As April 6 approaches each year—the anniversary of my horse’s birth—the memories return. Like snippets of a diorama I see flashes of a still-wet foal who on that day in 1970 formed a bond with me that was never broken. I recall how he stumbled first to me on wobbly legs and sucked on my fingers before I guided him to his mother and his first meal.
My mare, J.J., had just gifted me not only with my first foal, but with my lifetime horse. I was a teenager when he was born. A full 40 years later, as I was on the verge of becoming a senior citizen, I was present as he took his last breath. He was with me for two-thirds of my life, and now, seven years after his passing I count those blessings still.
Poco J. Highlight —a grullo Appaloosa with a white rump and spots—was named for his sire, Poco Kicks; his dam, J.J.; and because he was the highlight of my life. That first day, when he followed me around the stall, proved to be a harbinger of things to come. He continued to follow me as a foal and well into adulthood. Later, under saddle, he in turn led me everywhere.
I spent 11 years serving as a riding instructor and director at two different summer camps in Ohio. Poco was my rock. He went to work with me every day and was invaluable for the horse programs. He was totally approachable by every child, timid or bold. He oozed confidence, and he managed to calm the most frightened children.
He was known as Boss Hoss as well as Trail Boss of each trail ride out from the camps. All I had to do was sit on him. He would take over and do the job, leaving me to focus on the young riders in my care.
He was great with my trail-riding buddies, too. “We’ll follow those spots anywhere,” they used to say. Countless times he would pony other horses who weren’t as sure as he was about an obstacle on the trail. And never once in 40 years did he lay back an ear at any horse while under saddle.
Poco loved to work. We would open the trailer door and he would load himself, going straight to the front left side of our four-horse trailer, and then he’d look behind him to see who was going to come with him that day.
And he would do anything we asked. If I needed to forge a path through briars, he was first in line. If I needed to drag a log to flatten tall grass or weeds to clear a trail, it was all in a day’s work for Poco.
After we broke him to harness, he would stand patiently, waiting for me. But once I held the lines, he became Mr. Gung Ho. Mainly I would talk him down. To say that Poco and I communicated well was an understatement. Since the day he was born, everything we did together was coupled with a verbal cue.
When Poco was 7 years old, something new happened to us —something that had a real impact on his life and the lives of all my horses in the decades since. I heard that a new magazine was about to start publication. After reading about it, I immediately sent in my request to become a charter subscriber. When my first issue arrived I went cover to cover reading literally every word. I was hooked. EQUUS magazine was for me!
Finally, there was a publication that was not about “who won what where” but was entirely about the horse. One article in the first issue, “The Magical Tummy Tour,” took a subject that could have been dry and covered it so well, and in a light-hearted way, that the information really stuck with me. It became apparent very quickly that I had found something that helped me learn more about my horses and understand them even better. EQUUS taught me skills that helped keep the veterinarian off of our farm. Even more important, it taught me how to spot the Red Alerts that signaled a veterinary visit was a necessity.
Imagine how stunned I was, 20 years later, to get a call from someone at EQUUS. Out of the tens of thousands of charter subscribers, I was told, I was one of only 21 people who were still subscribing. I was excited to talk and share my love of their magazine. I was a little surprised to be reminded that I had sent them a letter after my first issue stating how thrilled I was with their format.
By that time my Poco was 27 years old, and I had said that EQUUS had a lot to do with keeping him healthy and sound well into his senior years. Little did I know then that he was just getting warmed up. I recall commenting to one of my riding friends that, at 35, Poco was moving and acting more like he was 3.5 years old. Even as he aged, I often picked Poco to ride when I had seven to 10 other horses to choose from.
I stopped riding and driving Poco when he was 39, and I must admit that I wondered a time or two if I’d quit too soon. One day my husband, Bill, had moved our truck and trailer to the front of our barn. Then he tried to take Poco out to the pasture. But once he spotted the trailer, Poco planted his feet—he wanted to go there instead. He didn’t fuss or fight, but he was still adamant that he wanted to go to the trailer.
His body may have been aging, but Poco’s spirit was still strong. On the day my old horse finally passed away, Bill summed it up perfectly: “He was the greatest, and he knew it.”
I am left to wonder after nearly 40 years of subscribing to EQUUS if I am the last remaining charter subscriber. Regardless, I thank you for all the knowledge and joy I have received from your publication.
It has been a thrill of a ride!