The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Gramps, a rescued horse.

Well, Actually, The Second Time Ever I Saw Your Face

After Merlin went to the Rainbow Bridge I was brokenhearted.  It is hard to let anyone you love go, harder still when you have to make the painful decision as to whether to keep them here with you at their expense and pain, or do the thing that hurts you the most — let them go.I had to return to our barn because I wanted the barn to still be a place of refuge for my two girls.  And, we owned Troy who needed love, care, and attention.  But I could not bear to be near Merlin’s old stall #32, so I chose to sit on a tack trunk outside stall #7 — completely opposite of where my precious Merlin had slept like a unicorn only a couple of weeks ago.

Stall #7 belonged to a new horse, “Gramps.”  He was a rescued horse, he did not have a person, and I did not have a horse.  We seemed well suited for each other in that particular moment.  Not of little significance was that because Gramps was so knew, there was no association of him with Merlin.  He had never been in the ring when I rode Merlin, he had never even been in the grooming cross ties together with us.  Gramps, was a total stranger and every other horse at the barn was not, and Gramps was the only horse there that in some way or another did not make me feel sad.

I had only seen Gramps once before, when he came in a few days,  just as he was being led off a trailer by my daughter.  Two women literally gasped at the site of him.  Not in disgust, in shock.  I had never seen such a thin horse, or any such a thin thing before, that could still stand.  But as the horse walked in with his head high, eyes wide and whites showing his fear, there was something about him that was insanely beautiful to me.  So frail on the outside — yet so strong in the inside.  This was a horse with a heart and will to live despite his obvious past and the clear odds against him.

Hope In His Eyes Lit Up My Own Heart

There is a lovely Robert Flack song, that opens with the powerful lyrics:

“The first time ever I saw your face I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies, my love
To the dark and the endless skies.”

These lyrics seemed to sum up this meeting. My world had just gone completely black, and suddenly there was this little red horse with eyes that spoke volumes to me.  In him, somehow, I felt hope.  Or, at least a powerful distraction.  But whatever it was, I was drawn to him in a way words, even beautiful song lyrics, cannot fully describe.

My heart broke for him on the spot when one of the women commented, “Are you kidding me?  Get him out of here.”  Her concern was justifiable.  We were at a training barn for horses who could work.  Our barn dealt beautifully with the usual issues of lameness, minor injuries, and even colic, but when long-term rehabilitation was necessary, horses were sometimes better off in a place where they could be monitored round the clock.  This horse looked like he should be in a sling with an IV feeding him 24/7.  It was truly jarring to see him.  And, it was clear this was a horse that would need a lot of long-term care and feeding before he could go back to work — and, of course, there would be no guarantees he could ever be ridden again.  It is one thing to adopt a rehabbed rescue and take them into your heart knowing what his prognosis and limitations will be, but to “fix” them — to take that initial chance on them — is an expensive and serious commitment.  Our barn simply was not the place for an unsound, walking-dead horse to end up spending the rest of his life if he could not join in the fun of being ridden.  There is a reason there are retirement barns for horses — their needs are different from those of the active and working horse.

Still, I thought this new, scary-thin horse was beautiful.  I admit that it has always been my nature to see anyone — human or animal less than perfect as the most beautiful one in the room.   My husband calls me the “Shallow Hal” of horses because the “uglier” or “less fancy” they are, the prettier I see them.  But even in his sad state of clearly having suffered from severe neglect, this horse carried himself as if to say “I’m down, not beaten.”  He immediately struck me as special.  I saw a fighter; a survivor whose body might be broken, but his kind heart was not.  I had once been in that beaten body, and immediately understood Gramps.  Later, I would find out just how very right I was about this horse and how special he was.

If I Were A Rich Lady

I was hand walking Merlin when Gramps came off the trailer.  When I saw the skinny old horse, I turned to Merlin and said out loud, “I wish I were a rich lady.  We would take him.”  And I meant it.  Seeing Gramps made me want to work harder towards my long term goal of having a farm of my own where I could take in older, unwanted horses.

A few days later, Merlin would become lamer and start on a journey that spiraled down quickly leading me to the edge of a cliff.  So, I never checked in on Gramps after that day because I was lost in my own horrible world of trying desperately to keep my horse alive.

Now, when I peered in on Gramps my stomach knotted so tightly I nearly threw up when I saw him.  It wasn’t that I cannot stomach scary things or even medical things, I cannot stomach human cruelty.  He was not only skinny, bones sticking out all over, he had clearly been abused.  He timidly responded to my kissing noises and “come heres.”  He nervously nickered softly, eyes white with fear, but there was something about this horse that wanted answers.  He seemed to be trying to figure out if I was friend, foe, or even just anyone important.  He was terrified, but still curious and hopeful.  At least, that is what I interpreted from those soft little nickers.

Gramps wanted to sniff me and touch his nose to my face, but he would draw back if I tried to touch him back.  So I decided we would just hang out together and perched in a half-sit on the tack trunk just to the left of his stall gate where, if he wanted to reach out to me, he could.

I pulled out my cell phone, a present my husband had purchased for me only the day before.  It was my first iPhone – an extreme upgrade from my previous phone and it could take nice pictures and videos.  I wanted to double check for the fifteenth time to make sure the pictures and videos I had taken of Merlin on my old phone had been transferred to my new phone.

They were.

As I sat on the trunk looking at pictures – anything really, to avoid watching my girls ride (I used to ride with them and wished I was still out there with Merlin) Gramps slowly stuck his head out and rested his chin on the top of my head.  He nibbled my hair.  I reached up without looking at him and put up my hand, he sniffed it and let me briefly touch his nose.  It was not as soft as Merlin’s, and was covered with little cuts and abrasions and bumps.

“See this picture here?” I asked Gramps, showing him the cell phone. “That’s my ….” I had to pause to pull myself together.  “Mer…. (pause, with a short, sudden suck in of my breath) Merlin.  He was the best horse ever, my best friend.”

Gramps looked at the phone, nuzzled it, then licked it.

Since I had his attention, I stood up, and he kept his head out of his stall, very interested in what I had in my hand.  That first morning back at the barn, Gramps let me do what no one else could have done – talk endlessly about Merlin without getting sad with me, or saying the wrong thing.  He just listened and nibbled my hair and softly whinnied nervously.

I decided Gramps needed a more fitting name and my mind immediately had a task to focus on.

Little red horse, “who are you?”

Next:  “The Naming Of A Horse”