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A few weeks ago, Forest came across a TikTok about heart horses and shared it with me. Having both lost our heart horses in 2020, the topic is very sensitive for us. While we both enjoyed parts of the TikTok, we also think it downplayed the significance a heart horse can have in your life. That inspired us to start a blog series on one of the most influential parts of an equestrian’s life: heart horses. I decided to kick it off with the story of my heart horse, Josh.
One of the points I loved in the TikTok, was that we often put too much pressure on finding a heart horse, which I agree with. When my family began the horse shopping journey that led us to Josh, I had a long list of what I wanted, what I thought was my perfect horse. A mare, a made horse, no quarter horses, no bays, lots of chrome. Our budget and my list didn’t really match up very well, so I tried plenty of horses that did not check those boxes. When I saw Josh’s ad he checked exactly NONE of my boxes. But he jumped cute, and was a 20-minute drive away, so we went to try him. After a rough day of horse shopping the day before, my interest in a young green horse was at an all-time low. When we got there, he was sweet enough, but in a bit of an awkward stage where his head was too big for his body, so it was not exactly love at first sight. From the moment I sat on him though, I knew he was special. I made plenty of mistakes that ride, and he just took all it in stride, unfazed by my weaknesses as a rider. Being green he drifted over a jump causing my foot hit the standard and the whole jump to come crashing down under us, but he cantered away like nothing happened, in that moment I knew he was the horse for me.
I got in the car to drive home and was very excited. He quickly got the seal of approval from my parents, my trainer and our vet and he was mine. A bay quarter horse gelding, with a small star who could add two strides in a line with his baby wiggles, despite being nothing I thought I wanted, he was perfect. Our bond grew very quickly. He would follow me everywhere and came when I called him. He stole literally anything I might be snacking on with a particular affinity for peeps and marshmallows. He was my best friend. My whole heart. He was sweet as can be, but bit every guy I introduced him to, except my husband Tom. I was lucky enough to have 7 show seasons with him doing everything from the pre-children’s hunters (with Josh at the ripe old age of 5), to the adult equitation and hunters and 3’-3’3” hunter derbies. Unfortunately, at only 11 years old he developed a very sudden and severe case of navicular syndrome, which caused soft tissue damage in his foot. He would never jump another jump, and really struggled to stay sound to just do light flat work, ultimately retiring from jumping at 11, and riding at 12 (though I would climb on and wonder around bareback regularly).
People asked me why I kept him, and my answer was simple. He owed me nothing, and I owed him everything. We shared a bond that I have never shared with another horse, and probably never will. Whenever I had a bad day felt scared stressed or overwhelmed, sitting in his hay pile in his stall while he ate was my safe place. It was where I had a shoulder to cry on, someone I could tell my secrets and struggles with no judgement, no attempts to fix me, he just let me be in my emotions. Here are just a few of the lessons he taught me:
When we moved to Alaska, I knew due to his lameness issues, and stomach problems, bringing him with us was not fair to him, and would be too stressful and risky for him. Leaving him home broke my heart, but I knew the best place for him was on my parents’ farm, with his best horse friend of 12 years, my Mom’s mare, Casey. My plan was that he would join us wherever the Air Force sent us next. Sadly, that wish will never come true. I lost him very suddenly in December 2020. His loss has left me absolutely gutted. I wasn’t able to be there with him that day, and thanks to COVID I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. The fact that I will never get to burry my face in Josh’s neck again breaks my heart.
The TikTok is absolutely right, you can’t put too much pressure on finding a heart horse. But, if you are lucky enough to find a heart horse, cherish every moment with them, they will change your life for the better.