The Last of the Old Guard.

It's been a remarkable summer of enormous highs and profound lows.  Life has forced me to sort of look into the crystal ball and confront what it is I am really here to do, and I feel like I have made it to the other side not with despondency but with fervor; not with fear but with compassion. Though I am sorry to say that I am more impatient than ever.

My relationship with horses has been a complicated and emotional one this summer.  My mother and I had a beautiful, absolutely perfect trail ride in California just a few weeks before the injury that stuck her in a wheelchair for a few months. I leased a horse, who is now injured. But I've replaced riding at the barn with coaching 4H, and in a lot of ways, that's better than riding someone else's horse.

The little savings account I have entitled "Future Horse" is filling up, and every dollar there is a step closer to what I want most. Seeing it rise is better than all the borrowed rides in the past 10 years combined.

Only two weeks ago, I went down to the thriving bustling ranch to see my family, ride horses, and clean tack. It was the best weekend I can remember in my adult life. I rode Posie through the mountains, chased the donkeys around, and gave rides to the next generation of horse crazy. And, my mother and I pulled Old Lady Jurnisa out for a hoof trimming. A first rate equine pedicure.

Jurnisa has been in my consciousness for as long as I can remember. The memory of mother bathing her and Prince on the lawn of our Provo house when I was two is probably the most vivid of my childhood. Her dappled bay and his pure white coats shimmered with water and rippling muscle against the contrast of the green grass and sparkling cottonwood leaves overhead. From then on, it was horses horses horses.

Jurnisa in her prime, circa 1992

Jurnisa was never my horse, but my father's and she competed in 25 mile endurance rides often with him.  When the time came to find an english horse for me, Jurnisa was considered, but swiftly set aside by my loftier ambition to have a thoroughbred.  And when that thoroughbred broke her crown and left me horseless only weeks before the big year-end 4H show, I turned back to the horse I'd dismissed before.

Wouldn't you know, that semi-retired "Old Lady" jumped everything I asked her to, got all her leads in the flat classes, and took second place in Dressage, besting the fancy Thoroughbred's best dressage finish by 3 placings. She was an incredibly fun horse to show, and I'm glad that even as a dazed 14 year old with an injured superstar, I grasped the gravity then of what Jurnisa had done for me.

Jurnisa at State, 2001

There are only three trophies/ribbons which I still keep out and about to remind me of my childhood. One for a horsemanship class I won with Poco at the County Fair, One for winning State all-around with Starr, and one, understated, red dressage ribbon, which will probably always make me cry when I think about what it represents.

I held Jurnisa's head when she left this world on Friday, and we buried her with a wreathe of sunflowers around her neck and royal blue blankets. A burial befitting a champion and a friend. Mom and I were there together, which was a tender mercy, and felt the sting that Dad was in California- a lash of cruelty that befits this chaotic gypsy summer.

She now rests next to Prince in the green green orchard. Next to our dearest dogs and damndest cats. With every friend we add to that earth, the magnitude of the orchard's beauty and stillness seems to increase. More and more, I wonder if I could ever bear to leave that place behind when half my life and all my childhood dreams sing to me through the soil.

I could never properly thank Jurnisa for the beauty and restlessness and magic she added to my young life, or the courage and patience she showed in my adolescence, or for the lessons she taught me in her final hour. Instead, I will thank mother for taking care of her all these years and making sure she finished her life out with our family, and thank Dad for building all her shelters  and growing that patch of grass for her to stay fat on in California, and giving her all she could ever want in her very long retirement. So few horses will know the joy of lifelong caretakers, and I feel so relieved to know we offered such a life to a horse so worthy of it.

A happy 33 year old.


padruss said…
I have no words. You used them all here in your comments. So well said. I am so grateful for your insights, thoughts and memories. Thanks for seeing her to the end with Mom. You have given me new peace in such a sad loss. Dad
Sharron said…
It's interesting that your next post is titled "I Need a Hero". You were my hero last week. I wish I were eloquent like you to be able to describe what your presence, and your graceful ministrations meant to me. And your loving and careful handling of our old regal friend, not only last week but all summer are something I will never forget. Our experience is beyond words, I love you so much.
Dawsonfamily said…
What a beautiful tribute to an amazing horse! Dang those horses that leave such an impression on you that you will never forget them. I'm glad you guys were able to bury her on the old homestead
FYI I bawled the whole time reading this. It's amazing how these loyal steads become such a big part of our learning and growing. When we thought we were to smart for ourselves they knew better and taught us more than ever imagined.

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