A Lesson in Devotion

This is a very touching article Bernice wrote for the Central States Horseman online newsletter. Permission was given to re-post. I hope you love it as much as I do. Enjoy!
— Sarah

Honor, Claire, & Bernice.

The Holiday Season inevitably reminds me of my beloved gray Thoroughbred, Honor. Why? you might ask. Because Honor was a lesson in devotion, perseverance, and most of all kindness. She traveled with me nearly 11,000 miles. Her limitless, nervous energy challenged me every day. “She’s going to kill me,” were daily words that rang through my head for nearly eight months before she finally settled down.

Honor’s pedigree included Native Dancer bloodline, the famous gray stallion who raced in the 1950s. He sired hundreds of horses. She was registered “Native Tail.” I changed her name to Honor when I thought, “Well, I am riding “on her,” Thus came “Honor.”

I purchased Honor from a horse trader in Washington state and prepared her for my second ride in 2006-2007, a 5000-mile ride, my hardest journey. I answered an ad in the paper and found her standing ankle deep in mud, shaking from a cold downpour of coastal rain, thin, wormy, and rain-rot down her back. “I’ll take her,” I said. Never rode her, never looked twice, never asked any questions. Wish I could have taken all the horses and knocked the guy in the head.

She had papers which recorded her as having been raced in the southwest—won nothing; purchased as a dressage horse—too hot; then became a broodmare and had two foals, but became much too fierce and protective to have in a herd. She simply did not fit anywhere and I knew if she didn’t work with me this mare would end up for slaughter.

She wanted nothing to do with me. She was literally crazy. At least by my standards, I had never worked with a horse like Honor. She had been bred for speed for cryin’ out loud. She rocked and spun circles in her stall, she was distraught and anxious.

I moved in with her at the stable and two months later after much 24/7 work with her, a diet upgrade, worming, new shoes, and as much road work as I could possibly do with her, we set out on a 5000-mile, a two-year journey. How ever did we do it? I ask my self. Claire Dog offered her enormous companionship, she would follow Claire anywhere. Needless to say, this helped.

From the northwest corner of Montana, we struggled across the great plains of Montana into the sweltering heat of North Dakota. Minnesota, where I stopped to visit family, nearly ate us alive with bugs. The ride south through Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma were simply days and weeks of “getting by.” When I finally reached New Mexico we were exhausted—all of us—Claire Dog, Honor, and myself. But something else had happened. We had bonded!

Shortly before Christmas, this scene unfolded. Honor’s behavior brought me to tears, as it will many readers who are of kindred spirits when it comes to horses. It was a common scene. Honor grazed 30 feet away while I sat in the brown grass with my arms wrapped around my knees. At my feet sat Claire on her hind-end, with her head up, stoically watching, listening, smelling. A sunny, warm, breezy afternoon passed slowly as I remembered the weather I’d avoided back in Montana this time of year. I’d reached my sister’s in Las Vegas, New Mexico a week before Christmas. This was a scheduled rest stop.

From the right, I could see the neighbor Daryl West walking down the hill towards us with his two big shepherds, Bently and Maggie. I waved and said, “Come on over and visit.” As his two dogs moved closer to Claire, I could see Honor’s attention following them. Daryl said as he approached, “Be nice you two,” speaking quietly to his dogs. Our dogs were fine together–they’d met before. But the usual shuffle of dogs at first contact ensued. This brought Honor to our side, her head dropped, her nose now inches from the ground, and with a low deep nicker, she moved quickly but carefully.

First, she nuzzled Claire, then my shoulder, before she pushed the two shepherds away. I never moved from my seated position. Daryl kept on talking as he stood a few feet to my left. Honor never laid her ears back, nor moved in a way that disturbed us. She went about all of this as if she were a careful mother tending to her young. Daryl never thought anything of it. Honor moved in such a quiet and careful way he never suspected her of doing anything. I held my breath, watching this horse offer protection—caring enough, careful enough, not to disturb anyone as I followed her every move with disbelief.

Daryl talked, I nodded. As soon as the dogs tried again to move closer Honor moved in. She circled slowly, ever so slowly, round and round, until the two big dogs had no choice but to move further away. Daryl stayed, with his two dogs, for 20 minutes or so. Honor could have left at any time. We were in a large pasture, She was not tethered—no halter or rope on her, but she stayed with us.

After Daryl and his dogs left, Honor resumed eating as if nothing had happened. We stayed there—the three of us in silent harmony, tears streaming down my cheeks. The hard struggles she had known in her past life had now led her down a road with a family. Dog, woman, and horse, united. This beautiful gray mare would make it, I thought. She would make it. We walked together back to the house through the still trees and at that moment, I loved her more than anything in the world. I’d never had a horse do something like this before–never. Honor, my beloved Honor, truly a lesson in devotion—devotion given, and devotion returning to me and Claire.


For more photos of Honor and Claire which accompanied this article, go to the link below. It will open a tab with the Central States Horseman January newsletter. Bernice’s article is on pages 12 and 13 (click or scroll).