Horse & Rider

The Black Horse


“What do you think your parents would think about a black horse?”

That’s what my horse trainer, Ginny Bowman, asked an 11-year-old me driving down the road one day 21 years ago. Like any good saleswoman, she knew her buyer. She’d been horse shopping on my parents’ behalf for a few months at that point, and so far she hadn’t had any luck. But it turns out she’d stumbled across a jet-black granddaugh­ter of Three Bars hanging out in one of her other clients’ pastures after a failed career in Western pleasure. The horse didn’t know much about any single discipline, but she was broke and she was pretty, and Ginny figured that might get her sold to my not-so-horsey mom and dad, who’d seen a “Black Beauty” film or two.

Ginny was right, and we picked Onyx up in the fall of 1999. I remember like it was yesterday. My cousin, a teenage boy, was with us. Onyx arrived in tall shipping boots that we needed to return, so Ginny told him to take them off of her. When he leaned over and unvelcroed one, she promptly jumped on his head, sending the boot flying and causing quite a wreck. You know, all these years later, I’m pretty sure she’d still do the same thing.

I’ve barely known a life without Onyx—from the days when we discovered just how nice of a barrel horse she’d make, to All American Quarter Horse Congress placings and rodeo wins. Imagine being a hot-shot kid with the shiniest black horse anyone had ever seen, decked out in the coolest polo wraps and gear my parents’ school-teacher salaries could afford, winning nearly every weekend. I bet I was pretty hard to be around, really.

I came of age on that black mare, who gave me the confidence that convinced me I could do anything, ride anything, win anything—and be anyone I wanted to be. She came to college with me, stood around while I traveled the world, and then didn’t miss a beat when I moved from the East Coast to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, making me look and feel like I belonged anywhere I went.

I owe most of who I am to that old black horse, the one who hobbles to the feeder in my pasture these days, turned out with my daughter’s 20-something pony on a hundred acres with free-choice alfalfa. I owe her the mashing up of the medicine to keep her feeling good, the supplement­s I pour in her grain, and the buckets of Equine Senior she eats.

She deserves the special shoeing that helps alleviate the arthritis in nearly every joint, and she deserves the cookies I give her when I have a chance to stop and rub her neck. Funny—she’s still as flighty as ever and doesn’t require a ton of hugs. But I try to sneak one in every now and then, like I always did when life got hard, through breakups and tough classes and lost loved ones. I can only hope this winter isn’t too hard on her at 27, and I’ll be doing my best to make sure she stays comfortabl­e.

I’m sure you all have senior-horse stories of your own silver-muzzled friends that you love. Watching them age is a blessing and a curse, and one I won’t regret, even if it breaks my heart. This issue, then, is for you. It’s for you and it’s for them, with our best advice on taking care of them when they need us the very most.

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 ??  ?? You can reach Chelsea Shaffer at HorseandRi­
You can reach Chelsea Shaffer at HorseandRi­

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