Horses have always played a big part in my life on the farm. Like most girls, I was horse crazy almost from the moment I was born. I must have inherited the gene from my father, because next to dogs, Daddy loved horses almost as much as I did. His first pony was named Ned, and he went on from there to an assortment of horses, mules, and donkeys.
I began life with Old Jack. Daddy had Jack before he married Mom. Jack pulled a wagon, plowed the garden and field, and was used to drag trees that had been felled for firewood. There was no animal gentler than Old Jack. He was a very large donkey (Daddy always referred to Jack as a Burro). Jack was about 12 or 13 years old when I came along, and Daddy had me sitting on Jack before I could even walk. I'm told that Jack adored me, and that when I was a toddler, he would come to the fence and lay down for me to climb upon him. Daddy said Jack would never move a muscle until I got off, then he would stand up and if I was near his feet, he would stand patiently until I was out of his way. Jack lived to be around 30 years old and was my constant companion and playmate as a child.
During my early years with Jack, Dad had a black and white horse named Babe. She was huge in my eyes and Daddy would ride Babe and lead me on Jack. But Daddy was the proverbial horse trader, and we went through many horses in my life. When I was 8, he traded Babe for a pregnant mare, which I promptly named Furylena. There was an old TV series called FURY! about a boy and his horse that I thought it was the greatest TV show ever. Furylena gave birth to a colt I named Vinegar. The plan was to raise Vinegar to be my horse and we would break him out for me in three years' time.
But Daddy grew restless waiting for Vinegar to get old enough to break, and not quite two years later Daddy traded both mare and colt for a 12-year-old named Icabod. Icabod was very gentle and rather lazy and perfect for me to learn to ride on. With Icabod, I learned how to saddle, bridle, and care for a horse. Once Daddy was sure I had mastered these techniques, he traded Icabod for a younger piebald mare named Beauty. Then Daddy and I began going for long rides in the woods, he on Jack and I on Beauty.
As I grew older, my horses became younger and more experienced animals. Jack died and was replaced with a gated mule called Muley. Oddly enough, Daddy preferred a gated mule for riding instead of a horse. My first real horse I could ride on my own was Buck — who didn't last long because he was aptly named. He would be just fine for a length of time, then suddenly I would find myself on the ground with no idea how I got there. He was quickly replaced with Sunset, who looked almost exactly like him, except he was a deeper red in color. Sunset was all he was supposed to be and I had him for about two years.
Then came two horses at about the same time named Diamond and Wendy. At that time we had rented a neighboring pasture and needed horses to herd the cows back and forth twice a day. Diamond was a Morgan horse, jet black and though you can't see it in the picture, he had a small diamond-shaped white mark on his forehead under his bangs. Wendy was an Appaloosa, and one of the best cutting horses I've ever seen. It came down to just sitting still and letting her do the work.
Eventually, we sold the dairy cows and went to beef stock (Herefords to be exact) and there was no real need for a cow horse. So Daddy traded Wendy for a Welsh-Arabian cross that I named El Blanca (after a Disney movie) and that is where the horse trading ended. Up until this time horses were just horses. I rode them for pleasure, or to round up the milk cows, or at the school fair. But everything changed once this new horse came on the scene. El Blanca was 7 when we got him and he was my beloved companion and friend for the next 20 years. I spent hours on horseback wandering the property. I rarely used my saddle, sometimes not even a bridle, and during the summer never wore shoes. If I was out fishing at the pond, or under a tree reading a book, El Blanca was near by. I would even lay on his back and read while he grazed. That horse and I developed a bond that could never be broken.
When I married and left home, El Blanca waited patiently for me to return. He would let no one ride him, and stood by the road every day looking for me to come home. Daddy just didn't have the heart to let him go to anyone else. When we came back for visits, El Blanca would gallop to meet me and I would pet him and curry him and go for a ride. Even after all the months and years of not being ridden, he would still be gentle for me.
We eventually moved back home, and my children began to ride him. El Blanca seemed to recognize they were mine, and allowed them to ride and play on him much the same way I had. We lost El Blanca at age 27. And I grieve for him to this day. He was a huge part of my life growing up on the farm. And one of my most special memories.