This is a love story. Like any good love story, it has a tragic ending. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
“Sugar, Sugar” began to blare through the speakers and my breath stuck in my throat. It was our song. It always will be. This is the end though, and I need to start from the beginning.
His blond, tousled mane waved in the wind so beautifully, Fabio would’ve been envious. His caramel coat was shiny and soft. But those features aren’t what made me fall in love with him. There was something special in his eyes—isn’t there always in love stories? This pony stallion was only three years old, but his eyes belonged to an old soul. They held ancient secrets and wisdom a little girl could only dream of. I was eight years old when we met.
My mom bought this wild pony for just $300. He caught her eye every day on her way to work, so she inquired about him. The owner raised horses for meat and this pony was going to the sale in two weeks. The first time I saw him, I climbed the fence into his field, and he was the only horse in the entire herd to raise his head and acknowledge my presence. He kept his gaze locked on me and came cantering down towards me. I looked back at my mom and asked her what I should do. She said, “Stay put!” Feeling sure I was about to be trampled, I decided it was too late to run. He stopped just out of reach, his ears perked and his head held high. I offered him an apple and he slowly stepped forward, taking it from my hand. It was the first human touch he’d ever had.
Sugar and one of the many members of his fan club
My mom assisted me with his training when she could, but she was busy running a Five-Star Equestrian Center, so Sugar and I were mostly on our own. I named him Sugar Maple after the Maple tree because his coat was the color of maple syrup. I trained Sugar using Natural Horsemanship methods, but mostly he taught me. I learned patience, perseverance and compassion. He gave me companionship when I could find it nowhere else. I endured emotional and verbal abuse from a man who lived with us for a few years, and I wouldn’t have survived those years without Sugar. He reminded me that not all the world is cruel and gave me a safe place to pour my tears.
Sugar and I won Champion or Reserve at every show, whether we competed in Hunt Seat, the pony division, or Western Pleasure. Sugar could do it all and he did it well. That 13.2 hand pony would jump anything for me, including a four-foot oxer. My favorite ride was one where Sugar gave me a glimpse into his world. He lived on a 100-acre farm at the time, and I went into the field and hopped on him bareback with just a rope halter. I whispered in his ear, “Show me your world,” and he took off trotting up the hillside. We went into the woods and he took me onto little deer paths I didn’t even know were there. He broke into a gallop and we raced into the wide-open field.
Sugar and I grew up together. When I outgrew him, other little girls and boys took lessons on Sugar, explored the woods on his wide back, and competed in horse shows, earning not just ribbons, but life lessons.
I remained petite enough to continue riding Sugar non-competitively. We’d go out on trails for hours, just the two of us, no words spoken between us, but so much said in our silent togetherness in nature. Sugar taught me how to find peace in stillness and how to hear the words of my heart. He taught me how to navigate the delicate balance between audacity and reason. Almost the only time we did speak on trail is when I would sing “Sugar, Sugar” to him, but my lyrics were a bit different: “Sugar, Sugar…Oh, Honey, Honey…You are my super pony, and you make me so happy.”
Sugar’s the first horse I practiced yoga with, and he graciously humored me.
I had to say goodbye to Sugar in March of 2014. He was only twenty years old, but he had colic one time too many and I had to make the difficult decision to lay him to rest. Not a day has passed without me thinking of him and my heart remains heavy. Our song came on over the speakers at a horse event I was attending, and I had to push down the surge of emotion welling up in my throat and eyes. I had to stifle my expression of grief. A couple of nights later, I couldn’t sleep, the wounds of my loss freshly opened. Outside my bedroom window, I noticed flashing lights. The lightening bugs were performing their nightly ritual. Every night they’d light up the trees behind my room like a festival light show, but I was rarely awake to enjoy the magical sight. Lying there watching a wonder of nature, I realized Sugar’s still here. He’s in every happy moment I have, every moment of awe and wonder, every moment of love and magic. Love is the greatest gift he gave me and love doesn’t just die. His body is gone, but his soul lives on. I hear him in birdsongs, I feel him in the breeze and sunshine, and I know that wherever he is, he is young again and he is happy.
“Beyond ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~Rumi