I’ve mentioned it before; I still mourn Cochise, that black and white Pinto that Little Joe rode on Bonanza. It’s New Year’s Eve and the song about the “Old Long Since” keeps running laps in my head. I toast this sentimental time.

I’ve been searching for a lost photo. I was fourteen, wearing an old inside-out sweatshirt with cutoffs and tennis shoes–no socks. My hair was a bizarre natural brunette color, short and combed over to the side fairly recently.

I was on a horse named King. He was a strawberry roan in that way that horse-crazy girls can’t just have a sorrel. Sometimes we went to a grade school down the road where kids came to race their horses. King was the kind who hated a horse in front of him. When we raced, I faced him the opposite direction so he would rear and pivot. What can I say; I watched the Lone Ranger on TV.

In the lost photo, King is looking right into the camera, with an honest star and proud ears. As teen angst dictated, I was looking awkwardly down and away. Photos never lie. King was just the exact sweet kind of bad that could ruin you for needlepoint or gardening. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?

That lost photo search released memories of my other horses, whose images paraded through my mind, though they’re gone from this earth. Intermingled were the good horses that belonged to dear friends, like Prankster and Toushay and Rou. I half-think I owned a part of them, too. All gone now and part of my ghost herd.

I’ll be the first to admit there are some lousy trainers out there, but I always had perfect trainer-karma when I was starting out. I was lucky to work with trainers who liked my horses better than me. It showed good sense: It was something we agreed on and putting the horse first is always a good place to start. I’m grateful to these strong women, for tolerating my zeal and teaching me as well as any human might. They ride along with my ghost herd sometimes still.

I followed their lead and I let myself love my client’s horses, too. Not that it’s smart. Horses volunteer better work that way, but eventually you lose them all, one way or another, but the memory of those horses lingers on, welcome to visit anytime. And there’s a special place of honor for the rescue horses from Ruby Ranch over the years. I will never lose count of that herd–elite teachers, every one.

My favorite part of life will always be having the opportunity to meet so many fine horses.  Whatever success any of us has comes from those who brought us to this point and I’m fortunate to have been lifted and carried by horses. I toast to their intelligence and sensitivity. I toast to their kind eyes and courageous hearts. At the same time, don’t be fooled. Horses are heart-breakers. Every single one.

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne is an old Scottish song. Traditionally people hold hands and sing out, promising that whatever changes may come in the New Year, old friends will not be forgotten. Like that could even be possible, but getting mushy isn’t the worst thing on this holiday. Especially if you’ve been as richly blessed as us horse-people are.  But it’s a trade-off; we’ll also have to learn hard lessons about change. If we were smart, we’d find a way to make friends with death and loss–fighting against the pain just twists the knife deeper.

And maybe a good start is to make peace with the ghost herd by keeping them close. We could let them graze in the mist just outside the arena where they could pass us training notes and laugh with us when we’re slow on the uptake.

I feel some slip and drag on the farm lately. I think change is coming in the New Year. I’m pretty confident that I won’t like all of it, but I’ve become a different kind of long distance rider. Most of us have over the years. Horses have made us survivors. It isn’t that we don’t hear the cynics choir; we know we can’t ride ’em all. And we surely can’t save ’em all. Maybe it’s more about being carried along with this timeless herd of horses and the people who love them. Maybe it’s enough to just be in such good company.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm

P.S. On a separate note, they tell me that in 2015, my blog had 350,000 readers from 169 countries around the globe. These acquaintances won’t be forgotten either. From my tiny fleck of a farm on the prairie, to the far corners of this great big world, thank you for your friendship and kind words. Thank you! for coming along on the ride.

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