I begged for a horse for many years with no luck. I had just given up hope when I received the surprise of a lifetime! Once they realized I was truly dedicated, my parents took the plunge and made a major investment. Even though they sacrificed to make it work, my parents still say buying that horse was the best decision they ever made for me.
My horse was my first love. I fell in love with Cherokee the moment I first met him, and over 20 years later, I still love him fiercely. We truly grew up together.
Most of my childhood memories involve Cherokee. Countless hours were spent at the stable. When I wasn't riding, I was taking care of him, cleaning the barn, or training for our next show. Homework was completed every afternoon on horse back. His soft neck absorbed the tears I shed over the many teen woes. I have memories of galloping across hilltops, peaceful trail rides, and playing tag on horseback with friends in the woods. We rode together in the rain, heat, sleet, snow and frigid cold. We made incredible memories together and formed a bond that time and distance can't break.
After 6 years of Cherokee being the most important thing in my world, I met a boy. That boy stole my heart, and I began to spend less time with Cherokee. But he was always there. Just waiting. And then a baby came into our world and commanded all my attention. I had even less time for Cherokee. But I couldn't...wouldn't...give him up.
Cherokee welcomed that first tiny human into his life.
And a second one.
And a third.
And finally, a fourth. A fourth who just "officially" met his horse and wasn't too impressed yet.
Cherokee was always patient. Always accepting. Always waiting. And every time I walked away from him, I would glance back and see him watching me. The look on his face broke my heart every single time. It was almost as if he was begging me not to leave him again.
After Liam joined our family, the time I had to spend with my first love was very minimal. Months would go by without a visit. There were other horses and other people who spent time with him, but it wasn't the same. The guilt consumed me on a daily basis, but my time and energy was already spread so thin. Every time I thought of him, I could only imagine how hurt and abandoned he must have felt.
It reached the point where the guilt hit on a daily basis, and I had trouble sleeping at night.
Cherokee is nearly 30. He's an old man in horse years. He's no longer as lean and muscular as he once was. (To be fair, neither am I.) The incredible spirit that once made him a handful is now tamed. He moves much more slowly. His spots have faded. Lately, he seems depressed and I just want that spark to return to his eyes.
A lot can change during the course of two decades. The two of us are nothing like how we used to be, and it breaks my heart at times. I often feel regret. I SHOULD have been there more. But the past is the past, and I can only work on the now. We're still together, and that's what matters.
I know I'm in denial. Deep in my heart, I know that our time together is limited. I know I have to make an effort to visit him more often. My kids adore him. It will never be the same for them as it was for me, but I want my kids to make memories with our horse, too!
So that's what we're doing! And truth be told, it's pretty amazing to stand back and watch my girls form a bond with Cherokee. I can only imagine that's how my parents felt when they watched me building a bond with him all those years ago.
I see my girls look at him the same way I once looked at him.
I see the joy on their faces when they ride.
And as I watch them, I suddenly find myself reliving my past.
That past is just a fond, distant memory. Now we're working on building new memories!
Countless times over the past 20 years, I desperately wished Cherokee could live at home with me. Leaving him was always the worst. Unfortunately, that never worked out in our favor. Now my kids say the same thing. We hate leaving him behind, because he belongs with us. Parting is always so difficult. But now, we make the promise to come back soon. So soon.
Cherokee is mine forever, and I'll always be his girl. We're both just older versions of what we once were. I have no plans to let him go before his time, but when that impossible time comes when we do have to part, I'm going to hold him as tightly as I possibly can and blanket him with tears full of love and memories of our life together.
It's a good life and we're still writing those pages in our story.