“He’s like The Giving Tree,” my husband, Bryan, said when we were discussing the special role our senior horse Old Paint has played in our boys’ lives.
I was taken aback. When I first thought about it, Shel Silverstein’s iconic story seemed pretty one-sided. The boy (and later man) takes and takes from the tree, as she gives willingly until she has almost nothing left. But it also seems that the tree gains satisfaction—and even joy—from helping the boy throughout his life.
Maybe Bryan was right. Old Paint gave many gifts to our sons—and the rest of our family—during the four short years he shared his life with us. And he seemed to enjoy every moment he had with our sons.
The Hardest Choice
On February 26, 2018, we said the hard goodbye to our senior horse Old Paint. He was a regular in our Instagram feed and appeared on many pages of H&R, so you’re likely familiar with him. But most importantly, he was our sons’ first horse.
When our friends gifted Old Paint to us after he taught their daughters to ride, it changed our sons’ lives. It changed all of our lives. He arrived at our barn when I was out of town for a photo shoot. I remember my mom texting me photos of Joe, our youngest son, then 3 years old, hugging OP’s leg because he didn’t want to leave the horse’s stall; he wanted to sleep in the barn with his new friend. The boys’ relationship with the horse blossomed. They learned responsibilities their school friends would never know, gained confidence that changed them to their cores, and found out what it’s like to love a 1,200-pound fur ball.
But time caught up with Old Paint. We’re not sure of his age, but we estimate that he was around to an admirable 34 or 35 years. He lived a good, long life, with many humans who loved him. The loss left a gaping hole in our hearts.
Back to the Gifts
There are too many to list here, but a few of Old Paint’s gifts to the boys stand out. Here’s a short list.
Confidence. When our boys learned to steer a horse, it made riding a two-wheeled bike seem like a piece of cake. It also made them more sure of themselves when trying other scary activities—like long-division math.
Humility. With that confidence comes a good dose of humility. Neither of our boys ever went off Old Paint, but they were shaken a few times or taught lessons by the horse that put their egos in check.
Tenacity. And after either boy had his confidence shaken, he had to regroup and try again. And again. And probably again. That never-give-up spirit will offer them countless benefits as they mature. They never wanted to quit on Old Paint.
Responsibility. Before I knew it, both boys were willingly taking on barn chores. Feeding, cleaning stalls, bathing and grooming, helping maintain the barn and arena. They stepped up in ways I don’t think they ever would’ve at home.
Dedication. They learned that when they put the time and work in, they can achieve their goals, whether that be trotting and loping or working challenging obstacles.
Compassion. Any time OP was sore or uncomfortable, the boys had great sympathy for him and wanted to do all they could to help him feel better—even if that just meant staying with OP and giving him the affection he grew to crave. They loved to love on him.
The gifts I hope for Old Paint, wherever his spirit may be: May he graze all day (without any flies bothering him), take a run when he feels like it (and get in a good, playful buck), roll whenever he wants (especially to scratch his sweet spot), and find people who love him as much as we did. ´