Guest Author - Susan Hopf
Long ago, when I first brought horses to my current farm, there was a neighborhood child, a young girl around 10 years old, that started hanging around the barn. This is not unusual – horses have attracted kids since the dawn of human evolution. The girl, however, was a bit unusual. She hardly ever spoke and would often just stand and stare as I tired to engage her in conversation. Since horses can be dangerous and it seemed she was determined to become a barnyard fixture I decided to speak to her mother – of course to let her know that her kid was spending time at the barn and to acquire permission for such, but also to glean some insight into her child. I learned that this long-legged, skinny and painfully quiet child had some learning issues as well as some trouble socializing with other kids – none of which came as a surprise. All agreed that some barn time might do her good so I assigned her a few tasks such as sweeping the tack and feed room, raking the aisle and removing cobwebs from as high as she could reach. In exchange I provided pony rides that brought a smile to both of our faces and then ultimately led to some supervised riding of an aged lesson horse. She was dedicated to both the chores and the horse and it seemed to help increase her confidence. She eventually spoke more but the real gratification came from her very animated interaction with the horse.
Also at this time I had in the barn, a boarder horse that was the meanest animal I had ever dealt with up to that time. He hated the whole world - other horses and people alike. It was not his fault – his original person had passed away and he was not at all bonding well with his new humans. They, two middle-aged sisters in hopes of sharing the pleasure of a new horse, were novice horse owners and his intimidating ways brought only misery to them all. He dumped each on the ground countless times with a buck and a dropped shoulder, bit and kicked at them and, I have little doubt, often made them re-think the wisdom of their choice.
One day, around lunchtime, I glanced down toward the barn only to see the ten-year-old sitting astride this “nasty” horse. With absolutely no tack she sat beautifully upon the multi-colored Appaloosa. Both were happily trotting around the outdoor arena in a picture perfect scene – a gorgeous summer day with sun shinning, girl with long blond hair swept back by the breeze and horse together as one. I could barely believe my eyes. Just yesterday this same horse had me pinned in the aisle way ready to do me harm and all I was trying to do was get him in to feed him – I did feel terribly sorry for him which is why I allowed him to stay in the barn. Fearing for the child’s safety I ran down to the barn but my fear was unfounded – for the first time since arriving the horse looked absolutely happy – the kid, as usual any time she was even near a horse, was smiling for all she was worth. I quietly called her over and explained that she could not continue riding this horse until we received permission from his people. She hesitantly dismounted and the horse sulked away - just as she did.
Thinking this was just the thing for both horse and kid I approached his people with great enthusiasm and hope for the redemption of the horse’s soul – but they were not interested – mightily bruised egos would not allow them to accept that some young kid could handle their horse better than they could. I relayed this unfortunate outcome to the child and her mother. Sadly, as the next few weeks went by, the child lost interest in the barn and the other horse. She would come to work and ride but she was sullen and worst of all, once again lost. Within a month she came no more.
The horse was eventually moved to his own place. Through the grapevine (the horse world is very small) I learned that for several years he was passed from person to person only to die at a very early age – I heard that he just lay down and died – I, personally, have no doubt from a broken heart.
We will never know what sort of mysterious connection this young girl and grieving horse shared but I do know without question that it was as real as it gets.