April 16th, 2015 will be my horses 7th birthday. His name is Jack. As I contemplate a blog piece to commemorate Jack’s birthday, I come to the realization that our story began many years prior to the day I brought him home. It began long before he was born.
My love for this stripped back buckskin began with a love of all things horse. Their smell, their warmth and their therapeutic effect on a shy, awkward kid struggling to fit in. I was “different.” I was “odd”. I was “backwards.” Words over-heard from a childhood I would one day come to embrace.
My earliest memory is of climbing on a fence and sliding onto the back of an un-broke filly named Popcorn; the day I found my true place in the world. I remember looking down at a fascinating black line that ran from her withers to the base of her tail. Is this what holds her together? She was huge. I was huge. No longer tethered to the earth with mere mortals, I was part of a creature as free as the wind itself.
If I had a belly ache or felt sad or scared, I rode. There is something about the motion of sitting a horse that frees you of physical and mental pain like nothing in modern medicine.
The horse is incapable of judging and they won’t laugh at you (although I won’t say the same for a mule, but that is another story). The horse accepts you for what you are based on your spirit, not your outward appearance. When I ride, I become as graceful and uninhibited as the beautiful animal beneath me.
Horses have carried me far away from the terrors of my dreams and those that bled into reality. I needn’t be afraid… for a horse is, and always will be, faster than the boogeyman.
The horse saw me through a challenging childhood. From an imaginary herd that escorted me to school each morning to the Morgan Quarter-horse mare that waited for my return. I hated everything about school from the nauseating bus ride in, to the long boring hours of lecture to the humiliation that can only be experienced during lunch in a school cafeteria.
I knew this herd of wild steeds was a figment of my imagination, but they were necessary. I needed them. The herd ran alongside the bus to school each day. I stared out the small latched windows at manes that flowed like currents of speed on the wind. Recalling each by name kept my mind off the caustic smell of vinyl seats and the stomach-churning sway of the yellow transport. I imagined the creepy high school boy in the back seat being trampled beneath their stampeding hooves as he hissed unspeakable things no child should hear. The herd got me to school and safely home. As soon as my blue lace-up Converse sneakers stepped off the bus onto home ground, I made for the pasture to soothe the day’s wounds.
Life after graduation prohibited keeping a horse for many years. Occasional visits home temporarily filled the longing left behind. I’d wander the pastures of my past where I once played, exploring remnants of old forts built by the hands of a child’s imagination. At visits end, which always came too soon, I’d swing on Popcorn for a reluctant ride back to the present. At 27, Popcorn passed away. Going home would never be the same.
In my early 20’s I married a Ferrier and horse trader. Immersed in all things horse, you would think the gap would be closed. It was not. I rode a few good horses and plenty of bad ones. None of them felt like “my horse.” The ones that bucked me off or tried to kill me I didn’t want and the horses I liked and could ride were often sold out from under me.
It wasn’t until after a divorce that I considered the possibility of finding my very own horse again. I had a decent job that afforded the luxury of purchasing a small ranchett; A very empty ranchett. I remember standing in the middle of 5 acres wondering what the heck I was doing with property if I wasn’t going to fill it up. I had a dog, chickens, goats and an occasional cat that came and went. Still, something was missing. It wasn’t until a trip back home that I realized what that something was.
I happen to be in Halfway, my home town, over the same weekend as my Aunt Karen. Auntie Karen had recently purchased a pretty bay mare named Addie. I don’t normally ride other people’s horses but for some reason I really wanted to ride Addie and my Aunt complied. Addie brought me home. I knew if I could find a horse like her, I’d find the one thing that would make my pasture, and my heart, complete.
I explored different avenues in my search for the perfect horse. I skimmed bulletin boards hanging in feed stores and sale yards; perused the farm sections of classified ads and Craig’s List. Nothing I saw felt right. A horseback riding accident that landed me in the hospital years earlier had left behind a crippled leg and shattered confidence. I needed a horse I trusted and felt comfortable with. I needed a dream horse – and that’s where I found him, on dreamhorse.com.
I didn’t have the nerve or the time to start another colt. I was looking for a 6-8 year old ranch gelding, preferably buckskin if I had a choice. As I flipped through the on-line profiles of horses looking for that “forever” home, I damn near missed him. I had accidently left the “age” field in the search criteria unchecked. I liked his looks right off. He had a nice big butt and deep chest. He was certainly the right color. He had to be older than the listed age of year and a half. It must have been a type-o. The fact he was locally located in Caldwell was a bonus. Close enough to take a look even if he was younger than I wanted.
The breeder had two colts left to sell before going out of the horse business; a buckskin dun and a red dun. The buckskin was the one I’d come to look at. Nadine, the breeder, suggested I look at both colts as both were for sale. The red dun was stunning. Perfect confirmation – flashy markings, he had it all…except what I was looking for. He wasn’t “my horse.”
“My horse” stared back at me from the corner of the paddock. His tail had been chewed off, his mane stuck up every direction but down. His frizzy forelock exposed a star that more resembled a kidney bean than an actual star and appeared to struggle at finding the center of his forehead. He had a head that some might say only a mother could love and a scar that ran from his pastern to the bulb of his heal. He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I had found “my horse.”
Five and a half years later will find Jack and me riding through the sage strewn sands of the high desert. There is no stress from work or daily life. I feel no aches or pains. I am transformed from a body that has endured a half century of trials and tribulations to one of ageless defiance. The 1200 pounds of powerful buckskin beneath me carries me from sunup to sunset with ease. I ride without fear not because I am brave…because I know in my heart that “my horse” will always be faster than the boogeyman.