From Throw Away Horse to My Prince Charming: This is Our Story

December 16, 2011
By Paxton Kerley BRONZE, Sedan, Kansas
Paxton Kerley BRONZE, Sedan, Kansas
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All my life I’ve grown up having pets, I was raised being taught animals are not to be abused and they should be treated with respect. My dad always told me and still tells me to this day that we are different, our animals are family and will always be treated as such. Of course growing up in Sedan, KS you didn’t find very many families like mine because in this town a lot of animals are used for work and aren’t treated like they should be even though they are loyal and willing to their owners. I always wanted to make a difference in the lives of animals. But I always thought to myself, I’m only twelve what kind of difference could I make. But then the summer after my 6th grade year my opportunity came.

Rainbow Meadows Ranch Equine Rescue and Retirement Inc. had just moved to Sedan and they were looking for volunteers. After a while of pestering my mom to call and set up an appointment so we could go visit, she did. Soon after that phone call I got to go visit Rainbow Meadows Ranch. The founder, Karen Everhart gave us a tour and let us meets all of the horses, there were two retired horses, 10 rescue horses, and 9 of her personal herd. I immediately fell in love with everything out there, I’d never been around horses before but I was eager to learn. When I started volunteering I started small, and when I say small I mean small. Her name is Midget and I learned how to groom and lead her, Midget is a blind Shetland pony with a big attitude. All the horses have different stories and I know I was making their lives a little better every time I touched them. After a few months of my mom and I volunteering I wanted to learn to ride, so Karen started giving me riding lessons and I picked it up pretty quick. Even thought I never had the intention of adopting a horse of my own, it was like all of them were mine anyway. After learning how to ride properly, I joined the local 4-H club so I could participate in the horse project. Karen was kind enough to let me use one of her horses from her personal herd, his name is Jester and big paint horse that was slow but when I rode him it felt like I could do anything. Riding was my favorite thing to do. Then one day I was out at the rescue and in one of the paddocks was a little grey skinny horse. I asked Karen about him and she told me his story.

His name was Sterling, he was a member of the walking dead, and he was estimated to be 30 days away from death. Sterling came from a family who had rode him as a 4-H horse, Sterling always gave his all but they never gave back. At the age of 26 years old he was reaching the end. The family that owned him didn’t have a use for him anymore, so they were neglecting him. He was forced to live in a small pen with no grass, hay, and very dirty water. Sterling had been living off of his own manure. Sterling walked around with his head down, just awaiting the day he would be free from this pain, the day he died

On January 13, 2008 it was just another day for Sterling, another day of hunger, pain, and just one day closer to death. Until a truck and trailer pulled up, what Sterling didn’t know is that truck and trailer were there to save him. He loaded up quietly, mainly because he had no energy to fight back. He was in the trailer for four long hours, when the trailer doors finally opened and Sterling saw what would be his haven, his life saver, and the place were he would live for the rest of his life!

When Karen told me his story I felt bad for him but for some reason showed no interest in him at all. In the next few months I watched Sterling become more happy and full of energy, but still showed no interest in him. I was to busy working with one of Karen’s horses Tokka to prepare for the 4-H horse show. Sterling went from being a 638 pounds and skin stretched over bone in January, to a spunky, short, happy, crazy energizer bunny that was full of life by April. But still I showed absolutely no interest in him. Until the day Tokka got hurt. Someone had thrown some barbwire into our pasture and Tokka just happened to be the one that got caught in it. Karen told me that Tokka could no longer be ridden until he was fully healed and that I would have to pick another horse if I still wanted to compete in 4-H. I didn’t know what to think I didn’t want to use another horse Tokka was perfect. Karen suggested I try Sterling, she said I would like him because he was small like me. I didn’t like the idea but I agreed. Karen brought Sterling into the barn and helped me tack him up. I mounted up and started riding, Karen was right I did like Sterling. Sterling moved fast for a 26 year old horse, after that first ride I was hooked. I worked with Sterling everyday, whether it was riding him, grooming him or just sitting in the pasture with him. Sterling was the horse for me, but I dreaded the day that someone else would fall in love with him too and adopt him and I would never see him again. But I didn’t like to think about that, so Sterling and I just continued to do our thing.

