I can’t even remember my life before him, but then again- I was only eight when I met him and began horseback riding. And in retrospect, I was pretty sure he would kill me when I was eight and I certainly never thought it would get to this point because I think I hated him a little at first, as I was surely scared to death of him. He had his own personality; his own ideas and his own way things should be done. And he wasn’t shy about telling you how it should be done. I finally gave up trying to ride him and learned to just ride with him instead. That was really the only way to go.
He is gone now, and I struggle with missing him. My thoughts to memories, mostly happy memories. And I started to realize that even my not-so-happy memories of him are actually happy in many ways. The day I thought I was going to die going through that first ditch taught me to trust him. His illness when we were both 17 taught me persistence and strength – and also that horse blood does actually wash out of clothes. The disaster after disaster of my four shows long showing career; that you don’t have to have a ribbon or someone’s opinion to let you know where your talent lies; that beauty is only an opinion that gracefulness isn’t always found where people think it needs to be placed. When I left that show ring after my beautiful horse lost a halter class to a donkey… I never looked back and never let anyone judge him again. If only I’d been able to teach myself that lesson about me sooner. Anyhow- I guess we got our final justification when we won a blue ribbon for our photograph in a photo contest. We always were prettier than we were talented. Sigh… someone has to do it.
If my reminiscing goes on long enough, I move on from “life lessons” to actual memories. The feel of those first loped steps and then never looking back; Sally (my instructor) yelling at me over and over, “Heels Down! Keep your HEELS DOWN!”; painting him like an Indian pony and braiding his hair and tying bows on him – the poor emasculated animal; the way his tail looked after a bath and hours of grooming; that crazy- free feeling of grabbing his mane in my hands and holding on for dear life at a run. The hours I spent just sitting on his back in the pasture, riding around on him all summer; friends and I trying to learn that trick they do in John Wayne movies where you ride and grab the girl’s arm to swing her up. I slammed into his side so many times. And trying to learn to jump up over his rump? That is obviously only a trick done in movies with trampolines and all it gets you in real life is a slam into your horse’s rump. Poor patient animal. To the end of his life, I always took particular pride in his following me without a halter or lead line and hearing parents tell their kids, “look at how he just follows her.” Self-centered, yes, but hey, we all need our moments. The day I used him as a ladder to climb over a fence and rescue a dog, sitting on him and holding a little child in front of me so they wouldn’t be scared the first time they loped, the feeling of “rightness” whenever I sat on him- just knowing I belonged there.
I told him two things in the last minutes of his life. I reminded him that for years he was my only friend, and thanked him. And I told him to meet me at the gate when I get to Heaven. And even in his pain, he leaned his head on me and gave that sweet little exhale of breath that always meant, “OK, I love you”.
My tears still come, sometimes in a trickle and sometimes pouring out. And I will always feel the hurt of the moment I had to walk away from him, to the house, knowing that I would never see him again. Or never in this life. Because loosing someone that is a part of you is painful- it truly tears away a part of your heart. But sometimes the scars left behind aren’t ugly. Sometimes they’re a reminder of something beautiful and make you remember what you were before and what you have become. They can remind you of times you cherish deeply and that made you what you are. They keep you from forgetting.
One time my sister told me that Little Man always looked to her as if you could just put a bow tie on him and take him to a party. So true. He was elegant and handsome and truly majestic in the way he carried himself. He was proud and true. And he had the characteristics we should all strive for in ourselves. Simple right and wrong, pure love, no judgment. We all know he had his ornery, pain in the butt side- but that just made him human. He was not fake, not pretentious. He was just always himself and always 100% real.
Don’t be sad for me- be sad for all of the children who will never know what a true lope feels like- but not for me. Because what is there to loose in this life? All the good we will see again in Heaven, along with mounds of wonder we can’t even imagine. Picture him like I do, groomed by the angels and gleaming next to his mother in the light of the glory of God- so much more beautiful than the sun’s light, waiting with his mother in a beautiful pasture behind the “place He has prepared for us” in Heaven just waiting patiently- like they’ve always waited for us. And I know he is there, because I know Jesus is coming back on a gray horse. (I know, I know- the Bible reads “white” horse. But John was not an equestrian and he had no idea that “white” didn’t exactly mean white. He meant gray, I’m sure of it.)