Monday, February 18, 2013

The Death of My Childhood

Today was a rough day.
'Cause this is a good sight at the barn

It started out rough and really didn't get any better- even when I spent 12 hours at the barn. Usually barn time is a cure-all for whatever ails me. Not today. Today the barn drama overpowered any curative properties that horses could have for me.

Because I got some Bad News.

Opie, the one who started this whole horse obsession, was gone.

On Saturday, she started having a hard time breathing, so on Sunday my parents brought her to Waller Equine clinic so some of my very favorite vets could scope her on Monday morning. The news was bad. She had some Gulf coast virus that damaged her airway so that her trachea was restricted to only 20% of its normal size.

In short, Opie was trying to breathe through a straw.
So it was time to let her go.

I know that I'm an adult, and have moved on to other horses and other sports, but there are those horses who will always be special in their own right. Opie was my first horse. She gave me more than any of my subsequent horses have (yet).

Opie, the week we bought her.
Hard to believe that to me, she was the most beautiful horse ever
Of course, being Texas, I started riding lessons (Isn't that what Texans do, ride horses?) After a year of weekly lessons, my instructor told us that it was time to get more saddle-time, and in order to do that, I'd need my own horse. As it would just so happen, the little orange horse who bucked reliably during a lesson was for sale. And I wanted to own her so bad my teeth hurt. I mean, I was the only one who rode her in lessons (no one else wanted to stick on a sour,green 6 year old with a bucking habit and a wicked cow kick- but only at other horses), and I felt that made me special to her some how and she knew it. Next thing I knew, I walked out to Opie's pen with a bucket full of carrots and she was mine. All mine. I don't think that my parents could have ever delivered better news than that to me.

Now don't we look adorable?
Of course, since my sister and I started out riding western, We jumped into the rodeo scene - drill team and barrel racing. Of course we didnt know the first thing about either, but our instructor ran the Katy Cowgirls Drill team and we were invited to join. Of course, since I had Opie, I spent years riding at the back of the line (remember that wicked cow kick issue?), seeing how many times Opie could buck during a two hour practice. Of course, but the time the rodeo rolled around, and we had an audience, Opie would puff herself up as big as she could and behave like she'd never though of misbehaving.

I could always count on Opie- no matter how nervous I was about riding in front of a stadium full of people, she'd never spook or start. We could gallop by the chutes filled with bucking broncs and rodeo bulls, and she'd never bat an eye. Kids running up and down the aluminum stadium seating couldn't phase her.
Of course, when our time came to hold the important flags and I climbed my way up the Seniority list (which is easy to do when you join a group at 10 years old... and stay for the next 7 years), we discovered that all of the bucking and fussing just disappeared when we got the lead spots.
Parade with the Big Flag
I don't know if I'll ever be able to hear the "Redneck Girl", "Feel Like a Woman" or the Star Spangled Banner without thinking of her and the 10 years that we rode in the KISD high school rodeo.

Opie and AT, in their retirement years

15 years, and never went off of her feed
In the early years, I really wasn't that into showing. For one thing, I had no clue of where to start, and for the other... well, Opie maybe didn't have the quiet, obedient show persona down. But we covered a lot of miles on trails. During the summer, we would take road trips (my poor parents) from Texas to Michigan, stopping at state parks with horse trails every night for a week. While my parents would set up our tent, my sister and I would be off having grand adventures tearing through uncharted trails (to us, at least), never worrying about being lost or not being able to ride through something.

It may not be where my heart is now, but those years trail riding were priceless.
Opie was also my Trailride horse. Note the capitalization. As a family, we were invited to join the Salt Grass Trailride... 100 miles with 1500 of our closest friends, ending up at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. I was comfortable - if bored - by the totally walk trailride. Yawn to both me and Opie... Who was, of course, the only horse on the trailride (or at least our wagon) that managed to gain weight while working (slowly) for 8 hours a day.

Did it once... never doing that again.

Our trailride after I hurt my knee.

Dressage Head
Of course, about the time I discovered my love for dressage, my trainer deemed Opie totally unfit for the sport, and I welcomed Arlberg into my life.

He was no Opie.

Opie did not tolerate heavy hands.
So when he hurt himself, I finally had the chance to bring Opie out to the show barn and take a few lessons with my  (new) trainer. Her canter was terrible, her circles weren't round and her trot would hold up a show it was so slow... And she was 8 months pregnant by then. But she tried her little orange heart out, and we even got a 70% at a schooling show... Which once again validated my opinion that Opie was only the Best Horse Ever (especially compared to Arlberg).

One of the most special moments of my life, thus far, was RC's arrival. Opie, being her typical self, didn't give us any warning that we should be expecting a foal any time soon. Other than being big as a house, and super cranky in the May heat, all seemed normal.

Now that's a scary word to use around horses, isnt it?
May 28, 2004, she ate breakfast like it was the last meal she'd ever see, no waxing, no suspicious behavior  So when my mom, sister and I drove out to feed everyone dinner, image my surprise when Opie watched us pull up to the gate, unlock it, come on it... then promptly laid down. Of course, like any teenage girl with the love of her life, I sprinted from gate to pasture (ok, it was maybe 100 feet), panicked that there was something horribly wrong with my horse.

There wasn't.

She was just waiting for me to have her foal, and once I showed up the delivery took less than 5 minutes. Evidently she was ready to have the thing. I was crying then for an entirely different reason than I'm crying now when I saw four perfect little white legs and a perfect little white stripe (and a snip on his lower lip that looked like he spilled a little milk). I had talked to Opie for the whole year about how I really really wanted a horse with four white feet.

And she gave me just what I wanted... Like always.

To my surprise, my grumpy, opinionated mare loved her annoying little colt. She kept him close and wouldn't let anyone near (except people, of course). The herd had to wait until she was good and ready to share him with the world before they could get near the new little guy.
She taught him the important things in life like What to Do When One Is Stuck In the Fence, or Always be the First to Come In for Dinner.
And the one that made me cry (again) tonight - Pin Your Ears at Your Dinner.

He's got some big shoes to fill.

So here's to you Rohos Precious Honor.... 
Always watching her herd

For making me the horseperson that I am today
For giving me more good memories than bad
For putting up with my learning curve
For giving me what I needed, even if it wasn't what I wanted
For making my childhood everything it ever could have been
For letting me try everything, even the things you knew were stupid.

Thank you for everything, Opie. 

Rohos Precious Honor
April 13, 1992 - February 18, 2013


  1. I'm sorry for your loss. She sounds like a very special horse indeed.

  2. I'm so sorry. She has such a wonderful expression on her face in all the photos. It sounds like you had a great life together. RIP Opie.

  3. THAT is what I think every horse dreams of for a life. That mare clearly loved on you as much as you loved on her. So sorry for your loss. Treasure those amazing memories.

  4. I'm so sorry for your loss. This article is a beautiful tribute to what sounds like a fantastic horse.

  5. This is a wonderful article, Alison. I hope I can write something so beautiful when my little red mare goes someday, too.