Sonny

A young man I knew called me,

“Is there a chance you could come up sometime soon? I’d really like you to meet this guy. I think you’ll like him.”

And so it was on Valentine’s Day of 2012 that Sonny and I introduced ourselves to each other. I hadn’t been with him more than 15 minutes before I knew we were going to be lifelong friends. There was not going to be any changing of his habits or personality. Sonny was 18, he was set in his ways; you weren’t going to teach him anything, he knew what he knew, he was who he was, and you were either ok with that or you needed to move on and not know him. I liked him from the start.

He was a character. 45 minutes after meeting him I trusted him and he trusted me. That may be hard to understand but guys like Sonny don’t trust many, that’s how he got to where he was. So there we were, we’d been together for just a short time, we were getting along, and we had the beginnings of a relationship. Sonny was confident in himself; a confident horse is a horse a rider can trust. I was comfortable enough that as Sonny walked along I turned in my saddle and let the young man know that Sonny was going to come live with me. As we were discussing the arrangements I felt him begin to wander slightly to the right. When I turned around to ask him where he was going I immediately knew. You see Sonny liked to swim and we were going swimming! I could have scolded him or jerked him back but I let him have his head. I could have stopped him but he knew I gave him that swim. It was a gift from me to him. All these years later I realize it was a gift to both of us.

The horse farms of Ocala, Florida had been his home most of his life. He was a buddy horse to lightning fast race horses. All those years of running so very fast had played havoc with his ankles and arthritis had begun to set in. He was still fast but at 18 had paid his dues; in all the days I knew him I never asked him for full speed. There was no reason, life is better when a little time is taken to enjoy the ride.

He hated cold weather and got quite cranky when the winter winds blew. Even I gave him extra respect when the temperatures dipped into the cold range since I wanted to avoid the wrath of his fury. I didn’t mind; I don’t like cold weather either. Sonny loved champagne, ice cubes, and cold watermelon on a hot summer’s day. He never met an apple or carrot he didn’t like and thought peppermint treats should have been served with every meal.

He had personality, if you got to know him and paid attention his eyes and facial expressions spoke volumes. He could make his stablemate back up with just a glance and when his ears went straight back you knew there was going to be some big trouble. If he lowered his head and looked at you with his big brown eyes your heart couldn’t help but soften.

As I said he was trustworthy. A few years ago my wife wanted to take our young grandson for a ride so I threw them both up on my big sorrel. Big he was. At almost 17 hands when you were up on Sonny you were a long ways up. My beautiful blonde wife and my red and blonde horse were off on my grandson’s first horseback ride. My grandson was frightened at first but after a few trips around the pasture he gained confidence, then he got cocky and stopped holding on to his grandma riding in front of him. As Sonny launched into a slow trot the young boy began to bounce on Sonny’s rump with each bounce taking him closer to falling off. Just as he dropped my wife grabbed his wrist and the momentum swung him under Sonny’s belly. On most horses that would be a very dangerous situation which would likely spook the horse and cause him to trample the child. In the case of the smart and measured Sonny? He locked all 4 legs in a panic stop and didn’t move a muscle. For just a moment everyone was frozen; my wife leaning over with her hand clenched around the grandson’s wrist, the grandson swinging under the belly of a 1,200 pound beast, and Sonny standing like a statue. What happened next I’ll never forget as long as I live…Sonny turned his head, looked back at my wife, and perked his ears forward, there is zero doubt in my mind, his expression could not have been misread, I am quite sure he thought,

“Seriously? I’m walking here. Can you please keep the kid where he belongs?”

We liked each other. The trees surrounding his pastures blocked his view but when he heard me coming from the house he would loudly whinny as he trotted to the corner where he’d first be able to see me emerge from the trees. He’d walk the fence line nickering the entire way as we walked side by side to the gate.

A good horse and a good rider form a bond when riding together. By the end of 2014 a bit never went in his mouth again. It just wasn’t needed. A halter with the lead rope thrown around and tied off to the other side was common but it was only there so the rider had something in their hands. You could steer him with your knees and he’d stop on command. Each and every time he and I went for a ride once I dismounted he would turn and rub his head and neck over my body and face all the while making little cooing sounds. He liked going for a ride with me. Sonny and I were friends.

At 23 years of age we had a hard conversation. I told him his time had come, he had paid his dues, and his days of carrying anyone on his back were over. Even though he was an older horse and not riding him any longer was the right thing to do I think he missed our rides. I know I did. Sonny spent the next three years living a life of leisure, pestering his stablemate, swimming, and lounging in the sun as he so liked to do.

I dug a grave and I buried my friend today.

I had the privilege of your company for 7 years and 353 days. You were one of the great ones. While you may not be here, you will live on forever. You are the horse I will tell about for the remainder of my days.

I’ll miss you. The truth is I already do.

Goodbye Sonny.

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