…is, interestingly, how I think of Bucky, my friend, Patty’s horse. Bucky died on Friday, after living with Patty for 32 years—and in case you don’t know, that’s a really long life for a horse. Mostly their average lifespan is about 25 years. Bucky was a buckskin pony—almost tall enough to be considered a horse—that babysat anyone who rode him and always moved out with unflagging energy. Patty and Bucky grew up together, riding in 4-H horse shows, trail riding in the hills and hollows of southern Indiana, and later riding the GBRA (Girls Barrel Racing Association) circuit around the Midwest. I loved to watch Patty make a running leap behind that little buckskin and vault onto his back, while Bucky stood quietly, just waiting for instructions. He was a more-than-one-trick pony, who loved to show off.
I first met Bucky and Patty when I started riding horses about 22 years ago—we boarded our horses at the same barn. Patty and I clicked immediately—she’s cheerful and fun and full of energy and didn’t seem to mind that I was an older novice. She offered great advice and encouragement. Patty taught me not to be afraid when I was astride a horse and showed me how to make the horse believe I was the one in charge. Thanks to Patty and Bucky, I finally got to the point where I believed it, too.
My favorite story about Bucky, though, involves my son. We’d been at the barn for about a year and one warm fall day in 1990, we’d come out to ride. The movie Dances with Wolves had just come out (this is significant, I promise). Patty had put Son up on Bucky so he could ride around the big front pasture with us. Son always rode fearlessly on that pony, although Mom occasionally cringed. Like the time he stood on Bucky’s saddle to get up into a tree near the fence line of the pasture and then dropped back onto the horse’s back from a high limb. Or the time he took Bucky through the poles, speeding and weaving just like a regular rodeo rider. I gulped and prayed while Patty yelled, “Kick him up!! Faster! Faster!” as Bucky and Son wove through the pattern.
This day, Son was bareback on the horse, having the time of his life flying across the pasture at a dead run, then slowing to a canter while Patty and I exercised our own horses. At one point, I looked around to see my kid soaring across the field. Suddenly, he dropped the reins onto Bucky’s tan neck. Son tossed his head back, and with his arms outstretched and his chest puffed out, he shouted, “Hey Mom! Look! I’m Kevin Costner!” We’d just seen the film and the kid was duly impressed with Costner’s riding skills.
My heart damn near stopped, but when I looked over at Patty, she was grinning from to ear to ear. “Go!” she screamed. “Go!” and then I had to smile, too. If Patty trusted that pony to take care of my kid, I was on-board. How many chances does a child get to play at that level of freedom? I knew it was probably the ride of his young life. So, I sat back on my horse and watched as he cantered across the pasture, loving every minute of his time with Bucky.
We all have such fun memories of that little buckskin pony and although Patty is heartbroken now, soon that grief will mellow into fond and joyful remembrances of her many years with Bucky—God bless you, Patty. And God bless you too, Bucky, wherever you’re riding now…