Horses have always been present on my parents’ farm in spite of my dad’s protests. There was Cheyanne, Sparky, Flicka, Strawberry (and her colt Shortcake), Packer, Sundance, Bill, Stormy and April.
April arrived at our farm 25-ish years ago with another cast-off, a mutt gelding named Red. My mom claimed her right away because she was reminded of Sparky, another brown-and-white paint that had roamed our pastures.
April stood 14 hands, had a decent gait, but wasn’t going to win any speed events. So, my sister showed her in pleasure classes and I got to ride her just for fun, enjoying the fantasy of being a lone cowgirl on the range.
She threw me twice. Once in a sprint back to the barn and the other along the road when a semi came roaring up behind us. She wasn’t a fan of men, successfully taking a chunk out of my dad, the farrier, and a vet. We learned quickly to gage her mood through her ears.
April mellowed with age, though, eventually gaining seniority in the back pasture and befriending a few orphaned calves.
When my sister headed to college, horse chores fell to my mom. She and April bonded in early morning and late afternoon walks between pastures. In time, April gained a rider or two. The grandkids, all five of them, rode April bareback at some point – much to the dismay of us moms but to the delight of their nana. Nana and the grandkids treated April to apples, carrots, sugar cubes and cookies. When arthritis set in, they took extra care to brush and massage her joints.
Every once in a great while, a burst of youthful spunk would send April running. Her spunk was up this morning when she loped in to see my mom and suddenly hit a patch of ice. She went down and couldn’t get up.
I don’t think the back pasture has ever been empty before. I don’t think there has ever been a day when someone from my family hasn’t trudged back to the barn to feed a horse or a calf. But tonight it is empty and those chores are no more.
Today my mom lost a really good friend. I lost the living memory of my days riding over open country. My sister lost her show companion and my niece, her first horse love.
But as we know on the farm, the cycle of life doesn’t stop because we love something, care for it, or are in need of it. It keeps churning, giving us opportunity after opportunity to appreciate our place in its circle.