Yesterday, in the heart of the snow storm, Rita went down. We tried for hours to get her back on her feet, and at one point thought she might be out of the woods. When she fell again, we knew it was time to say goodbye. Rest in peace old girl. You will be dearly missed.
Rita came to us three years ago, our first summer here on the farm. We had lost Sailor, #3's first pony that winter. Rita was listed as a 31 year old saddlebred mare, free to a good home as a companion horse. When we talked with her heart broken owner, and went to see her, we learned that she was severely emaciated. The woman had boarded her horses out of town, and lost her source of transportation (her boyfriend) that fall. She didn't get out to see them through the winter, and by spring the damage had been done.
All three horses were severely undernourished, but Rita was the worst of the lot. She was starving. She was old. She had arthritus in her left foreleg, and she couldn't be ridden by adults. The chances of finding a home for her at all were pretty slim. But she was exactly what we were looking for.
There is nothing like an old nag when it comes to a child's first horse. Rita was so well broke and gentle and trustworthy. We didn't think she'd have the gumption to get too wild and unmanageable by our little boys. Perfect.
We brought her home and fattened her up. It didn't take too much work. Some worm meds, access to free choice hay and grass, lots of petting, brushing and love. By the end of the summer #3 was in his glory with a horse of his own.
Rita grew into her own that winter. In addition to all the hay she could eat, she had the only private stall in the barn. Right in the middle, where she could be kept warm by the other bodies milling about. She was treated to extra grains and special high fat, high fibre feeds. By spring she was roaring to go. Practically a filly again.
And so it happened one day, while #1 trotted up the road on Tori, and #3 walked along with Rita. #1 let out a click, click, click with his tongue, and off he and Tori gallopped. And Rita decided she wouldn't be left behind. #3 learned the art of staying in the saddle at a gallop without notice. And he was hooked. Speed is amazing when you are 7 years old. From that moment on, they gallopped together all the time. For hours at a time. I'd tell him to slow down so I could take pictures, and he begrudged those moments. But then they were off and running again.
I rode Rita once. Just once, before I handed her over to him. She was a beautiful ride. She couldn't handle the weight of an adult for long, but I had to make sure she was safe for him. I have to admit, I was totally jealous. If Tori ever gets to that degree of responsiveness, I will be truly blessed.
#4 hasn't been much of a rider yet. He likes to go for a walk, with someone leading him around, but hasn't expressed much interest in riding on his own. When I thought he was ready last summer, I put him up on Rita and handed him the reigns. She walked a little bit with him, turned slightly, and he spooked. Panicked. Jerked the reigns. She wasn't impressed. She took him over to the closest tree and stuck him in the branches. She refused to move until I went over and got him down. It was pretty funny in retrospect. I guess she was a one boy horse.
We learned from our farrier that Rita had had a long and busy career. She'd won many shows and events in her youth. She was a proud mama of at least two other show ring winners. She was worth a lot of money once. And here she was, the heart and sole of the farm, the most glorified pet, in her final home, a freebie.
Rita was my trusted lawnmower. After riding and treats, we often left her at the edge of the garden, or in the back yard, no fence, no ties, no lead. She was free to munch away the rest of the afternoon, where the others couldn't be trusted to stay.
Rita was never pushy. Walking into the pasture with carrots or apples is a certain way to meet friends. Some who are just a little eager and friendly. Some who get their treat and chase everyone else off, thinking they will get all the treats. Some who would check your pockets to see if there were any more treats in there. Rita would stand off a ways, just watching. She'd wait for us to come to her. Let us give her hugs and kisses. Wait for us to tell those bossy others that these treats were not for them. She'd accept her treat happily, and gently, but not pester for more.
Rita was the one who would stand in her place as we approached without treats, too. The others had their moments, sure, but they were just as likely to accept a hug, or a hand on their halter as not. Rita never faltered. If it was a friendly pat that we wanted, she was happy. If it was time to go and ride, she was happy then too.
In this time of change, the one thing we hadn't even considered, was the idea of looking out into the pasture and not seeing Rita. Of course we've always known she was an old girl, and it could happen at any time. But still, her spirit was so young, that we weren't prepared for it. We are all broken hearted and hurting. But we will cherish the memories always.