Sara Corce Visuals

Stills, film & multimedia journalist
Sometimes I write

The life of my copper penny

My phone chirped early that Friday morning.

I was delirious with exhaustion, after spending the last 48 hours celebrating the birth (hours of labor, inevitable c-section and total drama) of my beautiful niece, as I rolled over to check the screen.

Dad and I had only been home, in our atlanta house, for maybe 6 hours. I was supposed to leave for North Carolina in a couple of hours.

Instead of seeing a text from my sister, or from my mother – who had stayed behind in Alabama to help with the newest family member- I saw a blurb from Facebook.

Ms. Wanda had sent me a short note, but as my sleepy eyes caught the words “Toby” and “colic” and “come over when you can,” I tore off the covers, somehow instantly dressed, and was in my car headed for the farm.

During the 10 minute drive, I knew something was off. I knew colic. My other horse has kept my family up many, many nights with all the classic symptoms- the pinned ears, the kicks to the stomach, the heavy sighs and hard stare at his sides, the pacing, the rolling. We figured out the fool horse was often dehydrated, because of playful distractions called his friends. But that’s Goldi, and he’s always been bit of a moron.

But Toby? He always drinks. He’s the outlier from the old saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Because Toby will always stick his face in a water trough, bucket, puddle, my face as I drink my own water bottle, for a list of examples. He eats AND drinks. Always.

I buzzed through the rest of the colic symptoms as I drove, but my gut said it wasn’t what everyone assumed. Which was more terrifying, since that just meant that I had absolutely no idea what we would face next.

I park in the same spot I did when I was 16, 17 and 18; that same spot I took when my first solo driving adventure lead me to Silvercloud Farm, to visit my red quarter horse, who has a silly apostrophe in his registered name, but we just call Toby. (Ages 13-15, Mom drove, obviously)

The vet was due any minute, so I crunch across the gravel drive, beelining for his stall.

I peek through his door to see a sad-looking sorrel horse, who slightly perks at my voice.

“I saw you two days ago, you jerk, and you were fine,” I grumbled.

He follows me to the wash bay and leans into my body as soon as he can. I hear the truck tires at the front of the barn, door slam.

Owner and vet exchange the various pleasantries and such while they poke, prod, check all of the whatevers of your equine other-half. I’m convinced horse people are terrible clients, mostly because we all know just enough to be specifically annoying, with our questions and our doubts. Or maybe that’s just me– I question a lot, often.

All I took away from his cursory vet check that morning was that he had a fever, elevated heart rate, and while his symptoms could be considered colic-y,  loose stool and lack of thirst was more likely a case of colitis.

So, instead of driving back home to my husband and our tiny apartment, I spent the next 10 hours at my Toby’s side. Every step he took, I took. I watched him sniff grass and not eat. I watched him hover over his full bucket of water, and not drink. I rubbed his face, neck and shoulders as he laid down (which he hates doing in his stall), trying to sleep through whatever his body was fighting.

When the vet warily returned that night, his fever hadn’t broken. I called my husband, my dad and my mother, and we all decided to send him to the EQ ER at my alma mater, Glory Glory to ol’ Georgia, ASAP. (Equine, Emergency Room, University of Georgia, it’s cool if you got lost here…)

It was raining as we hit the road. My father followed the trailer, and thankfully I wasn’t behind any wheel. I was just the crazy, nervous sleep-deprived passenger. I anxiously watched the headlights of my father’s car in the mirrors, and he watched the red Toby tail swish from side to side, in the back of the trailer.

We were met by a wonderful, wonderful team of people as we rolled into the emergency bay, close to 9 that stupid Fridaynight.

My big red, my copper penny, went from my side to theirs, faithfully following kind voices into a heat-controlled, isolated building, where he spent the next few days.

IV drips, antibiotics, blood draws, and  bags of ice on his feet. I stroked his nose, while chatting with a vet school student, who made notes on his medical chart. I noticed Toby perk a little once he was inside the warm stall, getting all kinds of attention from the handful of people mingling around. New people always meant treats, to him, so my heart fluttered with hope. Hope because he was hungry.

