firefighters and Pierce County sheriff’s deputies arrived before the vet. Kneeling at Prince’s head, Landon heard snatches of conversations.
She heard that the dark bay horse had been on the side of the road when the young driver struck him. Prince had flipped onto the car, broken the windshield and fallen into the ditch.
The veterinarian came and determined Prince could not be saved. Landon stroked Prince’s head while the vet gave him a tranquilizer, then a lethal injection.
Landon went to check on Angel, and to break Gunder’s heart with a phone call. The horse she had given new life was now dead.
“Prince was a rescue,” Gunder said. “He was found in a pasture near Eatonville, skin and bones. It was February 2006, when we had a horrible, horrible winter. His water trough was upside down in the field. He was pawing through the snow so he could eat the mud.”
She contacted animal control and tracked his owners to Seattle. They told her Prince had been their daughter’s 4-H horse before she went away to college. They told her the father took him on pack trips in Montana to hunt elk, and that Prince never bolted at gunfire.
They told her Prince, then 18, was so old that they thought he would die soon, so they put him out to pasture.
Gunder took legal possession and went to fetch him.
“The girl had been a 4-H student of mine,” Gunder said. “He must have remembered me. He jumped in the horse trailer and waited to leave the bad situation he was in.”
As he healed and became beautiful again, Prince found his place among her other horses on a small farm off Canyon Road. He was gentle for children who rode him, and stopped if they dropped the reins. He was calm, no matter what.
“He would never bolt or kick or bite,” Gunder said. “If you had a scary situation, he would stop completely. He was bombproof.”
About a year ago, Gunder moved away and had to find new pastures, and people, for her horses.
Prince and Angel moved to our neighborhood where, it seemed to Gunder, we all look out for each other.
“(Landon) gave him that beautiful pasture,” Gunder said of the woman who provided a home to Prince for nearly a year. “She did everything that needed to be done for that horse. She patted him every day and told him he was beautiful.”
As the bombproof horse lay dying Friday, Landon stroked his head. She told Prince he was beautiful, that he was a good horse, a brave horse.
It is a shame some people in our neighborhood don’t live up to his standards.
Today it’s worth remembering how someone firing off illegal fireworks claimed a life as recklessly as if they’d fired a weapon.
“This was like someone randomly coming by with a shotgun,” Gunder said. “It’s like a drive-by shooting.”kathleen.merryman@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8677