by Nancy Peter
Cheyenne is my wonderful paint mare. She is exactly 15 hands, has a full mane on both sides of her neck and has a sturdy quarter-horse build. She is not the most affectionate horse in the world, but she is level-headed, sure-footed, brave and incredibly fun to ride. She likes adventures, loves to swim and is especially fond of popcorn and oatmeal cookies. Her only bad habit is that she sneers at other horses if they get too close.
This past April, I was standing in a dark barn looking at X-rays of Cheyenne’s left front foot. I had owned her for over two years and knew from the start that she had a healed injury in her fetlock joint. Both the vet and the farrier had been monitoring her progress and treating her with shots, sport boots and corrective shoeing. They were showing me the striking before-and-after photos taken during her most recent farrier visit.
While we were standing in the dark looking at X-rays, Aubrey (the vet tech) said she had a present for me. In the dim light, the paper she handed me looked like a fuzzy photo of my horse. I tried to look appreciative but was obviously puzzled.
Then Aubrey said, “Look more closely. It’s a picture of Cheyenne and her foal.”
My mouth dropped to the barn floor, and I said something nonsensical. I knew almost nothing about Cheyenne’s past life. I bought her in January 2017. Her owner had died suddenly, and she was being fostered by a lovely couple who had more horses than they needed. We were pretty sure she was a quarter-horse paint but knew no more than that. The seller guessed her age at 15-16, while the dentist was certain she was no more than 13 or 14. Did she have papers? No one knew. Had she ever been bred? We had no idea. How old was she, and where was she born? We only knew that somewhere in her past, Cheyenne had been well trained and very well-loved.
But Aubrey knew Cheyenne’s entire life story. She was a present to Aubrey’s good friend Abbey Akins in 2002, when she was 8 years old. At that point, she was nursing a lovely foal named J.D., who was then sold to a mutual friend.
Akins owned Cheyenne for 11 years and rode her on the trails, in western competitions, bareback and with just a halter. Cheyenne was her “heart horse.”
But sadly, Akins’s father, Paul, died in a tragic accident when she was 18. She was an only child living in a single-parent home, and she was devastated. She missed her dad terribly. He had been her favorite riding buddy as well as her best friend. Although she had been horseback riding her entire life, within a year of her dad’s death, she gave up riding altogether.
Akins knew that Cheyenne needed a home in which she was ridden and exercised regularly, rather than simply turned out to graze. With a heavy heart, she finally gave Cheyenne to her uncle, who gave her to a cousin, who gave her to a friend, who then sold her to me. Through some miscommunication, Akins lost track of Cheyenne. Despite attempts to find her – even posting photos of her in horse forums – Akins was not able to locate Cheyenne. Until now.
Aubrey told me this story in the dark barn that day. She wanted to connect me with Akins, but first wanted to be sure that she would be OK with a reunion – since simultaneously losing her dad and her horse had been so traumatic. So Aubrey reached out to Akins, she responded to Aubrey, I reached out to Akins and she and I finally connected over the phone.
We cried and screamed and babbled over one another. Akins told me all about Cheyenne and about saying goodbye to her father and her horse at the same time. She shared stories of riding her as a young girl, of occasional riding events and of her importance and companionship during her childhood and teenage years.
Several months after giving Cheyenne away, Akins began riding again. She has a new, lovely horse named Danny, but she was thrilled to hear that Cheyenne – her first horse, her “heart horse” – was happy and healthy and had ended up in a good home. She couldn’t wait to come visit.
My “rescued” 14 or 15-year-old mare turned 20 this past February, has a 14-year-old superstar son and a pedigree going all the way back to 1913. Over the course of a single phone call, Cheyenne went from being a mystery horse to a purebred quarter horse paint born in Sandyville, West Virginia, on Feb. 18, 1999.
Akins and I agreed to meet at the Monastery Stables (my barn) in the beginning of May. And we did. Several of my barn friends were there as well. They wanted to witness the reunion. How many of us have horses (and other pets) whose histories we can only guess at? How many of us have had to give animals up for adoption and have always wondered what became of them? Everyone at the Monastery was excited.
Akins showed up and, while wiping tears from her eyes, hugged Cheyenne. I would love to say that she nickered, whinnied and buried her face in Akins’ neck. Cheyenne, however, was grazing and completely immersed in eating – her happy place.
But eventually, Cheyenne turned to Akins and, at one point, nuzzled her chest with her lovely nose. She played with Cheyenne, brushed her, kissed her and even took her for a trail-ride through the Wissahickon Valley. We cried some more, groomed her for a third time that day and then let her join her friends in the turnout.
Akins now knows that her heart horse has a new forever home. And I know so much more about Cheyenne’s former life, especially the fact that she went from one wonderful family to another, because being dearly loved for her entire life is much more important than being a registered paint. She now has two loving moms; what a lucky mare. And how lucky for Akins and me both to have Cheyenne in our lives.
Dr. Nancy Peter is the Director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education in Philadelphia, has been riding horses for over 40 years and is the author of the 2017 book “Twenty Horses.” She lived in Mt. Airy until she was 18 and has been back there for the last 20 years. For more information, email email@example.com. You can purchase “Twenty Horses” on Amazon.