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Thursday, February 24, 2011


Have you heard the expression "Heart Horse?" Well, here's mine:

This is the uncreatively-named Grey, who was, of course, a grey horse*. I honestly don't know what breed he was, but I'm guessing TB. See what you think (sorry about the fabulous "conformation" shot - I took this myself with my Brownie Instamatic):

Someone, perhaps the person holding him, had taken the time to braid Grey for this particular show. He sure looked handsome. But then, I thought he looked perfect on an ordinary day.

I do not remember meeting Grey for the first time. I DO know that I immediately fell madly, blissfully in love with him. Part of the reason was my innate attraction for underdogs, the unloved, and the unwanted (I recall picking up rocks on the way home from school because I felt sorry for them - yes, tenderhearted to a fault.). Most of the other lesson students at Tricorne did not like Grey: they thought he jumped too high over the jumps. They were right, too. He did have a tendency to clear every fence by an extra foot. Maybe part of it was something I just read about on another blog, which I'd never heard before. Apparently TBs are known for giving an extra little "hitch" in the back end over fences. At any rate, you were wise to grab mane when jumping him.

Was it his lovely white eyelashes? His divinely soft and pink nose? His beautiful dapples? Was it the way he seemed to know me, even when I showed up only once a week, and recognize that someone who genuinely cared was with him? I don't know. I just remember that we were somehow bonded, and shared that special connection that occurs when a horse and rider "get it." I'm guessing most of you know exactly what I'm talking about.

That's not to say that my Grey-Baby (the nickname I bestowed upon him) was always well-mannered. We had plenty of wrestling matches when I would try to bridle him and he thought it would be fun to raise his head as high up as possible. I usually resorted to kneeling or even standing on his manger, trying desperately not to fall into his water bucket. Naughty boy!

One of my favorite memories of Grey occurred one summer when I was attending riding camp at Tricorne. He was my assigned mount for the week (woe to the instructor who tried to give me another horse), and one day we had a grooming competition. I curried and brushed and bathed and combed until that guy was GLEAMING. This took some doing because he had a lot of white! I remember leading him over to the judging area and patting him while we were waiting. My hand hit his chest... and in that moment, I found it. The most amazing, softest, velvetiest thing I had ever touched in my whole life. You know that cute little valley between their pectoral muscles? His that day felt just incredible. Still imprinted on my mind.

There is quite a bit of home movie footage of me riding Grey, who came along when I'd been at Tricorne for a few years. In the photo above I can tell by my haircut that I was at least nine (possibly my "Mom-Brady" shag, I'm afraid). Here's the only other photo I can find of him, a little earlier since it's before I cut my hair:
That's Mom in the plaid skirt. We wore/wear a lot of plaid in New Jersey.
With my eagle eyes I observe that in this photo Grey is wearing a Kimberwicke, and in the above two it's a snaffle. I wonder why they switched his bit? Anything to do with the reluctance to be bridled?

I loved Grey with every fiber of my being. I dreamed about him, doodled pictures of him, thought about him constantly and probably drew little hearts with "Grey + Me" in them all over my schoolbooks. Sounds like a typical horse-crazy girl, right? And then some human boy comes along and ruins it all? :-) Well, maybe the critical difference in being a typical horse-crazy girl and graduating to horse-crazy woman is we never lose that feeling. To this day I have the same feeling in my heart about Grey. He has never gone away. My dream horse? Big surprise - a grey TB.

Unfortunately, and it gives me such pain to write this, the real Grey did go away. To exactly where, I know not. It happened like this:

Grey had navicular. I didn't really know what that meant when I was nine, but I knew it had something to do with his hooves. Somewhere along the way, he was "nerved," and I was told about that, too. To me it was some mysterious operation. I didn't know exactly what had been done but I certainly was glad that he was still at Tricorne and able to be ridden comfortably (he must have had time off at some point, I don't remember). The summer before I turned 10, I took time off from riding; we went to the beach a lot and did family activities. When I returned to the barn that fall... no Grey.

You can imagine how I felt, running in to greet him, and finding another horse standing in his stall. A sickening feeling in my stomach. Utter panic. WHERE WAS "MY" HORSE?!?! I was pretty insecure about approaching adults, so I didn't confront the trainer directly. Instead, I asked my mother. She told me, "I'm not telling you where he is, but he's in a good place."

This was too much to deal with. I simply closed my mind to the most hideous fate I could imagine, a trip to the "glue factory," whatever that was (thank God I didn't know a thing about horse slaughter then). I chose to believe that he really was "okay," and imagined him peacefully grazing in a sunny pasture. But I always, always wondered...

Fast forward to many years later (1990 or so). My family was enjoying a retrospective of some of the zillions of slides my father had taken over the years. Along came another horse show from my childhood, with a bunch of pictures of me riding Grey. Of course I started to cry, and something prompted me - maybe the fact that I was in my late twenties, i.e. considerably older - to ask my mother, "Whatever did happen to Grey, anyway? You'd never tell me." She looked slightly taken aback and then said, "He was put to sleep and buried in the back pasture."



All of those years I'd worried and wondered what really happened to him and he was simply buried in the back pasture??? Why had I not been told this right away? My mom said she thought I'd be too upset. Instead, upon learning this information at such a late date, I went into total hysterics. An hour later I was still sobbing. Poor Mom. I can't blame her, really. I'm sure some day my own kids will tell me things I did/didn't do that upset them.

Here's the thing, though: I'm not sure I believe her. And I am *NOT* bringing up the subject again. Mom, if you're reading this, and you really do know anything more about Grey's demise, do not tell me. It's okay. If you said that to put me off, well, I'm going to stay put off. He will reside happily in my memory forever no matter what.

* The oddest thing happened when I cropped the first image here (I'll have the full one up soon). I realized for the very first time that the person visible in the lower left corner is most likely my dad. I know it's small and blurry but I just have a feeling... right size person, right haircut, right arm swing, right outfit - I think it's him. This means that two of the most loved, now-deceased beings in my life are both in this photo. I feel like I have been visited by a ghost! Give him a pat for me, Daddy.


  1. Grey was beautiful, and this is a moving tribute. Panda was my heart horse:

    I'm grateful that I was able to be with him in his last moments, though he died too soon. I was present when he was euthanized, anyway, and don't have to live with the pain of not knowing. I hope your mom can give you a frank answer one way or the other that will leave you at peace.

    Marnie "FarmWife" Jones

  2. Thank you so much, Marnie. I know Mr. Longears will not have his feelings hurt by your love of Panda, either. There's room for many of them in our hearts, just like children! :-)


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