Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Last Ride

Ok, I’ll warn you before you continue reading this post that it is unlike any of my other posts. It has nothing to do with creating, decorating or makeovers.

It has everything to do with dreams and paint though!

So here goes..

You know how if you reflect back on something really good that happened in your life, how you can remember every little detail.. exactly where you were, how it felt and smelled and sounded…

Most of my growing up years from probably about age 8 to 15 I had a dream (the dream part of this blog post) that consisted of a black and white Paint horse. (that’s the paint part)

Now, I’d always wanted a horse ever since I can remember. I would throw a saddle on a hay bale and “ride” for hours. That’s how desperate I was. Finally, after years of putting notes on my parents’ pillows and begging daily for a horse they relented. Along came Flint…


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He was the sweetest, funniest little horse and fast as lightning! I don’t think we ever lost a race. We had what I called our “flying stretches”.. certain areas on our country roads where I always let him run. As we got to these spots, he would start dancing and prancing and his sleek little body would be a pent up ball of energy and as I leaned forward and said “go Flint” he would literally almost spring out from under me. I have never since ridden a horse with such a take off! What I wouldn’t give for just one more Flint ride! I had him for nine years and we spent many hours and miles together.


But, I still always had my heart set on someday owning a Paint. Not just any paint.. it had to be a black and white! I wished upon stars and blew dandelion seeds, every time wishing for a paint.


I started saving up money for my “paint” account. I spent grueling hours picking strawberries at a nearby produce patch for a few years. They hired a bunch of us neighborhood kids to help out and I remember a lot of the kids would be goofing off or throwing strawberries when the boss wasn’t looking and I would crawl along the rows picking as fast as I could and ignoring everyone else. I’m sure the other pickers couldn’t stand me but I didn’t care. I just wanted my dream horse. That was my motivation.


I tried numerous other things to earn  a buck. Every little penny I made went into the “paint” account.


Then one day dad and I were going down state route 39 in an open buggy and I saw her. Here’s where all the details come in. So if your bored already, now is a good time to close this tab!


It was a warm summer evening with the sun still shining. I still remember about where the sun was in the sky. I recall the smell of the leather harness and horse sweat on our buggy horse and the sound of hooves on the blacktop. I was driving and can still feel the braided leather reins in my hands. I glanced over to my left and saw the most beautiful black and white paint horse peacefully grazing in a pasture. Her head went up. I like to think she sensed me but it was probably more likely our buggy horse, Betsy she noticed. I said, “Dad, I wonder if that horse is for sale.” I didn’t want to sound too anxious, although inside I was screaming “There’s my horse!!” I knew the farm where she was at was owned by a horse dealer and most likely she was for sale!


Needless to say, dad said “Let’s swing in” and we did! To make a long story short, we ended up buying her a few days later. I, of course, didn’t have quite enough money saved up but thankfully my parents very kindly helped me out to which I was and still am ever grateful for. I’m not sure how my growing up years would have turned out if not for Shawnee, as I named her.

A dream became reality…


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These pictures aren’t the best since I took them out of my scrapbooks and scanned them but you can still see what a beauty she is.


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Beautiful liquid brown eyes that were full of expression. Sometimes a little white would show when he was in a spunky mood.


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I spent hundreds of hours on this horse. I went on trail rides with her where there were hundreds of other riders. I did a lot of riding with friends, local riders in our area. My best friend who is also my cousin and I had a riding night once a week and most every weekend, when we explored every single country road and trail within a six mile radius. We rode in rain, snow,night, freezing weather, hot weather, storms, etc. Nothing kept us from riding. I’m sure people thought we were nuts. Of all the horse back riding I did, my favorite times were when it was just me and Shawnee. I know we had a special connection, something I can’t even explain.


Looking back now, I see how we were a different breed of people, us horse people… probably a bit strange even. We had some rules that were just a given. One was we always saddled our own horses. I would become a bit peeved when someone would mess with my tack and honestly, I never liked it when someone other than me rode my horses. Sounds pretty picky, doesn’t it? If a rare occasion occurred and someone would saddle up and ride my horse, I can’t remember ever that I felt it met my expectations, the way they rode and saddled up. I was probably a bit conceited.  Another rule was you didn’t brag on your horse. It just wasn’t cool in our circle. If someone did do that you instantly knew there was something wrong with the horse. So, having said that, since I don’t have Shawnee anymore I can tell it how it is.

This horse was perfect. I can with all honesty say that there was not a single thing wrong with her! And I was very critical when it came to horses. I think I could write a book about the times we had. She had that perfect temperament where you could teach her something, she was obedient, but at the same time she could be hyper if you were in a mood to tear around. I had her trained where if I lifted the reins slightly, she would go from a walk to a slow canter, that slow smooth relaxing gait that I would do anything to feel again! We had such a connection that I could just think in my mind lets run with the wind and she would run! I probably gathered myself a little or something that I passed that signal to her but it was amazing. She was never the speedy horse Flint was, but I loved her gait! She also brought me to safety numerous times. I’ll never forget how I insisted she cross a muddy creek or washout and she did not want to. I forced her to go, poor girl. I always loved my horses but I was a firm believer in not letting them get away with anything. Anyway, we hardly made it out of that mud. We sank a few feet with every step. From then on I always trusted her instincts on that.

