December 7th, 2021, marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Harold Laten, a fellow horseperson and good friend.
I met Harold when I temporarily boarded my Charlie (also known as Really Royal Stock) at a local barn; he was boarding his horse Amigo there at the same time. He and Charlie were treat buddies, with Harold calling my horse Charlie the Mooch. (Harold was correct in his thinking.)
Amigo, though large for the breed, is a registered Paso Fino. There was seldom a day that his owner – a resident of The Villages, Florida – did not make it to the barn to see his horse. Harold rode Amigo consistently, until about 3 years before his death at 90 years of age; he would have been 91 in the following March. I believe Amigo was four when he was purchased in South Florida, and he and Harold were together for approximately 25 years.
Some people seem to bear the brunt of life, and Mr. Laten was one of them. A Korean War veteran, Harold served in both the US Air Force as well as the Army. Although blessed with the gift of gab, Harold rarely spoke of his time in Korea; he once told me that he nearly froze to death while there, but that was all he related about his service during the war. Always telling a joke or complaining about some trivial pursuit, he never spoke of what he endured while serving his country. Later while going through some of his papers, I found pictures of him on horseback while in uniform and someone actually drew a cartoon calling him the “horse man”.
After Harold’s death, a neighbor revealed that he, too, had served in Korea – and that Harold had survived one of the bloodiest battles in the Korean war. He was one of only a few of his regiment that came home alive.
After his time in two military forces, Harold also became a hairstylist and owned his own shop for a number of years. He later went back to work for the United States government and retired from the Pentagon as a fire extinguisher maintenance employee.
Harold lived life to the fullest, whether he was working, riding his horse, traveling abroad, sailing, or stopping at every garage sale on his way home. But his eyesight finally failed him, and he called me up one day and said I had to take Amigo. Harold always said he wanted me to have Amigo if something happened to him; at the time, I just said sure and brushed it off.
I never thought the day would come.
So a friend and I went to his current barn and loaded Amigo into my horse trailer…after the third attempt, anyway. Amigo had a habit of doing a surprise reverse, jerking the lead out of your hand and taking off just when you reached the trailer. Always. I remember telling Harold, Amigo was terrified of his driving; I wasn’t kidding.
I made my exit from the barn as I bought a home with property and Charlie came to live with me at my residence. Still, we had many good memories during our time at this barn and after.
Then the pandemic hit. Harold’s health was in decline, and his sight was nearly gone (though he still drove his golf cart). Once before the pandemic, I passed him on the highway hitchhiking. He was headed to Wal-Mart, a couple of miles down the road, and his golf cart battery had died. I remember thinking that the man I passed at 45 miles per hour resembled Harold, but never once did I realize it was him.
He left the golf cart where it ceased to roll and was going to Wal-Mart, no matter what. That was Harold.
Two years before he passed, someone hit him in a parking lot with their car; he spent the next year in rehab. The following year, the last year of his life, was only a year of survival. And then one day he fell, laying on the floor unable to get up. After being discovered, an ambulance took him to the local hospital.
This time, he didn’t make it home.
I do wish I had spent more time with Harold during the last year of his life. I can make excuses – blame it on Covid, or that I was busy – but the fact is…I just didn’t see it coming. Though it was evident his time was short, I ignored the reality.
It was purely by chance that I was with Harold as he was taking his last breaths. I kissed his forehead and promised him I would love Amigo; I told him I loved him as well, and to enjoy his next adventure. I am grateful I was with him when he passed.
Amigo, gray-faced with hip bones protruding, is still under my care and showing his 32 years of age. In the pasture, I catch him sleeping his eyes half shut, the breeze slightly moving his still thick mane. I didn’t need another horse, but I am happy Amigo is with me.
Every morning as I feed Amigo, I am reminded of my friend and the good times we had – and I am also reminded that we will all face the same reality. The world seems to be spinning faster; Harold’s passing seems like just a few months ago.
As horse owners, we need to plan for those in our care. And not just our horses, but other pets as well. Our family. We can take nothing for granted.
Rest in peace, Harold. Amigo and I miss you.