Posted by: Dave Neads | April 13, 2008

Annie’s Last Trail

I came around the corner and there she was, lying in the middle of the road, looking for all the world like a small Brontosaurus with a big distended body and a slender snakelike neck extended. Instantly, I could tell she was dead. The unnatural angle of the shoulders, the feet straight out, the tail curled over her back.

Annie was her name. Born in the Precipice in 1981, she was the last of the old time Precipice horses. She was sired by one of the Three Circle studs that came from Lester Dorsey’s bunch. A Percheron draft horse, she was a big, strong animal, weighing over a ton.

She had a personality to match her size. Although she could pull with the best of them if she felt like it, she was not fond of dogs, geldings or too much work. Nasty at times, she was a biter, not a kicker and she definitely had a mind of her own.

Annie was already in harness, still a dappled grey when we moved into the Precipice in 1986. On those hot summer days, when the dust devils staggered across the meadow, she would be leading the team, pulling the mower or the rake across field.

In the last few years, pure white now and retired by a 65-horsepower tractor and old age, Annie hung out around the winter feeder, gossiping with the new guys, telling stories and grabbing just a little more than her fair share of grub. Old mares are like that.

She never left the valley, never ventured up the road and into the great beyond. She was born here and never had any interest in the outside.

That is why I was so surprised to see her, three miles out on the trail, dead as a beached whale. Well, at least finding her solved part of the mystery. I was on my way to town, and all along the route, I could see several horse tracks heading out of the valley as well. What was going on?

When I found Annie, I could see where the other horses had been milling around her, then moved up the track a hundred metres or so, then yarded up again. It looked like they’d been there for a long time; the snow was really beaten down; without Annie to lead them, they were confused so they had finally turned around and traveled back to the Precipice.

What had happened? Annie as the old mare had surely led them here, out into the back of the beyond. But why? What had killed her?

After several conversations, the best explanation seems to be that horses tend to run away from pain, so perhaps Annie was looking for a pain-free place. The pain must have been bad for her to travel so far, to leave her birthplace, the only world she had ever known. The place where she had listened to the wolves’ full moon howls, tasted the beauty of tender spring grass, felt the bite of winter wind and chased all manner of bears, black or brown, mommas and cubs alike, across the big meadow and into the timber.

Old, out of shape, not used to the heavy exercise, she probably had a heart attack, dropping dead on the trail.

On the way home, as I came over the rise, there were at least a dozen eagles settled on the carcass. Coyote tracks abounded and it won’t be long before the wolves and the spring grizzlies show up for their share.

Perhaps this is the most fitting epitaph for Annie. To return to the wild of the ARK in which she was born, to be part of the eagles, wolves, coyotes and bears that she spent her life being aware of and entwined with as part of living here in this great wild place.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to Annie. I’d been so saddened to hear she had died. I wanted to know her story and how it happened. Life in the wild, such a raw and unforgiving environment. But at the same time it is wholesome, a state where you belong to the all that is. Annie had a good life of doing that and she does it in her death as well.

  2. Maddi:

    Thank you, as you say we “belong to all that is”


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