As I scroll through years of horse memories, some shine especially bright. My (Charlene’s) first horse, an Appaloosa named Buckwheat, blazes like a meteor, easily outshining the planets of past horses. He changed my life and chartered for us an adventurous future that neither of us had envisioned.
Before I got Buckwheat, I was riding my neighbor’s horse. One day that horse and I had a disagreement, and he reared up and went over on me. The nightmarish accident left me nervous about riding. I wanted to “cowgirl up,” but preferred to do it on a safe, calm horse—preferably of my own. We saw an ad for Buckwheat in the newspaper where he was described as “bombproof.” That’s what I needed.
Buckwheat’s seller, Darcy, offered to bring him over to our home so we could check him out. If ever a horse could send out vibes of calmness and safety, it was him. He was a snowy-white, 10-year-old foundation Appaloosa with a long black tail and a short, unruly black mane. His dignified face caught my attention. He had black eyebrows; kind eyes; and a thoughtful, intelligent expression. When he looked at me, we clicked. From that moment he became the most significant, important horse in my life.
Darcy, who also happened to be a car salesman, rode him around our place bareback, with only a halter and lead rope. He offered to leave Buckwheat with us for a week to see if we liked him. Before leaving, he looked at me very solemnly and told me that this horse would never run away with me or hurt me. And I believed him.
Darcy was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He was replacing his horses with mules because he thought they’d be hardier on long hunting trips. Buckwheat had been through some incredible experiences, one of which was the Continental Divide trail. Darcy had ridden him all the way from Mexico to Canada.
But Buckwheat didn’t start life out as the perfect horse. Darcy bought Buckwheat when he was 5 years old from a woman who described him as incorrigible. When he didn’t want to do what his rider wanted, he’d rear, toss his rider, then go searching for some good grass. But Darcy wasn’t easily intimidated. Spoiled Buckwheat was in for five years of hard riding, during which time he proved himself to be calm, dependable, and totally fearless.
Darcy and Buckwheat rode in numerous wildernesses and had many adventures. They crossed raging rivers and even, accidentally, scooted down a very steep avalanche chute. My favorite story was when Darcy and his hunting buddy went out scouting for game and left Buckwheat and another horse hobbled so they could graze around camp. After a couple hours, Darcy returned to hunting camp to discover that Buckwheat was nowhere to be seen. He and his friend searched the outskirts of camp to no avail. Discouraged, they returned to camp where they heard the unmistakable sound of snoring. Inside their tent, still hobbled, but lying on a sleeping bag, was Buckwheat, lost in a world of dreams.
Our Life With Buckwheat
With two other horses and Buckwheat as our flagship, we launched many horse adventures. We felt like we could go anywhere and do anything because we had such a safe horse to lead us. We rode in parades, group rides, and explored many wildernesses. We packed into the Canadian Rockies, into valleys that hadn’t been explored or mapped by non-natives until the 1920s. We rode into the most remote place in the Continental United States in terms of being at a central point the farthest distance from any road. My horse never once failed me, always calm, surefooted, and safe.
In addition to opening the door to horse adventures, my beloved horse opened an unexpected door for me, one of improved physical well-being. Before getting Buckwheat, I was half-heartedly fighting a losing battle with weight. Because my horse was working so hard hauling me around, I made up my mind to lend a helping hand. I lost 40 pounds for that horse and have kept it off ever since.
As years galloped by, arthritis began nagging Buckwheat’s legs, and his hard, downhill clumping was taking a toll on my aging back. We loaned Buckwheat to a good family that made a wonderful home for him. The family included a horse-loving, pre-teen girl. Buckwheat was curried and fussed over, and in return, he carried the little girl and her friends safely around the nearby trails.
We received regular reports on Buckwheat’s activities with his new family. It didn’t surprise us that he was helping children at summer camps or being ridden bareback in the pasture. But we were surprised to learn that he’d befriended a goose!
During the fall, Canadian geese flew past the little ranch in Washington state where Buckwheat lived happily with his new family. One morning, his caretaker went to feed Buckwheat and spied a small, Canadian goose in his stall. She gave Buckwheat his grain, then stood in shocked silence. Buckwheat shared his grain with the goose. Sharing food is not something this horse does. It was the beginning of a short, but uniquely beautiful, relationship. For the next eight months, Buckwheat and Goose were inseparable companions. Wherever Buckwheat walked, Goose waddled. When Buckwheat cantered, Goose flew alongside him. They slept together and ate together. When spring arrived, the northward, migrating geese lured Goose back but not before we had an opportunity to video and photograph the unusual friendship.
His Last Ride
We borrowed Buckwheat for our cousin to use on an organized Oregon trail ride. Sadly, it was Buckwheat’s last riding adventure. I was with him when he died from colic, not far from the Appaloosa’s ancestral homeland. The pain of losing a beloved horse was excruciating but it is proportionate to how good a horse he was: the better the horse, the greater the pain of losing him. During his lifetime, he touched many lives and gave gifts of confidence to those who needed it. In addition, he gave me the most precious gift a horse can give: a love for riding, a gift that will last my lifetime.