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ANIMALS

A Troubled Ending

May 04, 1986|KATHLEEN BROWN

Carol Holmes' first view of 3-year-old Appaloosa gelding Comrie Caprice was of "pink eyes in a dark stall, a scrawny tail and a few white snowflakes on a gangly black body." Hardly the show prospect she was seeking for her young daughter Kim. Yet, there was something special him, she knew, because he came right over and began licking her, thus earning the name Killer in that inexplicable custom that dubs a fat person Tiny or a tall one Shorty. But it's Killer's tail this story is about, not his name.

Four years later--in October, 1978-- the hills of Malibu were ravaged by a fire that left the Holmes' White Cloud Ranch the only thing standing for miles. While the fire raged on all sides, Killer, ridden by then-16-year-old Kim, led strings of younger horses to relative safety. On the third trip, an entire hillside exploded into flames, and Kim, frightened, jumped off, leaving Killer to his own devices. After what seemed like an eternity, Killer came limping through the smoke, a branch run through his left front leg, patches of hair still smoldering and his tail burned clear off.

When the smoke cleared, his veterinarian that discovered the branch had missed all major arteries, tendons and ligaments. Two weeks later, Killer appeared at a prestigious show in San Francisco's Cow Palace, where he won four out of five classes. A week after that, he went to the World Championship Appaloosa Show in Oklahoma City, where he took championships in jumping and negotiating trail obstacles, and missed winning the all-around championship by one point. All with no tail.

Coming home from that show, in Texas, Killer somehow got turned upside down in the trailer, all four feet in the air, and bloated up like a balloon. He couldn't be budged. A vet flew in by helicopter from more than a hundred miles away and came running, not with his black bag, but with a shotgun. But while waiting for the vet, Holmes had gotten a tow truck to come from a nearby garage. They had attached chains to Killer's legs, which were protected by heavily padded traveling boots, and hauled him out. After briefly walking Killer around, Holmes loaded him back into the trailer and continued. He ended up with no damage other than a minor cut over one eye, which swelled into an enormous shiner. For the next three days, as they traveled to a show just below the Oregon border, Killer alternately wore ice packs and beefsteaks over his eye--and won high point honors at the show, black eye, burned off tail and all. One day, the Holmeses got a call from a movie studio that needed a horse for a TV movie about a dying boy whose dying grandfather buys an old broken-down horse for the boy to care for. Killer, though, was neither old nor broken down, so a makeup artist drew in ribs and colored his hair gray. Killer would relax his ears on command, hang his head and drag his feet, creating the pure pathos the role required. Killer won the hearts of the entire film crew with his clever tricks: begging ice cream, lemon Popsicles, and even drinking soda by tipping a cup in his teeth.

But back to the tail. Killer had long been known on the show circuit by his tail, or lack thereof. Just when it had grown back, Killer, again on the way to a show, kept switching that tail in the face of the horse behind him. That horse, tiring of Killer's games, bit through his tail to the bone, leaving a three-inch stump. At the show, the Holmeses borrowed a false tail, but just as Killer was going in the ring a bee landed on his rump and he switched the tail with enough force that it flew off, landing at the judge's feet. Killer won the class anyway.

Killer's 15 now. His tail will never be beautiful by anyone's standards, but, then, it's at the opposite end of all the intelligence, personality and courage, so who cares?

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