Thursday, December 04, 2003

Good Friends, In Our Hearts Forever - Laura Hayes

Daily for almost 19 years I gazed out my window the first thing each morning to see her. I have a cherished picture of her taken many years ago - Freckles completely white and ghostlike, and her baby daughter in the mist by the pond - standing at attention, gazing off in the distance.

We laid her beside that pond on Sunday - her great heart still, her powerful floating trot and deep dark eyes only a memory now.

Before she slipped quietly away from me, with the help of modern medicine, I sat with her and we remembered all the years together. It started at the horse auction, a grey arab type mare standing on her hind legs, the look of defiance in her eyes. $400 outbid the meat buyers in 1985, and she was mine, or I was hers - we never really established that - but we were in each other's keeping for almost two decades.

We did several hundred miles of endurance in her late teens - she was almost always in the top five and won many BCs with me and other riders, until a chronic lung problem from an old illness forced her retirement. The races were always fun, but with Freckles the training was the high point. She met me at the gate every day, eager to go, happy to explore over the next hill. Unlike any other horse I have conditioned, Freckles and I went further and longer, never wanting to come home. The company was always so pleasurable and comfortable - just she and I.

She ferried my then small son around ride camps after rides, careful to not unseat her little charge sitting proudly on top of the big rangy mare - the competitive endurance horse who galloped to the finish took baby steps with her precious cargo and patiently went here and there at his whim.

We chased cows through my son's team penning days - the only arab type horse in the contest, and she did the breed proud- beating the cow horses to the end of the arena and cutting cattle like she had done it all her life. Maybe she had - her history was unknown- her breeding, though obviously arab, could have also been some TB or QH. Her training had been extensive at some point, but she never told, and I found out in serendipitous moments when she would perform some graceful move at the shifting of my weight or some unintentional cue. Her age was a mystery also, though she was fully an adult the day I outbid the meat buyers.

Our last ride together was two years ago. I took Freckles, or 'Mama' as I called her in later years, to a 'girls weekend' with several friends. I rode her bareback on the trails those two days and wondered why I ever rode any other horse - she was so sure footed and smooth and we fit together like an old married couple.

She wandered the pasture since then. I took her down to the home farm on the lake this summer where she had raised her daughter 10 years before, to enjoy the lush pasture there. She grew thinner and her teeth were almost gone - the NY winter would be difficult for her. On Sunday she was uncomfortable, and stretched out in the late fall sun - her gums white and tacky and a look of pain in her beautiful arab-mare eyes. I knew it was time.

I hope she enjoyed the life I shared with her. I know I did, and I'll never forget - she'll be in my heart forever.

Laura Hayes AERC#2741

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