By Estella Padgett
Most horses would start telling their life story from the time they were born. As I look back, I realize my life really didn’t begin until I was thirteen years old. Of course, most horses would consider themselves old by the time they were thirteen but I felt young for the very first time. This is my story of love and loss.
I was born half-Mustang and half-Fox Trotter. Through hearing my owners speak of me, I knew I was an ugly foal and I turned into an even uglier colt. I was given no name like many of the other colts I played with and I was much smaller. I discovered as I grew more mature that I was a mistake. I was being raised on a registered Fox Trotter farm in Virginia. But the neighbor’s stallion broke through the fence and visited with my mother. I was never ridden or played with by the owner’s children. Soon I was sold for a small amount to an Amish farmer from Pennsylvania. He trained me to pull a buggy but I was not strong enough for suitable use in the hilly country. Still I was given no name and shown no love.
I bounced around from person to person. Nobody ever found a niche for a small, oddly-shaped horse not broke to ride. In Colorado, I was finally given as a gift to a family who had four children. They already had two horses: A big appaloosa named Sarge and a zebra dun named Jack. The kids didn’t ride often but when it came time to saddle up the kids always fought over who would be “stuck” riding me. The youngest girl called me “Little Bit.” I guess I had my first name. Not long after I became “Little Bit,” the whole family, including the livestock and pets, moved to southern Missouri. My owners started fighting and were soon in financial straights. They decided to sell what was not necessary. I knew I would be one of the things weeded out. There was a man who came several times to the farm to help my owner. My master knew nothing of farming and, from listening to their conversations, I discovered the farm my owner recently bought used to belong to the stranger’s father. The stranger always wore overalls and seemed very knowledgeable about how land and animals should be cared for. He never paid me any attention though. One day, the strange man who always wore overalls stopped to pet me, not Sarge or Jack. ME! The next day, he showed up with a girl. She looked to be about 12 or 13 and had blond hair. She walked up to me, put a brand new blue halter on me, and led me into a trailer. She took me to her home. I knew I had been sold yet again.
There were no other horses on this new farm. I was the only one. Eliza was my new owner’s name. She fed me and groomed me every day. She very patiently taught me how to pick up my feet so she could clean out my unshod hooves. The day came when she gave me a new pair of shoes. I hated them. I stood quietly while she nailed them in place and filed off the edges. But when I tried them out, I threw a fit. I did not feel I could accurately judge the soundness of what I was standing on through the thickness of these strange shoes. It scared me. She finally cross tied me and struggled until she got them off my hooves. I felt so much better when they were off. She called her brother Anthony over to look. They decided that I had enough Mustang in me that my hooves were ultra tough and I wouldn’t need shoes anyway. I was so afraid she would be mad at me. I realized she had tried to do a nice thing for me and had worked very hard to get my shoes just right. I felt bad for the way I acted but I just couldn’t help it. Eliza just smiled and gave me a pat on the neck and turned me out into the lot again. She gave me a name right then and there. She said, “You are my buddy. I think that is what I will call you.”
She rode me almost every day. She taught me how to neck rein and how to move so she could open gates off me. Anthony tried to get her to train me for roping. She didn’t though. I knew it was because I was not fast enough to keep up with the cattle and was not strong enough to hold one after she caught and dallied it. She didn’t seem upset about what I lacked but worked hard to bring out what talents and uses I had. We practiced different paces and I gradually learned not to hesitate when she pointed me toward something I was afraid of. Eliza had earned my trust and I knew she would never put me in a dangerous situation. I fearlessly entered creeks or dived down steep inclines. She just let me have my head which told me she trusted me too! People loved to go trail riding with us, because I would always lead and go first over scary or strange things, giving the other horses enough confidence to follow.
I knew Eliza was proud of me and also knew I was finally where I belonged. Once my previous owners came to visit and wanted to see me. They didn’t even recognize me. I had muscled out and slicked off. Eliza kept my mane, tail, forelock and hooves constantly trimmed. I knew I was much more handsome than I had been and her love and confidence made my neck bow up in pride every time Eliza and I struck out for a ride. She brought out the Fox Trotter gait that she knew I had in me and we could go all day like that. We covered miles and miles together.
