When I met my future-husband, Brad, he was a rodeo man; he competed in calf and team roping. It wasn’t very long into that scene when I became determined not to be a typical buckle-bunny, just tagging along to every rodeo and jackpot, to sit on the sidelines. As fate would have it, a horse came up for sale under an hour away: a seasoned 2-3D barrel horse who knew what he was doing. I’m a firm believer that “the blind shouldn’t lead the blind,” so I wanted a horse who could help teach me. I knew this horse wouldn’t win me any rodeo buckles, but I just wanted a horse that was fun and safe. I was the farthest thing from a barrel racer. Honestly, I thought the sport was kinda silly. How hard could it really be? I had done barrels at 4-H Achievement Days as a kid, and that was the extent of my knowledge — bouncing around three barrels on our trusty painted pony, Champ, hoping not to get bucked off on the run home. But I was now determined to give the real deal a solid try. Galloping around is fun regardless, right?
Brad and I drove to check him out when we had a break from harvest. I see this nice-looking grey gelding, about 15.2hh; with a beautiful long mane and tail; big, beautiful, bright, dark eyes; and his ears! I am a sucker for ears that look just so, and I loved his, even if his left ear had a split at the very top. Sonny was his barn name, Finishlineyourmine his registered name, and I loved it. The owner took him around the barrels in an open field and he definitely had some spunk! I was pretty intimidated, swinging a leg over his back. But the owner coached me how to slow-lope the pattern. It was that moment, where I felt his power, his energy, his love for running around three barrels in the field, that I fell in love. I fell in love with him, and the sport. We loaded him up in the trailer, I wrote a cheque that was my entire wages for working on the farm till that point, and I couldn’t have been more proud!
I was greener than green in the barrel pen, but we have good friends who were more than willing to teach me. Sonny was taking excellent care of me. We started entering in jackpots and where I was nervous, not having any idea what to expect; however, dealing with the chaos, crowds, and some real crazy horses, he was my calm. He confidently strutted everywhere we went. Flags, music, screaming kids, prancing horses, vehicles — nothing phased him. He was my rock in this new, exciting world. Every time I got on my fancy grey gelding, my heart sang. He was my happy place, and I was becoming addicted to the adrenaline rush that came from racing. I was also surprised how much finesse and refined training it took to have a good barrel horse. I worked hard to keep Sonny confident and not create a hyper, uncontrollable, fire-breathing dragon. Some racers love the real hot horses; I however, do not. I tribute my love for the sport to Sonny, and I think if I had purchased the wrong horse, I could have easily been soured.Thankfully, I listened to my gut, and I never looked back.
Sonny is still, to this date, the fastest horse I have ever ridden. I never pushed him to give his all out in a field. When I would let him open up, he would just fly, his feet barely touching the ground. I encouraged him to open up a little bit a few times. Between the tears and his mane in my face, I could barely see. He loved to run! I would often day dream of us running alongside Jim Craig, helping him chase down his brumbies in the Outback.
Sonny was my first horse to show me how therapeutic horses could truly be. Horses have always been an absolute necessity to me and my mental health, but Sonny took it to a whole new level. If I was struggling, he would take on my pain to try and alleviate my struggles. We were connected. We could go for a gallop, then walk home on a loose rein. We could have a schooling session one day, have him get hyper and excited about the barrels, and the next day go for a bareback ride and lope through the field. He was my rock.
Two years ago Sonny had a real tough time. He dropped weight even after the spring grass came; he was lethargic, not himself, and I was getting very concerned. This was the start of his health problems. There is so much here that I could write. I could go on and on about all the things I wish I would have done from that first moment when I knew something was wrong. But the honest truth is, I did what I thought was best, in that moment. And living in regret is no place to live. His health would fluctuate with every major season change causing both of us large amounts of stress. My companion was sick, and, despite my best efforts, nothing was keeping him healthy. It was a cycle that I couldn’t figure out, or break. In January, 2020, Sonny was starting to colic from abdominal pain, I didn’t want to put him down without first knowing I did all that I could. I hauled him to get a scope, and they discovered ulcers, and bloodwork showed his liver was also in very poor condition. After four weeks of very expensive medication I thought we finally had it beat! But then it happened. I went out to feed him his supplements and I could see that look in his eye, the way he held his head, how his ears drooped low. He was in pain. Again. I gave him extra supplements to help the best I could, and I knew it was a waiting game of the worst kind. Within three hours he was looking much better, but I knew deep down, a decision had to be made. I saw the look in his eye; he was so sad, and tired. I felt his energy: he couldn’t take the pain episodes anymore. Being faced with the decision to put your horse down is never an easy one. Anyone who has been in my shoes knows this. But I had to honor him in the best way possible. I had to take away his pain. I had to let him go run in green pastures without me.
We had just started getting into my newer methods of working with his energy; to help him relax easier, and to release his tension mentally and physically. He was slowly opening up even more to me, trusting me with his big emotions. He was the kind of horse that didn’t want me to know he was struggling. He wanted to take care of me, protect me, but I knew he needed me too.
It's been just under a month since I said goodbye to my Sonny. Every time I look at the horses I’m still looking for that grey with the beautiful long mane and tail; those big, beautiful, bright, dark eyes; and his ears, with the split on the left. I’ve been having a tough time having the heart to ride my other horses. My heart seems a little bit lost without Sonny to anchor it here, but I know he’s wanting me to continue on with my passions. Even if it still hurts.
Losing Sonny due to health reasons has lit a fire in my belly. I promised him I would find better ways to help horses with preventative care to support their bodies. I am on a journey to understand how to give care to my animals in such a way to nurture their very cells, to work from the inside out to keep them healthy and strong. I owe it to Sonny to share what I’m learning, and to help you on your journey too.