Thank you for sticking with this story so far. As I hope I've made evident, this events were among the most important in my life. This "anniversary week" is always a hard week for me, and talking about him has led to the revisitation of some of the happiest times in my life. If you're wondering, the series should be about six parts total.
Taco's life was transformed in October 2003, when he suddenly became one of only three horses living in what was once a barn filled to capacity (twenty five horses or so). My life changed a lot, too.
The barn owners were extremely accommodating; they treated Taco as if he were their own, and allowed me to come on weekends. I even got to ride their horses from time to time. I started a routine that lasted three or four years and went there once a week, every week. I think I missed a grand total of one weekend (due to the flu) in that amount of time. No matter the weather, I was there. I even went with stitches in my back following a small surgery, though I couldn't do much in the way of grooming or exercising. In short, there was almost nothing that would keep me away from him.
Taco did have a few bouts of illness in that time. In the summer of 2004, he had a pretty serious episode of colic. It was extremely scary for me, since he hadn't ever been seriously ill before then. He rebounded from it, but lost a lot of weight that he only partially regained. That weight loss wasn't a terrible thing - he was a bit pudgy before then, and being on the skinny side meant less stress on his old joints.
Later that year, he had a very strange episode of lameness. For a little while, we thought it was the dreaded laminitis, a devastating and potentially deadly form of lameness. However, what ever it was went away after a couple of weeks. It did come back the following year, leading us to believe it might have been some form of arthritis that flared up depending on the weather.
Otherwise, Taco's life was a great one. These were his glory years. He stayed outside for hours and hours each day, an enormous upgrade over the short turn-out times he had when the stable was full. Eventually, he was kept on full turnout, weather permitting. He had a small shed with rubber matting and wood chips at the back of his field. His indoor stall, too, was spacious. It was good to keep him moving around.
He and I made thousands of little memories together, too many to ever list here. Some of my favorite moments were spent simply sitting in silence on a mounting block next to him in his big turn-out arena. Others were when I'd sit in front of him while he was on the cross-ties (which is usually not advised, but I trusted him with all my heart) and he'd lower his head and run his nose through my hair. In the winter, when turn-out wasn't always possible due to the weather, he became so riled up and full of life that you'd never guess that he was approaching forty years old. I remember having to turn him out in a snowy, icy pen for just a little while because of how stir-crazy he was getting.
Like most horses, he used to love to roll in the dirt in the summer, especially following an extensive grooming session. He'd grunt and groan and wriggle on his back. We always held our breaths while we waited for him to get up, but he never failed us. Tough as nails, that old man was.
I took him for walks up the road, and let him graze in the huge, grassy field across the street. I bathed and groomed him until he was spotless, as if he was the most valuable show horse on the planet. And, when I couldn't be there, during the school week, I'd e-mail the barn owner to find out what he'd been up to in my absence.
I had essentially grown up with Taco. At my Sweet Sixteen party (they were so popular back then), I had a candle on my cake dedicated to him. That was special, for it marked the first time ever that I opened up even just a little bit to others about my partnership with him. He had been with me since I was eleven years old - now, I was a young adult. He was the constant in my life through bad high school relationships, the sicknesses of people close to me, and all of the other problems that typically plague teens. I'm glad I was able to recognize that, and never - not once - did I take our relationship for granted.
Me and Taco, December 2006
For a long while, probably longer than I could have imagined, things were perfect.
Stay tuned for Part 5.