Eliza’s mom made her some saddle bags for her 14th birthday. So, on weekends, Eliza would pack a lunch and we would ride all day. I always wanted to see what was over the next hill. Some days, I hated to turn back towards home. We saw some beautiful country together. Once in awhile, her brother would load me up in a trailer and take Eliza and me to a new place. We didn’t get to do that very often. Eliza never let spending time with me interrupt her work she had to do at home but she never let a day go by without at least brushing me. I was always ready to go when she whistled. Sometimes, she would just whistle me up from the pasture to pat me on the neck and tell me about her day. I drank in every word. My fear of losing my perfect home started dissipating day by glorious day.
The greatest pride she felt towards me is when one of the neighboring kids or one of her nieces or nephews came over. She would put them on me and whisper, “Take care of the baby.” I knew I had to keep the child safe to make Eliza happy. I would just go in big, slow circles while the kids bounced and giggled on top of me. It was boring but I could see the look of happiness on Eliza’s face and knew passing down her love to ride and care for horses to the next generation was important to her. Anything that was important to my Eliza was important to me.
I enjoyed my time at that farm, seven years to the month of my purchase. I was now 20 years old and slowing down just a bit. I had suffered an injury by falling on the ice one winter. Thankfully, Eliza was not riding me at the time. We still rode; she took extra care with the hurt leg. She always massaged it really well before and after our short rides. And she always let me stop and rest every time I would signal my leg was hurting me.
One day, her father, wearing his usual overalls, loaded me into a trailer. I was heartbroken. I could not believe that my Eliza would get rid of me. Hadn’t I always served her well? My thoughts whirled almost as fast as the trees along the road as I was whisked down the highway. I do not remember how far we went but soon we pulled into a small farm with a small house I had never seen. But there waiting on the front porch was my Eliza! She smiled and led me off the trailer after giving me her customary pat on the neck. She led me in a nice stall with an open paddock. Soon her father left and I stayed. I wondered if Eliza was still here or did I really get sold again. I started fretting and was just about to come unwound when she appeared with a scoop of grain and a flake of hay. I was ecstatic to see her. She spent almost an hour with me, watching me eat and trimming me up. She seemed excited when she heard somebody pull into the driveway. She ran out of the stall, not even bothering to close the door. She knew I wasn’t going to leave. She returned soon with a man I had never seen following her into the barn.
“This is my Buddy,” she said affectionately. “Wow, he is really old, isn’t’ he!” the stranger exclaimed. Eliza grinned and said, “He is still young at heart.”
They left hand-in-hand and I could not figure out who that strange young man was. I had never seen her look at a guy like that. He did not even pet me like all of her other friends. Perhaps this guy just did not like horses. Well, that was ok, as long as he didn’t come between my Eliza and me.
Several times over the next few months, Eliza would run to the field where I was and jump on me bareback. We didn’t even use a bridle. She had taught me to move away from pressure and was able to guide me Indian style with her legs. She was always crying when she would do this. It was like she just couldn’t get away fast enough. I always sensed her urgency and would run as fast as I dared with my bad leg. As soon as we were far enough away from the house, she would relax and I would slow my pace. I didn’t understand what these frantic rides were all about until I saw that young man hit her. I was shocked. I was in an area of the lot enjoying some clover when I looked up after hearing a yell and saw him strike her. Why would anybody hit a girl as great as my Eliza? She ran to me again and I fled as fast as I could. When she finally quit crying and turned me toward home, I balked for the very first time in 8 years. I expected that she would whip me, but she seemed to feel the same way I did, and she turned me back the other direction and we rode all the way to a friend’s house. There we stayed the night.
The next morning, the strange young man that I met on the new farm came with a trailer and escorted Eliza and me back to our home. We didn’t go on any more crazy bareback rides after that and my Eliza seemed much happier. Soon, I noticed that she was getting really heavy. It was strange the way her belly kept poking out. It just kept getting bigger and bigger! I must have looked at her funny when she stepped up on a bucket in order to climb up in the saddle. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said as she struggled to get up on top of me.
