From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Found and Lost

Remember where you have been and know where you are going. Life is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way.

Nikita Koloff

“He’s in that stall over there.” The wrangler waved his dirty white cowboy hat toward the box stall at the end of the barn. I walked over and took a look. Dark equine eyes stared back with interest. “He was bred on an Arabian ranch in Wyoming. Ran free for a year. Halter-broke, gelded and released. He’s barely had a human hand on him in three years. He was roped, loaded on a trailer and brought here to sell. Heard he put up quite a fight.”

I was at a stable on the outskirts of Denver and at twenty-two, was trying to figure out what to do with my life by running away from it. I was two months into what was to become a year-long, cross-country trek in a big Chevy pickup truck pulling a rusty stock trailer. My simple plan was to get a horse and travel.

I took a closer look at the horse in the stall. His ears were too long and his head too big for a classic Arabian. But his dark, gun-metal gray coat was velvety, save for the vicious rope burns around his neck. For all the apparent trauma he had been through, he regarded me calmly and did not shy away from my hand. The cowboy in the white hat led him out to a small corral. I clucked to get him moving. Head up, tail up, in the indomitable Arabian style, he simply floated around the ring. I had never seen a horse move so smoothly and effortlessly. There was no question. He became mine. He took well to bridle and saddle, but there was a wildness to him that simmered just below the surface. I named him Colorado and he joined me on my adventure.

The rest of the summer and fall was a true vagabond existence. I had no goals, no schedule, no plans and I loved it. I wandered farther out West, to Wyoming and Montana, sometimes traveling with friends, sometimes alone. Nights were spent camping in a tent, with Colorado tied nearby. I felt totally content as I drifted to sleep to the sound of stamping hooves and the smell of horse sweat and hay. I would park the truck and take my horse high into the mountains for days on end. One morning I woke up before dawn, slipped out of the tent, climbed bareback onto Colorado and let him lead me deep into the aspens. We stopped by a stream and while we were standing quietly, I watched a buck with magnificent antlers slip down near us to drink for a moment.

But despite my efforts to avoid it, responsibility tracked me down. The need for a job led me back east. I somehow secured a job at an international bank. I rented a small house for me and a field in the country for Colorado. My life quickly filled with conservative blazers, memos, calls to London and the newspaper each morning on the train. I struggled through each week and lived for the weekend. On Saturday mornings, I pulled on my oldest jeans and scuffed boots and headed up to the country. Colorado had easily ensconced himself as the lead horse in a motley herd of a dozen complacent riding horses. The wildness of his past was manifested in his cheerful refusal to be caught, which could only be overcome with patience, subterfuge and a bucket of grain. I would pull the burrs out of his mane, inhale his sweaty sweetness and we would ride into the woods. My current life would slough off and I would forget that I chafed at my job, had little in common with my current boyfriend and that I missed my past adventures terribly. Instead, I simply enjoyed the feel of my horse under me. My past wildness, like that of Colorado’s, would return. Colorado loved to run and my heart filled with true joy as we galloped across wet fields with his mane slapping at my hands. He was my soul mate.

Eventually the boyfriend disappeared from my life and I met a young ex-photographer’s assistant on the train and fell in love. We married soon after, bought a house and my conformity with the rest of the world increased. Sometimes I couldn’t believe how different my life had become since my vagabond days. But I still had Colorado. Age had lightened his dark gray coat to cloudy silver. He still waited for me in his field each weekend, playfully dodging my rope as I walked closer. Then, with ears and tail up, galloped me effortlessly back into the freedom of my past.

It had been ten years since I first saw Colorado in that barn in Denver. My job responsibilities had grown and I was now comfortable in my business suit and with office politics. My husband had morphed into a successful engineer at a big company. Some weekends I didn’t make it out to Colorado’s field for a ride and a swell of guilt would pass through me on a Saturday morning when I found myself working on the house or shopping at the mall. A baby girl was born and before I knew it, a boy followed. Sometimes, I would drive by Colorado’s field with the children strapped in the backseat. “There’s Mommy’s horse,” I’d tell the kids. And there he was, now white as snow, grazing and switching at flies. My rides were rare now and even then, my mind would stay focused on the kids, the house and the job.

“It’s bad. He’s refusing water and he’s been down twice.” The call came one evening from Lou, who took care of the horses in the field. I was in the middle of making dinner. I called the vet and rushed over. I was shocked at what I saw. Colorado stood unsteadily with head down, his coat rough, his eyes blank. An infection of the lungs had spread and he was seriously dehydrated. It would be impossible to transport him to a barn with electricity where an IV could be started. He was already too far gone.

He was put down the next morning. I squeezed the lead rope when the vet approached with the hypodermic and I sobbed aloud as Colorado jerked his head up with the bite of the needle. He was buried in the same field where he had lived. I watched the rumbling earthmover, so out of place in this quiet field, smooth over his grave. I cried then, not only for the loss of my companion, but also for the loss of my own free-spirited youth and my last link to it. My wild past was buried deeply.

Tracy Van Buskirk

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