Four days, four thousand dollars, and  pages of inconclusive results later, Toby was bright, back to guzzling buckets of water and HANGRY. (hungry + angry/ sometimes I talk, write like Liz Lemon).

My family and my Silvercloud Farm family decided Toby should return to the Caldwell farm (our atlanta house), the home he’d left over two years prior, to recuperate from whatever had ravaged his immune system.

I promised him, and my parents, the arrangement would be temporary.  I spent the next month searching for a barn in my neighborhood, thrilled my heart-horse was healthy, well and coming to live with me.

By the middle of March, my (very hairy) copper penny, was munching hay in a pasture at Brookefield Farm, about thirty minutes from our little house in Pinehurst. (yeah, we closed on our house the week he got here, so clearly my life thrives in stressful situations.)

All of my life puzzle pieces were falling back into place. A new home in a new area, in my new role as a wife, starting my new job at a new (to me) newspaper (because newspapers aren’t new, HA), and my big red,copper penny was HERE. He was with me, he was home. So, I was home. Does that make sense?

The constant I clung to during every single transition from age 14-27, aside from my parents and God, was this goofy and sometimes grumpy horse named “It’s Toby.”

See, I told you that apostrophe was annoying.

Saturdays were spent at the barn again. Entire days of me and him; in fact, whenever someone would ask how long the red guy and I had been together, I would joke about him being my longest relationship, still going strong. My husband smirks when I say this, only because he knows it’s true and that I’m being serious.

It wasn’t long before I decided to step away from the newspaper life, burned out from the work load and unhappy with how ALL of my time was scheduled away. I wasn’t making pictures or stories I was proud of, and I barely saw my husband, let alone my horse.

I was facing another transition.

So, I turned to my Toby. My weekly barn trips turned into 3 or more, and it was clear to everyone just how happy we were.

His gentleness, his silliness, met everyone at the barn with big brown eyes and a content heart.

I’d get comments like “How old is he? He looks GOOD!” as we trot down the rail, or canter over poles, or move along the lunge line.

Trainers would say “Oh he’s so consistent, you work so well together, oh he’s so good!” and I’d think “well yeah, we’ve had over a decade of practice.”

I gave him racing stripes this winter, trying my hand at fancy english body clips. He looked ridiculous, but stopped sweating in our too-mild November.

Once our North Carolina heat kicked in, I gave him two full clips since April. For some reason, his winter coat is always fluffy and thick only to shed out thin, staying long.

Always Eager for a Treat Toby was also known as Hairy Toby or Super Sweaty Toby.

And since my old red was used to special treatment/spoiled rotten, he got an extra stall fan this summer (every summer he’s been mine, actually) and his own fly-spray concentrate, automatically spraying every 10 minutes or so, keeping his stall practically fly free.

He hates having his mane pulled, so I roached it for the first time in all our years together. A funny mohawk quickly grew, but he was happy to have all that hair off his neck, I could tell.

He was happy. That’s the biggest thing.

You see, when he was my lesson horse (about 15 years ago), I met him at a time in his life when he wasn’t happy.

All those years ago, Eleven-year-old me tried to saddle then about 7 or 8-year-old him up for a quick lesson; I’d never even paid attention to him before, but it was a windy day, and he was spooking at the gusts. Our trainer had us put him back in his stall.

In all of my first show pictures, where I’m sitting on top of a lanky paint horse named Vince, I easily find Toby in the line up, with his last owner. He’s grinding at the bit. Angry.

I’m a little fuzzy on how I went from Vince to Toby– the horse I knew as the spook– but something about the spook called to me. And I thought I could help.

Well, Shelby and I thought we could help. Twins with the horse bug tend to tackle everything together.

Shelby had started working mostly with Vince and I was working with Toby.

