Brendan Fearon, owner and operator of Old Town Carriage Co. in Eureka, has lost his draft horse, Barney, who died after his health rapidly failed over the weekend. (Dan Squier — The Times-Standard)
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The trouble began on Friday night and by the time the weekend was over, the horse popular for his calm demeanor during carriage tours in Old Town Eureka had died, leaving the carriage company without a draft horse.

The word began to spread early Tuesday morning that Barney was gone and for his owner, Brendan Fearon, it was an unwelcome surprise, particularly as it was the second horse he has lost this year. The reasons for Barney’s passing remain unclear and according to Fearon the true cause may never be known.

“It’s always a shock when a horse dies and it was a particular shock with Barney,” Fearon said Tuesday afternoon. “The horse was having some issues and we had the veterinarian here and we tried some chiropractic stuff. It may have been neurological, a slipped disc or a trapped nerve. There was something in his mannerism on Friday and I stayed with him.”

Old Town Carriage Co. owner Brendan Fearing stores his carriages and his horses at the Victorian carriage house at the Blue Ox Mill Works in Eureka. (Jose Quezada — For the Times-Standard)

While Fearon and the vet searched for the cause of Barney’s malaise, the horse continued to downgrade and Fearon realized at one point something was seriously amiss.

“I called the vet and told her something was wrong, he was eating and pooping so it wasn’t colic because they won’t eat if they have colic,” Fearon said. “The vet looked at him and said she didn’t know what was going on at the moment. Then I went, ‘Oh, no,’ all four legs wouldn’t hold him. The brain impulses weren’t getting through to the skeleton. At a quarter to five, he was standing. At a quarter to seven, he was down.”

Fearon said as Barney became rapidly weaker they tried various treatments in an effort to discover the problem but to no avail. Twenty minutes after the vet told Fearon to call with any changes Barney had passed away and now the search for a successor is underway. Fearon said he was relieved that Barney passed away at home in his stable and did not go down while on a tour in Eureka.

Barney was stabled at the Blue Ox Mill Works in Eureka, an arrangement that was perfect for Fearon, his horses and for the owners of Blue Ox. Barney was a popular animal and was friends with one of the mill’s own horses, Niña, and spent his off-hours stabled in the mill’s Victorian carriage house

“There is a hole in Blue Ox right now,” said mill co-owner Viviana Hollenbeck. “Barney was majestic and most of the people who come to Blue Ox have never seen a draft horse up close or an animal of the size of Barney. I’ve taken photos of entire families standing in front of Barney and they were in awe of his personality and appearance.”

On its Facebook page, Blue Ox Mill Works asked the public to post photos they had taken of Barney. Hollenbeck said they will collect those photos, blow them up and display them at Barney’s stall in remembrance.

As for which horse will next take the yoke in Old Town, Fearon said he has reached out to horse connections in the state and across the country and replacing Barney won’t be simple.

The animal must be mature, it must be able to handle the streets of Eureka and the vehicle and pedestrian traffic and most importantly it must have the endurance to stand for stretches at a time. Fearon has coordinated with horse owner Larry Doss who has seven draft horses in his stable. Feron is currently testing one of those seven to see if the horse can do the job.

“You can always get a horse to go; what’s important is their demeanor. Does the horse have the patience to stand? There is always a breaking-in period,” Fearon said. “I’ve taken horse straight off the plow (as he described his time in New York City when he used to drive to Amish country in New York state to purchase a new draft horse) but here I am isolated and we don’t have Amish country. The number of horses available is limited.”

Fearon spent Tuesday working with a horse loaned to him by Doss and he described the animal as “an aggressive walker who has got a good trot on him” and the two will continue to work away from the public in an effort to see if the horse has what it takes for the job.

Doss certainly hopes the match has been made.

“The Old Town Carriage Company is some necessary fabric for Old Town Eureka,” Doss said. “We’re helping Brendan to find a solution and we are also helping him with finding some replacement horses.”

Barney is the second horse Fearon has lost this year after his other draft horse, Willie Nelson, passed away in January. Although he currently doesn’t have a working horse, Fearon has no plans on shutting down the carriage. Once he gets a horse who can handle the job he’ll be back on the streets.

“I don’t need a Ferrari, I need a pickup truck,” Fearon said as he described the price range for a draft horse which can range from $1,200 to upwards of $10,000. “I’m in a trial period with (Doss’) horse and it will be a few weeks until I find something suitable. Fortunately, I am primarily supported by my property ownership and I could go another month or two without a horse and not go out of business and I guarantee you I’m not going out of business.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528. 

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