HAYAKITA, HOKKAIDO, JAPAN (August 13) -- It's the ninth anniversary of the death of Zenya Yoshida, the founder of Shadai Farm. Rain has fallen for most of the day, growing stronger toward evening and the mood is grim at Shadai Stallion Station. In a barn set back from the others, a barn that was especially built to accommodate the aging Northern Taste, Sunday Silence battles what appear to be his longest odds yet.
Laminitis in the stallion's left foreleg has worsened and Sunday (as the Stallion Station staff members refer to Sunday Silence) has for the past two days remained standing. Apparently the pain has worsened in both forelegs, in the left from the laminitis and in the right from the original infection for which he was operated on three times. ''He has drawn his weight back over his hindquarters like a horse about to jump and has his feet drawn somewhat together in order to take the weight off them," said spokesman Eisuke Tokutake. "Before he would lie down a lot but now he's staying standing. If he lies down I don't think he's going to get up again. Then again, maybe he will. He's such a strong horse.''
Sunday's front legs are kept bandaged and electromagnetic tabs have been applied from the withers along his back and over his hindquarters. The horse has a good appetite and has, since June, been kept on strict rations in order to help reduce the weight his legs have to bear. Rotating shifts of staff workers and veterinarians watch over him round the clock, according to Tokutake. Special shoes have been made to elevate the heel of the right leg, where the tendon is separated.
Swelling in the hindlegs has worsened as well and it has failed, unlike earlier, to go down. Signs of laminitis have also appeared in the hindlegs. The stallion's temperature is also often elevated. ''Mentally, though he's very strong and holding his own. His eyes are still bright and you can feel his power,'' Tokutake explains.
''I wouldn't say we've given up on him. But, the pain is going to get worse and I would say that we do feel that it isn't right to have him continue fighting this. I think he could go on like this for a while yet. The question really is when we are going to have to say, it's enough.'' That decision, Tokutake says, will largely be made by the farm's veterinarian.
Offers to help Sunday in his fight have come in from around the world, especially from the United States. ''Since it hit the news in the States we've had many calls from veterinarians and farriers offering their help. The response has been really amazing. We've had people offering to come over immediately, people saying there's no reason for a horse to be put down because of laminitis and people claiming to have cured all kinds of laminitis cases. We've had someone, I believe it was an American Indian, give advice on herbal treatments and Japanese calling too to give advice on Chinese herbal treatments. We've had get-well wishes and prayers offered from overseas too,'' Tokutake says. ''Unfortunately, though, it's not just a case of laminitis. He's not in a condition to be treated really, because of the infection in the right foreleg.''
The response from the home fans has been mixed and relatively reserved. Some have sent get-well wishes and folded chains of tiny paper cranes, in what is a traditional get-well gesture. There has also, sadly, been a barrage of anger and frustration launched at the farm. Many Japanese fans, Tokutake says, have called to berate the staff. ''People call to yell at us, demanding to know why we can't help him. We've gotten a lot of e-mail messages like that as well.'' But mostly, Japanese have stayed away. ''We've had such a run of bad luck, End Sweep, El Condor Pasa, now Sunday. People don't know what to say. Sometimes I think God is having some fun with us. We can't see the cause of this, this infection. It seems to be something to have come from inside.'' Buddhist priests, as is the traditional Japanese custom in times of misfortune, have been called in to cleanse the farm.
All media persons have been barred from actually looking in on the proud champion. ''You wouldn't have people traipsing in and out of a sickroom of a bedridden person," said Totutake. "We simply don't want people from outside seeing him.''
The depth of Tokutake's feelings for the stallion are more apparent when he says, ''I want people to remember him as he always was, kicking and biting and strong. He was always so high voltage, so wired, that I often thought he would one day hurt himself. He wasn't crazy but he was so electrifying,'' Tokutake says. ''I'd think, how is he ever going to grow old and be able to put up with the boredom of life after retirement?''
Tokutake's face darkens. ''Everyone here is so affected by this,'' he says. ''For us, sure, it is a business, but, it's so much more, with Sunday. He's not a friendly horse. His attitude has always been of someone above you, like a boss. We've all come to rely on him so much, too much. We earn our keep because of him. Because of him people came to the farm. He brought in the money, the people, the talk. He's taken care of us. He is the boss. He's the proprieter.'' Tokutake, who started working with Shadai just as Sunday Silence's first foals were born, says he wishes he could see Sunday Silence grow old, like the farm's most senior member, the 31-year old Northern Taste. ''Northern Taste is full of life. It's unbelievable. The order of things just seems wrong.''
''You know,'' Tokutake says, ''I'm a man who has always enjoyed his drink. But. . . the sake just doesn't taste good anymore. Not good at all and so I've stopped drinking.'
Zenya Yoshida, the founder of Shadai, was responsible for purchasing and bringing Sunday Silence to Japan. ''It's the anniversary of his death today,'' Tokutake says. ''Sunday is so much like Zenya was. They both worked so hard from a young age. Strong-willed, fiery, with a strong sense of self. They both did so much for this farm. I don't know. Maybe, Zenya is coming to take Sunday with him.''