Heart Horses

Heart horse

When people talk about a “heart horse” we all know what they mean — it’s a horse with whom we have an unusually strong connection, an equine soul mate. This is a horse who makes you smile every time you go to the barn, who makes you feel better when you’ve had a bad day, who trusts you the same way you trust him or her. This is not just a horse that you like a lot. It’s a horse that you love.

Merlin was a gently soul who crossed the Rainbow Bridge last week, aged 34.

Last week a friend of mine lost a horse with whom she had that kind of connection. At 34, he had lived a long, loved life and when he finally found it difficult to stand, it was not an unanticipated development, but it was still hard to let him go.

Some people believe that you are lucky to find one horse that touches your heart in this way. I hope not. I believe heart horses (and other lucky sentient beings) are like children. There is room in your heart to love them all. Not in the same way, but with an equal fierceness, a protectiveness that encapsulates the specialness of that relationship.

I’ve ridden dozens of horses and owned a few. My first “heart horse” was a summer love — a camp horse at a riding camp where you were able to ride, and care for, one horse over the summer. Reverend Radar was a chestnut gelding. I was besotted with him. I groomed him until his coat shown, I took him out to graze; I practiced mounting him bareback until I could swing onto his back with an ease that astounds me from the distance of time. That year I won the award for Best Care of Horse, a testament to my obsession. I cried when I left New Hampshire and headed back to Manhattan.

My next “heart horse” was another chestnut gelding (do I sense a pattern here?). Fred was a quarter horse who was for sale by the trainer I worked for the summer I turned seventeen. A former “A” circuit junior jumper, Fred had slid down the ranks when he started to stop at fences. In retrospect, he probably had some navicular pain. Fred was at the barn for several months and from the first day I sat on him, I felt the connection. Although he would often stop at fences when potential buyers came to try him, he taught me how to jump big fences — four feet might have been nothing to him, but to me it felt like flying. He gave me the gift of confidence.

My third “heart horse” was yet another chestnut gelding. Definitely a pattern here. Bogie, named for the golf term one over par, was a school horse when I started riding him — a school horse who didn’t much like kids. After life got in the way for nine years, I returned to riding and was looking for a horse

Bogie was a bold and tidy jumper over stadium fences but a complete chicken when it came to cross country jumps.

that could help me get my confidence back. While I was looking for a horse, Bogie had been looking for a human. He was tired of multiple riders and blossomed under my care. One day my trainer pulled me aside and told me that, while I might not realize it, he was my horse and I should buy him and make it official. When I planned to move out of state, I decided to take him with me, but he came up lame. When I explained my dilemma to the local vet, he said to me, “Look that horse in the eye and tell him if he doesn’t get sound you’ll leave him here.” Surprisingly, it worked. He stayed with me for several more years and while he never had the guts to event, he was a great jumper and never took another bad step. Eventually, I sold him to a girl who had leased him from me for several months, and was looking for a confidence builder. Within weeks, he came up lame. When hock injections didn’t help, I took him back, got him sound again, and found him a home more to his liking. He “retired” to live with an old cowboy who had owned his last horse for 32 years. Bogie took to this gentleman from the start and I gave him away on a free lease. He lived out his life in a 14 acre pasture and probably thought he’d gone to heaven long before he crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

Kronefurst, my Trakehner, found his true purpose in life foxhunting.

Kroni — Kronefurst — was my next heart horse, and for once, not a chestnut gelding. A beautiful, almost black Trakehner, Kroni looked like Black Beauty. A client of mine found him at a barn near her, and I tried him out on a business trip. A sensitive horse with a few quirks, Kroni really came into his own when we discovered foxhunting. He loved to hunt and was honest and steady, jumping anything you aimed him. I hunted him bitless because he was a horse that was so in tune to what I wanted to do, I had only to whisper to him. An enormously brave horse, Kroni once faced down a herd of heifers, which charged the fence when we were riding in Vermont. He shook like a leaf, but he held his ground. Sadly, Kroni died quite suddenly from a blood clot that lodged near his brain. He was seventeen and I had expected to have many more than the 12 years I had with him.

