“Napping Annie” was the Facebook nickname of our 35-year-old palomino quarter horse, who enjoyed a free-range lifestyle on our 10 acres in Nampa, Idaho. There was something wonderfully liberating about watching Annie enjoy her retirement years. She would amble from one corner of our Sweet Pepper Ranch to the other, never in a hurry, but quite purposeful. I imagined her saying to herself, “Hmmm…that patch of pasture grass up by the front gate would be quite tasty right now.” In the afternoon, none of us would be surprised if Annie showed up in the indoor arena. She’d stroll in for a nice roll in the sand, and then be on her way. Often times, she’d end up in front of my office window, resting with a hind foot cocked, so I could look out and see her just a few feet away. Her routine included a nap somewhere each morning, maybe near a turnout with other horses or, much to the surprise of the occasional UPS driver, in the middle of our front lawn. Napping Annie acquired quite the group of curious, supportive followers who inquired about her regularly.
It was during the last five years of her life when we began leaving her loose on our fenced-in property. At first it was just for short periods of time, like when we were bringing horses in from pasture or doing horse chores. As we did so, we began to notice how careful and quiet she was. By that time, she was completely retired from being ridden, which made physical exercise and mental stimulation so important. That was how we gradually came to leaving her loose all day when we were home. In the mornings, we would let her out of her stall and paddock and off she would go on her daily commute to the pasture, ready to make the rounds. At night, we put her back in her paddock, and her wonderful internal clock told her when to wait for us near the barn, greeting us with a sweet little nicker when she spotted us.
We watched her carefully over the years, never leaving her loose at night or when we weren’t home. Obviously, we were taking a risk as terrible things could have happened. Luckily, none ever did. It was remarkable how she exercised good judgement; she never went where she shouldn’t, she didn’t run (she hadn’t moved quickly for several years), she didn’t play with things or mess with other horses, never went where the footing wasn’t good or on ice or deep snow. It was amazing to watch her make decisions about things, using her instincts and knowledge as she carefully looked around and accessed a situation. I was grateful we had the type of place where it was possible to give her the freedom to enjoy herself. It was truly a special and magical time.
When I was in kindergarten, I received a ceramic golden horse for a Christmas present. At that time, I dearly wanted what every little girl does: a palomino horse to spend a lifetime with. I finally got that wish when I was 30 and my beautiful, thoughtful Annie went on to spend half of my life with me; for 30 of her 35 years, she was with me.
I bought Annie, sight unseen, from a trainer friend who purchased her at a horse sale. The seller shipped her from where she was raised in Eastern Oregon to the Seattle area in a double decker cattle truck full of cattle—on the top floor with her in reiner slide plates! How she walked down that metal cattle ramp without slipping, I’ll never know.
Especially in her early years, Annie was what we horse people call “high-strung,” definitely “more horse” than my younger, less-experienced horse-self was ready for.
When I realized that I lacked the skillset to ride and handle a quick-minded, sensitive horse such as she, I turned to those who could help me learn. Instead of trying to compete in reining I found other ways to enjoy her and learn with her. I showed her in-hand in trail classes. I took lessons from quiet, sensible instructors who carefully thought through processes with me. With help I grew into her, and she to me.
One formative educational experience Annie and I had was facilitated by a couple of girlfriends of mine. The three of us formed a pack and trail rode every Friday for two years. I doubt whether Annie had had prior trail riding experience (and my experience was limited at that point), so it seemed a good place for us to start. She accepted the role and seemed to find it relaxing, eventually excelling at it. Our two- to four-hour Friday trail rides provided us with opportunities to learn together. Flat tires, dead ends, rides with less-mannerly horses, riding through deep mud, rain, snow, cold, unexpected dangerous footing—those were just a few of the experiences Annie and I shared together. We also saw so many beautiful things, like a beaver slapping its tail on a pond when we were the only ones around to hear or see it. A momma black bear and cub in the woods. Herds of elk. Mountain vistas beyond belief.
Over the years she matured into a reliable, steady horse—and eventually, into an exceptional guest horse. She became especially good with quiet guests and appreciated those with a soft feel. Early on, it was my cousin who pointed out how Annie didn’t tolerate tight reins or quick hands. I researched that concept only to realize she had a low pallet, and the snaffle bits I had been using were poking the roof of her mouth. Annie’s favorite bit became a small curb with a low port.
That’s not to say that Annie was always quiet, as when she was turned out, she used to run like the wind, rearing and bucking. In her prime, I had to be sure she had her daily turnout or exercise time. It was easy to read her eyes to know when she needed to romp. As an old girl, I could still read her eyes and I knew when she wished she could still run and buck, although her old bones and joints forbid it.
This past June was the day when Annie laid down for a nap on our front lawn and couldn’t get up; her arthritic thirty-five-year-old front knees were spent, but it was the look in her eyes that told me she was done. Until that moment, her eyes had held a bright light, full of fun, interest, even a little mischief at times. But now that light was gone, and I knew my job as her best friend and advocate was to lovingly say good-bye.
With both Matt and I at her side, along with a host of friends and a veterinarian, we helped her across the fabled Rainbow Bridge where Pepper, Saylee, RB, Scooter, Ronnie—many from our animal family—waited for her.
I appreciated every moment and every day with her. Even now, I find myself expecting to see Annie come wandering through. Hopefully she is still here, an angel watching us, grazing easy green pastures and napping in soft fields.
I still have that ceramic palomino horse. In my early years it was a painful reminder of what I didn’t have and wanted so badly. Now my ceramic horse is a reminder of what I had and my great fortune. How lucky I was to have gotten my wish.
Thank you, Annie, for helping me realize that dream of a golden horse to spend a lifetime with. To trail ride with, to go horse camping with, to take to shows, to share as a guest horse, to have as a gentle lesson horse, and in the end, during her last free-roaming retirement years, to just appreciate as a friend and family member. I will always love you.
Have any of your horses earned special privileges in their senior years? We'd love to hear about it, so feel free to share your story in the comments.