by Julie Williams
A Special Morgan Horse
There's a funny thing about endings--they set the stage for something new. Just when I thought I had nothing, I discovered the powerful magic of beginnings from a Morgan colt named Blackwatch Jubilee.
The not-so-funny thing was that my marriage had died. The death of a marriage can be sudden, like when there’s a car accident and your spouse is killed. Sometimes it comes on slowly, much as a long illness that eats away at life day by day until it fades away. The abrupt end of mine was shocking. My teenage sons and I were suddenly and utterly alone. No warning. No money. Nothing.
The only thing I knew to do was hope that God was in control of what I wasn’t, let extended family know what was happening, and try to pay attention to whatever opportunity presented itself each day.
There were a lot of good people in our lives. They made us their family and they made all the difference. But when I woke up in the middle of the night, alone with my own thoughts, it wasn’t so easy. I was scared and didn’t think I had a lot to offer anyone. I’d apprenticed under a horse trainer, and I was a Mom. I wasn’t afraid of hard work, but what had I proven so far--in a man’s world?
Sometimes I lay in bed at night, listening to hooves thumping on the wooden floor in the weathered red barn. Blackwatch was such a happy horse, he made everything easy. He liked to be with me. He was confident, whereas worry came natural to me. I wondered--if I borrowed his courage and can-do attitude, what might we accomplish?
As the seasons passed, the Morgan colt grew into his long legs. I often took him with me when I rode the roan mare. Blackwatch learned about manners, cattle, crossing water, a variety of terrain, and traffic. By three, his hardened muscles rippled under a glossy coat. His thick forelock tumbled over soft eyes that were always calm. When I left him in the corral and rode alone, I’d often return to find him staring at me as if to say I’m ready, when are you going to ride me?
Summertime brought longer days. By July, I sometimes saddled Blackwatch after work,and lunged him in the field near the sale barn. One evening the manager slowed his truck, rolled down the window and asked with a grin, “When are you going to get on that horse?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t have a fenced arena.”
“Bring him over Wednesday. We’ll start you in the pens. Sale days are once a week”, he replied, and then drove away.
I led my horse over on Tuesday and we put him in a pen of young steers to see how he handled himself. Blackwatch leaped into the middle, ears forward, quivering with delight.
The following morning was sale day. Talk about a man’s world, there were only two gals in the yards--pen riders on young colts. Several of the cattlemen came by to check out the new horse and rider. They’d heard about a stallion on the lot and they weren’t coming to welcome me. “What are you doing with a stud? You’re gonna get yourself killed riding that horse,” they grouched at me, then climbed the stairs to the catwalk and departed inside the cool auction house.
I had butterflies in my stomach but a wide grin on my face. The pen riders coached us. Blackwatch was a quick learner. We worked the sale one day a week, and later two, spending hours doing little more than go, stop, turn right and left. After the third week I thought we can do this!
The January Stock Show Sale was our biggest sale ever. It was a Colorado shirt sleeve weather day, clear and the ground was bare of snow. Ever-larger lots of cattle streamed off the auction floor. There was no time for breaks. Noon came and went. The boss finally delivered sack lunches and we ate from horseback, never pausing in stride as we followed the next lot of bawling steers. By dusk most of the other pen riders were aboard their third horse but I was still astride the little horse with the legendary heart of Justin Morgan. It was well after dark before I stood in my own barn, pulled the saddle and rubbed down my horse.
The following morning’s forecast was winter storm: high winds and snow. By the time we arrived the wind was fierce. I looked around for the other pen riders. They were all on foot. Their horses wouldn’t trailer load in the storm so were left behind. Wind never bothered Blackwatch and he tackled his job with admirable determination, doing the work of three.
From the very beginning with Blackwatch, it was a partnership. I could made choices and goals. Every day included beginnings and results. Blackwatch had uncommon good sense and he fearlessly took life as an adventure. Some said he was an old soul, born broke. I’m amazed at the things I did with that horse—bold and daring things that helped me grow.
I often rode at night, after work and family time. I’d ride down the gravel driveway and fade into deepening twilight. We trotted down field roads under the canopy of star, our moon shadows rippling against tall corn. We listened to the night sounds: traffic on distant highways, the lowing of cattle, the song of coyotes and answering farm dogs that rang through the night.
Twice a year we trailered into the Rockies to ride the trails, enjoying wildflowers and snowcapped vistas.
Blackwatch and I were so often on the same wave length. I remember the first time I rode him on land without fences. More than 800 acres of harvested wheat fields spread before us. He raised his head and stared, ears pricked in eagerness. May I run across that?, he seemed to ask. Enthusiasm quivered under his skin.
“Sure, go ahead,” I said aloud, then squeezed my legs. His relaxed loping stride reached out, lengthened, and soon we raced the wind with ease.
Blackwatch became an approved stallion with the American Warmblood Society and, bred to outside mares, sired many athletic foals. He was part of the Parade of Stallions at an area horse expo. He performed as respectfully for other riders as he did for me.
Miles of wet saddle blankets, plus Blackwatch's generous heart, created in us what Tom Dorrance called “true unity”. That horse carried me through all the ups and downs that life can bring. He was the perfect equine partner and took me where many men thought I shouldn't be.
It’s been a lot of years since we worked the sale barn. Recently I was told a story. The old timers were heard saying, “You remember that little black stud horse? He sure could get down and work cattle. Sure do miss that horse. Wish he was still here.”
Sometimes our most secret yearnings strain against our circumstances and then prevail. He was my once in a lifetime horse--a very special Morgan named Blackwatch Jubilee and he filled my life with partnership, comfort and endless possibilities.
(First published in 2011 at www.EqTrained.com. Copy and paste that link, sign in, and read more true life stories about horse-human relationships.)
Photo: First born son of BlackWatch Jubilee out of a Welsh mare.