I remember a few storms we outran. She would get all antsy and I would think we’d have plenty of time to get home before the storm hit, but she was always the better judge. She would run all the way home and we would just make it into the barn before the downpour came and the thunder rolled.

I will also never forget when we were building our house a few years after we were married, I rode over to the house to do some painting and it ended up getting dark before I was finished. We were able to travel a few miles cross country through woods and some open fields to get back and forth. That night I could not see my hand in front of my face, it was so dark. I didn’t have a flashlight with me. It was up to Shawnee to get us home. She eagerly started out and never hesitated anywhere. I let the reins hang loose and ducked down as to not be scraped off by a branch. She easily got us home.

I could go on and on “bragging” about her. She was truly one of the biggest blessings in my life. God definitely knew what I needed!


I owned her for sixteen years. She became very old and very fat, but always gave a good ride. We tried so hard to get a foal out of her, but it never worked out, which to this day makes me very sad. After I got married and our two sons entered the picture, things changed. I of course, didn’t have time to go riding every time the urge came and Shawnee kept getting fatter. Our oldest son started asking for a pony and we didn’t really have space in the barn for an extra horse so I did what I thought was best.


We were Amish at the time and there was a girl from our church that really wanted a horse, just like I used to, so I decided to give her Shawnee. It wasn’t easy but I knew she would be getting a good home. These people live on a farm and Shawnee always liked other horses and I knew she would be right at home.  We made an agreement that Shawnee would never be put through a slaughter pen (shudder) or any other inhumane treatment. I could also visit her whenever I wanted. That’s the part I don’t like to talk about. Let’s just say for some reason I would rather not see her than go see her owned by someone else and go home without her. I know it probably doesn’t make sense but it’s how it is. Maybe I was too obsessed. And, with us having left the Amish and being excommunicated I didn’t know how “ok” it would be for me to drop in to see Shawnee.


So let’s get on with the story… every summer our church had a “cowboy” Sunday, which is the best! We have an afternoon in the summer where we get together in a large field and people bring their horses and ride trails. We play games and there’s competition with the horses and usually a good singer there. Stew is made over a campfire and we all have a great time during the afternoon and evening. This past summer was extra special for me, something I will never forget. It all happened because of this amazing guy…




Here’s what happened… We helped out with cowboy Sunday and were there at the field a little earlier than some of the others. As the horse trailers started rolling in, I was having a pleasant conversation with a friend with one eye on the horses being unloaded. (I’m still always drawn to the gorgeous creatures) I was literally in mid sentence when I saw the most beautiful, familiar eyes through the rails of a horse trailer door. First I thought I’m not seeing right, I’m hallucinating, but no, it was her! I never finished my sentence. The rest is almost a blur. I think I ran over to her. I hugged her old, gray head. She nudged me like she always did. For a minute everyone around us disappeared, it was just me and Shawnee. Her one eye was still full of expression, the other blue with blindness. My friends who brought her said “it’s ok, you can cry.” Oh my, how bittersweet.


Hubs surprised me and arranged all this without me knowing about it. It was one of the best moments and also one of the saddest. This horse is thirty-four years old!




I saddled her up like I always did. It was still the same saddle, pad and bridle. As I saddled her up we both had all the same moves. She still puffed out her belly when I tightened the girth so I fastened the breast collar until she released the air, then I finished the girth. I slid my fingers between the space behind her teeth to get her to open her mouth nicely for the bit. (ok, so maybe she wasn’t quite perfectSmile) It was all just as it had always been. I climbed up on her. She started walking before I was completely on her like she always did. Back when I had her I thought about training her to stand still when I mount her but never did. It was almost like her trademark. I didn’t want to change it.

Here’s where things got different. Her walk still felt like a Shawnee walk, but sadly with little kinks in her steps. We would have kinks too if we would live to be 238! (I think a horse year is seven years to a human)

As we set out, other riders went with us. I still felt like I was in a dream. Shawnee was a little fired up with the other horses around, just like she always was. I allowed her only to walk since she wasn’t sound. If she stumbled a little, she would limp for the next six steps so I didn’t ride her for very long since I felt it was painful for her.




Little did I know when I dressed for this day that I would match my beloved horse! I tried to visit with friends during that afternoon and evening but it was hard for me to concentrate. I kept going over to her. I brushed her and checked to see if all the little chestnuts (like a horse birth mark) and markings were still in the same places. She had dips and sags where she didn’t have before. The only thing that really hadn’t changed was that one eye that wasn’t blind still had that spirited look, as you can see in the picture.


As it grew dark that evening it was inevitable. I needed one last ride, just the two of us. I saddled her again and I snuck away when everyone was busy chatting and listening to the singer that entertained us. We set out on the trail. For a minute I went back in time. She had such a brisk walk. The night air was perfect. The stars were out, the same ones I had so often wished upon for a horse like this. She seemed so peppy I thought I’ll have to try it. I lifted the reins slightly. She knew exactly what I wanted and what she wanted… but she couldn’t. She tried to go into that ever smooth canter she always had but she simply couldn’t. Her brittle bones wouldn’t let her. I said, “That’s ok, girl, we’ll just walk.” And we did. I thanked her for all the years she had given me and I told her I’ll never forget her. And I cried my eyes out. I knew it was the last ride.








  1. Oh Mary, she was so beautiful! I tried not to read this story, the more I read, the more I couldn't are such a gifted writer!

  2. What a wonderful story...I'm in tears...