When I was 12, I wanted a horse more than anything. By a twist of fate, a kind 4-H leader gave me the opportunity to ride one, at no cost, for an entire summer. If I liked her, I could adopt her from a rescue society, or return her and she'd have a better chance of being adopted, having had being ridden more often. My parents tentatively agreed, but warned me not to get too attached, as we had no room to keep a horse, and no money in the family budget for boarding one.
Her name was Sara. Coincidentally, my own middle name, but she came to me with that name. I figured it was just meant to be. She was not registered, but she had a fancy, though not official pedigree. Her forefathers were government cavalry horses, Morgans who were renown for their endurance, loyalty to their riders, and hardiness. The first time I got on her, she threw me on my head. She was 6 and had been ridden only a few months before I, a complete novice got on her back. She was bad. (I later learned she'd already been returned to the humane society once!) She was stubborn. She liked trail rides, but hated practicing in the ring. On practice days, she'd try and run away with me. I wasn't strong enough to stop her, so I had to turn her in tight circles until she stopped. But I was stubborn and determined to ride. She threw me, I'd just get back on. Sara respected that. At the end of summer, she threw me and I hurt my hand. My parents were wavering on keeping her, so I didn't mention the fact that I fractured my hand until I was about 18 or so (really- no medical treatment either). But I got to keep the pony!
Sara and I, early summer 1992. The first picture I have of me riding her.
By the end of that summer, we were already incredibly close. I loved my pony with all my heart, and she loved me so much that she even seemed jealous at times. If I patted or said hello to one of the other horses in the barn before her, she would pin her ears and turn so her tail was against the stall door, making it extremely obvious that she wasn't “speaking” to me. But she was quick to forgive...all it took was walking in the stall and giving her neck a hug, or giving her a treat.
We logged literally thousands of miles on trail rides. Plenty of times with friends, lots of just her and I out in the wilderness, too. We showed in the 4-H shows, competing at the District level, and placing in classes full of professionally trained horses with fancy pedigrees. It gave me great pride to do well against the riders who spent their summers at one show or another competing. Mostly, Sara and I spent our time in the woods, but when it was time to shine in the ring, we did well there, too. While I took riding lessons, no one ever got on her back but I. I spent so much time on her back, I could tell what she was going to do before she did it- I was that in tune with her. She was in tune with me as well, and smart too...she quickly learned that the games in our fun shows ended with running across the arena and stopping at the gate. If I had to get off for a game like bobbing apples, I could jump on her, laying with my stomach across the saddle, clinging to her mane, and she'd run back at full speed and stop where she was supposed to, whether I had any control of the reins or not. I think she understood it was a race, and she wanted to win, too.
She was gentle, too. My younger sisters (one was actually born after I met Sara!) would often come with me to the barn. While I did chores for other horses, I always knew my sister was safe, because I would boost her up on Sara's back and hand her a brush. Sara would stand calmly and soak up the attention. I would lock the stall door and go about carrying water and hay. Never once did Sara let me down. She always took care of the kids, starting when they were preschool-aged, never startling even if they yelled while they were astride.
After college, I returned here to Tionesta to help care for my dying father. After he passed, I stayed for my sisters and my horse too, because I had to find her a new place to live after his piece of land was sold. Some kind farm boys, Matt and Dan, helped me get her moved to a new home, moving a chest freezer we used for feed storage and setting up the electric fence for the new pasture.
You could say Dan and my first date was a trail ride, with me riding Sara, of course. I felt like moving her to the farm was a huge commitment and step forward in our relationship when the time came. Dan loved Sara too, and worked with her in harness. He loved how she had spunk, even in her 20's, and would really dig in to pull her weight. We bought a sleigh; my dream of a Christmas Eve tradition of romantic sleigh rides lasted exactly one year- the year she took off, kicked the shafts apart, and pulled me through the front boards. Still bad, after all these years. But she was good too- Dan would ride Dolly, and I Sara, and we would trail ride. We took the horses camping out in the woods, carrying food & tents in our saddlebags and falling asleep to the sounds of the forest and our contented steeds. The last few years, we haven't ridden much, and she lived in semi-retirement, other than helping me to herd sheep, a job she figured out and liked.
The first may be true, but unfortunately, the second part isn't. I would say that she was a once-in-a-lifetime animal, but I don't think she was. I think she was a once-in-many-lifetimes animal. We shared a bond deeper than I can explain. There will always be horses in my life, I hope, but there will never be another Sara. Sweet, gentle, spunky, mischievous, charismatic, loyal, healthy, strong and completely irreplacable. She was a magnificent creature with a personality bigger than her physical presence. She charmed nearly everyone, even folks who were usually afraid of horses. I was blessed with a little over 20 years with her. She lived a good long life, just 5 days shy of her 27th birthday. It's still hard to believe she won't be there when I flick the barn lights on. But perhaps a part of her spirit is still here with me, racing gracefully across the fields, just for the sheer glory of it.
Sara and I chasing sheep, taken last year. The last picture of me riding her.