“As I walk, I will have hoofprints beside me”
I remember the first day I saw her. She was a little, liver chestnut mare, and the first day I saw her, she was being ridden by a girl whom I would later become very good friends with. I think she may have been jumping, but I do not know, all I know is that I noticed her, and her baby face wormed her way into my heart. I think I remembered how her ears slightly flopped with every stride she took. Her name was Stormy Starduster, Dusty for short. I was riding in my hometown where there was an awesome barn with girls my own age, and for the first time I had friends to ride with. We formed a mismatch bunch, but we were all tied together by our common love for horses, and I have some incredible memories from those years.
Dusty became my steady lesson horse as I came to like her more and more. I cannot describe this adorable mare in words, it would never sufficiently match my image of her in my mind’s eye, but alas: I try. Dusty was a very liver chestnut mare, almost more brown than chestnut. She had a long back, a gorgeously long tail, and a babyface that made your heart melt. Dusty also had a very specific trot, she was very short strided, and therefore it made her trot as smooth as glass, more of a western jog, but more than anything, she was willing. She also had this little strange motion that made her ears flop, her ears would prick and be back, listening, but she always had a slight endearing flop to them. Dusty largely taught me how to jump, she took me over my first crossrail, my first verticals and more. She really seemed like she could take me wherever I wanted to go. I wish I could express this mare as strongly as I have memories of her.
Over the course of my lifetime I have never had what anyone would ever call a smooth relationship with my mother, more like sandpaper. During the time I had Dusty, my relationship was every growing worse, and many a time I escaped to the barn to work away my woes. I remember one time with Dusty when I walked out to the pasture to get her, and I was absolutely consumed with my own painful thoughts remaining from a fight I had with my mother. I think I only got about 20 feet from the barn, and I couldn’t go any further, I remember just feeling the weight of the world feel as though it came crashing down on my shoulders. I dropped my lead rope and just stood there burying my head in my hands. The nex thing I felt was breath at my neck, then a nose on my shoulder. When I looked up Dusty had left her herd of mares and came over to offer quiet support. She then stood there allowing me to cry into her mane, to listen to my every thought and complaint. This became a tradition, not the minor breakdowns, but the conversations. I have never had another animal listen so thoroughly and intelligently to my words. Her ears would follow my voice and her eyes searching. She seemed like she was trying so hard to understand my words.She took me to my second show with the barn, and we earned a ribbon in every class we entered. She and I had a special bond and we spent an incredible spring leading up to a summer where I planned to lease her, and spend the summer showing and jumping the days away.
Just as clearly as the day I saw her for the first time, I also remember the day I showed up for my lesson and the vet was at the barn’s roundpen. Not knowing what was going on, I walked towards a gathering crowd, and at the center I found my dearest friend. Dusty, head hanging, gashes on all four of her legs, her chest bleeding, her hip bleeding. She looked absolutely broken down. I eventually pieced together the event leading to this: Dusty had been used for a previous lesson and was in the round pen for an ambiguous reason. After being in the round pen for an extended time, perhaps her highness got tired of waiting, perhaps she spooked, either way Dusty attempted a leap. This 15.1 hand quarter horse attempted to jump a 5-6 foot fence and- almost made it. Her front foot caught the top rail, bringing the round pen down, and flipping her, making her fall a decent distance, then getting her legs entangled in the panels of the round pen. This event led to my finding her covered in blood, and shaking. My trainer asked me if I wanted to help or ride that day, and of course I chose to assist in the process of getting my friend better. After initially getting bleeding to stop, we needed to move her to the barn, which I was charged with task. I took her leadrope, and I turned around looking at my mare who positively looked like her next step may be her last. Not knowing what else to do I remember asking her to follow. I wish I could say she perked up and never looked back, but she had one imperceptible ear flick, the most motion that she could muster, and at that moment, moved her muzzle into my hand. We then began the long painstaking walk to the barn, all the while her head at my shoulder, me talking to her, encouraging her, supporting her in the only way I knew how, just as she had all those times I needed her.