Our fairest belle crossed the rainbow bridge as softly as a gentle summer shower … a few days ago. ‘Quiet’ was her way and quietly she left. No thunder or lightening, no drama. She left us like she lived with us … a horse of ‘peace & quiet’.
The good Lord blessed our family with a perfect horse. Yes, perfect.
We didn’t know her back in 1989 when she was purchased as a two-year old. Her breeder assured that Apple Pi Bluebelle was going to be perfect for the needs of our family. It became very clear early on that she was, indeed, one on a million … every inch a lady with an inner grace that has nothing to do with training. Her spirit was true blue. “Bluebelle” is a quaint and genteel name … old-fashioned … not trendy, not flashy, not cutesy.
Horses are woven into the tapestry of my life. I would not be me without them. Each one represents a different color … like different colors of thread. All the lovely shades of blue that Bluebelle is responsible for in my tapestry are behind me now. There will be no more blue thread … not in this life anyway. “Just a horse”, one might say. I pity the person with such limited perception. I don’t say that in a critical way, I really mean it. What joys they miss. Fine character wherever you find it is a thing of wonder, a marvel, a miracle really.
Life is hard, even for horses that are well cared for on a ranch. They stand in the summer heat on the tops of hills to catch a breeze and to escape flies. In winter storms, they turn their backs to the blast and ride it out. In bitter cold, they play and run to warm up. In a hail storm, they hunker down and take the beating. Later, they don’t seem the least bit phased and are out grazing again … enjoying the cool-off after the storm. Horses make the best of what is dealt to them. It is all they know. That we should be more like them in many ways.
Actually, we are. Physiologically speaking, we are more like them than any other species. Yes, you heard right. Not the apes, not pigs. Medicines that humans can take, a horse can be given. Only the dosage varies. A question from the professor is often posed to first-day veterinary students: “Physiologically, which creature in all the earth are we most like?” Horses. Now you know.
Bluebelle and Dolly (my other older mare, in my profile photo), were born on the same ranch two days apart in April of 1989. They were bred by long-time Morgan Horse breeder, Anita Carlock-Fillmore aka Apple Pi Morgans. Coincidentally, they were born just a few miles from where they would return, right here in northeast Wyoming. I took the photo below from the deck when I was living in Colorado in 1992.
Royalty flows through their veins … champions in just about every competitive category in ‘Morgandom’ … all the way back through the golden age of horses … the Currier & Ives era. Remember the stylish and proud looking horses in those prints? The artists didn’t exaggerate the appearance of the horses so that they would look more artfully fashionable — that is what Morgans look like … full of life, the joy of life. Proud bearing, ground covering gaits, moving like a well oiled machine, a floating freight train that looks like art on the hoof. They were and are as pretty in heavy work harness, toiling in the field, as as in park harness. The 1800s was not an age of specialists – well, not like today. Doctors tending to humans & animals needed to be more versatile and well rounded.
The “show” horse in the days of old worked for a living. That was and remains the true inner beauty of the Morgan Horse. They are beautiful from the inside out. They’re ten kinds of tuff – horses for war – and yet they have the tenderest of huge hearts. True “Morgan-ness” is not something you look at, it is the inner horse. Breeders of “old time” Morgans place great emphasis, primary emphasis on quality of character. Historically, they were near fanatics about the fine points of breed type. However, people don’t truly love the way a horse looks. Oh, they may say that, but that is not the brand of love I speak of. No, it takes a lot more horse than just another pretty face to win hearts. If you’ve ever been owned by such an animal, I need explain no further. They are, in the truest sense of the word, a member of the family.
“Pulling your own weight” and more was the work of horses prior to the age of mechanization. Morgans were developed in an era when the only work for horses was hard work. Nature and work culled inferior individuals. The U.S. Remount and Government farm also bred Morgans. Unlike today, the breeding of those Morgans was without sentiment. Only superior horses made the cut. Others were excluded from the gene pool. I found out at a family reunion years back that my great, great grandfather bred Morgan horses for the Remount! He and his three brothers that survived the Civil War (two other brothers were killed) moved out west from Vermont and homesteaded less than 30 miles from where I now live. Note: The Morgan Horse is the official State Animal in the state of Vermont.
My Morgan’s ancestors were Ethan Allen, Daniel Lambert, Blackhawk … the very horses you see as antique weathervanes … the race cars of their time. My horse’s pedigrees can be traced all the way back to Justin Morgan … the legendary little horse who could! Their family members served the Union in the Civil War and died on the battlefields – numbering in the thousands. One officer held the record of having 27 horses shot out from under him. The Civil war nearly decimated the Morgan population – they were on the verge of extinction. What saved the breed? The cowboy! Morgans found their way out west and here on the ranches they thrived. Their numbers grew and they donated vast numbers of mostly mares to create a new breed: the Quarter Horse.
