For the Love of a Horse

The author, age 12, on Savannah

The author, age 12, on Savannah

There are some horses who feel like partners or old friends. Savannah was not one of those horses. Instead she was my keeper and my teacher - exactly what a cocky 12 year old who thought she was invincible needed.

She wasn’t anything pretty to look at, nothing but a little bay mare with too big a head and feet. But what she lacked in looks she made up for in handiness and attitude.

In the17 years  I had her she never threatened to buck or rear, just sighed and went along the best way she knew how- always with a yes, the way any favorite babysitter does. Without hesitation she carried me in parades, through marshes and swamps, along the beach cantering in the surf, and once all the way across the state of Florida. 

When I got a job at a barn down the road she carried me there and home again. When I found an injured stray dog, she let me haul him up into the saddle, un-phased by his whining. She helped me start dozens of young horses, ponying them down dirt roads, through woods, past cows and barking dogs; she taught a mess of horses to be as solid and confident as she was.

Savannah served as the first horse I gave riding lessons on and in college quite literally helped me pay the rent. She treated every novice rider with the same quiet patience she had always shown me and gave even the most timid rider confidence. Many times I witnessed her adjust herself under a rider to keep them on if they started to lose their balance in the saddle. 

She was one of my greatest teachers. From her I learned the power of tolerance- usually after she didn’t buck me off when I certainly deserved it. She taught me perseverance by her willingness to try the same thing over and over again until I got it. And she taught me to keep my eyes focused on where I wanted to go, that if I looked at the ground I would end up there. She didn’t just teach me how to ride; she taught me how to live.  

By the time I was pregnant with my first child, Savannah was aging. She was living out a well deserved retirement but I knew the end was coming. It was deeply important to me that she meet my baby and I begged her to hold on a little longer, needing her to baptize my daughter with her soft dark muzzle.

She said yes like always and my daughter was a year old before Savannah looked at me one morning with tired eyes and I knew she was ready. Before the vet arrived I braided her mane one more time, took my daughter to say goodbye, and thanked her for taking care of me.

She relaxed into death effortlessly, with relief instead of fear, reminding me that there is no cure for old and our bodies aren’t meant to last forever. I might not have been a 12 year old kid anymore but she knew I still had more to learn and after a lifetime of teaching me about life she taught me about death, a dutiful teacher to the very end.

The author with her daughter, Ellie Jo, saying goodbye to Savannah

The author with her daughter, Ellie Jo, saying goodbye to Savannah