BY NIECA LINK
As a child, I dreamt of horses. Dreams of riding in large open fields. Their mane flowing in the wind, seeming so free. On the school bus as a child, I would imagine myself riding a horse next to the highway instead. When I received my first horse, those dreams came true. But also much more—struggles, hardship, decisions, and growth just to name a few.
My first horse, Candy, was the babysitter type. I learned all the basics with her from my aunt and uncle who taught me to ride. They taught me the basics of caring, grooming, and riding. This is where my real love began. But everything good must come to an end. When I was very young, my aunt and uncle separated and my Candy was gone from me.
Sometimes things are dreams for a long time before you can make them a reality. I finally got my next horse as a pre-teen child, Wildflower. I still can’t determine if she was a very large pony or a very short horse, but she was all mine. Looking back, she was worth her weight in gold. Tack? Not necessary. Each day I would go out to the barn and find a new strand of bailing twine to make a hackamore and reins. Never used a saddle or saddle blanket either. Just me and her. Open fields—most of the time running. Walking was too boring. Wildflower was starting to get up in age though, and I had started to outgrow her. Looking back, it was unfortunate that I could not see her full worth at the time.
I decided to trade Wildflower for a gelding, sadly I don’t even remember his name. He was impossible to catch, bucked me off almost every time that I rode him, and had issues galore. He was the end of my horses for a while. I was a teenager by then, and high school was more important than my horse that made me run miles to catch him all to be bucked off and him running back to the pasture.
This break from horses had some of the roughest times of my life. Not because of the separation from horses, but because of how different I became. Toxic relationships, mental abuse, and the inability to see the life I was living. Fortunately, it didn’t last forever. I became single, and my own person again. Around that time, I saw a sorrel mare in a friend’s pasture and said I wanted to buy her. I didn’t even know this mare’s name, didn’t know who owned her or if she was even broke to ride, but as a spontaneous 21-year-old, I wasn’t worried. For some reason, I needed that horse.
$300.00 later I was the proud owner of an Arabian mare named Breeze. I had no experience with Arabian horses nor very moody mares, but I was ecstatic. She had her issues though. She wouldn’t load into the trailer, was barn sour, buddy sour, aggressive towards other horses, couldn’t be tied without breaking lead ropes and halters, and ever so strong-willed. None of this bothered me, I spent countless hours just connecting with her.
In the beginning, a trailer ride meant 3 lead ropes and two friends helping. A ride off the property meant me leading her a quarter mile before getting to ride her just so I didn’t have to fight her along a highway, but I did it. By the end of the first year, trailers were not an issue at all. I had put so many miles on her, we were inseparable. We were also equal, as I spent more time grooming and riding her than I had any other horse in my life. We had our issues; we had our struggles. But we struggled together and both learned. We both had come so far.
Eventually, I decided to breed her. I wanted a younger horse to train myself and looked at a local black Arabian stud. But she was around 12 years old by then, and I had no clue if she had foaled before. Knowing I wanted a young horse, a family friend came up to me and said he had a deal for me. He had a sorrel yearling filly that he was willing to sell me for $100. I thought, what a deal! I wouldn’t have to wait the gestational period for my mare to be pregnant, wouldn’t have to worry about the birth, and wait at least two years to wait before I could ride the foal. The purchase of my next horse was complete—a little filly named Annabella, “Bella” for short.
The next year with Breeze and Bella was amazing. I rode almost daily, leading Bella with me any ride I went on. I started to venture my riding out to the local state forest with equestrian trails to desensitize my filly. I worked endlessly on this filly. By the time she was nearing two I was taking her on trail rides with saddles on her back (empty weight), could touch anywhere on her body without any type of spook, loading her into trailers and backing out, fly spraying with no issue—the works. She was doing amazing at such a young age.
But a new human relationship for me meant new challenges. It was time to move, and I could only bring one horse with me to the new property. I had to separate from Breeze—the one that taught me endless lessons.
By this time, Bella was ready for her first rider. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous, but I was ready. I had tied her up to a post, saddled her, made sure she understood my intentions, and got on. I untied her from the post and went off as if she was a deadhead 20-year-old. She never spooked, never bucked, did nothing other than walk off. The next day, I hooked her up to a full harness set and cart and she was broke to drive.
This has been the foundation of my and Bella’s relationship. She has been my number one since she was a year old. The first year I rode her she went on multiple rides, many horse shows, parades, buggy rides—I even taught her to lay down upon command. She was the sweetest, calmest horse you could imagine.
Bella has been my constant. I have not owned any other horse than her since the relationship I sacrificed Breeze for ended. But in its place, a new one started with the sweetest and most amazing man I now call my husband. He took Bella in with open arms, and we started the hunt to find him a horse. We went through many tough trials until we had the opportunity to purchase a massive gelding for him named Shorty. He was a great fit for my husband, but just as important he and Bella hit it off and have been great pasture mates.
Throughout life, I have known and been shown upfront the love from a horse. The giving of themselves, wholeheartedly. The amount they’re willing to give us is unmatched. The trust they can give to a person is unremarkable. I don’t trust many people, but I will trust my horse.
Today, Bella is 9 (expected to foal in March of 2022 with her first foal), Shorty is 12, and my daughter is 3.
We can’t imagine our lives without horses. We make frequent trips to the pasture so my daughter can give “huggy huggies” to the horses. One specific day my daughter walked up to Shorty and put her hand on his front leg. She became distracted, looking off into the pasture, and Shorty reached around and hugged my child. I had never seen such affection come from a horse to a human. I’ve seen humans show their affection, but I have never witnessed a horse show their affection to us, until this day, with my daughter. That moment will be forever one of the greatest memories I will forever cherish.
Sometimes we overlook the greatness horses can have on our lives. I will forever do my best to cherish each moment I have with my horses, the experiences they have given me, the lessons and teaching moments they have shown me and the love they have expressed to me.
Nieca Link is a novice writer and horse lover that grew up in Southeast Iowa. She now lives in West Central Illinois with her husband, daughter, two Australian Cattle dogs, and two Quarter Horses. She enjoys life at horse camp with the best people to make memories with, in memory of Donnie Poole and Nancy Buechel.