Goodbye, Old Friend


Preface: I said goodbye to my dear, 29-year old Saddlebred lesson horse, Stevie, last week. I'd known him for over half of his life - I met him at William Woods University in 1996, where I was a student and he was a donated lesson horse.

My dear, brave, sweet Stevie,

It's hard to imagine how reluctant I was to buy you, considering that we've had twelve years together.  I still remember the first time I rode you my first semester at William Woods - it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, and it happened right in front of  world-famous riding instructor Gayle Lampe!  We had to canter a figure-eight, my saddle slid sideways, you went hopping around, sporting a trimmed mane and nothing to grab onto, and you weren't interested in helping me one bit!  You never did have much interest in figure work -  you were a Champion Three Gaited Saddlebred with a mission to take those victory passes on your own terms, often leaving your young riders in the dirt as you trotted out of the ring with your blue ribbon!

You taught me a very important lesson that day - I had a lot to learn and I didn't ever want to ride you again!  Your constant antics in the stall, your hunger strikes, your epic victory passes, your habit of eating students - you were a perpetual source of disruption in the William Woods barn, at the horse shows, and in the classroom as we learned that there are exceptions to every rule.  Especially with Stevie.

So when Gayle Lampe called me the year after I graduated to ask me if I needed a lesson horse, because you were for sale, I told here that I was not interested in a lesson horse that eats students and bucks people off at horse shows.  And she replied, "He doesn't do that anymore - he's older and more mellow now."  Or something like that.  But I was not a fan of Getting Even Steven, so I told her, "No, thank you."

But a month later you were for sale again.  The phone call went something like this:   "Lisa, it's Megan, from William Woods - I bought Stevie, but I need to sell him because I'm taking a job that won't let me have a horse, and Ms. Lampe said you might want to buy him."

Sigh. Who was I to argue with Gayle Lampe?  At least not twice, anyway!  So I sent Megan a check and she put you on a trailer from Ames, Iowa to Oshkosh, WI.

By the time you stepped off the trailer in Oshkosh, you had taken all of your shoes off and ripped your tail out.  You didn't have a mane the last time I'd seen you and it had grown in nicely - on the wrong (left) side.  I don't really know what I was expecting.  

But hey - I'm a lefty, too, so maybe we had more in common that I'd thought!

I quickly learned that mellow wasn't your style.  But I admired your spirit, and thought I could teach you a thing or two, and we'd figure out how to teach lessons together.  Ha!  Turns out I was the one that had some stuff to learn, didn't I?

You were far more patient with me than I was with you.  After all I was just a dumb kid and you already knew EVERYTHING, right?  By the end of our first summer together half of my students hated you, and the other half were kind of afraid of you.  But I was merely annoyed with you, and didn't figure I could convince anybody to buy you, anyway.  So off to Colorado we went...

Where I quickly learned that you already had quite a reputation.  When I proudly told the trainer I was going to work for in Denver that I was bringing a horse named Getting Even Steven, she startlingly exclaimed, "You can't bring that horse here!  He's completely crazy!  I've seen him try to kill people!"  Whilst wrapping my head around the fact that you'd already made a name for yourself as an outlaw in the horse community to which I was scheduled to move the following week, I explained, "He doesn't do that any more - he's older and more mellow now."  Whoa, channeling Gayle Lampe!  

Many students and blue ribbons later, including Arizona State Pleasure Driving Champion, you were a local superstar, and turned that ugly old reputation for being naughty (mostly) on its head!  In the eight years we taught lessons together, I had about as many people offer to buy you as ask me, "Is that old horse really worth all the trouble?"  "No, he's not for sale," and "Yes, he most certainly is worth it!"

Our adventures were never boring - you had a way of taking any sure thing and adding a Stevie Twist, usually in the final moment!  There was a surprise outcome to everything you did - you made me think on my feet!  You were still teaching me how to train, teach, trust, and love while giving many young students the ride of a lifetime.  You taught me a lot about hard work, determination, and courage.  And that you don't do trail rides.

You were the original Energizer Pony - when the going got tough you never, ever quit.  You had more try, more heart, and more soul than any horse I've ever known.  You were also the sportiest, most athletic horse I've ever known, and I'm including your trail riding gymnastics and carrot-trick yoga games with all of those enthusiastic victory passes.  And yours was certainly the proudest blue ribbon I ever received - Open English Pleasure Champion - when you were 20 years old!