I did not understand. I kept my ears turned towards her as we set out on our sunset ride. “Buddy,” she laughed, “Don’t you see I am going to have a baby? Soon, you’ll have a brand new boy or girl to teach to ride!”
A BABY! Even with her added weight, I noticed a big spring in my step for the rest of the ride.
It was winter and bitterly cold. I didn’t see Eliza for 3 weeks. Her brother Anthony came by every day to feed me and make sure I could drink out of the pond. He would take an axe and break the ice if the pond was frozen solid. I grew increasingly worried about my Eliza. One day, I just didn’t have the heart to eat. I wondered if I would ever see Eliza again. Anthony just smiled and told me not to worry. He told me to eat so I would look healthy and not worry his sister when she felt like showing me her baby.
Oh, the baby! She must have had it! She didn’t leave me; she just was busy with the baby. How could I have doubted the girl that had taught me everything I knew? I felt terrible that I had doubted and was relieved she was ok, but was so excited to see the baby at the same time. I ate every bit of grain!
In a few more days, Eliza made an appearance. She whistled me up from the pasture. I trotted to the barn and saw she had something very small wrapped up in a blanket. She pulled the blanket away when I got closer and I saw the tiniest child I had ever seen. I didn’t know they came that small and could not imagine how he would stay on top of me. She told me his name was Paul. He smelled kind of funny but I could tell Eliza loved him very much so I decided he must be ok.
When the weather got warmer, she would let him play outside in a thing that kind of looked like a cage with no top. She called it a playpen. He would point at me and say words I had never heard. Eliza always acted like she understood what he was saying but I never did. I used to come up to the corner of the lot when she was hanging out clothes on the line to dry. I loved to hear her sing and she always sung when she did this. It felt good seeing her so happy with Paul.
The weather got cold again. This winter the child began walking outside the play pen and would come in to the barn with Eliza when it was feeding time. He always slobbered on me and poked at me with his little finger. I still couldn’t understand what he was saying. But, he seemed to like me and I knew I had to be nice to him to keep that smile on Eliza’s face. I would do anything to see that smile. So, I accepted Paul and eventually missed him if he did not come with Eliza. She always left him safely asleep in the house if it was extremely cold out. She was such a good mom.
The winter passed swiftly. Of course, Eliza and Paul rode me often as soon as it was warm enough. Then one day, Eliza, Paul and I went for one of those unexpected bareback rides that I thought were over. I noticed she was bleeding right under her eye. We rode to the same friend’s house and spent the night again. This time, her brother came with a trailer and took all three of us back home a day later. I never saw that strange young man that never petted me after that. I guessed he didn’t live there anymore and I was glad. Eliza never hit me and nobody should ever hit her!
It was fully summer now. I had turned 23 and had lost most of my hearing. Eliza changed my feed and put me on supplements but it was getting harder to keep my muscle weight on. She never gave up but didn’t ride me much. She mostly led Paul around on me if we were on the road or she would put him on my back while she worked outside and I heard the familiar, “take care of the baby.” Paul was a natural. He had balance and loved to ride. I was able to understand what he was saying a little better now although most of the time it was so soft I just couldn’t hear it. I am pretty sure Eliza still tried to whistle me up from the pasture, but I never heard her. She would just appear beside me and put her hand on my neck to lead me up to the barn.
One day, she left me in the stall instead of turning me out after my morning feeding. I didn’t understand. Later in the day, she brought in a big, sorrel mare with a blaze face and three white stockings and put the mare in the stall beside me. I was afraid I was being replaced. But Eliza came in my stall and said, “This is Sadie. She is going to carry me now since it is so important that I have a horse I can trust to carry Paul. You have to take care of the baby just like you always have. But, Sadie can never replace you in my heart. Besides, you have been alone for a long time and I thought you would enjoy the company. Help her understand that she has a good home here, ok?” That is when I fully understood how important I really was and would always be to Eliza, no matter what lay ahead! Sadie may have been much younger and bigger and flashier but I would always be Eliza’s friend and there was no greater feeling.
