|Dipper and my daughter, Indiana State Fair, 1996|
How do you measure a horse’s life? Is it in the 29 years you were blessed and honored to be trusted by such an exquisite animal? Is it the 10585 days that you were greeted every time you went to the barn or pulled into the driveway with a hearty whinny? Is it in the 15,242,400 hours that you spent learning how best that horse learned what you attempted to teach him?
Do you measure that life in the things that the two of you accomplished? Or do you measure it in the accomplishments that horse helped several young riders to attain? Do you measure that life in what that horse taught you?
Dipper (known to the Arabian Horse Club as Dastardly Dip—not my choice of a registered name for him but he came already registered) came into my life when he was six months old and my son was seven months old. I had always wanted a horse, preferably an Arabian. I saw an ad in the local paper that was advertising a weanling three-quarter grey Arabian for sale at a ridiculously low price. I dragged my then husband with me to go see this baby. The paper said he was a grey. The only baby in the small paddock near the house was a screaming strawberry, with black stockings, and cream colored mane and tail. What grey he had were hundreds of tiny, tiny flecks of grey spattered in the strawberry.
We walked to the paddock and this baby walked over to us and he promptly put his head in my chest. Those huge, liquid black eyes half closed when I started to rub his poll. I stroked his face and slipped a hand under his chin and he immediately started to suck on my fingers.
His owner walked up, introduced herself and I asked where the baby was she had advertised. She told me I was petting him. The expression on my face must have said it all because she assured me by the time he was two, he would be grey—flea-bitten—but a grey, none the less. We started to talk about this baby and why she was selling him. She was getting out of horses and he was one of three she had left, but because he was so special to her, Dipper had to go to the right home.
I’d already lost my heart to him, so I was doing my best to convince her that I was the right home. During this conversation, the baby wandered off. My husband put Jason down. After a few moments, I realized that husband wasn’t holding Jason and looked for him. He was under Dipper’s belly, using Dipper’s front legs to pull himself up to stand. And, all this Arab baby was doing was turning into a pretzel to twist his head far enough under himself to see this tiny human.
Dipper came home with me. I knew NOTHING about training a horse, but I could read. I never forced him to do anything. Time and patience were my best training tools. And I talked to everyone I knew who had ever owned a horse, ridden a horse, trained a horse. What I didn’t know, I figured common sense would take us a long way. And, baby, what a long way we’ve come.
I taught Dipper how to be a western pleasure horse, because the then ex-husband said I could never teach him to pick up the correct lead and be competitive. I taught Dipper to be an English pleasure horse because after a while, being a western pleasure horse wasn’t a challenge for him anymore. I taught Dipper to pull. I taught Dipper to first level dressage. And then, because I had learned from this horse so very much about how to be a horsewoman and I realized that he was bored to tears, I taught him to run barrels.
Who knew hidden within a horse with more sense and sanity than a lot of the humans I know there was a high octane contesting animal just waiting to turn and burn around three barrels? Where he floated in a trot for English pleasure, rode like a rocking chair in a western pleasure lope, he turned a set of barrels as if he was a quarter horse spinning on a dime and leaving nine cents change.
Dipper taught both of my kids to be riders. He had more patience than a herd of horses combined. If an inexperienced rider was on him, he was the most placid beast on the planet. A plow horse had more spark and fire than he did. But, put an experienced rider up on him and he turned on the juice. He took my daughter to State Fair. He took two other riders to State Fair.
Shortly after I married my DH, we had a fight. I went to the barn where Dipper was stabled to clean his stall, but I picked up eight bottles of Budweiser before I went. I don’t like beer, but I was so angry I was willing to drink it. Well, one and a half beers later, I was plastered and Dipper finished the second bottle for me. Who knew he’d like Bud so much—so I gave him another one, and then another one. To this day, I couldn’t tell you who was more wasted. I can tell you that neither one of us could walk a straight line. I saddled him up to do some work on the flat. At one point, Dipper stopped in the middle of the arena and I started laughing. A moment later, I realized horses can laugh, too. He stood with his head down, ears falling off his head, and his whickering was slurred.
He loved to go out for long walks in snow storms. He also enjoyed to go for walks at night. A lot of horses don’t like to be ridden in the dark. He liked those long rides and I think it’s because he trusted me not to let him walk into trouble. I know I trusted him to keep me safe on those rides.
He still puts his head in my chest, wanting his ears rubbed. He still sucks on my fingers. When we were done working or riding, he always put his head in my chest and I would rub his ears for several minutes, letting him know he had done a good job and he was done for the day. He put his head in my chest today, after he choked for the second time in as many days, and wanted me to rub his ears. He sucked on my fingers. I know he is asking me to tell him he’s done a good job and that he’s done working.
In the morning, my DH will give Dipper the last shot to ease him from this life. Before he does that, I will rub his ears again, and I know he’ll drop his head into my chest one last time. One last time, he’ll suck on my fingers. And, I will tell him that he’s done a good job. He can stop, now.
I know how I measure a horse’s life. It’s measured by the size of the hole that will be in my heart after tomorrow and it’s measured by what I have learned about patience, and love, and gentleness.
Rest in peace, Dipper. You have done everything I have ever asked of you and so much more. No one could have ever asked for a better friend, better mount, or better first horse. Rest in peace.