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 the 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.