For several years, I served as the editor of a Morgan Breeders Club magazine. I wrote breed history and bloodline articles. And, for over fifteen years, I devoted my life to breeding Morgan Horses, with one intent: to put a few good ones back in the gene pool — as good as those I’ve been blessed to hang a bridle on. I bought the best I could find and placed their offspring carefully — either in breeding homes or in “using” homes where they would do what they were bred for: to work, to serve their humans cheerfully and to behave like good friends with pointy ears. One of the last horses I bred and sold was exported to a breeding farm in Sweden – specializing in dressage.
Bluebelle at age 20 …
Bluebelle did her part. My broodmares worked for a living. When they weren’t on maternity leave, they were doing ranch work. Breeders call that “proven bloodlines” … past & present. Bluebelle had four babies. This huge bay colt remains in the gene pool as a breeding stallion (last I knew). My father is standing by the colt and Bluebelle. My stallion, ML Meadowlark Jazz Spur, is the dark chestnut behind Dad.
An owner of one of Bluebelle’s daughters sent the photo below of himself and his mare while on a hunting trip in Montana. This is where the rubber meets the road – happy buyers that send you letters of braggy praise :o) .
Bluebelle was actually owned by my Mom & Dad. Dad bought Bluebelle for my mother, but, severe arthritis allowed me to ride with my mother on her horse only once. Bluebelle was ideal for Mom- ROCK STEADY, bombproof, unflappable – even at the ripe age old age of three. She never balked, refused or spooked at ANYthing … ever. And, I must tell you those are words you need to be very careful about uttering. Actually it is best to never say such things … so as not to tempt fate. However, I can say with surety now that indeed Bluebelle was ~ Thee ~ Perfect ~ Horse. I’ll bet those of you that can read the soul in a being’s eyes see that hers were of the finest, softest silk. Large, kind, deep and as honest as Abe.
Dad and Bluebelle …
As the years rolled by, Dad rode less. So, Bluebelle became my other steady veteran. [I purchased Dolly the same day on the same horse farm where my folks purchased Bluebelle in 1991.] When you ride a young horse, you have to think while you ride all of the time and remain acutely aware of everything around you. With my veteran mares, I could relax and look for wildflowers while moving cattle … or take pictures, look for fossils … just enjoy the ride. They took care of business and they took care of me. Bluebelle took care of many guest riders and my nephew – who knew little about riding that first summer he lived with us. She became his favorite ride for the next 3 summers when he came to spend summers on the ranch. Below: Zachary and Bluebelle.
Bluebelle and my farmgirl pal, Michele, last summer on a trail ride in the nearby Black Hills. Bluebelle was the best horse for guests because she was so good-hearted and good at reading people and their skill set. Michele rode some as a kid, but that is it. When I rode Bluebelle to work cattle, I freely admit that she loosened my seat several times when she’d duck back to cut a cow. But, when a child or an adult with very limited riding skills rode her, she morphed into 100% ‘babysitter’ and she enjoyed the role. Not all horses do – they see an easy opportunity to take advantage of the rider by cheating them – not going where asked, stopping to graze etc. One of our geldings, when he tired of kids riding him, would walk back to the trailer and “park” – much to the young rider’s disgust! :o)
On the ranch, we do our riding in the three user-friendly seasons. However, the weather is far from friendly at times. It can be as hot as Hades with the wind blowing … or as cold as the Klondike when it is supposed to be springtime. Fall can be bone chilling too. Most of the time though, any weather is good weather to ride in. A bad day a’horseback is still better than a good day in an office chair … for this writer/rider anywayz! So, that said, my horses make my riding life a joy and of my older girls, that has been especially true. In every season, I’ve looked through these two ears so many times down through the years. I will miss them terribly. My throat tightens and tears run down my cheek as I write these words.
Bluebelle made everything easier. She made your job easier. She made the ride easier. She had a will and a mind of her own, but she was too kind and well-mannered to insist. She asked. She also knew intuitively what the gameplan was, what was expected of her and you didn’t have to ask her twice. She required the lightest leg aids and hands and she expected to be respected for it. If a guest took up too much rein, she would politely take what she needed and wait for me to correct them. When children rode her, she wore a halter instead of a bridle to protect her velvety soft mouth.