I know now that you put up with all the beginner students, summer campers, and Halloween costumes because you liked hanging out with me.  I was your mom, your cheerleader, friend, and your human counterpart.  And if you behaved, you got to go to horse shows, where everyone could admire you as you trotted out of the arena with another blue ribbon.  I remember watching you size up the competition before your classes - you really did know everything, didn't you?

Neither of us handled your retirement very well.  Pasture life clearly was not up your alley, but you eventually learned to live outside in a "private" run - it was easier to torment your neighbors when you could actually reach them, anyway!  The first time I caught you picking up your rubber feed pan to wallop the horse next to you, I couldn't help but belly-laugh, you were very seriously hilarious in your distate for horses not quite up to "Stevie standards".  Which includes most every horse you've ever met.  Especially geldings.  And horses with spots.  

I could write forever about my spunky little white-faced horse and our adventures, but I'm afraid any attempt to summarize your life, a life lived so powerfully, so purposefully, and so profoundly could only fall painfully short of describing the once-in-a-lifetime, larger-than-life, rockstar- superhorse-companion-partner-teacher-healer-and-friend that you were to me.  So I'll stop here for now, but I'll write more later, because there's just so, so much more.  I am honored to have had the privilege of sharing almost half of your life with you.  Thank you for reminding me to laugh at myself, live with relish, love hard, and be myself, no matter what anyone else says or does.

I can't wait for our next ride, Love.


Beautiful story Lisa. This reminded me of my 33 year old paint

Beautiful story Lisa.  This reminded me of my 33 year old paint Randy who left for his home in the sky in November 2008.  I still ride with him in my dreams.  Best way to heal the missing is by sharing the adventure.  Hugs


I remember your Randy!

girlbert's picture

Nancy Joy,

I still remember meeting Randy when during my first visit to Iowa after Chatrigna moved there.  I remember helping Chatrigna chase him (I think it was him?) and the other horses around the pasture to bring them in for dinner a couple of nights!

I also remember the first time I told you about Stevie and his big, opinionated personality, and you said, "Oh - so he represents your dark side!"  It set me back a moment, and I think Chatrigna may have even (lovingly) smirked on the other side of the breakfast table!  But I quickly realized how right-on you were, and have been seeing different parts of myself in all of my animal friends ever since!

And I remember when I visited you and Chatrigna in 2006, the weather wasn't super for doing much horse stuff, but Chatrigna sent me pictures of the two of you riding together before she left to go back home, and I still have them somewhere.  I think about our visits often, and wish I could spend more time with the two of you.

Someday. Soon!

Love and hugs,




rebelprince26's picture

What year was that that I went to visit you in Colorado?  I was in college and one spring break I took a trip to Colorado to see my Big Sister!  It was really my first grown up vacation without Mom and Dad around.  Well, on this ocassion, I got to go with you to your barn and you said, "Hey!  Let's go for a trail ride!"   I'd never had much luck with trail rides (remember that one year on vacation we went on a trail ride and my horse REFUSED to take the same path as everyone else?), but I thought, "I'm older now.  This will be fun!"

And then you put me on Stevie.  Oh, Stevie!  I didn't really know him at all at this point, so I wasn't worried.  We were out on the trail, and he was behaving really well.  You were impressed with my riding skills, saying I was a natural, all the while forgetting all those lessons I had on the rocking horse as a kid, and I was having a great time.


And then you said, "Do you want to learn how to canter?"  I'd actually cantered before.  Maybe you forgot, but I hadn't.  It was in a ring, and it was scary.  You feel like you're going to fall off the entire time.  I prefer trotting, because I'm really good at posting.


Reluctantly, I agreed.  Probobaly because I wanted to impress you.  So you set about explaining all the stepsI needed to take in order to go from walk to canter.  Then you said, "OK, GO!" and I did!  Stevie and I cantered beautifully for about 50 feet and then he stopped.  Phew!  I'd survived!  You were so proud of me!  And like a proud big sister, you insisted I do it again!


I think Stevie probably knew I didn't want to.  And I also think he not having this shit anymore.  We started cantering and he decided the best way to get rid of this fool on his back and put an end to this "trail ride" was to make a sharp turn left.  I kept going straight, of course, and landed in a heap on the ground with a heavy THUD!


You were beside yourself with fear, worried that Mom and Dad would think you were trying to kill me (Especially Dad, with his horror stories of Genia trying to kill HIM!), so you got off your horse and ran over to check on me.  Meanwhile, Stevie was already high-tailing it back home.  As I lay on the ground, gasping for breath from the wind being knocked out of me, you looked around and saw a tiny dot of a horse in the distance getting farther away and said, "I'm so sorry to just leave you here, but I have to go get Stevie!"


