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Its Because I Love You...
I was just five years old when Sunny came into my life. He was one of the retired stallions at my parents racing barn. He had the been there done that attitude. He never tried to bite or kick. He didn’t scream or bang against his stall door out of boredom. He almost rolls his eyes when one of the younger, hot headed stallions decides to pick a fight with an older, much more experienced one. His coat was golden chestnut and he had a little clump of white hairs that made a diamond on his forehead.
Now me, I grew up on my parents’ farm. I had 10 acres of land to explore. When my parents were off with a horse doing something, I was on my own. Even as a five year old I was cautious and very careful where I went. I learned that all the hard way. I learned that the barn mice do not want to be carried by the tails, I learned that most of the hot headed stallions did not appreciate someone else in their stall, and most importantly, I learned that no, you cannot fly if you jump from the top of the hayloft.
I met Sunny when I accidently found a snake nested in a little crook in the barn. It hissed menacingly and shook its tail, which rattled. I turned and ran as fast as I could. I ran clear down the long barn isle. On my right I saw an open stall and ran right under the rubber stall guard. I ducked down in the corner and buried my head in my hands. Then I heard a rustle in the straw. It was the snake! It had followed me, I was sure of it. Cautiously I peeked out from between my fingers. I saw a nose. Oh no… I was in the stallion barn. I waited for the wrath of the angry horse but, none came. The horse nudged me with his nose. He looked at me with wide, almond shaped eyes. His ears perked forward. He didn’t look mad, just curious. I shyly reached out and stroked his nose, giggling as he exhaled, the warm air tickling my hand. That was just the beginning of our friendship.
Later in the week, I was riding my tricycle in the driveway when I saw a lone horse in one of the fields. He was all alone in the field grazing under a huge oak tree. I ditched my bike and ran up to the fence, climbing it so get a better view. The sun was just starting to set and my mother would be calling me inside for dinner. But I had to see this newbie. I slipped between the wooden planks in the fence and started towards the horse. He picked his head up at the sight of my approach, bits of grass sticking out of his mouth. I recognized that white diamond on his head. It was the same stallion whose stall I hid in. I kept walking towards him. I had no fear of him now. He stepped out from under the tree and into the sun. The light danced off his sleek coat, making it look like a warm butterscotch color. No, his coat looked like the golden color of caramel. Shorten the description up, his coat looked gold. I finally got to the tree and sat down watching him graze. But he lost interest in the lush, green grass and ambled over towards me. He nudged my head with his nose again. I think he remembered me. I smiled at that. For what seemed like ages, I just sat there while he stood by. Then in the distance, I heard my mother shouting for me. I stood up and turned to leave, walking slowly away from the oak tree and the golden horse. You know, it would do me good to learn his name. I looked over my shoulder at him. Who just gazed calmly at me. Hearing my mother call again, I sprinted back to the house.
His name: Sunny, short for Sun dancer. Years flew, I was ten now. School was now a taking up a majority of my time but that didn’t change anything. Every day after the bus dropped me off at my driveway, Sunny was there in the field next to the road, waiting for me. I learned to ride a few years back and I would just hop on his bare back in my school clothes and he would gallop deeper into the field and would slide to a stop under the oak tree. That was my homework spot, under the oak tree. Good things were happening to the farm and the racing business as well. We were considered well off after my parents’ prize stallion Royal Blue won the Preakness stakes among others.