Every time Toby spooked or seemed funny, I’d walk him, talk to him and distract him until he was calm.

I was also quick to discipline. If he bit me, I’d smack him. (He used to bite me, anyone and everyone, a lot)

If he tried to step on me, I’d back him in circles until he was still.

Just as quick as I was to correct him, I was quick with praise, too.

After each ride, I’d loosen his girth and scratch his neck, signaling a job well done.

In our lessons, we worked on the basics. I needed the basics, and so did he. Step for step, we handled them together. The transitions, the woahs and the pivots. Instead of getting upset or frustrated with each other, I was patient. He, over time, learned to have patience for me, too.

The horse who I knew as the spook, and the horse everyone else (I learned this later) knew as the kicker, the biter, and the one who rushes to attack other horses in the arena, was now the horse that waited for the short, blonde girls whenever he saw the Caldwell car roll into the parking lot.

He was now the horse who didn’t rush anything under saddle. The horse who stood quietly for grooming, the horse who knickers at the sight of his girls.

But he wasn’t ours yet. Eventually, word had gotten around that the Caldwells were smitten with the no-more-grump, and after nights of begging, convincing and praying, Shelby and I had our own horse, our own Toby.

Now, some of those reading (if you’ve gotten this far) might know my sister, Shelby. And if you know us, together, then you know we are terrible at sharing. Absolutely terrible.

Maybe it’s a twin thing, maybe we kicked the crap out of each other in the womb, but gosh with this horse, we were different. We both knew how monumental the decision my parents made on the purchase of him was, so we wouldn’t dare fight about him.

True, I had my troubles convincing Shelby she wanted Toby as much as I did; my family knew his heart and mine spoke in a way no one else quite understood, but Shelby liked his big eyes and shy gentleness, knowing any horse that could be OUR horse was better than no horse…

Toby now had two 13 (almost 14-year-olds) obsessed with him.

Two horse crazy girls absolutely crazy for him.

Months passed. We got him properly fitted for saddles, with regular appointments for back adjustments. We moved him from the small facility, without a single blade of grass for him to graze, to the rolling hills of Silvercloud Farm.

The first night we turned him and Vince (the lanky paint) loose in their 1 acre of private pasture, they ran and bucked, joyous for the space.

In short, he was happy.

Sure, after some more time, Shelby got her own steed- the moron I affectionately mentioned ages ago.

Goldi brought his own quirks into the Caldwell family, but Toby recognized he was another addition to our family, welcoming him at the round bale.

The pair of horses were always found together in the pasture, usually with Toby playing the role of the older brother, trying to keep the palomino twit out of trouble.

Fast forward through years of horse shows, 4-H clinics, games rallies, benefits, summer camps, youth group messages, and so much more.

Trophies, ribbons, even broken limbs (mine).

Riding lessons with lifelong friends. That’s you, Margaret and Catherine.

Horse shows with lifelong friends. Again, you two mentioned above (Yes, there were more girls we rode with, but these two message me regularly to this day)

Nights spent bathing, banding, clipping and braiding.

Nights spent singing loudly along to Cher (yep) at the top of our lungs, in the barn aisle at the horse park, because we wanted to check on our horses one more time, but got distracted by being teenagers and amazing music blaring from the car.

Without my red, copper penny, I wouldn’t be smiling over these memories as I type, because I wouldn’t have them.

With Toby came friends, came relationships and came family. Barn families, but families just the same.

After High School, we brought our horses to our home, about 10 minutes from Silvercloud, with a barn specifically built for Toby and Goldi to share.

Life was happening, time was passing and Toby’s girls were growing up, even though we didn’t want to.

Fast forward a few more years.

Goldi moved to Alabama to be with Shelby, and eventually Toby moved to North Carolina to be with me.

Dan knew marrying me came with a horse, but by the time our wedding happened, Toby knew his car when it passed by the pasture and would wait for him just like he waited for me.

Again, Toby was happy– happy with his life, happy with his home and happy to have me near again.

