As a weedy pre-teen, I outgrew my first show pony pretty quickly. So after the show season was over, I started riding a new horse: Chuck. Chuck was an older [probably mid-twenties?] Quarter Horse Gelding who had been there, done that; And by “done that,” I mean he’d done it all. He took me from a nervous walk/trot rider to a confident equestrian in just one summer. It’s amazing what an old schoolmaster can do for one’s confidence! He’s the first horse I really, truly bonded with and as you know, it’s not an experience you ever forget. My partnership with this wonderfully tolerant and special gelding is what set me on the path I’m on today and showed me that the thing I absolutely love most about horses is the bond you create and cherish with them.
Together, Chuck and I showed in local 4-H, and we tried our hands at everything: hunt seat equitation, western pleasure, showmanship, jumping and even barrel racing [Chuck’s favorite]. Even though we only shared a very short time together, we made a lot of memories I’ll never forget — like how he would never walk into the ring for a barrels class unless he was escorted directly up to the in-gate by his girlfriend, Joker [a mare my best friend rode]. Any other class? Sure, he’d walk right in, cool as a cucumber; but not for barrels! He was the first horse I tried to qualify for State Fair on, and even though we didn’t make the cut, I still remember looking over the comments the judge made to try to get better so we could qualify the following year. [For those unfamiliar with 4-H, in order to show at State Fair you have to qualify by receiving enough points in at least two classes. In a qualifying class instead of being placed against the other riders, you are judged against a “standard” and then receive “points against standard.” Each class has a minimum score you must receive to qualify.]
I also remember County Fair with Chuck: holding him outside the barn for hours on end because his owner wouldn’t let us stable there overnight. My most memorable ribbon with Chuck was at County Fair: 8th Place in Working Hunter Over Fences. My mom even managed to snap an awesome photo of us on course [which, now is uber-embarrassing because my equitation is literally non-existent] but I framed it and it’s hung on the wall of my room ever since. And aside from the show memories, I have so many of his sweet, grayed face. He might have been a bit of a goober sometimes, but he really was a great kid’s horse.
Unfortunately, what Chuck gave me most of all was my first experience of true, devastating loss. The following winter, I went through a phase where I wasn’t as motivated to go out to the barn. So I skipped a few lessons, and didn’t think anything of it. But after a few weeks, I finally got my act together and headed out to the barn with my BFF for a riding lesson… but Chuck wasn’t there. The barn owner told us he had gotten sick earlier in the week, and they took him to the vet hospital. I was pretty upset, but she didn’t make it sound that serious so I rode a different horse in my lesson, and then went to the hospital to visit. But the staff wouldn’t let us in, because we weren’t the owners. Sure, I was upset. But I figured I would just see him next week.
When next week came around, and we showed up at the barn the BO told us Chuck had passed away.
I was devastated. I never got to say goodbye, or say thank you. And it was all because I didn’t bother to go out to the barn for a few weeks in the dead of winter. I felt guilty, selfish and miserable for weeks on end. For a 12-year-old, it was a pretty dramatic experience and I kept a “shrine” in the corner of room to Chuck until the day I moved to college. So even though I’ve said it before, and it was so very long ago, I want to say thank you to the horse that showed me what love was really like, and what it means to be a horse owner: some of the best highs and the worst lows you can experience in life. But no matter how bad or how tough it gets, the good times are always worth the struggle.