He wasn’t beautiful. In fact, he was scrawny and his hips protruded from his dull, flea-bitten grey coat like two tillers on the either side of a sailboat. Poorly cut silver strings hung from his neck like forgotten tinsel on a two-month old Christmas tree. He had a sad excuse for a tail hanging limply between his two back legs and a clubbed right hoof turned inward toward the left.
He wasn’t friendly. If I got too close to him in his stall, he’d bear his teeth and pin back his ears. If I sat on his back, he’d kick when I squeezed to go faster and if I tried to tighten his girth, he’d bend his neck around to bite my toes.
He wasn’t beautiful, he wasn’t friendly, but his name was Charlie and I thought he was perfect.
My parents let me have him because he was cheap – an off the track thoroughbred with a little training, but a lot of promise, or at least that’s what the people who sold him said. In eighth grade I was hormonal and pimple-faced, but Charlie was my great prince, my noble steed and my best friend.
I spent many nights in his stall, draped over his back, playing with his mane and telling him about my first crushes, my first bad grade on a test and my first fight with my mom. When I got a boyfriend, he was there to assure me horses were much better than humans.
The day before I left for college, I went to see him one last time. He stood in the field with his head bent over a fresh patch of grass. I burst into tears the moment I saw him.
I recalled how my perfect little “project horse” had been with me through my awkward teenaged years, my moments of greatness and my moments of vulnerability when I decided on a university and made plans to leave home.
My parents called him a “money pit,” because in a lot of ways, he was. But he was mine and I was his and no matter how much my parents take credit for raising me, in a lot of ways, he did.
Charlie taught me what no parent, friend, boyfriend or human could. He taught me how to be brave, be patient and be kind, but he also taught me how to love deeply and purely – how to think of others before myself. I never really thanked him properly, but I think the years of care and love spoke more than any verbal thanks ever could have.
When I left Charlie, I left a bit of myself behind, but a gold-plated plaque from his stall door is nailed to the wall in my bedroom. It’s a constant reminder of how practicing love can change a life.