I’ve always loved horses
I have always loved horses. From the time I was very little, I would point at every one I saw. I begged my folks incessantly for a pony, and sketched and dreamed endlessly about the perfect horse.
At last, in my early teens, I got a pony of my own. Dolly was slow and patient, and taught me a lot about riding and falling off. She taught me about ticklish spots that I should brush with care, and not to disturb her when she was eating. In fact, I think I learned more about consideration for others from her than I ever could have from anyone else. I would soon need that in abundance, and she was a consistent teacher, too old to put up with any nonsense. We were close friends, and I could ride her without a bridle around the farm. I never worried about her running away with me or hurting me, as she wasn’t that motivated. When she died, I was heartbroken!
Though we looked at advertised horses and I liked them all, one was the answer to my prayers. I was absolutely obsessed with her! She was going blind in one eye, so it took enormous amounts of coaxing and the kind involvement of an experienced horseman down the road and all the forcefulness I could garner to persuade my parents that she was the horse for me. Susie was a pretty Tennessee Walking Horse mare with a lot of spirit, quite a change from my gentle pony. She could lift me off the ground with her halter and carry me with her head to wherever she wanted to go. She was easy enough to bridle, but hated to have the saddle cinched, even if I left it a little loose for comfort. Since I was accustomed to riding my pony bareback, I didn’t think it would be much of a problem, but Susie was larger and faster than Dolly had been, and she was always eager to explore without me if I fell off.
Soon I noticed that she tilted her head more sideways than before, and I began to teach her some new commands so that I could “see” for her as her second eye. It took patience to get her to trust me. She was so spirited she wanted to see everything, and would often just turn in circles to see what she was hearing or to get her bearings. By the first winter, I was spending all of my free time with her. (It’s a wonder I did well in school that year, but somehow I pulled it off.) We didn’t have much snow that year, and I kept a large circle shoveled out in the pen where I could ride her daily. That winter, I taught her several hand commands to go with the voice commands, and by spring she was fluent in that second language.
Then another challenge came: she became blind in the other eye. The vet confirmed that she could see a few shadows at first, but by the end of the year, nothing at all. Still, we rode in familiar areas daily. I taught her such things as “easy” when a change was coming, and “feet up” when the terrain was rough, sometimes purposely leading her over old car tires or boards and such so that she would not panic if I was on her and we came to something different. She was so careful to lift each foot and slowly put it down. By the end of the second summer, I could ride just about anywhere and at any speed, but I had to be so alert for her that riding was as much work as it was fun. One time, when we rode along a road west of our farm, a train scared her really badly. The track ran parallel to the road, and the whistle and rumble of that train overwhelmed her. Susie began running down the pavement, which worried me greatly. Yet, when I told her we would need to turn at the corner, she did allow me to turn her onto the road that dead-ends at our road. Then my worst nightmare occurred: she was running full out scared, relying on me to guide her, and she had no way of knowing that we were coming to a dead end soon with an 8-foot ditch we could not avoid. My commands were in vain. She was afraid and not paying attention to me! I had become accustomed to putting the saddle on her for road rides, but instead of cinching it on, I simply hooked the cinch over the saddle horn and rode without one. Now, I had no sure way of getting off, but I could only hope that she would stop if I was not guiding her. I took my right foot out of the stirrup, put my hands on the saddle seat, and tried to swing my right leg over her back while maintaining my balance enough to keep the saddle from swinging under her and injuring us both. When she realized that I was yelling at her to stop and was bailing off, she almost sat down she stopped so fast. I was pretty shaken, as was she, but she had barely a scratch. I led her quietly to a stump down the road and got back on, and she nervously walked us home.
