From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The Quiet Man

My treasures do not clink, they gleam in the sunlight and neigh in the night.

Ancient Bedouin saying

Okay, I’ll admit it; my wife, Crystal, fell deeply in love with me quicker than I fell for her. I guess that’s why it came as a shock when I found out after we were engaged that there was another man in her life. Long before horses filled our lives, he was there. I began to hear stories of a tall, slim handsome fellow who would meet her at work and take her to lunch. Sure, she was still in love with me, but there was a piece of her committed to someone else, a special someone. I finally was able to connect the dots and solve the mystery of the identity of the man I could never displace. A man, not my competition, but the standard by which I would have to measure up—her father.

James (Jimmy) E. Morris was a quiet man, a strong spiritual man with a peaceful presence about him. Nicknamed “Slats” for his toothpick-style legs, he had a calming influence with everyone he encountered. Slats seemed to always know which way to go, what to think, do, or where to be, in order to be safe and on course. A WWII veteran of the Army Air Corp, Slats flew bombers over Europe. His priorities of God, family and country were ever present and Jimmy’s unconditional love for his daughter always evident.

Years later in our marriage, as we were making plans to establish our simple horse farm, Jimmy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Jimmy and Mary, Crystal’s mother, moved in with us and we relocated to the city where Jimmy could receive better care. Over the next couple of years, the disease stole away precious moments of now, but never the memories of times gone by. Crystal and her father talked and laughed about events from long ago as if they happened yesterday. She watched her father grow increasingly distant and unresponsive, the quiet man being silenced by a ravaging disease.

Meanwhile, a calm and gentle character with a huge heart had been born, although it would be a while before he and Crystal would cross paths. With four spindly legs of his own and a head too big, no one imagined he would ever grow into a thing of beauty. Then one day when he was nearly two years old, Crystal was visiting the farm where he lived. He came to the fence line where she was walking and followed every step she made until he captured her attention, then her heart. She wasn’t looking for a companion, but God knew she needed one, a special one and he was it. She called me right there on the spot about “her find.” She has said, time and again, that she can’t describe what happened at that moment but the encounter changed her forever.

“Slats” would have also been a wonderful nickname for this tall, slim, handsome fellow whose skinny legs were too long and knobby, but he was called Sundance instead. As it turns out, it is a more descriptive and fitting name for this wonderful Spotted Saddle Horse. He is the warmth of sunshine, chasing away the cold feelings of darkness just like light. This was truly the right name for him. His one blue eye seemed to be a special window allowing us to look deep into his soul and see pure, unconditional love looking back.

Over the next few months, Sundance grew—not just stronger, but seemingly taller and taller and taller. He was filling out to have incredible strength, as if he knew there was a heavy burden waiting. Crystal would spend hours grooming, training and talking—doing all the wonderful things that build a bond between a woman and her horse nearly as strong as between a mother and her child. And Sundance seemed to know his mission was to nurture and protect Crystal’s heart, soul and spirit.

During the next few years, Sundance seemed to complement the role Crystal’s dad could no longer fulfill only in the manner of a great trail horse. Each day he assumed a bigger part in helping Crystal to feel complete. The void that was growing by the advancing disease and the heartache it left was quickly being filled with love and affection from Sundance. The same way Jimmy guided Crystal on life’s trail, Sundance became a guide on the trails where a fulfilling life can be found. Crystal and Sundance shared miles and miles of riding, absorbing nature’s healing beauty, perfection and peace.

It is nearly impossible to describe the life of a caregiver and the toll the duty takes on the soul. Crystal never balked or thought twice about this chance she had to return so much love to her parents. Sundance also never balked at refilling her supply to give. The stress, fatigue and sadness that would envelop Crystal through the long hours of caring for her dad and supporting her mother emotionally would dissolve within a few minutes of being in the saddle. I welcomed the sight of her getting ready for a trail ride escape, knowing the person who came home at the end of the ride would be recharged spiritually and emotionally. Like Jimmy, Sundance was ever watchful for Crystal’s safety, never failing to know where to go, what to do and always willing to try.

We miss Jimmy’s physical presence now, but I feel his wonderful calming spirit in the new “quiet man” in Crystal’s life. Just as Jimmy gave of himself to others, Sundance does the same. He stands in order for blind children to “see” what a horse “looks like” by their touch. He is the first riding experience for people, young and old, who are normally too scared to try, but his peacefulness reaches out and draws them in. His eagerness to go, to fly in his gait, to stay on course wherever they may be heading, is remarkable for even the most experienced horse lover. There is no price to be placed on his ability and devoted companionship.

I watch as he works magic in Crystal’s heart. When Crystal is down, he comes down too—down to pick her spirit up. He grazes nearby, keeping watch over her while she sits among the flowers thinking, praying or hoping. Crystal thinks she is watching over him, but I know the real truth. When Crystal is happy, Sundance exudes excitement. He’ll jump in the trailer ready for new adventures, to swim rivers, climb hills and confidently tackle any challenge ahead.

I am forever grateful for what this wonderful horse has done for my wife. Crystal’s relationship with him is as strong as any could be between a horse and their human companion. I know she loves me more than life itself, but I welcome this other fellow and all the love she has for him into our lives. I praise this new quiet man who came along at a time to rescue the spirit of such a wonderful woman. He has taken care of her in ways only one of God’s most marvelous creatures can. This tri-colored beauty with one crystal blue eye has given himself in ways that would make her original quiet man, oh, so proud and grateful.

Tom Maupin

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