In May, I was approached about running for rodeo queen, it sounded fun but I wanted Karen’s opinion. Karen said it would be a lot of work but said I should go for it. So Sterling and I started training for the rodeo. I didn’t exactly know how Sterling would react in and arena thought, so one day we took Sterling to town to the rodeo arena. Turns out that this wouldn’t be his first rodeo, Sterling willingly opened up into a full gallop when entering an arena. So after selling the tickets, working with Sterling and forming a bond that seemed like it could never be broken, the night was here June 21, 2008. My opponent and her horse did their grand entrance, then it was our turn, I didn’t know how Sterling would react to the crowd. We started our lap and the crowd cheered, Sterling liked the attention, he put on a show that night. Then my opponent and I were called to the middle of the arena, we rode our horses there and awaited the results. The runner up was to be named first, as they said the name I was expecting mine, but it wasn’t. In that moment I had just been named the 2008 Sedan Round Up Club Rodeo Queen. Sterling and I took our victory lap, as we took that lap I knew I had to figured out some way that Sterling could be mine forever, not just because we won that title that night because Sterling and I created a bond unlike any other.

Well on July 1,2008 my parents and I signed the adoption papers and boarding agreement so that Sterling could be mine and he could live at Rainbow Meadows forever. I had to work 5 hours a week to pay for Sterling’s feed. My friends would always get angry because sometimes I couldn’t hang out with them cause I had to work. Sterling lived such a wonderful happy life at Rainbow Meadows. Sterling had his own little herd of horses which we called “The Old Herd”. This herd consisted of Black Velvet a 22 year old Arabian, Moose a 27 year old quarter horse that had suffered a stroke, Sweet Pea a 32 year old Arabian Cross who was also Sterling’s “girlfriend”, and Sterling. You would always find these 4 together in the pasture. But on April 23, 2010 the oldest member past away, Sweet Pea died at the age of 34. Sterling was devastated, from that day and for the next two weeks I’d always find Sterling by himself in the pasture walking around with his head down. Sterling and I would sit in the pasture and I would just hug him. Eventually Sterling got back to normal and everything was fine again, but we did miss Sweet Pea dearly.

Sterling had just become a companion horse. We weren’t doing anymore 4-H shows or anything just casual leisure riding now and then, not that it bothered Sterling at all he liked being in the pasture with all his friends. But then on Friday May 6, 2011, I had just gotten home from school and I had to work that day. I walked in the door and I could tell that mom had been crying, she looked at me and said, Paxton Sterling past away. At that moment when she told me that I entered my living HELL, Sterling was my everything, a lot of people didn’t and still don’t understand that. The emotion and pain I was feeling was unbearable, it felt like someone had just run over me with a truck and was just beating me till I was numb. That day a piece of my existence and soul died along with Sterling. Sitting with Sterling in the pasture that day having to say goodbye to him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.

The next day my dad hugged me while I cried and he showed my his bicep where he had recently gotten a memorial tattoo for his father. He looked at me and said if you want one for Sterling, I’ll pay for it. Everyone told me I was to much of a baby and that it wouldn’t be able to handle it because I would think it would hurt to bad. I always replied with nothing hurt worst than that day I had to sit in the pasture looking at my horse for the last time and having to say goodbye. So exactly 3 months later, I went to Skinsations in Ark City, Kansas and got my first tattoo, it’s a horse shoe with Sterling’s name in it. A lot of people say that it is stupid, that he was just horse, but what they don’t understand is that Sterling meant everything to me and he gave me the confidence to do anything. Today I believe that Tokka got caught in that barbwire for a reason, because if he hadn’t I probably would have never got the chance to ride Sterling and form the bond that we had.

Rainbow Meadows has now rescued 100 plus horses and had adopted out 109. Without Rainbow Meadows I don’t believe I would be the person I am today and I would have never got the experiences that I have gotten. Sterling is just one of Rainbow Meadows many success stories. Sterling was a huge part of my life and he always will be, life with out Sterling has been incredibly hard and I think about him everyday. But even though Sterling is gone in body, he isn’t gone in soul and spirit. Because I know that Sterling is with me everywhere I go in that piece of my soul that he didn’t take with him. Every time I step foot in the pasture at Rainbow Meadows and look out over the hills where Sterling used to run, I know he is still there watching me and running with Sweet Pea again. No horse in the world can replace Sterling and the bond that we had, Rest In Peace my Prince Charming, run wild, free and happy we will be together again someday.

The author's comments:
This piece was inspired by my horse Sterling and the bond we created.

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