A Eulogy for the Horses Nobody Knows
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh
On July 13, 2022, a piece of my heart broke off and flew to Heaven when I said my final goodbye to the horse that made me. RR Raindance Roamer (“Dancer”) passed away at the ripe old age of 32, and my life will never be the same because he was a part of it.
When I posted about his passing and my heartbreak at saying goodbye, I was overwhelmed by the number of comments and messages from people expressing their condolences and sharing memories of their heart horses that had moved on to greener pastures.
This sharing of life, love, grief, and horses got me thinking: Our industry recognizes the loss of great horses – the champions we all look up to and aspire to show one day. But, our industry is not built by these horses. Most people’s first horse, or first horse experience, is with a retired, grade horse or a horse that couldn’t make it in a training program. Yet, these are the horses that build us as riders and pave the way for the objectively great horses in our industry. Our industry lives and dies on the backs of the horses nobody knows.
So, for our collective therapy, I’d like to dedicate an article to these horses. I want to write a eulogy for the horses the world doesn’t know, but mean the world to us.
This article goes out to the lesson horses. These horses spend their “retirement” teaching humans to be horsemen. These are the lucky ones, with pieces missing from their tails so their little riders can make bracelets with their hair. These are the horses covered in paint, glitter, flowers, and ribbons. They are the ones who teach us patience and give us the confidence to try new things. These horses help trainers start their careers and put food on the table. These are the ones that turn people who simply like horses into true “horse people.”
This article goes out to the first horses. The budget-friendly horses you learn to ride in your backyard without a trainer. These horses teach you that when you fall, you must dust yourself off and get back on. These are the horses that teach us how to manage our expectations, how to save for that particular piece of tack, and how to work for our dreams. We may never win a single ribbon on these horses, but they will always be “our first.” The ones who taught us about ourselves and how to love and care for someone other than ourselves.
This article goes out to the first show horse. This is the horse that you earn your first ribbon on. This is the one you dream with and who helps you achieve your dreams. This one takes you to 4-H and opens shows, and carries you through patterns, despite your nerves. This horse teaches you that two minutes of success in the pen comes from endless hours of practice and work in the barn. This is the one that starts your show addiction.
This article goes out to the first champion. This is the horse that makes you cry happy tears. This is the one who shows you that you CAN achieve your dreams. This horse has talent and try. This is the one that you feel knows you and respects you. This is the one that takes you to the top of the world. It may not be “famous” or a horse everyone recognizes. But this is the horse that gave you a moment you will remember for the rest of your life. This horse is more than ribbons, trophies, and buckles. This horse is your partner and teaches you what is possible when you and your horse become a team.
This article goes out to the horse who taught us to say goodbye. One of the hardest parts of horse ownership is that they all, at one point or another, make us say goodbye. Whether the goodbye is loading them into a trailer to their new home. At the same time, you go off to school or start a family or give them a dignified end after years of love. These horses teach us what it means to be responsible for another life. They teach us to do right by the animal, even when it feels like a punch in the gut. These are the horses that teach us genuine empathy – they don’t just make us good horsemen; they make us good people.
Maybe your “heart” horse fulfills all of these categories. Perhaps you have fond memories of many horses that made you. It would be impossible to acknowledge all these animals for every person because that is how great horses are – nearly everyone who has stuck around in our industry has a story of a horse nobody knows that made them who they are today.
My horse was Dancer. He taught me more about horses and life than I could ever express. He taught me that a good horse is never a bad color. That there are few better feelings than accomplishing a dream after years of hard work. He taught me that a penny saved is closer to entering that show, getting that trainer, or taking home that piece of dream tack. He taught me the value of having the courage to ask for help.
Dancer taught me how deeply a mom could love her child – my mom, mildly terrified of horses, learned to haul a trailer, drove us across the country for shows, and functioned as our groom and biggest cheerleader. He taught me that a dad, who vowed never to own a horse, would not only acknowledge it, but love that horse and cry with me over the phone when it was time to say goodbye to him. Dancer taught me that distance and time could not extinguish love when that love is real. He set me dreaming. And I am still a part of this industry today because of him.