When my great gelding Ace finally got old and passed away in September 2004, I was overwhelmed. Not just by grief, but also by loss of the seemingy irreplaceable. Ace was my Everything Horse--show horse, trail pal, magazine model, idea inspiration, barn entertainer, best friend of another species, sometimes almost a second spouse. "No way," I remember thinking, "will I ever have another horse like him again."
I'm starting to soften a bit on that position. This past Saturday, I took Riley--still just a yearling when Ace died--on a five-hour mountain ride, with over 100 other horses out on the trail. And except for a bit of silliness at the start, Riley provided me with a lovely ride, negotiating slick slopes, sucking mud, sloppy water crossings, and unfamiliar horses, without a hint of hassle or a single spook. To be perfectly honest, he outdid Ace's abilities as a group-ride trail horse, and this was just his third time on such an outing. He's worked out great at horse shows, too, bringing home lots of blues--first in halter classes and later, in our first ventures being judged under saddle. As was true of the Aceman, Riley's capable of making me proud to be his person. He proved that again on Saturday, even without any ribbons in the equation.
So, maybe I was wrong in thinking I'd never have another horse like Ace again. True, there will never be another Ace, exactly, because he was too uniquely himself to ever be duplicated in full. But I no longer feel bereft of a good all-around horse. Though still just a kid in dependable using-horse terms, Riley's another step closer to filling the old guy's empty shoes.