Soldier was my best friend for 16 years. I bought him from my brother when he was 4 years old - my dad and brother raised him, but I still had to buy him in a horse sale, where he was the high selling horse. Coincidence? I doubt it. He became a heel horse and eventually turned into a dressage horse. People think that's a weird transition, or somehow impressive, but it's proof of the kind of guy he was. He'd do anything for me. I always joke that I'll try anything twice, but Soldier really would. He'd try as many times as it took for him to get it.
He was kind of a grouch in his early years. He was very aloof and content to be a loner and he didn't like a lot of people. He could also be a real jerk to other horses - he always took that alpha horse idea pretty seriously. He spent one winter, when he was probably around 12 years old, at the ranch with my brother and sister-in-law. In the spring my sister-in-law told me he wasn't welcome back at the ranch because he was such an asshole to the other horses.
When my life changed, he changed with me. He went from being a wonderful heel horse to a dressage horse. And he did that with a lot of class and try. I don't know if you know this, but dressage is hard! And it's really hard for 13 year old heel horses. I had a trainer explain it once as asking a linebacker to do ballet when they'd never even stretched before. But in typical Soldier fashion, he gave it his all.
I think he secretly liked being babied and really liked learning how to stretch and use his body properly. I always told him it was way easier to be a dressage horse than a team roping horse and I'm pretty sure he agreed. He settled into dressage life and became quite the gentleman.
We lost Soldier in late January. He was 21 years old and it still makes me cry to think about it. He was healthy... some might say as healthy as a horse. But on that day, I went out to feed in the morning and he couldn't breathe. I'll spare you the gory details, but I assure you, it was awful. I made the decision to put him down because that was what was best for him. That's the hardest part of owning animals - thinking about what's best for them when it isn't at all what you want. They never live as long as we wish they did. We had a necropsy done because he'd been in such good health and his death was such a surprise. The Wyoming State Vet Lab was awesome and they gave us the answers we needed. It turns out he had a lesion on his heart, likely from an old infection (pigeon fever when he was probably 7 or 8). We never knew he had a heart problem, but as he got older, the lesion made it harder for his heart to work. His heart couldn't beat hard enough to make his respiratory system work properly and his lungs filled with fluid. There's some small comfort in knowing that there was nothing I could have done to prevent this and that I made the right decision at the time.
Not long before we lost Soldier, I got another horse from my brother - a two year old we named Deets. I'd been planning on him for over a year because Soldier was getting older and it was time for him to enjoy retirement and pass the torch to the next generation. We just didn't know how soon that would happen.
I still think about him every day, but it's mostly with a smile at all the good memories we had together. Sometimes I'll glance down the barn aisle and think I see him. I catch myself leaving Deet's stall door open thinking that Soldier won't ever go out that open door without being asked. Turns out Deets doesn't have the same manners yet. I've had to capture him more than once after making that mistake!
Rest In Peace my friend. Know that you are loved and missed, but that I know you earned that belly deep grass you're enjoying.