This is the story of a horse. A very special horse..
Now if you follow my blog then you know here at Betty’s house we ride horses competitively (cutting horses, gymkhana) and for fun (trail riding, etc.). Nothing brings our family greater satisfaction than introducing a child to the joys of riding horses. The feeling of freedom so many never experience in a lifetime that comes from loping in an arena aboard a 1500 pound animal.
But it wasn’t always that way here at our ranch. There was a time when if I never saw another horse again it would be too soon. Growing up on a horse ranch as a child, I had my fill of horses and the chores that went along with raising these four-legged beasts. I never understood why they came before us children? My self-centered life revolved around much more important things than feeding and watering them twice a day. It was always an inconvenience for me and I was a sniveling pain in the ass to my parents.
Simply put, I was too young and self-absorbed to realize these chores equated to valuable life lessons instilled by my parents. Lessons that would form who I became, as life away from home molded me into the man I am today. Animals have a way of inadvertently teaching, by forcing you to learn responsibility, punctuality, empathy, kindness, courage and patience. I learned all these important traits from begrudgingly taking care of horses and sheep on our ranch.
So what does this have to do with a story about a horse?
When I left home, animals had left a bad taste in my mouth. I swore to the heavens above I would never, ever own a horse again. As a young adult I worked with a few horses on a dairy and would ride them any chance I could while hanging out with friends. My skills were average but I could hold my own using lessons taught by my mother. The reality? I never was looking to head down the old equine trail ever again. You see all those years of watching my parents struggle to make ends meet while raising, training, showing and riding horses combined with the responsibility of feeding, watering and caring for these creatures left me feeling very strongly in regards to never owning a horse.
When I was a teenager my parents dissolved the horse business, selling off all their animals, taking jobs in town and soon purchasing and raising ostriches for meat. No more horses! Hurray! Life seemed pretty good.
Then one day my dad purchased a horse named Gold Piece. He was—–Gold—– I know hard to believe huh? He was a Tennessee walker.
The Tennessee Walker or Tennessee Walking Horse is a breed of riding horse. Originally bred in the Southern United States to carry the owners of plantations around their lands, this breed is known for their unique four-beat “running walk.” The breed is rarely seen in any of the sport horse disciplines; however, they are popular in trail riding because of their smooth gait, stamina and easy temper. They are also seen in Western riding disciplines and in harness. –Wikipedia—
Gold Piece was a tall horse with a wonderful gate, he was friendly enough and my father adored him. My parents built him a fine paddock at their home and Gold Piece quickly became my father’s four legged friend. There doesn’t seem to be a recollection of my father ever riding Gold Piece although my mother claims she has been atop this steed. For years Gold Piece just roamed his little 3 acre patch coming in to eat in the morning and talk with my dad (as dad puts it) repeating the same schedule of events in the evening.
I never understood why someone would own a horse without riding it. Horses to me at the time werent pets, but livestock and should have been used as such. It’s in the animals best interest to be worked and exercised everyday, used to their potential. So needless to say it bothered me that this horse just walked around, eating his way through my parents finances. (Complete self-absorption huh?)
My parents eventually sold their home and moved onto our ranch, Gold Piece in tow, allowing them to ease their financial burdens while growing older. We made a home for the horse and before long seeing him out there ignited a passion inside our children. We acquired a few horses (against my better judgment) and all my children began to ride. My wife took the lead as her love for all animals carried over into caring for these creatures as well. All the while Gold Piece just stared blankly from his paddock while watching us do our thing. I would go pet him and tell him I was sorry he wasnt being ridden then remind him he was dads and I really didn’t want to cross that line. During the winter my wife found an affordable arena for us to board our horses so the children could ride out of the rain as our place would turn into a bit of a mud pit. After a few weeks and some favorable reviews to my parents, Gold Piece soon joined us at my father’s request. It made dad feel good to know his buddy was out of the weather, and socializing with other horses. My father had developed some health issues that year which slowed him down a bit; so he dropped by the barn everyday when he felt good, every couple of days when he didn’t, but his horse was always there, head hanging out of the stall, happy to see him. In fact it used to make me chuckle, because I could never figure out how the horse knew my father had arrived on the premises. But sure enough, trucks would come and go, then when dads truck arrived Gold Pieces head would pop right out and he would start licking his lips in anticipation of the apple/oat cookies my dad always carried in his pocket.
One day while watching the kids ride, I tired of sitting on the sidelines, if my dad wasn’t going to ride this horse well gosh darn it I was! I grabbed a saddle, pulled down his bit, tacked him up and moved off into the arena. Within fifteen minutes my head was abuzz with all the memories of riding horses at my parents ranch as a kid, with friends while growing up, and on trail rides as a young adult. Gold Piece had reignited a passion I had suppressed for far too long.
This horse, single-handedly or Hoofed as the case may be erased my ignorance, awakened the realization my parents hadn’t been punishing me with all those chores as a kid; he helped me understand what I needed to do as a father with my own children and brought back my need to ride, enjoy the thrill of riding, along with competing against other trained animals working as team towards a common goal. During his tenure at the barn Gold Piece gave many of our young friends their first rides in the arena and he gave my oldest a reason to ride with his father. Always willing and full of steam Gold Piece would go until the verge of collapse if you asked him too. (Pretty cool horse.) My younger children seeing their parents ride this big Gold trotting machine wanted to ride every chance they could. If it wasn’t for Gold Piece my wife and I wouldn’t have met and made friends with a wonderful group of people that we ride horses with to this very day! He and his stubbornness also introduced me to my “sister from another mister”. For that I am very thankful.
Gold Piece wasn’t always perfect, he challenged me every chance he could, made me earn my way around the arena on more than one occasion and taught me through sheer will to ride again, for that I am very appreciative. But what he lacked in patience under saddle he more than made up for in personality outside the arena. He never kicked, bit or pushed his weight around. If you were small he side-stepped out of your way while carefully keeping an eye on you. He always let you pet him and was happy to do so. The little ones had no problem grooming him and he eased under pressure from the brush, much like a cat would purr at a belly rub. He was just a good old horse.
Gold Piece passed away today. My daughter found him down in his stall this morning when she went out to feed. He was close to 30, fighting cancer and we all knew the day was coming. But it didn’t make it any easier. My father is devastated. As I sit here writing this I believe this horse was probably my father’s last true friend; always there when he needed him, never argued or disagreed with him and listened with nothing but the best of intentions. Nothing is harder than watching your dad cry. My mother is doing her best stiff upper lip imitation as always, but I know deep inside she is hurting as well, not just for herself but for the loss of my father’s dear friend.
A funny thing, for all he taught us he never asked for very much in return. He ate his hay, talked to my dad and went about his daily business like that of a proud Tennessee walker. Upon hearing of his passing, a friend of ours dropped us a note on Facebook that read; I think he (Gold Piece) heard there was a little girl from CT that needed him…..It may sound a little crazy but I looked it up on Yahoo news and it’s true. Little 6-year-old spitfire, Jessica Rekos, one of the 20 children that perished at Sandy Hook Elementary School had desperately wished for a horse and was going to get cowboy boots for Christmas.
Because I believe there is a God, because I believe that everything happens for a reason and because I know that horse would never have left my dad for anything in the world, maybe just maybe it’s possible to believe there was a higher calling and he (Gold Piece) answered that call, meeting up in heaven with a little girl who wanted nothing more than a horse of her own. I could think of no greater comfort for such a little soul, and maybe, just maybe her parents can now rest a little easier. The lord will take wonderful care of her as she rides the heavens above upon her beautiful horse of gold.
Rest In Peace both of you, the fields are endless, you are both safe now, god speed…