Twice a year, in two six-week sessions, two men, both handsome, both charming, both favorites among women, met in the arenas of the LC Equestrian Center. One, was my Buddy. The other, a young man by the name of Corey.
We actually boarded at this barn two different times, once in high school, and again in the last years of Buddy’s life on earth. The owners had teamed with Goodwill Industries, in a project known as, “Pony Express.” The program paired local children with special needs, and gentle giants in our barn, for weekly rides and activities.
I’m not going to lie to you. The program was obviously for the benefit of the kids, but in reality, it was the highlight of my week, and Buddy seemed to genuinely believe they all came to see him. No matter how crummy my day at the office was, as soon as the kids piled out of their parents’ cars, and ran, smiling to the arena where their trusted steeds waited patiently, whatever had me down, vanished into the dust. Buddy was always a bit of a ham, so dozens of little people fawning over him, made his day too. He was their King.
When we first started working with the program, they were hesitant. Buddy was a pretty big boy, one of the largest they’d used, but once they took a spin on him, or got a friendly nudge of his nose, they were fast friends. He quickly rose to the top of the request list at the mounting blocks.
During the riding time, the volunteers staged several activity stations, others acted as spotters, walking on either side of the riding child, while they were lead from one station to the next. Depending on how many kids and horses were present at any given session, sometimes the lines would bog down a little, giving us an opportunity to spend more one on one time with the kids to get to know them. During those down times, I’d try to chat the kids up, play games with them, get them to sing and be silly, YMCA never failed. Their favorite though, was when we’d play “follow the leader.” Buddy, would follow me to the ends of the earth, even if it were on fire. I’d turn to the kids and challenge them to try to get Buddy to follow me around the arena. I’d give them a quick tutorial with the reins, teach them how to steer, then toss the lead rope over Buddy’s neck, and announce, “okay, now YOU’re driving!” The new levels of confidence they reached, by feeling in control of a thousand pound animal was palpable. They would wave to their parents, pose for pictures (that I would step just out of the frame of, so they would appear to be riding alone), and sit just a bit taller in the saddle. The lines would finally move again, and we’d go back to work, placing puzzle pieces, connecting dots, and tossing beanbags.
In addition to Corey, with his sweet, childish flirting and hand kissing, there were a few others who stood out. One girl, I quickly named “Jumpin Jordan,” after seeing a demonstration of how she would try to bail off her horse, the moment she thought you weren’t paying attention (THAT was exciting!). Jordan loved to joke and laugh, she was the first kiddo I got to sing YMCA with me, and loved to parade wave to all the parents as I lead her past them. Another young man was Jamie. I believe, though I don’t know that I was ever told, he had a form of Autism. Jamie was the oldest of all the kids, and always seemed to be wrapped up in his own conversation, prior to his arrival every week. I would still talk to him, ask questions, and try to get him to interact with me. His favorite activity was fixing all the activity stations, when the riders ahead of him hadn’t completed them to his liking. Once in a great while, I’d get through, and he’d answer a question, or give me a smile. That was amazing. I don’t know if he’ll ever remember those little
connections, but I won’t forget them.
It wasn’t easy, dividing my attention among all the young bachelors during those sessions. Both men in this entry didn’t like to share the spotlight, once they had the attention of a lady. I miss them both, and all the experiences we shared. My hope for the future, is to find another program to become involved with, as well as another horse like Buddy. There will never be another Buddy, but if I’m lucky, one with a heart like his, will find me soon.