When I was sixteen years old, my dad bought me a beautiful black colt to train. That colt took all of my focus, my affection, my time, and attention, and I was devastated a few months later when he got badly hurt and had to be put down. I remember making a promise to him, in those last painful moments, saying I would never forget him, and that I would keep his memory alive forever. It was the most difficult part of my teenage years, giving up on that colt.
I’m twice as old now, turning 34 next month, and while I haven’t forgotten my black colt, I still harbor several regrets about the few short months that I owned him. My biggest regret is that I never took a photograph of him. The pictures are vivid in my mind: him running franticly around the corral when I first caught sight of him at the previous owner’s farm; him peeking around the back of the older gelding we put in with him once we brought him home; him kicking at me and running to the far side of the pen as I tried to halter train him; and him standing injured in his stall, head down and dull with pain. I’ll never forget those images, but I have always wished I had taken just one snapshot I could still look at.
In my basement, I have a wooden box with memories of my black colt in it. Its only contents are his AQHA registration papers, four cockleburrs I took out of his mane once he was gentled enough to let me touch him, and a calendar from that year with the days marked of when I bought him, with a few little notes of what we accomplished during training and gentling, and the day he died. That’s all. And I’m wishing I had written down more, kept pictures of him…and of course I wish I’d had years to compile more memories of our adventures together.
It’s something every horse lover should do: make a Horse Keepsake Box just in case something happens and you lose your best friend like I did. It’s hard to think of these things ahead of time, because no one wants to anticipate it, but if your horse had to be put down, would you have anything to remember him by? Here are a few suggestions to put together a memento box:
1. The most important thing is to take pictures of your horse. Make a collection of photos of both of you together, and get a friend to help take some candid shots that show both of your personalities. Take your camera along on trail rides, shows, and regular chores…you never know when the perfect opportunity will come along and you’ll get a really cute photo that will preserve that memory forever.
2. Collect items that you might otherwise discard but will hold special memories. For me, it was the cockleburrs I pulled out of his mane, and I kept them because they signified the progress we were making in gentling such a wild colt…when he actually allowed me to groom him finally, the cockleburrs weren’t something I was going to just throw away. They meant something. Look for little reminders of good moments with your horse. This might be a wildflower you picked on a trail ride and pressed in the pages of a book to flatten and preserve. Use wide clear packing tape to make a clear plastic coating on both sides of the flower so it doesn’t get damaged or lose its petals. You might save your horse’s old shoes when he gets a new set put on, to add to your collection. A tuft of mane can be braided and banded together. Anything that reminds you of your horse is worth saving.
3. Keep a calendar or a journal about your horse events, thoughts, successes, and goals. I usually keep a notebook starting out with the day I bought the horse, who I purchased it from and for how much, what my observations were about its temperament, and the daily happenings that contributed to its training. I love reading back through old notes and remembering the challenges and triumphs that the horse and I went through together.
When I was visiting my parents one time, my mom gave me a few old letters I had written to them soon after buying a horse. In typical fashion, my letter was full of enthusiasm for the new mare I’d bought, and I explained in detail about a trail ride we had gone on with a few friends, and how the mare had hesitated at the first water crossing, I had spent a little time working her through it, and how she had learned to cross water and bridges easily the rest of the day. I had forgotten all about that ride, but reading that old letter brought those vivid happy memories all back, and I was happy to save that letter.
4. Make a special place for your keepsake collection. Many craft stores have plain wooden boxes you can buy and decorate with paint, varnish, stickers, or photos of your horse. The box I used was found in the clearance section of Walmart, but it was a dark mahogany wooden box with a hinged lid, lined with green felt–probably a box you would keep a silverware set in. I had bought it intending to keep “treasures” in it, and it turned out to be perfect for my Horse Keepsake Box. Anything will do…just so you have a place to keep your memories safe.
You might customize this with your own personal style and additional ideas. If you have any tips to share along these lines, please comment and let us know. When you have a special horse, it’s important to keep reminders of him, and this is one of the things you’ll treasure after the memories are all made