Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remembering Jack, part II

Milestones in Life
Jack was there to see many changes in my life.  He met some of my high school friends as we set off early on Saturday rides and was also present the day I first met Will, my future husband.    Jack also went to college with me in Bristol, VA when I attended Virginia Intermont.   He stayed at Maplewood Farm, a picturesque farm on rolling land with a large pond and many trails extending into the valley.   It's very accurate to say that Jack was always a calming and therapeutic aspect in my life.  During high school, because I was very often at the farm each day after classes, he provided a healthy outlet and alternative to activities where peer pressure was in full swing.
In my college years,  time with Jack at Maplewood meant glorious days exploring the outdoors, practicing new techniques I was learning in my horsemanship program and nurturing a warm friendship with Jennie Placak, who cared for him.   That blessed friendship lasted long after I left Virginia Intermont, actually until my friend, Jennie passed away in 1995. 

Jack running at Maplewood Farm in Virginia, 1988
On the day of my wedding in October 1992, it was to the barn to visit Jack where I spent the early hours of that bright happy day.  All in all, over his 28 years with me, Jack lived in six different places and in each new environment, it didn't take long for him to fit in with a new herd.  He even had a calming influence on other horses, too.   One mare that we had for a time was especially flighty and given to moments of craziness.  We blamed this on her time spent on the track in Kentucky.  When she was turned out with Jack, they would run and kick and carry on.  After settling down, I could always find them grazing together... she followed Jack everywhere through the fields.  
Jack was also there to greet each of my babies when they came into the world in 1997 and 2001.  To each he did the same, a sniff of their head, wide-eyed in seeming wonderment at something so small and making sounds he had never heard.
I've had several other horses in my life, beginning at age 6, but I never developed the bond with them that I did with Jack.  I'm not sure exactly why this is, but that something special, that benevolent spirit always apparent in Jack, must have had something to do with it.  He was also curious and kind to other animals.  For example, two stories came to me from Angie, another friend that kept Jack on her farm in Scary Creek, WV during the mid 90s:

Jack at Scary Creek, Scott Depot,WV in 1995

Once while going out to collect Jack and others from a pasture for their evening meal, Angie had a halter and lead on Jack and was making her way back to the barn.  Jack was moving very slow in the tall grass and Angie turned back to encourage him to move on... but he kept going slow, as if searching for each new place to put his feet.  Finally Angie halted, thinking maybe something was wrong with a hoof.  As she turned to look down toward his feet she noticed the white ball of fur, her older dog nearly hidden in the grass, walking just underneath Jack!   Jack had been aware and didn't want to step on him.

Happy days, rolling and scratching his back...Scary Creek, Scott Depot, WV 1995
On another occasion, since Jack was kept in the stall periodically, one barn cat preferred Jack's robust rump to any other place in the barn for taking a nap.  Angie said she had seen the cat snoozing in that warm spot and apparently Jack didn't mind at all.  
Photo taken by my husband at Black Acre Farm in 2005

Even as I brought several dogs with me to the barn, Jack greeted each one with curiosity, stretching out his head and neck to take in a sniff of the new critter.   And, I swear, he liked to watch them.   Even on his last day, it was another horse and a cat that were present to say good-bye.

Jack as he most often preferred life ~  muddy!  Black Acre Farm, 2004

Later Years
It is with some guilt that I write this because as life seems to move on at that incredible pace, with it comes inevitable changes.  By 1999, the show arena days were long past and with the birth of our first child, the trail riding days began to fade.   I still went for rides occasionally and often took my son to the barn, but these were the days of spending time grooming and mostly just watching Jack run in the fields. There is a great joy in that.

Dad, Jack and my son on board, at the beautiful Black Acre Farm in Gatewood, WV  2002

It was time well spent, as I recall our son scrubbing buckets, learning to brush Jack and clean his hooves and also how to ride bareback.  Happy moments for us, but I wondered if Jack missed all the daily activity of the earlier years.  Years that also included mentoring a young girl from an abusive home life by teaching her to ride and care for a horse.  That episode taught me anew that Jack's gentle loving spirit had no boundaries.   He brought joy into her life, too.

Happy times shared with friends - Laura & I  with Jack and Jingle, one of the farm dogs 2009

Photo by Laura Davis, Beauty Mountain Farm.  Jack grazing at lower right

Jack & I with the minis, 2009
Jack's final years were spent on the lush property of Beauty Mountain Farm in Edmond, WV the home of Gary Reynolds and Laura Davis.  I had moved him there in 2007 in order for him to be on a residential property, knowing he was not getting any younger and would need more supervision.   Again, as had been the case multiple times, Jack brought me to cross the path of others who have become very good friends.  I could not ask for more love, companionship or grassy fields to surround Jack in the senior years of his life.  He enjoyed the company of not only Laura's family, but the gladness of other horses and a few llamas, too.  

With miniature horses at Beauty Mountain Farm, 2009
Jack had a history of good health and so, it was hard for me to watch him grow older and lose muscle mass and take on an "old man" frame. We had struggled to keep weight on him and I fretted about the winters, although his dense winter coat seemed to be enough to keep him warm.   

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