This is a story about a horse named King, who was a big part of my life for exactly five years. When I bought him as a trail horse for my husband, he was an average-looking, 30-year-old sorrel Quarter Horse gelding. Though his conformation wouldn’t turn your head, you might say he was drop-dead gorgeous on the inside.
At that time, I also owned a 5-year-old Quarter Horse mare. Big horse, big attitude. Many times, after having battles with Silky, I’d turn to King for the simple pleasure of an uncomplicated ride. He was the kind of horse that made you glad to have horses. And he could restore your confidence even when it was at rock bottom.
Kind and forgiving, King never refused me anything. When I made mistakes, he didn’t take advantage of them. I recall the time I left his stall door open after bringing horses in for the night—and the barn doors were open, too. Hours later, I went out to check on the horses and there he was, still standing in his stall, door wide open.
As the years progressed, I turned more and more to King for my happy horse time. We rode on the property, we went on trail rides at local parks, and eventually we went to horse shows. It was obvious he had previous show experience. We always did well, and I could even feel him pump himself up a bit whenever we entered the show ring.
One of the most memorable shows was a benefit for a riding facility serving disabled children. During a break, one severely handicapped little girl was placed on his back, and this made her so happy! Other children proceeded to come over and ask if they could pet King, sit on him, hold onto him. When it was time to leave, we heard a chorus of little voices calling, “Goodbye, King!” as we walked back to the trailer.
Such great memories.
Then, one January day while I was trotting King in my arena, he just stopped. I knew instantly something was seriously wrong. Tests at the vet hospital told me his body was basically shutting down. I’d bought him on a February 8 and, five years later to the day, I said goodbye to him on a February 8.
The best and worst days of my life.
An excavator laid him carefully into the ground, on his side on a bed of straw. I climbed down a ladder and said one last goodbye. As I stood there, placing around him a picture of us, a note, a trophy, and a few other mementos, I felt how peaceful it was. I thought, too, about how I went on my first trail ride on King, and to my first horse show. It seemed only fitting that I should be in my first grave with King.
This wasn’t a morbid thought, however—in fact, the opposite. Being there with him gave me a serene sense of comfort as I accepted the finality of my last goodbye to my horse, my partner, my dear friend.
He was just a little old gelding, but he was mine, and I loved him. I still think of him a lot, especially whenever I hear the Phil Collins ballad, “You’ll Be in My Heart”—my special song for him. When I hear it now, even though King has been gone for over 10 years, the tears start flowing.
Today, I still have two geldings, a 22-year-old Paint and a 32-year-old semi-retired Quarter Horse. And, when I think back over my horse life, I sincerely wonder if I would have stayed with horses if it hadn’t been for King.
He boosted my confidence, and made everything seem possible.
Linda Nelson lives with her husband, dog, and two geldings, Quarter Horse Gus and Paint Lucky, on their horse farm in Northern Illinois. Having come late to horses, Linda competed in her first show at age 50 and today shows in local open events in hunt seat and Western disciplines.