And off you went.  You left your poor little brother, your ONLY SIBLING, who had fallen off a horse for the first time, NEAR DEATH in the middle of nowhere because Stevie threw a tantrum. Hahaha!  It was fine, though, and you eventually came back with Stevie in tow.  I know that when you fall off a horse you're supposed to get right back on it again, but there was something in Stevie's eyes that told both of us, "I'm done with this.  Don't you dare put him back on me while we're this far away from an arena."


So you got on Stevie, and I rode someone (I can't remember who I rode!) back to the house and just laid down the rest of the day.  I think Stevie gave you a hard time the rest of the way home, too.  How many times does he need to remind you he doesn't do trail rides?


I'm pretty sure that I got back on Stevie the next day, but we were both in an arena so he didn't give me any trouble.  Do you think he felt bad?  It's strange, but I was never actually mad at Stevie for throwing me off like that.  It's like I understood that he'd had enough and was ready to go back to the barn.


Do you ever wonder that he'd heard Dad talking about his experiences riding Genia's horse and thought he should carry on the tradition?  :)

That booger!

girlbert's picture

I was so mad at him that day!  But even madder at myself, almost killing you like that!  I thought for sure you might think I'd done it on purpose, but the truth is, I was so nervous, trying to make sure that your ride, your entire visit, was fun and exciting, and that I would get rave reviews when you got back home to Illinois!  

Exciting it certainly was, but my hopes for a fun trail riding experience were quickly dashed, just moments into that second canter.  As soon as you gave him the signal, I sensed that he was in Victory Pass mode, but "Whoa!" just didn't reach my lips in time.  Then it happened - he ducked left, you were.  Not.  Going.  With.  No!  Reggie and I trotted up to you, in a pile on the ground, as Stevie ran A-WAY.  I jumped off Reg; you were gasping for air, bleeding, and your glasses had flown off!  What had I done to my poor little brother?  I was so worried that you were hurt, but you were so brave!  I did ask you if you were okay, like a good sister, before I went to find Stevie.  I thought he'd never let me catch him, with all that steam coming out of my ears!  But he finally did, and I came back to get my you up out of the dirt, and put you on the good horse to ride home.  I was proud of you for getting on Reggie, but so embarrassed and traumatized by what had just happened, that it took everything I had to ride back and keep Stevie in line while watching you to make sure you were really okay.

You rode Reggie part of the way home, but you got off at some point and led him, because he was so wound up from all the activity, was bouncing all over the place!  I thought, "This is it - my brother will never ride a horse again." 

I did feel like we were reenacting those stories of Dad and Genia, with Stevie being "Moe" reincarnated!  So much guilt!  Your first visit to Colorado, and I try to kill you with my crazy, non-trail horse on a trail ride!  My special treat!  I thought you'd never speak to me again, much less come to visit, or want to ride a horse again.

Stevie and I did one more trail ride after that, and it was full-on  equine gymnastics the entire time.  I'll never forget it - he probably spent about a thousand times more energy than was necessary that day, bucking and hopping and twisting around the 10 other Quarter Horse types, just sauntering along, wondering, "What the hell is wrong with that guy?"  Stevie probably thought I was riding him in a herd of wild boars or something!  "I'm a SHOW HORSE!"  "Where is the arena?  Save me from all these wild animals!  I'm going to get a sunburn!"  On the bright side, I did get a lot of compliments on how well I could stay on a horse that day!

It was really nice of you to forgive Stevie, though.  And really cool that you can look back and recognize he never meant to be mean, he just had special needs that were not being accommodated to his satisfaction, at least most of the time.  I guess horse or human, you're both my brothers, both Tomlins, and both bullheaded Tauruses - no wonder you got along so well!  And no wonder I love you both so much!


Your Big Sister


Hi, Girlbert! I don't mean to equivocate your loss with my loss of Brandeis. Only that I have some inkling of what it's like for you to have lost Getting Even Steven. I'm convinced there's an Energizer Pony on the Rainbow Bridge waiting for all of us.

Hi Lisa, It was a pleasure

Hi Lisa,

It was a pleasure meeting you at Oliver's birthday party!  I enjoyed our conversation so much. 

Your blog is wonderful!  I love the flowers you painted for your mother.

Love to you; I'll keep you in my thoughts.    Barbara

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