For many years that was a road I hated to ride on or even to drive a car on because of the fear instilled in me that day. Still, it was important to me to get her out of her pasture as much as possible so that she would be refreshed with interest daily. Sometimes she would get out of the fence on the back side of the pasture in the old orchard area and then call to me for help if she got tangled in the grape vines. I would answer her from the house, and then go out, lead her back in through the gate, and fix the fence. She was such an adventurer! I noticed an odd friendship that formed after her full blindness. One of the barn cats used to ride quietly on Susie’s back when she was out grazing. It was the oddest thing. The cat would curl up on top of her hips and just lie there, unless Susie began walking too fast for comfort. One day I discovered how the cat got on her back without scratching her or scaring her. I could hardly believe my eyes! The barn we used at that time was little more than a shed that we had made for Dolly. It had a little hay loft less than 6’ (1.8 m) above the stall area. The cat was up in the opening to the loft when she called a soft little chirp or two of a meow and came down gently. I was amazed at the companionship that developed. Somehow those animals communicated and bonded!
We soon were going to horse shows – just for the halter classes at first, and riding quietly with others outside the ring. It was very distracting to her at first to hear other horses around her. She seemed so intent on smelling them and listening to their steps that she didn’t pay enough attention to my commands. We fell once. But when we got up, she was only a bit shaken and wanted to keep going. Soon, a friend and I rode together often, and the sound and smell of another horse became not so much a distraction as it was a companionship and she enjoyed those times greatly. I noticed that when we came upon deer in the open fields, they were not as afraid of us as they normally should have been. I don’t know if they sensed that they weren’t seen, but somehow we were not a threat – perhaps just a familiar sight. One time they even trotted alongside us in my grandfather’s field, which I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams! That exhilarating event was etched in my mind! Oh, for a camera! I can still see the blue sky and the weeds blooming in the field, and the woods ahead of us. There seemed to be so many wonderful experiences for me with Susie. We decided we would like to have a foal from this awesome mare, so had her bred to a relative’s Quarter Horse. I was up nightly with her for two months, waiting anxiously for the foal to come. She had a pretty colt I named Rowdy. Fearing that he might inherit her blindness (he never did), I trained him with a blindfold from the time he was about a month old. As a yearling, he would go anywhere with me, like a dog well trained to heel.
Once, when I was out in the yard with him, my mother called me in to talk to my friend on the phone. Before I knew what happened, he was up the cement steps and coming through the kitchen door (not for long!). We all got a good laugh over that, except my mother, as I recall! I used to keep a leather strap around Susie’s neck, and we were frequently amazed to watch Rowdy grab the strap and lead her back to the barn if she became startled or disoriented. He always knew when she needed a guide, and he considerately led her to a secure place and then resumed his grazing. So many times the neighbors saw this, too, and commented on the quiet kindness shown when I wasn’t around to help her. Susie was likewise a good teacher for Rowdy in the woods. She always flicked and pointed her ears at every sound, but she was quiet in the woods and in the swamp, since she didn’t know her way around the many trees. I often took Rowdy along on a lead when we rode, until he was old enough for me to ride and drive separately. Rowdy became surefooted and trustworthy, as adept with a blindfold on as he was with his eyesight. We even competed at a horse show one day where I blindfolded him and put him through several patterns, a run and slide stop, and rollbacks. A couple of years after I had sold him to a friend, when I married and moved away, he hadn’t forgotten a thing! It has been truly amazing to me to experience firsthand such trust and friendship and unimaginable rich blessings in my life.
I’ve also experienced remarkable interactions with cats and dogs that can only be explained as insightful—testimonies to the sensibleness of showing consideration to others. The rewards have been tremendous. Some of the lessons I have learned have been patience, consideration and service to others, and the importance of listening when I would like to focus on my own feelings. I have learned to appreciate that we all need to be guided, and to teach by example. We should never forget the wonder of life, exploring our world daily, and we needn’t let limitations stifle our precious time. We should “go easy” when change is imminent, rather than plunge blindly into the unknown, and “pick our feet up” when the going gets rough. And it’s always wise to have a home base—a place of security to return to when we lose our way—it can even be just a well-ingrained memory, as familiar as an old friend. I’ve always wondered whether I could let my own children spend hours out of my sight with a blind horse. It takes a lot of wisdom to trust in the benefits and not fear the consequences that could befall someone you love because of unforeseen possibilities. I think I could. It would be hard. Yet how could I deny so priceless a gift as I was given?
– Beverly Lyon
Mason, Michigan, U.S.A.