More years passed, I was twelve now. I was doing really well in school. I was exceptionally good in writing and art, and because of that, English and Art became my favorite classes. I got all A’s on my essays and masterpieces and received year end awards for my efforts. I won my school artist of the year award, a trophy, silver metal molded into a paintbrush. I made room for that on one of my shelves. I was on my own more often though. My parents were working overdrive for the racing business now. They took day trips where they would leave early in the morning before I was up and would come back just as the sun was starting to sink into the sky. We rarely ate dinner together now. I tried to show them my awards and good report cards, they always seemed to take interest but they would just look at it, put it down, and then say some half hearted words of “Good job,” or “Great work,” but… I was just an afterthought to them. After a while, I just stopped showing them my achievements. But I showed Sunny. I showed him everything and he seemed to care. He would sniff it and nose it. He thought my oil painting was a colorful piece of grass and took a bite out of it. He also nicked a bit of the finishing off my paintbrush trophy. But I still displayed it in my room. I framed it and hung it in my room though, even though it was missing a corner, it was a painting of him. Sunny was getting older now, he was twenty-two, pretty old for a horse. I couldn’t jump on his back anymore because it seemed to hurt him now. I had to mash his food up because his teeth were so worn down. He suffering colic many times and I had spent sleepless nights with him. And in the morning, his pain was gone and so was mine. But we still were under the oak tree every afternoon. I was the one calling the vet to check on him every week. I had to give him special meds now to keep him healthy. He just seemed like a lost memory to my parents. A photo at the back of the album. They didn’t matter anymore. He was healthy, nothing wrong with him except he was growing older every day.
When I was fifteen, Sunny was 25 and growing weaker every day. He stayed while friends left my life. He still loved me. I had to hand feed him now or else he would just lose interest in his food. I decided to keep him in his stall now in case he had a round of colic again or something worse. He didn’t like that though, so I had to hand walk him out to his field and baby sit him while he stood there, the grass un appealing. It made me sad to know he would soon fade from my life. Then nothing would, nothing could be consistent in my life anymore. He would be gone. I would once again be in my parents shadows. The walls of my room were filled with paintings, drawings, photos, and sketches of him. I tried to capture everything about him, his wide expressive eyes, his flowing mane, his white diamond on his forehead. But, I couldn’t get his coat right. I tried tons of gold paints. I ordered colors online. I searched and searched for weeks for the right color. Nothing worked, nothing suited me. One day the vet told me to consider the options, options I did not like.
One evening Sunny and I were out in his field watching the sun set. The light dancing off his coat in the same patterns it was when I was five. Making his coat look that same gold color that reflected who he was. He was my own personal sun when my world was cloudy. His spirit was pure gold. If there was a heaven for horses, he might as well step into the express lane. I heard cough tremble through his whole body again. It was getting dark again so I tugged on his rope and he ambled beside me towards the glowing lights of the barn. That night after I hand fed him his mash, I fell asleep in his stall with his head in my lap. That would be our last night together.
The following morning while Sunny was still asleep I phoned the vet and said words that I thought I never would have to say. I went out of the office and back to his stall where he had gotten up on his feet. I entered his stall and wrapped my arms around his neck and cried.
The vet arrived later in the morning and I was still with Sunny. I looked up at Dr. Henson with red puffy eyes. I saw her black bag and I knew what was in it. I stood up and tried to look composed, under control, but I was failing. Dr. Henson leaned down and hugged me.
“It’s because you love him.” She said gently.
I nodded my head and ran a hand through my hair which had bits and pieces of hay tangled in every strand. I held my hand out in front of his nose and felt his warm breath tickle my hand again.
“I’m not giving you up boy, I would never trade you for anything, and I love you more than life. I just love you so much I have to let you go.” I wrapped my arms around his neck again.
“Good bye,” I whispered in his ear, which flicked back to hear my voice.
I left his stall and stood outside peering between the iron bars as Dr. Henson took out a syringe and filled it with fluid. She stuck the needle into his neck and pushed the fluid out of the syringe. It hurt me, it felt like part of me was dying while the other was alive to live through the pain. It hurt, like a knife in my heart. It hurt more as I watched him as he slowly sank to the ground. It felt like I was on fire when I saw his eyes flicker shut. Then I was numb.
Weeks after Sun Dancer was gone, I got his ashes in the mail. I sat in my room for hours turning the small bag over and over in my hand. The rest of him should not be in a bag. I ran outside, climbed over the fence and ran through the field, stopping under the oak tree. I opened the bag and poured his ashes at the roots of the tree where he belonged. I stuffed the bag back into my pocket and turned to leave when something caught my eye, buttercup flowers. Gold. I found my paint. After looking it up, I picked enough buttercups to make paint. That’s what was missing. I made the paint, blended more colors and finally, a few days later, I stared at the finished masterpiece of Sunny grazing under the old oak tree while the sun set making his coat the perfect golden color, again. So it is true, true friends leave hoof prints in the heart.