A Christmas Story

I have had one of the oldest Killooleet horses, Al, here, to find a retirement home for him. (Killooleet is a children’s summer camp that is up river from my farm where I board horses.) He is their best beginner horse but was no longer getting along in the herd. He is an Arab in his late 20's but is in excellent health, no arthritis and totally sound. When I brought him here 6 weeks ago he was so upset that he had been removed from the herd he had been in for fifteen years, that he went on a hunger strike for three days. I explained the situation to him and promised him that I would settle for no less than a perfect home for him. I asked the horse helpers to find the perfect situation and told his owner that she would have to take him back in the spring and keep him separate from the herd if the right home didn't materialize. She agreed. I explained all that to Al, so he knew that the people coming to check him out were on trial as much as he was. He didn't like the first person that came. He was respectful, but he sniffed her heart, then his eye went dull, he gave her no more eye contact and he refused to back up for her. He stayed glued to me the whole time she was there. So I said No to her.

A young family came to look at him yesterday that has a little boy who is 6 years old. When they arrived the adults seemed rough and red-neckish and were cranky because they had gotten lost, but the boy was friendly and sweet. My inner voice told me to pay attention to the boy, not the adults. The adults exuded an attitude that they were expecting disappointment, (like they were on a used car lot) and had wasted their day driving two hours to get there. The boy was lit up and happy to be there. He was the only one that waved and called out a cheerful "Hello!" as I crossed the road to the barn.

When we went in the paddock Al made it totally obvious that he wanted to be with the boy. His eyes were soft , sweet and affectionate when he met the boy and sniffed him all over. He nuzzled the boy's face for quite awhile which made the boy giggle but he kept his face there! Al's eyes were amused. He then put his nose on the boy's shoulder and followed him around. The boy, who had been timid with other horses, bonded with him at first sight and wanted to ride him. It was touching to see a horse be so conscious, gentle, slow and quiet with a little person. The boy, who had never ridden, learned to steer him in one second and rode him around by himself. He was thrilled. Al was listening so hard through the mixed signals and went slowly in whatever direction the boy intended he go, but was not necessarily steering him in. After the boy dismounted Al stepped over to me and gently nudged my heart area. I felt an affectionate feeling in my heart that was mirrored in Al's eyes. They had brought the riding instructor from their barn with them. The boys parents , the instructor and I all clearly saw it was perfect match and their attitudes totally softened. They could see that he was the horse they had been looking for. His age didn't matter, he was the horse that would take care of their boy. 

It was very cold, but the boy didn't want to leave. He stayed right with Al in his stall, stroking his neck while the adults talked and was not distracted until he had to go. What a nice Christmas for both of them. 

(Leslie B. Carlson is the author of Kinship With Horses, published in 2009 by Anthony Publishing Company. Out of respect for her work, we have added the copyright notice.)