A couple weeks ago a friend and I were watching our girls ride horses. Grace's friend has this great little horse that she rides all the time. They have been together for several years now and they have a whole lot of fun together. They have that bond that only exists between a girl and her horse. The one that comes from working together and struggling with what it is to learn from each other and teach each other how it works. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
I commented to my friend that that horse is going to be a part of who her daughter is forever. That horse will always be a piece of her. I guess you can say that I speak from experience.
In the early 1980s my dad traded two bull calves for a colt, Shamere. He was a wild thing. We had to rope him to catch him, actually. He was 3/4 Arabian and 1/4 quarter horse. Nothing special in his blood lines. Nothing special to look at. Horse people would think that anyway. But he was mine.
I had no idea what I was doing, but he and I struck out in the world and finally came to many agreements. Agreements such as I don't mind a crow hop every now and again, but I like to keep my behind where I had it. And he can go fast, but on my terms, but he better cross the canal when I want him to or we will spend an hour or more coming back to it and actually be at it long enough that great grandpa notices and walks all the way out to the back forty just to check on us.
And speaking of that old cowboy, we went with great grandpa on his last ride. It happened rather spur of the moment. We had been working cows at his place and when we were done we had an extra horse that needed to get back home. I think someone kind of jokingly said, "Grandpa could ride her." And then we all looked at one another a bit surprised like. I had never seen him on a horse. But gosh darn if he didn't end up on old Peanuts and we rode the two miles home. I remember looking at him on that horse. He had that faraway look in his eyes. I still get choked up thinking about it.
Shamere and I spent all our time chasing cows or running around in the foothills of our mountains. We swam canals, jumped logs, jumped over puddles, carried calves in from the back forty, and one time we even got hit by a mad bull. I rarely had the inclination to even put a saddle on, which meant he spent some time standing in low spots and being lead around so I could find the right rock to use as a booster.
He was my friend, my therapy, and my escape. I would come home from school or finish my jobs for the day and go find him for a ride in the hills. I always came back a better person and I am positive that did my family good.
He gave rides to anyone who visited and wanted a ride. He even did a birthday party once.
When dad sold the farm, Shamere came to live with us in Washington. There he introduced our kids and their friends to riding. It was incredible. If I got on him, he would dance around and just want to go. But if we put any of the kids on him, he would just stand there and wait for us to tell him what to do. And the best story of all is when my very pregnant-with-twins friend got on him and took off in an attempt to move things forward a little. Or a lot. It didn't work, at least immediately, but it still makes for a good story! My friends and their kids love him still. The old man was touching lives outside of our family.
Then he moved to Eastern Idaho with us. And then North Idaho. Here he spent the last two years teaching Grace a thing or two about riding. She even took him to 4-H horse camp last year. She spent a bunch of time getting him into shape and they had a great time. He showed off his cow sense (which was nothing to brag about really other than he knew they were cows and had an idea of what to do with them, which was more than most of the other horses in there!). He played cowboy polo, experienced an English saddle, and got all dressed up for drill team. It may have been the busiest week of his life! But he was absolutely up for it and it was an incredible week for us all.
Later that summer the girls took the horses swimming. And wouldn't you know it if the old man was the only horse that would actually swim! That's a long way from the young guy who wouldn't cross the canal and always shied away and dumped me off in puddles. He probably just thought it was fun.
That bond was forming. I loved watching it.
Last summer Grace got a new horse. Thanks to what Shamere taught her, she is teaching that horse a thing or two about what she expects from a horse. The bar has been set pretty high. Just this week I was watching her with that new horse, Custer. He was feeling his youth and giving her a bit of a hard time. And she lit into him and made him pay attention and start behaving. I stood on the deck just watching and swelling with pride.
With the new horse for the older girls (we got a little old lady mare for Calla and she is in LOVE!) Shamere started getting more attention from the five-year-old girl. We would saddle him and throw her on and they would ride around and around in the field out front. She loved it. He loved it. He had a new girl.
But just like everything else, my old boy was getting old. Last summer the vet told me he was running of teeth. It is really hard to eat without teeth. And he was suffering from what she calls "the curse of the gray horse." Basically, they start to get melanomas growing all over their bodies. But he still looked good and was eager to please. In fact, at one of Grace's shows last summer, he scared the daylights out of her when he gave her a little crow hop in one of the events. Apparently he forgot that he was almost 30. I got it on video.
Last summer at camp, he actually bit Grace. Up to that point, he had never bitten anyone. Looking back, I think that cinching him up that particular time actually hurt. This spring I realized that he hadn't wintered well, at all. He seemed weak and had lost a lot of weight. And he wasn't gaining any of it back.
The vet agreed with my assessment. His teeth were no longer much good. The melanomas were bigger and were around in his neck and mouth and were beginning to disrupt basic functions. He wasn't suffering yet, but he wasn't far from it and he was not going to get better.
I guess I knew it was coming.
Our family has amazing friends. And this horse touched them as well. When we made the decision to have him put down, things just fell into place. One friend offered his final resting place. One family offered to make it ready for him. Several families offered to take the kids if we needed it. Everyone was thinking about is and praying for us. My dad even showed up. I was overwhelmed by it all.
I don't know how it went down nearly 30 years ago when he traded two bull calves for a horse, but I don't think my dad could have had any idea how many lives that horse would touch. And change.
I blame that horse for the fact that I after having sworn not to drag kids and horses all over the country, I have spent the last two years doing just that. And loving every minute of it. I blame him for that, too. I also blame him for the fact that I am looking forward to it for years now. I blame him for the fact that my oldest girls are confident and actually pretty good at handling their animals that are over ten times their size. I blame him for the fact that I get to watch them, heart swelling, as they smile excitedly and tell me what they did with their horse or as I watch them try new things with determination. I blame him for the fact that I look forward to the same thing for my two younger ones as well. I blame him for a lot of things.
But the truth is, he is a part of who I was. He is a part of who I am. And he will always be a part of who I become. And he is a part of who our family was, who our family is, and who we will be.
A girl and her horse. It is always a beautiful thing.
We miss you already old boy. Thank you for being so awesome.