I already owned Freedom when Kroni died, which was lucky because I don’t think I could have gone out and bought another horse. It wouldn’t have been possible to find one that compared to Kroni and a new horse would have suffered in comparison. Freedom was so completely different that I never

Freedom Flying
I always think of Freedom as airborne. When you ride him it feels like you are hovering over the ground.

expected him to be like Kroni; probably a good thing because he’s special in his own way. Another chestnut gelding, I’d taken Freedom in as foster for CANTER, an organization that helps find thoroughbreds non racing homes. I had no intention of keeping him. In fact, when I went to pick him up, my first thought was he was too small and too skittish for me. That changed the first time I sat on him. He feels like a much larger horse than he measures, because he has a huge heart. I felt an immediate sense of belonging and I realized, soon after, that he wasn’t going anywhere. Freedom has been a part of my family now for 16 years. He’s been my first flight hunt horse and a partner in adventures. I’m glad we never had to face down any charging cattle, but at least I know we could have outrun them. Freedom isn’t a cuddly horse, but he’s definitely my horse. He is not an easy ride — members of my hunt laugh as he leaps and bounds after the hounds, and not a single person has ever asked to hunt him — but I’ve always trusted him completely. When I came back to the barn after my accident this year, he came and put his head on my shoulder and gently blew onto my face. He was most certainly welcoming me back.

Then, of course, there is Zelda, who currently shares my heart with Freedom. Zelda looks a lot like Kroni (another trend?). Zelda came to me to be sold. Funnily enough, the same person who found Freedom for me, owned her. I guess she knows my type, even though the two horses couldn’t be more different. Freedom was laid up with a check ligament injury, and I needed something to ride. I warned her owner that, although I’d help sell her, I wouldn’t buy her. I didn’t like

I didn’t start out liking Zelda much, but she wormed her way into my heart. Now she makes me smile when I go to the barn.

mares and wasn’t interested in a draft cross. The first time I got on her, she squealed and tried to buck me off. We spent several weeks figuring out who was in charge. She bucked, she squealed, she tried to rub me off on trees. I hated her. The first time I hunted her she was terrible. She bucked, she stopped and refused to move. She squealed. It took months before she decided that we could be a team. She tested me every single time I rode her. But, over time, we started to have fun. The fourth or fifth time I hunted her, I was at a joint meet where I thought she might find her next owner. She’d gotten better each time I took her out and this time she was great. At the end of the hunt, someone came up to me and told me I’d better keep her for myself. My husband obliged by buying her as an anniversary present. Best gift ever. Zelda is probably the smartest horse I’ve ever ridden. I suspect that’s what made her so challenging at first and what makes her a delight now.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have another horse that touches my heart the way that some of these horses in my past have done. I feel immensely lucky to have had time with each of them — and there were other horses that I rode, owned, or cared for that were also nice horses but somehow just fell short of being heart horses. I hope they found their special humans after they moved on from me.

How about you? Have you had a heart horse?

15 thoughts on “Heart Horses

  1. I’ve had two heart horses, both of them Icelandic horse geldings. The first one was called Lappi, he looked like a shaggy appaloosa and he taught me patience and gentleness and to move with the horse. I learned to ride on him (as a 4 year old) and had the great luck to have him for almost 5 years, before he was sold into retirement. Sadly this happend in the one 3 week holiday we ever took in that time and when I came back to the stable, he was already at his new home. My heart was broken and I thought I never wanted to ride again … but the lure was too big. After Lappi I didn’t bond with any of the school horses I got to ride, even though I “had” some of them for a few years.
    When I was 16 I changed stables and lo and behold, they had a black icelandic gelding named Lucifer. He certainly deserved his name, as he caused mischief and problems to no end for all the other riders and even the stable owners. I didn’t know he was “a problem horse” when I went to get him from pasture to groom and tack up and he was such a gentle soul. He snuffled at me, he gave me kisses on the ear, he even hugged me – and I was instantly in love. Since no one told me he was difficult before our first ride (a 3 hour hack around a lake) I was confident in him and me and we had a beautiful ride. When we came back, I was told all he had done to other riders and my heart sank a little. Next time I got to ride him, he again behaved absolutely beautifully for me, giving me all 5 possible gaits of an icelander, which he never had before for any rider. From then on he was exclusively ridden by me, 2-3 times a week, for a blissful year. Then I suddenly had a motorcycle accident, was laid up with a broken leg for a few weeks … and when I came back to the stable, he had been sold. Too many problems in the 2 months I wasn’t able to come. That was the next and last heartbreak over a horse so far, I never bonded again. But I’m fairly certain, if I find another heart horse, it will be a feisty little icelandic horse.

    You are very very lucky to have found so many horses to speak to your soul, which also speaks for your soul: you are a good person and it can be felt.

      1. Good! Your comment came back. It wasn’t showing before. I’m sorry that both of your heart horses had been sold on. I’m sure that Lucifer was glad to have found a human that he could bond with. Bogie had become so tired of being a school he turned into a holy terror. The trainer there was amazed by how quickly he bonded with me. I’m actually writing a novel right now and Bogie is one of the main characters . . . although most of it is fictional, it has been fun to bring him to life on the page!

