King is the closest I’m likely to come to having my own horse. Though I’ve always craved the special relationship between horse and human, my lifestyle isn’t suited to the responsibility of owning that majestic animal. Days are busy and, because of career choices, my husband and I have moved a lot over the years. So early on we decided to have no kids and no horses.
As a child I rode with my father along the Wissahickon near Philadelphia. He rented our horses and later treated me to lessons to gain confidence on the animal I loved but was intimidated by. When I started earning a living I continued those lessons, progressing to an ‘advanced’ beginner – able to trot, canter and jump small fences riding English saddle. But I worked constantly and had only weekends to practice on the variety of horses designated for lessons. There were favorites, of course, but because I didn’t own anybody I couldn’t always have my choice. Then came King.
Driving around my newly relocated town one Sunday I happened on a barn and impulsively pulled into the driveway to explore. The familiar, delicious smell of horse and hay greeted my senses. So did the proprietor who wondered why I was walking around her facility. Minutes later she introduced me to King, a handsome bay colored Arabian with a gorgeous, attentive face and warm, trusting brown eyes. I fell in love. And we arranged for me to lease King and ride him each week.
Sundays were designated King days for me and they were sacrosanct. I looked forward to opening the barn door, turning on the lights and hearing King whinny his hello from the other end of the stable. It was usually just he and I at the farm and he knew who was approaching; he’d been waiting. Our ritual started with grooming as I led him out of his stall to the cross ties, smiling while he would strut – head held high, tail twitching – bragging to the others that he was getting groomed, not they. Then he’d get playful, bending his neck around to nibble on my shoulder – or my, ahem, butt – while I reached down to brush his legs. He was a flirt even though he knew he had me at hello.
We’d run through gait and direction exercises in the arena – work on our trot and canter, move left, right and practice figure eights. Occasionally he’d act silly, frightened to death by a new weed that had sprouted, certain it would gobble him alive until he went to sniff to determine he was safe.
Each Sunday I’d arrive at the barn frazzled from a long, hectic week and within minutes of burying my nose in his neck and looking into his eyes, the tension would lift from my shoulders to be replaced by the sheer joy of communing with King. We belonged to each other, there was no doubt in our minds.
King and I spent four years of Sundays together, until I quit my job and took a months’ long cross-country trip with my husband. We lost track of each other until four years ago when serendipity once again brought us together through Horse Haven of Tennessee. Turns out that this horse rescue was now located in King’s barn and when I signed on to volunteer there I’d get to see King each week. Though he was now too old to ride, he was not too old to remember me, and our special bond.
Yesterday King suffered a terrible accident in the pasture. Somehow he tore tendons in his rear left leg. Prognosis was poor and his pain was intense. At age 37 he was not a candidate for surgery. So his family made the gut wrenching decision to send him across “the rainbow bridge,” as it’s called.
King lived a most fortunate existence as a horse; he spent his whole life with one family and sired his own family who lived with him in the same barn and the same green pastures.
We got to say goodbye yesterday – me with my nose buried in his neck followed by kisses on his nose and apples to fill his belly. He, with the familiar nibble on my shoulder and deep look into my eyes.
I love King. I miss him already. And in many ways he was my horse.