We liked Amy from the start. She was an all-black Peruvian Paso, and the minute you met her you knew she was different. She had a special presence, a gravitas that set her apart from other horses. When I tell people about her, I often say that she was a spirit of the universe who, for a time, just happened to take on the form of a horse.
Amy, whose proper name was Amigable, first came to us as a boarder, one of three horses a friend brought to our ranch to live with our own two horses and six other boarders. We had lots of grass at the time. Amy happened to be in foal. As the story goes, she’d succeeded in opening a number of gates and had found herself a nice Standardbred stallion.
From the beginning we knew Amy was special. But the event that caused us to really open our hearts to her occurred after our beloved house cat, Mr. Blue, went missing. As it turned out, he had wandered off into the cattle hay barn and sequestered himself deep in the hay. He returned after a few days, but while he was gone, my wife, Anna, and I were very upset. One morning while Mr. Blue was gone, Anna started crying as she was feeding the horses. Amy left her hay, walked over to Anna and actually wrapped her neck around my wife in a hug. The mare’s intent was quite clear.
In due course, Amy had her foal. We were very disappointed, however, when just 10 days later her owner decided to move Amy and the filly to another farm. We didn’t want to see Amy go. Anna offered unreasonable amounts of money to buy the mare as soon as the foal was weaned, but no deal. We sadly said goodbye to Amy.
In the meantime, my own riding mare became ill and had to be put down. I felt I really didn’t want another horse unless it was Amy.
Then, six months after Amy left, Anna got a call from the mare’s owner offering to sell her for a reasonable price. This arrangement was consummated in secret, and on my birthday, as I was looking out the window, Amy was led by with a big ribbon around her neck. Wow! What an incredible surprise!
Amy settled quickly into life at the ranch. She took over my late mare’s alpha position in the herd and became a very effective leader. She rarely needed to be physically aggressive. A simple, subtle shift in posture or flick of an ear and the other horses immediately remembered who was boss.
After some training for both of us, Amy and I formed a partnership that lasted for years. We moved and sorted cattle. We did trail and poker rides. We did gaited demonstrations at the county fair. I could tell so many stories.
Once, Amy and I were exploring a remote part of the ranch that required a difficult creek crossing. We would have to negotiate a steep descent and ascent, with large, unstable rocks along the bed. I got Amy down to the rocks on the lead, but she and I had to balance carefully, step by step, from rock to rock, to get across. Balancing on the rocks was tricky, but Amy made clear to me we were in the enterprise together—a team—and she didn’t spook even when a large rock shifted under a hind hoof. I felt the incredible bond we’d developed.
As she aged, Amy developed pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, also called Cushing’s disease. She lost much of her robustness, and eventually we retired her from active work. But she still wanted to be engaged, and she always greeted me with her distinct deep-pitched nicker. So occasionally I’d saddle her and ride her around the 10-acre fenced area that forms the homestead compound on our 865-acre ranch.
On one of our last outings, Amy showed me I still had much to learn. I’d intended just a short ride that day, but as we passed one of the big gates leading out to the ranch, she stopped, looked at the gate, then turned her head back to me. It was quite clear that she wanted to go outside.
We went through the gate, and when I got back on, I dropped the reins, relaxed and let her take over. I thought she might just walk out a bit, then turn back to rejoin our little herd. But, no, she took me on down the hill, across a pasture, up to an adjacent property’s vineyard fence, over a hill, down the other side, and on we went. After maybe a mile she turned and headed home.
We had a few more rides like this, where I just let her take me where she wanted to go. I found this incredibly touching, an affirmation of the bond that we had. It was also educational. So often when you ride, you feel the need to make continual choices, guiding your horses to avoid obstacles like rocks, downed limbs and difficult ground. I’d been riding over the terrain on this ranch for years—but I learned from these last rides with Amy that she would often make quite different choices than I had on how to proceed or where to put her feet. And she never missed a step. She taught me that sometimes horses understand better than we do how to get where we’re going, and we can give them their heads much more often than we might think.
We have other wonderful Peruvian Paso horses to ride now. But owning and riding Amy was, and forever will be, one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened in my life. She was a superb horse, and I am incredibly privileged to have known her.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #467, August 2016.
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