      2. Ohhhhh I can’t wait to read your novel! If it’s as good as your blog, I’ll thoroughly enjoy it! Please keep us updated on publication dates.

        Yes, I was devastated both times when “my” horses got sold, without even a chance to say goodbye. Sadly, keeping horses is very very very expensive where I live, otherwise I’m sure I could have convinced my parents to get Luci for us. I hope (and think so) he enjoyed our time together as much as I did. We had many many fun hacks around the countryside, going swimming, just lazily hacking around bareback and bitless, astounding other riders by flying by in a racing pass, without saddle or bridle and in perfect poise (that was most fun, Luci enjoyed going as fast as possible whenever possible and boy did he have some speed to show). If you haven’t seen it, please youtube icelandic horse racing pass … those little devils really FLY 🙂

  2. Lovely post. That’s amazing you’ve connected with so many horses. Based on everything you say here, I think you will most definitely find another heart horse, or they will find you. Wish you all the best – speak766

    1. Definitely connected with some more than others, but until I really thought about it, I hadn’t realized how special these horses were to me. I had also completely missed the trend of Chestnut geldings!

  3. Wonderful post! My current horse Jet Set is definitely my heart horse. I’ve never had another horse that I liked as much. Every time I walk in the barn he is happy to see me, he always tries to figure out what I want, and is generally such an uncomplicated happy soul. I treasure every day with him because you never know how long it will last…

      1. Exactly! And I can tell you he is not the best mover, the fanciest, or the most expensive horse I have ever owned (though he is cute!)but he definitely has that intangible in his personality that always makes me smile and enjoy being with him.

  4. Yes, I had a heart horse. A half-Thoroughbred paint named Moses. The first weekend I owned him, we went on an overnight camping trip and he was a perfect gentleman. When I got him, he’d been a trail horse, so I taught him about contact and we started jumping. I only owned him for three years – when he was eight, he got white line disease, which is rare enough in our part of the country that it went mis-diagnosed for too long. He had to be put down and it shattered me. I stopped riding for a few years before getting back into it. I continue to carry Moses with me in my heart.

  5. I lost my heart horse Friday night to a strangling lipoma. Even typing that feels like it’s happening all over again. This was an almost perfectly timed blog post to remind me that he’ll always be with me, and I might find another, but even if I don’t, it will be ok.

    Thank you

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss. Every time I hear of something like this I think of Kroni and start to tear up. I remember at the time crawling into bed and thinking how totally unfair it was that he should be taken from me so suddenly. I still feel his loss but even if Zelda and Freedom don’t exactly fill his shoes, they make me smile. Hugs.

  6. I know I’m late to this party, but Word press throws up posts from the past, and I just had to respond.
    I’ve had three heart horses. The first was not mine but was a brood mare at the QH show barn I lived next door to as a teenager. Charm was a TB mare purchased to make the QH halter horses a bit taller, I guess..I don’t know why. TO them, she was just another mare but to me..she was my friend. I loved her and was present for her first live foal (she’d had two still borns before) and the look on her face when she realized this baby was alive was something I’ll treasure forever.

    My next heart horse was Jordan, my fleabit grey Arab. I ‘rescued’ him from a bad situation, a ”riding stable/lessons barn” that was so poorly managed that they hadn’t enough tack for all their school horses…two horses shared a bridle and a saddle pad. Jordan hadn’t been trimmed or re shod in ‘6 months” When I bought him he was 15.2, after the farrier trimmed him and put the proper sized shoe on him, Jordan was only 14.3. He hadn’t been clipped in years (and had Cushings, so he had hair at least six inches long in July). We clicked immediately and he gave me 5 wonderful years before I had to have him put down.

    My current heartthrob is Raven. Sue owns him, (although she says you can’t really OWN a horse or a dog, you merely pay the bills) Now he’s mine, as well. THe minute he met me, he insisted that I belonged to him. I was leasing a TB in the same barn, and when ever I did anything with that horse, Raven made a racket until I talked to him. As far as he was concerned, he has a two mare band…Sue and me. When Sue invited me to share him, we were both happy. He says things to me that he NEVER does to Sue, and she’s okay with that. He’s taught me so much, is so patient with me, and so kind.

    Liz, I have to tell you something. The reason you have been blessed with so many heart horses is because you have a horse heart. Oh yes, you do. They can see it. You may be a bipedal ape with opposable thumbs, , but they know you’re really a wonderful mare that they can depend on. I know many, many women who have horses who couldn’t give a flip about them. Their horses feel the same way..the owner is merely the rider. They know when a human is using them for something like a ribbon, as opposed to people like you…and me…who see them as family, as friends, as…well, people. The people who don’t give their heart to a horse don’t get one in return.

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