I hate fruit. Always have. Growing up 65 miles from a grocery store and living on canned pears and peaches will do that to a person I imagine. But here I was anxiously chewing on a bright red Macintosh apple, the kind with skin closer to plastic than actual food, trying to get it to a size that Buck could fit in his mouth.
The bellowing of cows searching for their calves echoed off the canyon walls filling the air with that familiar sound of moving the herd. This particular moment we were not driving the cattle but instead having a “picnic”, the first of probably 30 it would take to get me through the next 12 miles horseback. My body may have only had six years of experience on this earth, but in my head I was a full-grown ranch hand, I had a horse-my very own horse.
He was a magnificent creature, at least in the eyes of a girl who had grown tired of being left out of all the cowboy-ing. He was small in stature, maybe 14 hands. Buckskin in color with a white star on his forehead. He had a sway back and low ears and his neck was always held evenly with his withers. I know now he was an old, used up, retired rodeo horse that didn’t get out of a walk unless it was absolutely necessary but at the time, he was a steed. Although his journey was nearing its end, due to age and arthritis-through him, my journey was just beginning.
I looked down at the mauled apple and felt it was perfect, he could eat it now. I can’t tell you how much I delighted in watching that old horse eat apples. Although the cartoons and movies tell a different story, not many horses will snack on fruits and vegetables. At least not the ranch horses I was around up to that point.
I lay the apple flat in my hand, something my mother had taught me so that the horses won’t accidentally take a bit of your fingers in the process, and held it up to his soft black muzzle. After a few sniffs and some whiskered nibbles, he took the apple in his mouth and despite the bit, which was a mere formality, began chewing. A few white juicy chunks fell from his mouth but the majority was consumed by my little sidekick.
Ideally the first decade of a horse’s life is usually spent learning, growing, making mistakes, lots of mistakes, it’s quite an involved process. The second half of a horse’s life should be spent performing and doing all the things to the best of his ability that he had learned in the first decade. And the last few years, in my opinion, should be spent eating apples out of a child’s hand.
I like to think he enjoyed those apples and the feel of a small saddle on his back in his final years. He may not have enjoyed the entire tack set up of pink nylon, but he took it like a champ. The first two decades of Buck’s life was spent on the rodeo trail with another family, but the few years I had him made a profound impact, not for him, there was very little that could surprise him at that point, but for me. From Buck I learned that this was it-horses. I would never learn to love apples, although now I can choke one down daily if I have to, but I always knew from this point of my life on, you couldn’t have me without a horse. I’d always have one in the pasture.