The Only Horse I’ve Ever Loved

(NOT ANNIE. Just a pretty bay.)
(NOT ANNIE. Just a pretty bay.)

Back when I was in high school – a junior maybe, going into senior year – I volunteered to help my family’s cleaning lady take care of her 3 horses (2 horses, 1 pony) because she was so busy during the day. Every day I’d make my way to the stable and help out at lunch time. I’d muck the stalls, feed the animals, make sure they had clean water, brush them, etc. It was a nice thing to be able to do because I’m mad about animals and I hadn’t really ever had the chance to bond with horses before. I’d been on horses, but never with a long-term relationship.

Tex, the pony, was ancient and blind. Just the sweetest and most patient thing. He knew enough by the “herd’s” movement and by sound where he had to go when to get fed, the rest of the time I’d lead him around.

Stutz, the gelded chestnut quarterhorse, was a little doll. Though he had a habit of scaring me to death, because he had a severe, chronic GI disorder and I constantly had to be on the lookout for signs of GI problems like obstruction. Sometimes I’d find him laying on his side motionless and think “OH MY GOD, HE’S DEAD AND IT’S MY FAULT”. He’d pop right up soon as he saw me.

The third was a bay mare named Annie. Annie was a special case. She was an abuse/neglect rescue. Born to be a racehorse – thrown from a line of considerably lucrative race horses – she was a thoroughbred quarterhorse but never raced. As I recall she didn’t have the right temperament. If I remember correctly her owners left her alone in a stable, barely paying her any attention, depriving her of contact with other horses (they are gregarious animals and need socialization) and treated her poorly. When she came into the care of my aforementioned cleaning lady friend, she was practically feral – had to be broken again for riding and had an extreme mistrust of people. She also had odd quirks like a total lack of comprehension of space. She was always stepping on toes (steel toed boots were a must) and smacking people with her head because she never had that innate sense of necessary space that must be kept between her and comparably fragile humans. I was warned she may be difficult to work with, but nothing could have prepared me for my experiences with Annie for the summer I spent with these horses.

Annie took to me almost immediately, and I to her. She would invite me to kiss her nose and stroke her, and I didn’t mind if I occasionally got stepped on or thwacked inadvertently. She liked to be close to me and I liked being close to her. When I brushed her mane she would arch her neck back and pull me close to her side in what felt like a big snuggle.

Every day when I arrived, the horses were out to pasture. The fields were hilly so I could never see them at the far end. I’d stand by the stable door, just outside the “safety” of the stable door, and whistle for them. Pretty soon I’d hear the hooves, and see them galloping over the hills, Tex just barely keeping up but managing, Stutz and Annie looking majestic as their coats shone in the sunlight.

Tex had his feeding area, Stutz had his own, Annie had her own. There were few fights over who’d get what when. They pretty much knew where to go.

Except Annie…she would gallop straight for me. And she wouldn’t stop. Long after the other two had put on the brakes, Annie was full speed ahead, bearing down on little me standing well within the range of being trampled. At the last second she’d put on the brakes and come to a stop right beside me. I think sometimes she liked to show off; she was bred to race, after all. Sometimes it was just that lack of understanding how to relate to the world around her. But I never minded, it was exhilarating. And I never once, ever, questioned whether or not she’d stop in time. Perhaps it was foolhardy but I knew in my heart she would never mean to hurt me and it left me breathless to have such a big, beautiful animal speeding towards me, safe in the understanding that it wasn’t her intent to cause harm, but simply an abundance of enthusiasm. I was her girl and I’d come to say hi.

Friends and family would watch me with Annie and remark how special it was to see us together. I’d imagine she was my steed in some parallel universe where I was a woman warrior who rode a wild horse named Aynne.

After that summer the horses were relocated to a stable too far for me to visit. I ran into our cleaning lady years later. Stutz had died, sadly. Tex was nearly there, but happy. Annie was still around. Hopefully she found someone else to be her girl, since our time together was so brief.

I always had a sense that Annie was like a soul mate to me. We understood each other on a level that was much deeper – more spiritual – that started with my empathy for what she’d gone through and grew into a mutual love that I have carried in my heart my whole life, and I always will. I like to think she did, too.

I found myself thinking of her the other day and wondering if I might be able to find out anything about her online. Because she’s registered, and I know her registered name – “Air Conditioner” – it was actually very easy to track down her D.O.B. and lineage. I wasn’t sure I had the right “Air Conditioner”, but how many of them can there be that are bay mares, born in NJ, bred to race but never raced?

I guess I thought Annie was younger than she was, because I was surprised – and a little saddened – to see her birth date was 11th May, 1979. She was born a couple months before me. A horse typically lives 25-30 years as I understand it, and I’m 35. So Annie’s time may well have come.

When I watch the summoning of Shadowfax in The Two Towers I am forever reminded how Annie would come to me when I whistled, galloping and whinnying over the hills toward me. The scene makes me pretty emotional sometimes because of those memories. It looks just like it (only Shadowfax shows a bit more restraint on the approach!).

Maybe someday I’ll see Annie again and get to ride her, free and happy to see each other again, to play and to share in the abundance of joy that comes beyond life. I guess we’ll see. But I’ll never forget her, one way or the other.

As a postscript, I find horse racing reprehensible. Not only does it endanger the horses but the horses who never “make the cut” can fall by the wayside in the cruelest of ways.