I recently made the heart-wrenching decision to sell my gorgeous paint horse. He was the sports car model of the horse world: fast and quick, eye-catching and a lot of fun to ride. He was also full of himself, and needed a lot of riding. After an unforeseen hospital stay last spring, and a desire to commit more time to my writing career, my head persuaded my heart that it was time to let him go, and I found him a great home. But owning a horse means loving a horse, and I cried big time tears when he left.
There were still four-legged critters in the pasture. I had one old donkey, and I wasted no time in finding her another donkey for a companion. This satisfied my equine needs for a couple of weeks, but walking around the barn, opening the tack room to see my unused saddle sitting on its stand, left an empty feeling inside. I wanted, and needed, another horse.
By now it was late summer, and we can have severe winters here in the northwest. My head told me I should at least wait until spring for another horse. My heart caused me to start looking on Craig's List every five minutes for new horse listings. Writers tend to be a little obsessive, especially when on a quest.
This time I wanted an older horse, calm and reliable, that I could ride only occasionally. We had a barn full of hay, lots of pasture, and a nice big stall. What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of horses needing homes. I knew the unwanted horse population was pervasive, but I didn't realize how bad it really was until I started searching.
Good looking, well-trained horses were still selling to people who wanted to enjoy riding during what was left of the summer months. But unwanted horses: horses on their last legs, thin horses, young horses with no training, horses with too much spirit, or horses with a touch of lameness or arthritis, were standing in pastures, straining their owner's pocketbooks, languishing uncared for in people's backyards, with no one to take them in, even for free. When I put the word out about what I was looking for, I was inundated with frantic phone calls from people wanting me to take their horse off their hands.
Between the dire economic times, the overpopulation of horses, the high cost of feeding and caring for a horse, and the waning lack of knowledge about horses as we become a more urban society, many gorgeous, magnificent animals now sit in fields and corrals, neglected and unwanted.
My newest manuscript, THE GIRL WHO REMEMBERED HORSES, is set in a future time when humans have almost entirely forgotten about horses and their connection to humankind. Sounds far-fetched, you say? I think perhaps not.
But in my case, I decided that an older horse might fit my situation well. Not only would I be giving an animal a home, but an older horse should be settled and calm, and might do well with only occasional riding. If only I could find the right one.
After a few days of searching, I answered a rather desperate sounding ad: Wanted - Someone with Barn. The horse I went out to see was an old gelding of indeterminate age and origin. About two hundred pounds underweight, he had spent the last brutal winter outside with a blanket, but no barn. He was long out of the habit of steady riding, but when I threw a saddle on his bony back, he walked out slowly and carefully, without a moment's hesitation. I wavered. Was he sound enough? Could I get his weight back on before winter?
This time my heart took over. I hitched up my trailer and brought him home. He made friends with my donkeys and settled in immediately.
Now, watching him stroll sedately around the pasture, checking out his new surroundings, I feel like I just traded in my sports car for a rusty Oldsmobile. Way past his prime, but with a heart of pure gold, Buddy approaches and lays his head on my shoulder. This old horse has healed a hole in my heart. Horses can touch people, in ways that we can never imagine. Please, let's not forget them.