Column: Farewell to a mustang
My horse died. There. I’ve put the words to paper.
On the day of September’s full moon eclipse when the moon turned red, I found him in the corral. Here’s where everyone asks “what happened?” just like our reaction when a beloved, human friend passes on. It doesn’t matter. He was old. He was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease last January. Maybe he collicked. I don’t know. I didn’t check. Just before feeding time that morning, I heard him whinny.
When I got to the corral ten minutes later, he was lying on his side. His spirit had galloped away. Neighbors helped me bury him in the field across the road where he had roamed with his buddies for four years. His breakfast hay sat in the back of my car for a week.
Blackie was a proud mustang from Utah’s Sulphur herd, adopted by my friend, the late Karen Chamberlain, when he was a yearling. She was living at Horsethief Ranch in Utah’s canyon country at the time. In her book, “Desert of the Heart: Sojourn in a Community of Solitudes,” she writes about bringing him back to the historic ranch.
“And now I had another piece of history in the corral. A furious, frightened, shaggy little horse with a string around his neck and a yellow tag that told his name: #316,” she wrote.
Karen gentled Blackie in the corral at Horsethief, which I visited a year ago, like a pilgrimage. During our friendship, she taught me how to groom a horse — that horse being Blackie — and he was my steed when she and I rode together. When she was in the hospital in the fall of 2010, I told her I’d make sure Blackie was okay until she got well.
She replied, “you might end up with him,” but I ignored her, assuming she would recover and we would resume our rides.
After she died, I took Blackie on. I remember the first time I saddled him and climbed aboard. It was a bittersweet moment. My friend had died but I now had my own mustang. He was my charge. I had made a promise and I would keep that promise.
Blackie was more than my connection to Karen; he was my connection to my wild spirit. He was always outside, from dawn to dusk and back again. We’d walk or ride when fall turned red and gold. He’d roll in the snow, making snow angels in winter with his pasture mates. In spring and summer, we’d hunt feathers together or ride around the pasture. I saw herons and hawks, bear and fox, coyote and deer when I was with him.
Now that he’s gone, I feel unmoored.
I don’t know how to be outside. I feel alone and sad instead of happy and free. So, I spend far too much time indoors. It’s almost like the best of me died with Blackie and I’m not sure yet how to call her back.
There is something truly honest about living with a horse. At least for me, that’s the one word I can think of to describe how I was with him. Happy, yes, immeasurably happy, even when he was an imp or that time when he threw me off his back, galloping lickety-split down Cattle Creek Road.
But, it was more than happiness. I felt whole, connected to the earth and to the history of the American West, grounded, purposeful, like I was in the right place at the right time.
I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way again. I hope so. I hope this grief will eventually even out and that I can walk into the feed store or visit the neighbor’s horses without bursting into tears. In the meantime, I’m just grateful that Blackie was in my life, that he trusted me to be his friend, and that I had a chance to care for the proud mustang of Utah’s Sulphur herd.
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.