Sadie and I hit it off right away. She thought Eliza was an awesome person. I watched while Eliza invested the same amount of patience she had shown me when I was green to teach Sadie how to be a good saddle mount. I could have easily been jealous but I still had Paul to take care of and it made me glad to know that there would be some horse there to fill the void when I was called to heaven. Hopefully, that would not be for some time.
Sadie, Paul, Eliza and I spent two glorious years together on that farm. Some nights, we would all go without supper so we could go on a sunset ride together. With the light weight of Paul and the regular exercise, I was feeling better. I really had to watch my step though. I stumbled once in a while but never dumped Paul. Eliza knew I wouldn’t carry him if I didn’t think I could handle it. Sometimes when Paul would be away visiting his uncle Anthony, Eliza and Sadie would strike out on an all-day ride, just like we used to do. I admired how well Eliza looked on a horse. She had impeccable balance and response. Her back was always straight and her heels were always down. It was a beautiful sight. Part of me wished I could go with them but I was just too tired and knew Sadie would tell me all about it when they returned for the evening! I would close my eyes and I could see everything Sadie described. It was a very content time for me.
A different man had started coming around now and again. He seemed very fond of Eliza and Paul but didn’t pay much attention to me and Sadie. That was ok. Whatever made Eliza smile was good with me. Some time passed and he was over more and more and more. I wondered if my Eliza had fallen in love again. I hoped so. She deserved a good man to take care of her and Paul.
They did get married and Eliza packed up most of her things and left her farm to go live on his. The new man said he had no use for horses. Eliza agreed to give Sadie to her brother but insisted that I live my days out with her and Paul. The man finally gave in and hauled me far away to yet another new farm. I was tired of moving and hoped this would be my last stop. My heart was broken without Sadie. I missed giving Paul rides but I was just too weak and not sure-footed enough to be safe. Eliza didn’t seem to mind. She still petted and brushed me every day. The new man didn’t seem to like it though.
One day while Eliza was at work and Paul was at school, the new man loaded me up in a trailer and took me away. I did not like this new farm. I had been with Eliza for 13 years. I did not belong some other place. Nobody knew how to take care of me like Eliza did. The woman the new man gave me to was harsh and the child she had bought me for was not happy with me, so she sold me three days later to another person. I knew I would never see my Eliza or my Paul again. I didn’t blame Eliza for anything. I knew she would not willingly get rid of me but I was so tired and sad I just couldn’t eat. My new owner finally loaded me in a trailer to take me to the veterinarian’s office after 6 months failing health. He stopped in town to go into a building and I saw my Eliza walking out of a bank. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I mustered all my strength and whinnied as loud as I could.
She stopped hard and turned around with a look of disbelief in her eyes. She slowly walked over to the trailer. My heart was pounding. I had forgotten how beautiful she really was. I had forgotten how she smelled and how soft her touch was. How could I have forgotten those things? She stepped up and reached through the trailer. “Oh my Buddy,” she said as she petted my neck again, “He told me you broke your leg and he had to put you down. You look awful” She was crying uncontrollably as my new owner returned to the truck and we pulled away. I whinnied at her until I couldn’t see her any more. She was just standing there with a shocked look on her face, crying.
We arrived at the veterinarian’s office after that. I fell twice while being led from the trailer to the stall. I knew my new owner meant well but nothing could fix me now. Nothing could heal the pain I felt from being separated from my true owner. I was so glad I got to see her. Now I knew she didn’t willingly give me up and that gave me some peace. I laid down in the soft straw of the strange stall. I heard Eliza’s voice. I though I must be dreaming, but then I looked up and saw Eliza standing over me with a man in a white coat. He had a syringe in his hand but all I could look at was Eliza, my Eliza. She must have followed the trailer from the parking lot. I was so glad. She started petting my neck and singing. I always loved to hear her sing. I felt the needle go into me but didn’t even flinch. I started getting sleepy. It would be good to go to sleep with my Eliza next to me. I was finally at peace now. Everything would be ok. Eliza would make sure everything was taken care of. I nodded off to sleep and dreamed of Eliza riding me over the next hill. I knew I would never wake up but would see her again in heaven.