The orange rope halter was mine to begin with so it didn’t go with him. When Kate and Kayla came out to the barn for the first time after he left, they both cried when they saw it. Jackson was one too many horses to begin with. Bought for a fifteen year-old sent to boarding school, he showed up in my life after the girl graduated and Jackson had been shipped home to Saratoga. Stabled at Garrods, his young owner, Emma, now eighteen, had lost interest. Pam, my former trainer, who’d been hired to work with him once a week, showed up one day to find the stall filled with a week’s worth of manure, the removal of which was supposed to have been Emma’s responsibility. Pam called me. Could I use another horse?
14hh, fifteen years-old, gaited, stable on his feet, sweet tempered and slow as molasses, Jackson was perfect for taking kids out on trails. KidsLoveHorses had been expanding slowly, but consistently. Even if that continued, taking Jackson on would be a stretch. Taking on Jackson was not a prudent move. But, like Pam, I just can’t stand to see a good horse rot. I figured I might as well give it a go.
The original plan with Jackson was that Emma’s younger sister would take up riding. Taking her out was like pulling teeth. After a year, the mom finally stopped pushing. Girls fell in love with him and then more in love with theater or with jumping. He detested the arena and was slow on trail, which meant he wasn’t fun enough for the advanced riders. My 170lbs was a bit much for his older, arthritic body. Relegated to carrying beginners, very young riders and those who tended to be fearful, he grew to resent his job and would, on occasion, out of confusion or frustration, unseat a rider. It’s not fair to any horse to have them carry only novice riders. Jackson tolerated his job, but, unlike the other horses, there was no upside for him. As hard as it is to place almost any horse in a new home, Jackson was an exception. He was one of those rare, genuinely safe on trail horses who could carry their rider in comfort for hours. This is what every older, female rider I’ve ever talked to always wants.
I had a heart to heart with Emma’s mom. “Yes I know Emma loves him, but she’s not doing anything with him and she doesn’t look like she’s going to. I can’t give him a permanent home. The older he gets, the harder he’s going to be to place.” At this point, KLH, never a financially viable operation, was bleeding money. Jackson was fun to take to the beach. The kids could ride double on him. We had six horses for PlayDay. We always had as many horses as the kids wanted. Theoretically, KLH should be able to support six horses. Throw a rock in any direction and you’ll hit a kid who loves horses and wants to ride. There are some supportive parents, but it is surprising how many parents are not on board. “I’d love to ride more, but my parents want me to play softball.” “We’re going to be traveling all summer and when the girls get back, they will both have tutoring every week. Are you sure it won’t work for them to ride once a month?” And my favorite, “She would only be able to ride three times this month. We’re going to Japan for two weeks. You know how expensive travel is. Riding just isn’t in the budget.” It wouldn’t have bothered me if that parent hadn’t also just bought herself a custom BMW. This mentality is the norm, not the exception.
Emma’s mom agreed to find Jackson a new home. But then, nothing. Month after month passed with no action. I finally emailed Emma. “You know that April, May and June are the months to sell horses. If you haven’t found a home for him by end of June,” it was now first week of June, “you probably won’t find one until next spring.” Turns out they’d promised Jackson’s former owner they’d notify her if they ever decided to sell him, but they’d been unable to contact her. She’d moved; to Kentucky; they thought. There are about a dozen Carla Godsey’s on Facebook, but only one of them with a picture of herself riding a flaxen chestnut Rocky Mountain Horse – spitting image of Jackson. This Carla Godsey lives in Tennessee and yes, it was the right woman.
First week of July I got an ecstatic call from Emma’s mom, “She wants him back! She wants him back!” Turns out, Carla had sold Jackson under duress. She had been working full time, was financially strapped and had become the primary care taker for her terminally ill mother. She had become unable to care for Jackson and decided finding him a new home was necessary. But she loved him so she cried for two days after he left. Nine years later, her husband had retired, she was now working halftime and she had a three year-old, horse crazy grand daughter. She felt it was like a long lost child would finally be coming home. Three weeks later, Jackson was on his way to Tennessee.
I hadn’t expected him to leave that quickly. I thought it would take them year or more to place him. My pocket book is happy, but my heart, not so much. Not Kate nor Kayla either. Kate cried herself to sleep the night he left.
Serena walked past the paddock yesterday. She said, “Where’s Jackson?” It’s been a month since he left, but she’d been out of town most of the summer and wasn’t up on current events. The paddock has had four horses in it for six years. I keep looking for the missing horse and remembering there are only three now. I’m surprised how much I miss him.
Jackson is not the only loss this past month. Kids Love Horses has graduated it’s largest group of young riders ever: Shani, Sierra, Savannah, Sara, Jackie and Rachel – fully one third of the KLH riders. Some of them will be in and out on occasion, but it’s not the same. Not only does the barn feel empty from Jackson’s absence, it is also now empty of the exuberance, intelligence, complexity and humor of the older girls. There is another set of young riders coming along. Sophie turned eight today. She couldn’t imagine a better birthday present then being able to spend time with the horses. Arya, who turns eight in two weeks, has invited the entire “class” of KLH riders to a pool party for her birthday. Her mom has agreed to let Arya skip soccer and ride twice a week instead. There is promise, but it will take time, probably several years, before the fully inhabit the barn, infusing every corner of it with their presence as they fill themselves with joy in each others company and in the company of the horses.
There are many horses needing homes who would find happiness as a sixth horse with KLH. Lord knows Cowgirl could use a break. She has to work harder than she should at her age. I keep hoping for adequate support and I think it’s out there, but I’m afraid it will take so long to build up that by the time it does, I will be ready to retire. In the meantime, five horses it is.
Even with enthusiastic support, Jackson would not have stayed with KLH. His happy ending is one I wish for every horse. But he is missed, for sure.