Thank you for all the kind thoughts, blog comments and prayers regarding the death of my horse, Bear. The private emails too. They were and are still much appreciated. If you missed the announcement of Bear’ passing, you can read it HERE. But today, I wanted to write an official tribute post as a way to summarize my time with him.
For those of you not familiar with our history, I brought Bear home in March of 2005, just before he turned ten-years-old. Bear died on September 17th, 2022 at the age of twenty-seven. That’s seventeen years together. He spent more years with me than he did any other human.
Those seventeen years together almost didn’t happen though. At one point, I had seriously considered selling him.
Bear, a registered Racking Horse from Speed-Racking bloodlines, was a sensitive, timid, quick and athletic horse. All 14.1 hands of him. He was light in the bridle. Light on his feet. He had the most wonderfully smooth racking gait and a great lope.
Despite his small stature, his energy could be intimidating, especially in those first few years with him. After several very embarrassing and very public experiences where he got completely out of control, I thought I might be done with him.
But I knew he was likely the most quality horse I would ever own. Bear is hands-down the best-gaited horse I have ever ridden. And so I decided to persevere by attending a multi-day natural horsemanship clinic as a last-ditch effort to get on the same page with him. Fortunately, that experience completely transformed our relationship. All thoughts of selling him went out the window.
We went on to do so many fun activities together. Stuff I had always dreamed of doing with horses.
We rode trails, went horse camping, won show ribbons, went swimming, worked cows, worked obstacles, played horse soccer and moved out to Colorado from the Midwest and back again.
We learned to do lateral movements like side passing. I learned how to ask Bear to bow down on one knee so I could mount him from the ground. We even literally walked through a line of fire at a police-horse-training clinic.
As the years passed, Bear still remained a challenge to ride at times. His sensitivity and energy under saddle never really diminished. Nonetheless, the more things we did together, the more confidence and rapport we developed with each other.
Surprisingly, despite Bear’s nervousness and propensity to spook with some frequency, he never hurt me. He could jump sideways with the best of them, but he always took me with him. He was light on his front end, popping up a bit sometimes, but even when he fully “high-ho silvered”, standing on his back legs, it felt smooth as glass. Bear could also dolphin as he cantered and throw in a crow hop every once in a while, but I stayed with him.
The one and only time I fell off of him actually had nothing to do with his anxious tendencies. The spill happened as we were tracking cattle in a large field. Bear accidentally stepped into a crater-sized hole that was obscured by the tall pasture grass.
The hole was quite deep and wide. As Bear started to sink (with his rump up in the hair and his front legs going down), I pitched forward and rolled off him to the side. Fortunately, Bear was able to push up out of the sides of the hole. He avoided falling completely into it. We were both a little surprised and frightened but otherwise no worse for the wear.
In reflecting on the totality of our relationship, I can’t say how Bear felt about me. But as far as how I felt about him? I definitely experienced the most satisfying relationship I’ve ever had with a horse. Of all my horses, Bear was the most deeply woven into my sense of who I am as a horse person because of the challenges that we faced and overcame. It’s not a guarantee with horses, overcoming challenges, so it’s something I treasured. He allowed me to be the horsewoman I had always wanted.
Since the day I brought Bear home in 2005, technology has changed a lot. All my first years with him are not documented on my smartphone. Instead, I have multiple scrapbooks filled with his print pictures.
I had fun going through those scrapbooks recently and decided to photograph some of the pages so I could share them on the blog. In looking through the scrapbooks, I was struck by how young we both looked. My, how we aged together! But the photos helped remind me of all the fun I had with him riding at home, as well as doing so many different activities off the property.
My scrapbooks are huge. The following pictures are just a small sampling. I have great friends and family to thank for having all this documentation of my time with Bear.
Besides lots and lots of photos, I have some other special objects to remember Bear by. Like the pile of ribbons that he won for me at different events.
I also have the stall plate that came from Bear’s first owner. You know, it’s rare that something goes with a horse as he or she changes owners. Even important stuff like registration papers get lost. But this stall plate stuck with Bear as he changed hands. I was able to verify this when I tracked down his original breeder. Bear’s sire was a stallion named Kentucky Bear and my Bear was apparently just like his sire in personality. So his breeders gave him the barn name “Little Bear”.
Last but not least, through my writing gigs, I have published many words about and images of Bear. For example, an essay I wrote about Bear titled “The Next Journey” was published in Equus magazine’s July 2018 issue in its True Tales category. It was also later made into a podcast Equss Barn Stories Episode. You can get the links to them HERE.
In an interesting coincidence, the Fall 2022 issue of Equus included a Back Page feature that detailed the magazine’s relationship with its long-running True Tales feature. I thought it appropriate that I read these words in the magazine’s 2022 Fall issue, considering that Bear died this Fall.
“Although the Equus staff has always enjoyed reading these real-life accounts and preparing them for publication, we tended to think of True Tales as something to work on in between our more important articles. Our real work, we thought, was reporting on veterinary research, equine physiology, management innovations, training techniques and the like. In time, however, we came to the realization that we had been wrong about True Tales. They are, in fact, a very important part of Equus. You may not find the horses featured in this section in the record books or halls of fame, but they are the very foundation of the horse industry. They are central to the lives of their owners. They serve as the focal point for equestrian ambitions. And they inspire countless dreams.”
– Equus- Issue 511-Autumn 2022
Bear’s photos are also peppered throughout this blog and the blog’s Pinterest page. In fact, my popular Pinterest Pin is “Activity Ideas For The Unridden Horse” which features Bear’s sweet face. The Pinterest pin links to a previous blog post of a similar title. You can read it HERE. Even after I retired Bear from riding five years ago, I still enjoyed playing around with him on the ground. He inspired me to write that post and create the pin.
I must say that it is heart-warming to see a part of Bear live on through all these written and visual mediums.
When I started this blog in January 2020, Bear was already three years into retirement. By that time, he had been diagnosed with PPID, EMS and arthritis. He had experienced several bouts of laminitis and had areas of skin cancer removed. While I would have loved to have blogged during our riding adventure years, I am still glad readers got to know Bear, even if it was as an older, retired horse.
It was a different sort of experience for me, caring for Bear as a senior horse with health issues verses as a younger, active riding horse. It was difficult at times to try to manage Bear as he aged, but it was also a privilege and an honor to care for him at so many different points in his life.
Horses can take us on many journeys. Certainly those physical journeys- down the trail, around the arena or into the show ring. Yet sharing a life with a horse can be quite the emotional and spiritual journey as well.
Learning about your horse as an individual being and learning about yourself in relation to your horse are gifts not everyone gets to experience. It is truly special.
Thank you, my dear Bear, for all the lessons. All the rides. All the experiences. The whole whopping journey. I love you.