Today is a bad day. I just learned that my horse, Peekaboo, died.
She was beautiful, amazing and just about perfect, and, I think that I’m going to miss her terribly.
Actually, if how I feel right now is any indication, I already do.
I first met Peekaboo in 2002. I had just returned from living abroad and had taken a job working for a local barn as a horse trainer. Peekaboo had been brought to the barn by a friend of the owners and he wished to know how much it would cost to have 60 days worth of riding put on her.
It turns out that the answer to that question would be, “Nothing.” The barn owner, Frank, fell in love with her on the spot. After watching her run around, and play with some of the other animals, he made an offer to buy her.
Peekaboo was just that kind of horse.
When she looked at you, it was obvious that she was intelligent. Early on in her stay at the barn, she figured out how all of the barn levers worked and would routinely let both herself out and most of the other horses.
But it wasn’t just the intelligence, it was also her personality. Peekaboo liked people. If given the choice, she preferred to be part of the party. She particularly liked to play games and steal root beer when you weren’t looking. She even taught herself to drink from a can
One of her favorites games would be to stand behind a fence or another obstacle and play, “peek-a-book.” (It’s where her name came from.) She would hide her head, and then suddenly pop up and look at you. If you didn’t look back, she would whicker and whinny. When you finally did look her way, she would hide her head again and repeat the whole thing.
Because Peekaboo was smart and fun, she was a true joy to ride.
Most horses wish to do the right thing. If you set things up right, they’ll never let you down. But, like people, not all horses have the same degree of passion. Sure, they may wish to do the right thing, but they may feel about people the same way I feel about golf. It’s there, I enjoy it, but it isn’t my favorite thing in the world.
There are a few special horses, though, that love being ridden and are passionate about it. They love people, they love performing, and they take pleasure in doing things perfectly.
Peekaboo was like that.
From the very first time she carried a saddle, she was better than many horses after months of work. She figured out how to go and stop without needing any direction from your hands. You could look left and she’d go left. You could look right and she’d go right. As she got older, she just got better.
Peekaboo learned to spin. She learned to slide. She learned to cut and move cattle. You could rope from her, push steers, or run the barrels; and she did all of these things well. Really well. She could run a professional rodeo barrel pattern in 16 seconds and then turn around and give pony rides to a three year old, all while still trying to catch her breath.
Peekaboo was, truly, the one horse who could do it all.
Which, ironically, is why she needed a better owner than I could ever hope to be. She needed to have her tail braided, and wanted to be ridden in 4-H, and carted off to the 4th of July parade. She needed someone who could ride her in high school rodeo, and take her to the national championships. She needed someone who could hide behind her while steeling a first kiss. And as a struggling, overcommitted student with professional aspirations, I simply didn’t have that kind of time.
So, I let her go and she went to a wonderful home.
But even though I had let her go, she wasn’t gone. She had loving people who braided her tail and put ribbons in her mane and kept her whiskers cut; but I was encouraged to come and visit. I was to “Ride any time I felt like it,” and I did. Most importantly, though, there was an understanding. Someday, after Peekaboo had conquered the world and raised three screaming little girls, I would get her back.
She was, after all, my horse.
But that time wasn’t quite yet, and Peekaboo was very happy.
She had little girls to fuss over her, comb her tail, and put ribbons in her mane. (There are few things that make horses happier than fussy little girls.) She had someone who was going to take her to the High School Rodeo championships, and maybe even to the PRCA. Everyone recognized that she was the perfect horse and doted on her every desire.
Maybe that’s why her last day on Earth was the most amazing. She went to the fair and everything went perfectly. She won every event she entered. She dominated the poles and she ran the barrels in 16 seconds flat. They gave her a big ribbon, and a trophy, and a wreath she could wear around her neck. They put ribbons in her mane and everyone told her she was the “bestest, brightest and most perfect horse ever.”
Which underscores a really important point. Perfection isn’t really meant for this world.
From the perfect day, Peekaboo came home and got really, really sick. Her stomach got upset and then it got tied in knots. And even though her loving family and two wonderful vets did everything they could, and, even though Peekaboo fought like a banshee, she eventually couldn’t fight any more and died.
It sucks, it isn’t fair and Peekaboo’s death has broken more hearts than mine. She was awesome, beautiful, and athletic. She was perfect, in every way that mattered (and quite a few that didn’t).
I already miss her terribly and I think that I always will. Moreover, this is good, and right, and just. Because, at the end of the day, Peekaboo was my horse and she was amazing.