His name was Ranger. I would stand in the meadow and call his name and he would come to me. With a can of grain and a small rope in my hand, he would let me catch him.
When my dad would try to catch him, he would run off and keep running until dad would have to give up. If Ranger needed caught for anything, I had to do it. I’m sure it was the very foundation of any self-confidence I was to gain in life. He made me feel very special.
He was a dark sorrel gelding that for whatever reason in his golden years, took a liking to a scrawny little girl. I rode him everywhere on a daily basis.
I thought he was the greatest horse in the world never realizing what cautious care he took of me as I explored my world from his back. He jumped over deadfall logs and irrigation ditches slowly and with such caution I thought I was National Velvet and a Grand Prix qualified rider.
I was five years old and didn’t know what magic that was, but only that he stirred in me a love for horses that has lasted beyond the dust-to-dust of his loss.
I never forgot what Ranger meant to me. Years later I watched my own children form attachments to critters – not always horses, but the concepts were the same and memories just as powerful. It seems that for a space of time in the life of child, an animal comes to raise them in a way no human can.
I was sorting through old photos for my now 18-year-old and soon to graduate son and found evidence of his “first loves” on the hoof.
Little cowboys are pretty big in their minds at a very young age. A three year old will pull his hat down tight, buckle up his chaps and insist that he can rope anything that needs roped. In his mind, if dad can do it, by golly so can he.
His first babysitter horse was named Old Man. The solid, seasoned and aged palomino took care of him with only a little indignation for being relegated to the task. But he never wavered in his job.
I watched that horse avoid wreck after wreck and the little cowboy on his back never knew what could have happened. If horses have wings in Heaven, this one was indeed a guardian angel.
When old age finally took the old guy it was a blessing for him, but a sad day for the cowboys, big and little. Now, all these years later, he holds that place in a young man’s heart that none other will ever have. First loves are just that. Always first.
Julie can be reached for comment at email@example.com