Thursday, March 19, 2015

First Horse

by Toni Leland

I never wanted anything more in my entire 8-year-old-life than a horse. 
Not the occasional ride on a carnival pony or camp horse. Or the few-and-far-between rides on my best friend's horse. 
I wanted a horse of my own.

My parents were terrified of horses, and there you have it. End of discussion. But parents don't always have the last word – not when the world around them sees the longing in a little girl's eyes.

To make a short story long, when I was 15, a good friend of my father's took him aside and said, "Look, Toni's never going to get over this passion. She needs a horse and I just happen to have the perfect one."
(I heard about this conversation years after the fact.)

I have no idea how that man convinced my father to let me have that horse, but at the time, I didn't care. My dream was coming true!

At dawn on the day the horse would arrive, I rode my bicycle a mile to the pasture where he would live. It was the longest morning I've ever spent, because grownups don't get started as early as kids. But finally, a pickup truck towing an old blue horse trailer pulled into the lane beside the barn.
Sonny, the most beautiful horse in the world.

I was beside myself. Mind you, I'd never laid eyes on the horse that would be coming off that trailer. Our friend had told me that the horse's name was Sonny, and he was a 16-year-old retired showhorse. Wow! How much better could it get?

The ramp clanged to the ground and a shiny copper rump backed out of the dark interior. Sonny was the biggest horse I'd ever seen.

He was also the homeliest horse on four legs, but I didn't see that back then. To me, he was Walter Farley's Island Stallion.

Sonny and I settled in quite nicely, spending every one of my waking minutes together. This caused no end of problems with my parents. I disappeared with the sunrise and came home just before dinnertime. I was in heaven.

I did not own a saddle, but Sonny came with a good bridle, and we spent many happy hours exploring the trails through the foothills behind my home in Southern Oregon. Sonny was surefooted and always interested in what lay
Parade Day. What horrible posture!
around the next bend. He and my dog, Lucky, were the best of friends and I swear they were the ones who decided what trail we would take. What a great beginning to summer vacation. We even got to ride in the Memorial Day parade. 

Then, disaster struck. While riding through a field with my best friend, Sonny's front foot hit a chunk of wood hidden in the tall grass. He began to limp and I began to cry. We got down off our horses and my friend examined his leg. She'd had her own horse for several years and knew what she was doing. 
She stood up and shook her head. "I think it might be broken."

My world came crashing down around me. Broken legs in horse meant only one thing. We led the horses back home, me sobbing all the way. Late that afternoon, the veterinarian came out and x-rayed Sonny's leg, which by then was huge and puffy. 

"Not broken," he said. "But you shouldn't ride him for the next eight or nine weeks until the bone bruise heals, and then only on soft ground."

Do the math. My summer with Sonny was over. I was overwhelmed with relief
Lucky with a winter friend.
that he would be okay, but devastated at the implications of his injury.

Every day after that, I applied a black, gooey poultice to Sonny's ankle in the morning and again in the evening. I spent my time with him and the dog in the pasture, dreaming of the day when we could ride the trails again.

By September, Sonny's limp had not disappeared, but had grown worse. The nights were growing colder and school had started. One afternoon, my father's friend came to the house and said he'd be willing to take Sonny back home where he could live in a big warm barn and rest his leg. I was devastated, but could do nothing about it. Truthfully, in my heart I knew that Sonny would be better off, but that didn't ease the pain. 

Sonny died that winter in a big warm barn. A horse would not grace my life for another twenty years.


  1. We always remember our first horse, don't we? Mine was straight shouldered, straight pasterned and very hard to ride at the trot. But I was madly in love with him, and he taught me so much (including how to sit the trot.)

  2. I think the picture of Sonny shows him to be an elderly gentleman, but nicely proportioned and probably with a American Saddlebred and/or Morgan heritage. Nice long neck, a plus no matter what breed or combination of breeds, Sure he has a low back indicating a number of things: age, lots of wet saddle pads, Saddlebred background. And with his white face and stockings, probably eye-catching. Certainly not homely.