Life Lessons from an Old Quarter Horse

On April 3rd, 2020 I lost a best friend. Murphy, my childhood horse was close to 34 and lived a full and wonderful life. Despite knowing that his time would someday come, accepting he’s gone is hard for me. Rather than focusing on what I lost, I decided to remember all the wonderful memories I gained from my time with him.

Oh Murphy, 

Where to begin. My life lessons with you started when I was only in the fourth grade. I learned how to ride sitting on your back. You were pushy and didn’t always listen. You used to trot faster and faster, until the ride was so uncomfortable that I would ask you to stop, rather than just picking up a canter. Ellen had to get on and ride behind me to teach me how to push you into a canter. You taught me how to hold on for a rough ride. 

I remember trying to saddle you for the first time by myself. It took many, many attempts and absolutely everything I had to hoist that saddle all the way up there. You were 16hh and towered over me. Once I finally got it up there, I had to cinch it up. I tried tossing the stirrup over your back just like I was shown. But being as short as I was, I couldn’t get it all the way over. I learned that the hard way because it clunked me on the head in the middle of tightening your girth. But at the end of it all, I had successfully saddled you. You taught me to be determined in everything that I do. 

I remember a time when Emily and I were going to go for a ride. We both went out to her barn where I kept you at first. I spent the better part of an hour attempting to bridle you. You would raise your head well above what I could reach. When I stood on a bucket, you would turn around in your stall so that I would have to move the bucket and start again. You did this over and over and over. When I finally got the bridle up to your mouth, you refused to open your teeth for the bit. I was afraid to stick my finger in your mouth as I had been shown, but I did it anyway. I honestly can’t even remember if we went for a ride after all of that. You taught me to be persistent. 

I remember multiple times when you escaped from your stall. You were known as “Houdini” before we had even met. You used to get out, but you never went far. We would always find you with your head buried in a bag of grain. It made no difference to you whether it was the cow feed or your own. You would gulf down half of each. At first we would spend hours walking you in fear after you ate that much. Not once did you colic after an episode of the “all you could eat buffet”. Never mind the fact that eating almost 50lbs of feed at once would kill most horses. But not you. You were usually hungry again the next morning. You taught me that you could do anything you set your mind too, and that I could too. 

I remember our first time contesting together. I was afraid to run you fast. Some people told me to just go for it and run. I specifically remember a fellow 4-Her telling me to just trot the barrels, and that I would be okay. You probably knew how to run those barrels, but you only trotted, just like I asked you too. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m sure I gave all the wrong cues and pulled on your mouth too much. But you did what I asked without question and got me through the pattern. We took 1st place in the junior class that year. You taught me to trust my riding partner, and that you would always take care of me.  

I remember all the hard work that went into taking care of you; cleaning your stall, feeding you every morning before school and every night, helping load hay into the loft, cleaning the water tub, picking out your hooves. My dad would make me paint the fences with oil to keep them from rotting. Every summer I whined about being the only one that had to do it. He would simply say, your horse, your fence, so get painting. There were times I wished I didn’t have to do all of that. This lesson didn’t kick in until much later when I bought my next horse, Cash. But now I can appreciate all the hard work I learned to do. You prepared me to take care of my future horses. You taught me that hard work is important, and well worth the reward. 

I remember a few different times where I hit the dirt. I don’t remember all the details of those events, but I do remember that I always got back on. I’m sure most of those incidents were rider error, but you never took off and left me. You would wait patiently for me to pick myself off the ground and remount. You taught me to brush myself off and always get back on the horse.

We have so many years of good memories…7 to be exact. You were the horse that everyone loved! You would go anywhere I asked. You put up with many years of 4-H showing with me..and I know I wasn’t always pleasant, just ask my mom. You gave me so much confidence in my riding. You helped me stay a kid just a little bit longer. Because of you and my love for horses, I got to be a part of another world, filled with friendships, hours of riding, and a lot of life lessons. I know I didn’t get to visit you as much as I should have these past couple years, but I never worried because I knew you were getting the best care with Ellen. 

I’m so glad that I could be there with you for your last breaths. I know your hearing had left you sometime ago, but I would like to think that you could hear me tell you that it was okay. I would say rest in peace, but I’m sure you’re already up there running the show and making yourself the boss among the other horses, just like you always did. 

“A great horse will change your life, the truly special ones define it…” -unknown

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