This past week we experienced the loss of the first horse we ever owned, Alpine. He had hemangiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that resulted in a rapidly growing tumor attaching itself to his spleen and getting in the way of his digestive tract. Thanksfully we’d already had a warning trip to the vet so the decision as to what to do was not hard, even though it was extremely difficult. We decided to haul him up to Purdue’s veterinary school and allow them to do an autoposy to help their doctors and students gain a better understanding of this rare form of cancer in horses.
That brings me to what I wanted to write about – the stories that don’t need to be told. I’m a huge fan of “piling up rocks” – of journalling – especially with the purpose of having something to come back to, either for my own benefit or for that of someone else. But from the moment we walked into the room where Alpine would be put to sleep to the time we walked out… that is a story I just don’t think will ever come out of my mouth. It’s a story that is extremely personal, one that I don’t know how anyone else could ever relive through my own experience, and one I will never forget.
Other stories, however, are worth being told. They are like gold nuggets in a life full of chunks of coal. They remind us that there is light in the darkness, that there can be good in the bad. As I look back over my own experiences with Alpine, there are many, many stories that I long to never forget. I doubt I’ll write about many of them in much depth, but I did want to start a list of some of them, as memory joggers for myself and perhaps as something that might trigger something in your own heart – not just of the “good old days,” but of days forgotten, days blocked out for fear of “going there again,” and days simply overshadowed by darkness. So here’s my list, which I may come back to over time…
- Although it wasn’t on Alpine, I vividly remember my first ride on a horse as an adult, on a VERY tame horse named Traveller on the island of Saint John in August of 1999.
- I can’t remember what triggered us to decided to buy horses of our own. I really can’t. I want to. Maybe some of that will come back to me over time.
- You know, now that I think about it, I don’t know how we found the people we bought Alpine from.
- I do remember the trip out to meet Alpine for the first time. He was FAT. Not sickly, but certainly overweight. He loved his grass.
- Alpine was one of those things that became truly Erin’s. He was a registered quarter horse, and he was HER’S. I remember how special that was to her, to have that piece of paper with his real name on it (what was it?) next to hers.
- We first boarded Alpine at a 100 acre boarding stable that was pretty much just for us. No one else was there when we first “moved in.” The horses had tons of pasture, lots of woods, and lots of hills.
- We got some basic training from Alpine’s previous owner. He was such a well trained horse. You could steer him with your toes. I still remember running figure eight’s inside the huge arena at our boarding stable, as well as working on walking straight lines up and down the edge of the barn.
- Alpine picked up an injury at some point. Hock? Stifle? I can’t remember which. It laid him up for a month or so. Yeah, he was a little high maintenance, but this was also “Pre-Kids.” So we had time and attention to give. He became family to us.
- Alpine had a girlfriend while at the boarding stable. Chocolate? Was that her name? A primped up girl by an woman obsessed with her horse’s cleanliness.
- I remember going up and down some steep hills with Alpine. What fun that was. I also remember chasing deer, although that may have been on Jack.
- I remember the first time I fell off of Alpine. I had taken over riding after Erin but didn’t adjust the stirrups to my height so was just trotting straight lines with my feed out… until he made a sharp turn… and I didn’t. I remember flipping off his side, landing on my butt, looking up, and there he was, standing over me, looking down, almost asking, “What are you doing down there, silly? Get back up and let’s go!”
- We moved Alpine over to our own neighborhood shortly after having Colton. We didn’t have a barn (I don’t remember if we had specific plans to build one yet either) so he stayed at our neighbors David and Nancy’s home.
- I remember mowing their pasture with the Dixie Chopper, having the battery fall out of the frame, and then chopping it up and spitting it out the side before the blades quiet. Messy.
- I remember the first ride with a teenager – Dillon Hensley – for something with his Boy Scouts. We rode around the farm, and then ran across their pastures. We played with the cows. That was fun.
- I remember building our barn. It went up so fast.
- Finishing the stalls was one of my first “son of God” moments. I was out there all alone, finishing them up, and felt his presence with me. I sat down, said something like, “We did it, Dad!” The funny part about this one was that Erin has unknowingly to me had just walked in, and heard me… but didn’t know any context. She says something like, “What?” It was funny. You had to be there.
- I also remember the day in the rain and the mud with the electric line. Wow, that was moving for me.
- I don’t really remember moving our horses in. I’m sure it was a big moment. I do remember building a lot of fence leading up to that day, though. Including using a shop vac to suck the water out of the ones near the pond so we could pour concrete in.
- I remember our early days in the barn and the parties we threw. Birthday parties. Sunday School parties. Other get togethers. I was introduced to some people who are now very close friends at those parties.
- I can’t begin to count the people I’ve had the chance to give their first horse ride to. Little kids. Teenagers. Grown adults. I also can’t imagine how many people we’ve “reunited” with horses after a lifetime of being afraid of them. Alpine especially was extremely gentle with newbies. He seemed to have a sense as to if you were nervous and scared, and would be kind and gentle with you. However, if you were really wanting to work him or run him or control him on your first ride, he’d give you quite the obnoxious treatment, complete with barbed wire fence rubs, tree crashes, and straight out disobedience. There was this “moment,” at least for me and a few others, where you could finally find him give in, to let go and let you lead him.
- I don’t remember when we first brought Tabi and Stevi out to ride our horses on a regular basis. I remember the offer to their parents, and the commitment that was going to go with that. I remember wondering if they’s stick with it through the winter, which they did.
- I remember Tabi attempting to teach me how to comb long hair. I don’t think I listened. I think Erin has tried to teach this to me as well. Someday… especially now that I have a beautiful daughter of my own.
- I remember Erin getting clotheslined by Alpine while riding at J.W. Jones.
- Actually I remember a lot of rides at J.W. Jone’s. Wandering around for hours, with Erin or by myself, just enjoying God’s beauty on the back of one of his magestic creations.
- I remember camping at J.W. Jones. In November. When it was cold. And running out of firewood at 1AM. And moving to the horse trailer to stay somewhat warm. And waking up in the morning to find that there was a nicely stacked pile of firewood waiting for me right next to my campsite that I never saw.
- I remember how Alpine was always a little overweight. He put on weight so easily and loved his grass.
- I remember the the horses got out. Really out. Like out enough for receive a phone call that they were last seen running down the road away from our home. Praying for God to bring them home, and seeing how that prayer got answered in a very real, yet somewhat humorous, manner.
- I remember working Alpine (and Jack at times) to overcome blocks in his mind. Of crossing creeks. Ditches. Bridges. Little things that were more stubbornness issues than fear, I think.
I asked Erin to add a bit to this list, and she mentioned some I missed…
- Alpine always liked looking for new trail heads. He loved new paths.
- Alpine could open gates. One summer he opened Jack’s stall, let Jack go in, and then locked him in so he could have the pasture all to himself. He could also let himself out to pasture. (Chet: He also allowed me to open gates from horseback)
Erin’s going to come up with some more, since I kind of popped this on her… so check back later if you want to see more.
As I started this, I was thinking about the stories that don’t need to be told. Stories that don’t bear much repeating. But there are so many stories that DO. I love that I’ve written about some of these previously, and it’s so fun (while a bit sad) to look back in remembrance of a life well lived.
Love ya buddy!