When I dismounted for any reason, she simply relaxed and waited … watching me or grazing nearby. I never worried about her taking off. It wasn’t in her to do such a thing. Also, I’m forever dragging found objects home … old enamelware pots from abanondoned homesteads or (in this case) elk antlers. Nothing rattled her if I tied some old relic – or several of them – onto my saddle. We’d sometimes rattle & clang alllll the way home :o)
My husband laid our dear Bluebelle to rest in the pasture behind the house. She is buried in the manner in which all great horses are to be buried: standing up, facing east … waiting for our Redeemer who “shall appear like the morning sun”. ADD ON: **See further explanation in the comments section below** She made her exit as painless for us as she could. No drama. No trauma. She just laid down and left sometime during the night, with no hint the day before that anything was amiss in her body. She even laid down by the gate which made moving her for burial much easier. That realization … as I looked upon her lifeless body is when I broke down and bawled in both hands. She made life easier for us even at her end. How could I thank her for that last gift of grace?
Her ‘sister’, Dolly, remained at her side after the other horses left. When I arrived, Dolly was clearly restless and upset … she was very ready to ‘let go’ … but, she did not leave … did not … until I arrived. She needed to know it was ok to join the other horses in the back pasture. If you know horses, you know that something special happened. I don’t know that it is rare, but it not something you get experience often … or ever. Dolly remained by Bluebelle’s side for hours, long after her body had grown cold during the night. She was much relieved to see me. She nickered at me in a begging, agitated tone. Her dearest friend and her first playmate as a baby … was gone … but, life goes on and she is a herd animal and belongs with the living. I stood next to Bluebelle and verbally reassured Dolly. She briskly took her leave, trotting away … never looking back. Just minutes earlier, I discovered that something was wrong because the other horses were calling to Dolly and they were visibly in “high alert” posture in the back pasture. They were afraid of what had happened and they had fled. Only Dolly had stayed with Bluebelle.
Below: Dolly and Bluebelle last summer on a trail ride with fellow farmgirls. They were each other’s first playmates and best friends all of their lives. Last summer they were 23.
Bluebelle’s passing was a peaceful departure and for that I am so thankful. She lived a long, good life and was a blessing to those of us she owned. She left no broken hearts, just sad grateful ones. We’ll meet again on the other side — of that I’m sure. I wonder if I’ll hear her nicker before I see her. I’d know that soft, nearly inaudible nicker anywhere. It was her greeting.
I took Dolly’s lead. Life goes on … with or without you. Life is good even when you’re crying through it.
So, I busied myself with filling an antique cupboard with emergency pantry goods. And, I made a cute little twinkly lamp from an old oil lantern that Anita’s husband gave to me. I put the rusty relic through the dishwasher to rid it of dirt and crusty crud. A globe similar to what it once had was included – not a perfect fit – but ok. For this purpose, it is even better. You can do the same with an old lantern! Fill the ring-space where the globe would have sat with fine gravel so that a globe OR an old jar can sit flat (inside the cage). The metal wick feed will then be level with the gravel. Place a battery powered string of lights inside the globe or jar. The short version of battery lit string lights with about 2 dozen bulbs is perfect. You don’t need an outlet for this “Twinkle Lantern”. It will sparkle wherever you put it … on a patio table, garden bench, on a cupboard shelf, or or or!
One life leaves this world and another enters. Have you ever noticed that at funerals for the elderly?? While the dearly departed are being spoken of, babies are being rocked to & fro or are sleeping in their momma’s arms.
There is new life on the ranch too. One of Anita’s bucks got out and he managed to romance a handful of ewes. So, the shepherdess is watching the ladies in waiting very carefully since it is SO cold here. NOT lambing season!! Michele and I went out to her place to make a tobacco basket and while there, we went down to the barn to meet a tiny little ewe. I think her name is Sadie Sue. She wears a pink doggie blanket to ward off the chill outside. They spend most of the time in the barn though … where heat lamps provide cozy warmth.
I bet you’re smiling now. A dose of adorable is all a farmgirl heart needs to feel the ‘lift of light’. To help my longing for springtime along, I’ll plant hyacinth bulbs in an old soup tureen. The Amaryllis I planted in late November finally bloomed. It took much longer than they are supposed to. Hmmm. Christmas over, she doesn’t have to compete with a flamboyant poinsettia or a bejeweled Fir for my attention. And, the geraniums aren’t blooming right now either. Lady Amaryllis is the Queen of Green in my little house surrounded by winter.
The wildflowers are at rest beneath a blanket of white. The bluebells on the prairie sleep. So does my Bluebelle. I’ll think of her in May when her namesake blooms and reminds me of my many blessings … those in the present and those in my memory.
~~ Farmgirl hugs from me to you ~~