I was in a hurry on that beautiful, crisp fall day out at Heartland Stables. I had dashed out of the tack room with saddle, blanket and headstall in hand when I nearly ran head-on into Dave.
“Whoa, girl! Slow down! You’re going to hurt yourself,” he said, laughing. Dave was 82 then, but still the strong and able horseman he’d always been.
“I guess you’re right,” I said, apologizing. “I’ll be 60 soon. I suppose it’s time to slow down.”
“Let me tell you about your 60s,” he said. “It will be the best decade of your life. The things you once thought were important will mean nothing. You’ll mellow out and find peace of mind. Enjoy that time of your life. You’ve earned it.” I can now say, he was right.
I’ve known Dave and Blackjack, his gorgeous Quarter Horse, for 15 years. Jack stands almost 16.2 hands, broad in the chest and rippling with muscles. Yet, despite his imposing look, he is calm in nature and walks slowly but with purpose. Dave has owned Jack for more than 20 years, and for most of that time the big horse has been a fixture at Heartland.
Every day at around 3:30, Dave would pull up in his old truck bringing Jack’s favorite treat: a brown paper bag filled with fresh apples and carrots. Jack would always be standing near his paddock fence, waiting for his friend. On those rare days when Dave was detained, one of the barn staff would bring Jack into his stall until Dave could get there. No matter who led him in, Jack always maintained his steady, dignified air.
I remember one afternoon I was alone at the barn when it started pouring down rain. Dave hadn’t arrived yet, and Jack was in his paddock nuzzling the gate latch with his soft nose. I ran to the barn to grab his lead, then brought him inside. Normally, I’d be intimidated in the confines of a stall with such a large horse, but I felt completely safe with Jack. He stood quietly and lowered his large head, just as he did for Dave, so I could remove his halter. Then he let me hug his neck, as if to say, “Thank you for taking me out of the rain.” When Dave arrived he thanked me, too, as he headed toward Jack’s stall with his brown paper bag.
So many times I watched Dave groom Jack and saddle him up. Then they would head out to the trails in Jack’s deliberate walk. In their later years, Dave and Jack often simply strolled together around the property. Dave would sit on whatever he could find and just let Jack graze in the soft, green grass.
Last Saturday, after more than a year away, I went out to Heartland to shoot some photos. I found the owner in the barn and stopped to chat. I asked about Dave, fearing the answer. “Dave is very ill,” she said. “He never comes out anymore. But Blackjack is in the pasture if you would like to go visit.”
I walked out and called for Jack. He raised his head from the grass and came straight to me with his methodical walk. He let me stroke his mane and hug his neck, and we just stood for a while enjoying the afternoon sunshine. I felt a sense of gratitude from him. I know the barn owner will give him all of the love she can.
I don’t know if Dave will ever be able to visit his old friend again, but I pray that he can. And to you, Dave and Blackjack, my two wise old friends—thank you for teaching me about Peace and Serenity. I’m blessed to have known you.
Every day now, I will be filling a brown paper bag with apples and carrots and driving out into the country until there is no longer a need.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #449, February 2015.