“He’s my best friend.”
Yesterday I drove the truck and trailer to a small town about 6 hours away, spent the night in a motel and arrived at a small house far off the beaten path at 7:30 this morning to pick up one of our horses from an adopter. He’s in the military and being sent back overseas for the next eight months. His commitment to our country comes at a high cost to his family, for they are moving to another state to await his return.
Our promise to our horses is that they will always have a home at the ranch if the adopter has to give them up. The economic turmoil this country has experienced since 2008 has had a big impact on the number of returned horses, but it’s part of the deal. We saved them at some point and our commitment is that they will hopefully never again experience the horror of neglect and abuse.
But that didn’t mean much to the little girl standing by the trailer as we loaded the horse. I tried talking with her, just as her father did, but there was something very deep happening between her and the horse, something that was ripping her apart. Her life was changing and it was all completely out of her control.
“Did you ride him a lot?” I asked.
“Just once, and he didn’t like that so I never did again.”
“So you just took care of him?”
“He’s my best friend,” she cried. “My very best friend….”
That’s when the real tears started. I had to drive away, leaving her in her father’s arms and leaving me with a hundred thoughts. There were so many things wrong with that scene, things that would never occur in a perfect world, yet there were so many things right. As a father of three wonderful girls I know the pain of a parent when a child cries. My natural instinct is to fix it, to do whatever it takes, to change the world so they are smiling once again. Soldiers shouldn’t have to leave for war, little girls should have their own horse and best friends should be forever.
Then there was the other thing I seemed to have forgotten – grownups “take care” of horses. Little girls don’t. They love them, hug them, hold them, laugh and cry with them and wrap them in a world of emotions. Horses become the focus of their life. They rush home from school to be with them, they crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to check on them, they brush them, clean their hooves, and they talk. Little girls and horses can carry on conversations that grownups will never understand, because somewhere along the way of growing up we kept talking and forgot to listen to everything horses have to say.
“He’s my best friend.” There’s a whole world in that statement. He means that much to her, he knows and trust her completely, is willing to do whatever she asks. There is no superiority, no separation of class, no teacher or student. She sees him as her equal and, for a 13 year old girl, that relationship is the best one she’s ever had. She will remember him forever, just as the horse will remember her.
If I were King I’d tell the soldier to stay home and let the girl and the horse grow old together. If I were really important, I’d call the President and say, “Fix this.” But in the end, there is nothing I can do but look in the side mirror and watch the little girl with the tear streaked face wave goodbye to her very best friend.
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Habitat for Horses is always on the lookout for a few great people at our ranches. The work is unique, the animals are special and we want folks who both know and understand the special connection our animals need.