Sunday, October 30, 2011

Remembering Jack, part I

1976 - 2011

On the 19th day of October, 2011 in Edmond, WV
was laid to rest the greatest horse I've ever known...

my beloved and most noble friend.
It is difficult to know where to begin in eulogizing my friend, Jack, or, Jackson, as I called him in especially proud moments.  The memories are plentiful and go back a long way.  How can I possibly encompass in writing his benevolent nature toward people and animals, his gentle disposition and the peace and joy he brought to my life?
I have to try because he deserves all the acclaim and honor I can bestow upon him;  he gave far more than he ever received from me.  This is the first part of three posts to honor the memory of a wonderful friend.

The Early Years
Little did I know in 1983, when Dad traded lumber for this lanky, unwanted, grade gelding, that he would become something far more than my hobby and after school activity.  When I look back, considering my ignorance about proper riding and care and how he must have suffered for it, I cringe with guilt that such a good-hearted animal would be willing, still, to meet me at the gate the very next day.

A very rough looking Jack when we first came to know him in 1983

I learned along the way and, thankfully, those days of ignorance were few.  We learned together in fact, as he first became a trail horse and we explored so many paths together!  Not just ambling our way through unchartered territory, but leaping over fallen logs, galloping through the woods, climbing steep muddy banks and traversing deep culverts on old strip mine jobs.   We went swimming too, although I'm sure he was only willing because I asked it of him.  He loved to run and I loved it, too.  To feel that power in him with the sun on my face and wind in my hair;  there's nothing quite like it in the world.   Jack had 4 gaits:  trot, canter, gallop and 5th gear. He hated to walk and always preferred to be first on our trail rides with others.  
I often said that he ran like a freight train... that 5th gear was something else!   You know that feeling you get when you’re passing someone who’s going the speed limit on a two-lane highway and you have to floor it because you’re runnin’  out of room in the face of oncoming traffic?  Yeah.  It was kinda like that.  I think Jack would've made a great addition to the Pony Express in an earlier era.
Trails, Rails and a Great Trust
During one occasion on the trail, I came to know the heart of this horse in a poignant way.  It was a summer day when our group of 15 or so set out for a day-long ride, leaving from my uncle's farm.  We had packed our lunches and planned to ride up to an abandoned strip mine site where fields now boasted lush grass and provided ample space for picnicking.  It was a wonderful time!  I can remember laughing and joking all the way up the mountain that morning.  After a good rest and lunch, we packed up to head back to the farm, returning by the same route.

Jack wearing my favorite Buena Vista saddle for trail rides.  Mid to late 80s

On the way into the fields, we had to span a rocky man-made ditch that took a little effort and caution.   Good trail horses know how to use their feet and cross places such as this with care.  Jack had done a good job going over.  On the return trip, however, he decided it would be far easier to skip all this slow sure-footed approach and simply leap the culvert in one bound.  I wasn't on his wavelength.   So, totally unprepared for this monstrous leap, I fell off.  I didn't just fall...I did some kind of unique gymnastic maneuver that left me flat on my back, looking up at my horse's muzzle, with one ankle tangled in the rein!    I can still recall that scene, some 20 + years later.  
I can remember how he was breathing so hard and his head was pulled down slightly because of my ankle in the rein...and here is the remarkable thing:  when the daze of what happened had past, I realized that I was laying on rocks in the culvert and Jack was precariously anchored on them, too, above me.   Never did he make the slightest move to free himself or jump clear of the rocks onto the dirt road.  He stood firm until I could get enough wits about me to free my leg and stand up.   
At the end of our trail rides, worn out from a full day of riding, we'd make it back to the barn and as soon as the bridle came off, I would turn my back to Jack.  This part he loved, for he would rub the sides of his face up and down my back to scratch those hard to reach places beneath the bridle.  It felt good on my back, too.    In winter, when my hands and toes would be numb from the frigid air, it seemed like bliss to slip my frozen fingers beneath the saddle blanket, next to his back and let the warmth seep in.  

Jack & I, mid-80s at my Uncle's farm

As my husband has said, you don't just have memories, you have eras of memories.  I've always enjoyed the trails, but there were other eras in Jack's life that included the show ring.  We tried our hand at barrels, but that was really just for fun.  Where Jack really shone was in the jumper arena.  This era lasted from 1985 - 1988.  I had a trainer who told me Jack would never do well in equitation, his gait was too rough and choppy.  Even so, we still entered the hunter classes occasionally and I was proud of Jack's effort.  He did everything I asked of him, with the exception of walking at a slow enough pace.  Jack came to life in the jumper ring, even if I usually held my breath all around the course! 

Jack & I competing in the jumper arena, 1987
Jack would rather knock a rail than to refuse a jump.  He had heart and courage for a fairly small guy, at 15.3 h   I clearly remember the day in Kingwood, WV  when Jack dethroned the well bred Thoroughbreds we often competed against.  He took top prize for going clear in the jump off and with record time!  In a class where form didn't matter as much as effort and speed, Jack did very well.   Dad was just as proud of him as I was.  

Jack & Dad at the end of the show day


elizabeth said...

what a wonderful horse you had! love these pictures. Must be hard to say good bye. Thank God that God loves all of His creatures.

Kh. Nicole said...

I had no idea horses had such long lives. I'm sorry you've lost a friend.

amy said...

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Elizabeth and Nicole ... your warmth and compassion mean a lot to me.

God bless

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