I held back tears as I looked into the soft, liquid eyes of my Quarter Horse mare, Candy. Bending over, I whispered close to her ear, “You are the best horse I’ve ever known.”
And it was true. I’d taken pictures of her, my beautiful show horse, next to the blue ribbons and trophies she’d won for us. We’d always been a team, and now I was saying goodbye to her.
Candy stood calm and still as she ate her grain, her last meal. I sat motionless next to her, taking in her wonderful horse scent and thinking back on all that we’d done together.
Sheza Rockin Candy Bar was foaled and raised on my family’s Northern California ranch. I’m one of six girls; my older sisters started Candy and introduced her to showing. When I was 8, Candy became the horse I competed with in 4-H and open shows, at county and state fairs, and in local parades. She taught me how to be a showman. With the knowledge and skills I learned with her, we won many championship awards. Candy was a beauty—a champion halter mare, my winningest showmanship horse, my best friend. Those show days, full of fun and excitement and exhaustion, will always be some of the best memories of my life.
I remember when Candy and I competed in my county’s large-animal round-robin event in 4-H. Round robin is where the winner of each species’ showmanship class—horse, beef, dairy cow, market goat, and so on—then competes with someone else’s animal in a championship round.
My final time with Candy in this event, when I was 16, turned out to be the last time Candy and I ever competed together. I hadn’t practiced showmanship with her for months, but she came through like the champion she was. She remembered exactly what she needed to do, did it perfectly, and seemed to enjoy showing off. That was the last buckle she ever won for me.
‘Don’t Forget Me’
In the course of her show career, Candy developed the degenerative hoof disease known as navicular syndrome. My family and I managed the condition successfully for several years, but eventually it progressed to the point where we could no longer keep Candy comfortable. In 2013, we knew the best thing for her would be to let her go.
On that evening, after her last meal, I walked her up the hill to the place where her body would lie and her soul would rest. We moved slowly as she walked bravely next to me, limping. When we arrived at the spot, my dad was ready on the tractor. My sister, a veterinarian, was ready with the injections. The only person who wasn’t ready for what we all knew had to happen…was me.
I pushed my face into Candy’s soft gray coat. No longer could I hold back the stinging tears. My hands shaking, I held her face close to mine and whispered, “I love you. Don’t forget to remember me.” The other five horses on our ranch began to whinny and neigh from the barn in the distance, as if saying their final goodbyes, too.
Wings to Fly
I backed Candy slowly down into the cool, dark soil. She trusted that I was doing the right thing for her. My sister administered the drugs, and my beautiful mare began slipping away. I looked into her eyes for the last time, and she said goodbye to me with her final breaths.
My good show horse had given me wings to fly. On her back, I felt the wind through my hair and her power beneath me. From her passing, I learned how precious life is, how special it is to have a good friend, and how an extraordinary horse can be your best friend ever.
Joy Bennett, 18, grew up on her parents’ ranch in Kelseyville, California. Homeschooled throughout middle and high school, she belonged to the Cole Creek 4-H club and competed in 4-H and open events. Today she belongs to the Redwood Empire Quarter Horse Association and competes in team penning and sorting. A sophomore at Mendocino Junior College, she finds English to be her strongest subject and says writing about her horses brings out the passion in her work.