Back to the regular back adjustments, weekly body massages, and liniment baths.

Joint and arthritis meds mixed in with beet pulp, soothed his old man aches and pains, but he didn’t really care as long as an apple pie lara bar somehow found its way in the grain bucket, too.

Two weeks ago, my barn owner mentioned Toby wasn’t drinking his normal amount, and she’d started him on electrolytes.

“Weird,” I thought, but in his older age, I’d noticed small changes in his habits. He was still drinking, and after our ride last week, he marched over to a water trough, guzzling like normal. I had no worries.

Though, I didn’t know then that last week was our last ride.

On the lunge line, that Wednesday, I took video of him trotting, cantering around me. I hadn’t recorded much of him lately, and I felt compelled to whip out my phone.

Our ride was simple, circles and transitions.

At it’s end, I loosed his girth and went to pull the reins over his head, to have him lean his face on my front for a nice, sweaty face scratch. I had no worries.

I hosed him off, washing his mane and tail. I rubbed his back with liniment, laughing as he squirmed once it started tingling. I conditioned his coat with that pink stuff we horse people buy for too much money. I gave him extra treats after his side stretches. I conditioned his hooves and stretched his legs, before taking him back to his stall.

After putting all of my tack away, and cleaning out the wash bay, I went back to his stall. He was quietly munching on strands of hay he’d missed earlier, and I could tell he was happy and content. I hugged his neck and kissed him on the nose, saying I’d see  him in a couple days.

Friday morning, I came out for my lesson (on another horse, hey Herbie). I was there as Tim brought him in for his morning grain, and I made some silly comment about Toby thanking him for food.

“Ha, you’re welcome Toby Tobes.”

After an hour of jumps and early summer heat, I decided not to ride my copper penny that day, but instead give him another liniment bath, helping whatever soreness he still had from our Wednesday ride.

He pranced as the liniment soaked in, but nothing about his behavior threw me. He acted like himself, eager for treats and time under his stall fans. I kissed his nose, just like I’d done for 13 years, and said “bye babe” after I left him in his stall, munching on hay, like normal.

I had no worries.

Sunday came with horse shows and laughter. My show days have long since been over, but I still go and cheer on my new friends as they prove their hard work to the rest of our local horse world. Plus, as a horse show patron, it’s a lot less stressful.

At least my morning wasn’t stressful.

I remember everything that happened next vividly, but forgive me, I don’t want to share the specifics.

I was called to the barn in a panic, but another call less than 10 minutes later told me he was gone. I was only halfway there.

Dan was driving, trying to hold me while I sob-screamed. I called my mother, shaking, still screaming, confused trying to understand.

I was too upset to make arrangements; Dan handled the next few calls with the vet, who offered to come to the farm, but I said no, since there was nothing he could do.

Dan wouldn’t let me run to the pasture. He walked with me as we found my penny lying down, in his favorite place, at the round bale.

I laid on top of him for a few minutes, or longer, I don’t know. I cried a lot. I’m crying now.

My barn family was there; red faced and swollen eyes, all of us, devastated.

People I’ve known for almost two years, hurting with me over the sudden loss of my best friend. They loved him, too, because like I said: we are a family.

We worked together on his burial arrangements. After speaking to the vet again, we all accept it was probably a heart attack, taking him swiftly.

And I’m thankful for that.

I’m thankful for a lot of things, even as random crying spells strike.

For the kind hearts who cried with me Sunday afternoon.

For the kind hearts who reached out to me these last few days.

For the time I had with the best horse, the best friend I’ll ever have.

And for the heart he gave me, in exchange for mine.


He’s just waiting at another gate for me now.

And when I get there, he’ll knicker, he’ll nose the latch, I’ll pat his neck and we’ll ride away.

I’ll be with my constant, my copper penny.

Like always.


Jaclyn Anderson Headshots ASP release signed $200 for session 20 final images for use only by subject, Jaclyn Anderson

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