The first time I saw Moe was on a cool March day in a horse barn outside of Jamestown, Tennessee. Alice opened the stall door and led out a tall, lankly, solid black, four-year-old, Tennessee Walking Horse whose movement was liquid. I was looking into the eyes of the embodiment of my childhood dreams of The Black Stallion, Fury and Black Beauty. I knew he would be mine.
At the time he was padded, meaning his front end was built up to exaggerate his natural gait. After we agreed on a purchase price, we made other arrangements with the owner and 24 hours late Moe was a flat shod gelding. He was going from show horse to trail horse. That was 21 years ago.
Moe and I traveled the distance to the moon and back several times. I often said that he may not be the perfect horse, but he was the perfect horse for me.
Moe was always calm and laid back , a rare combination in a speed racker from championship lineage. Speed racking horses tend to wild eyed and raring to go from a combination of breeding and handling.
Together we stalked old road beds where he could open up to his full glory. As we picked up speed, he would elongate his stride. We were flying just above the dirt road with only one foot at a time daring to graze the earth. I was still, no bouncing or posting. My eyes were focused between his ears and I had a firm hold on the reins, one in each hand with my bent elbows attached to my low ribs and my shoulders fully engaged. When he dropped his head, I knew to make sure I was firm in my seat, because when his head shot up we went supersonic. He was Pegasus taking flight and I was along for the ride. I learned not to look at the ground because it would scare me to see how fast it was going by below us. The fear was exhilarating.
There is an internet meme that says “to ride a horse is to borrow freedom.” I agree. There were several times as I pulled the saddle off after a day on the trail that I felt like my life was full, complete. I knew that If I died that night in my sleep, I would die happy.
During the spring and early summer of 2020’s COVID shutdowns, I spent more days riding Moe than I had in a long time. As I could not spend weekends at the farm with my aging parents, Dad would meet me at the trailhead with the horses every Friday. It was a glorious spring and we enjoyed seeing the weekly changes as trees budded and wildflowers came up in rotating stages. While celebrating the new I also knew that this was Moe’s last spring on trail. He could no longer hold gait, his recovery from stumbles was slow and his back end was stiff. He no longer glided, much less flew.
My father takes great pride in the appearance of our horses. They are well cared for spend half of the day in the barn and half in the field and fed grain twice a day. Their shoes are reset every six-weeks and are kept on year round so we can ride as the weather allows.
Dad called me in January. He had Sam the farrier take off Moe’s shoes. I thanked Dad and hung up the phone to cry. Though I knew the truth, it still hurt like a sucker punch to the throat.
Once the shoes come off, they never go back on.
Twenty-five-year-old Moe now what Dad calls a lawn ornament in that his only job is to look good in the field. His longevity on the trail is a testament to Dad’s care, no injuries and luck. He will be hard to replace.