So here’s what happened…
I was one of those fortunate kids whose parents were able to afford to have horses in their backyard. On my eleventh birthday my parents took me out to the barn and filmed my surprise as I discovered my very own horse waiting patiently in his new stall for me. I was confident we would take over the world of horse-jumping, and promised him early on that we would never be parted. His name was Dakota, and he was a 14.3h Appaloosa gelding. He was friendly, easy to keep, and incredibly lazy. As I grew the next few years, my appetite for horse speed increased. I lost interest in riding English and in jumping. Fast horses and timed events like barrel-racing became my passion. Unfortunately, Dakota was not built for speed, nor was his lazy personality suited for it.
After I sold Dakota, I went on the hunt for a barrel horse. A horse who was quick and agile, who would whip around the barrels and fly home, but who was also calm and relaxed. Not an easy combination to find. After a long search and many trials, I found an Appendix mare way out in Chilliwack. It was March when I drove out to see her, and I was bundled in layers of fleece with a down vest. Pulling into the gravel drive, I looked out into the huge, unkept pasture and saw a couple of unimpressive brown horses in the distance. A woman named Kathy came to greet me, enthusiastically describing the horse’s many qualities. As we walked up to the gate, the horses perked their heads up and came at a lazy walk towards us.
Cheyenne was the smaller and younger of the two, and was as prepared for winter as I in her shaggy, mud-splattered coat. She had longs whiskers and a somewhat wild appearance. But she stood quietly while we saddled her, and seemed content to be lead into the riding ring, which was simply another field with a bit of sand spread over it.
I tried her out twice more before I bought her, and from there we never looked back. We competed in rodeos, in games days, took Parelli lessons, and galloped through Campbell Valley. We scaled a mountain called Paradise Valley, but what I later referred to as Death Mountain because of its steep cliffs and its tiny goat-trail of a path through the dense bush. We survived the mountain with only a small accident, in which we had to resort to duct-tape to secure a bandage on Cheyenne’s cut leg. Our bond grew with each adventure.
Eventually I graduated high school, and with a scholarship to university, I made the very difficult decision to sell Cheyenne and move on from my life with horses. There was a sweet sense of irony when I sold her back to Kathy, who had missed her the entire time.
It’s been five years since I sold my childhood horse. Since then, I have graduated university with a degree in English Literature, minoring in Sociology. I’ve traveled to Europe, spent a semester studying in Germany, moved to Vancouver, moved to New Westminster, met my partner, and developed amazing relationships with my two nieces and my nephew. I’ve learned about heteronormativity, about social injustices, about the need for funding for trans surgeries in BC, and about abusive relationships. So much of me has changed, and yet my love and adoration for Cheyenne has remained.
So I decided to contact Kathy and get my horse back.
The thought of seeing Cheyenne, of bringing her home once again, has been growing in my mind for months. What I didn’t know was what an adventure it would be to find out what happened to her.
Having lost Kathy’s phone number, I decided to simply drive out to her house in Chilliwack. It took me an hour and a half, and the whole way my palms were sweating and I felt sick to my stomach. It took me a few minutes to convince myself to get out of the car when I eventually did pull into the driveway. When I did, I found that the house was boarded up and the barn was empty. The feeling of nausea ballooned and I rushed back to my car.
I found a Starbucks at the next freeway exit and decided to re-group. I had brought my laptop, and I used it to look up Kathy’s number online. I found three listings with her last name, and tried them all. Only one was still in service, and when the answering machine came on, I was sure that it was her voice. What do you say on the answering machine of a woman you met once ten years ago to buy a horse, then again five years ago to give the horse back? I’m still not sure if the message I left made much sense. I do remember being incredibly excited when I left it.
Below her number was an address. I had driven this far already, I thought, I might as well try it out. So I drove the extra twenty minutes to try knocking on what might be Kathy’s new residence. I realized this might be violating some sort of privacy, but I held onto the belief that Kathy was the kind of person that would be happy to talk to me.
No-one was home, and I decided to drive back to my place and figure out some other way to find Cheyenne. An idea occurred to me while I was driving. Cheyenne was a registered Appendix, and the horse breeder would be listed on her papers. When I got home I pulled out the file I had kept of her and looked through her papers. Sure enough, a man named J*** Gardner bred her back in 1996. Using the same online phonebook I had used to find Kathy’s number, I found Mr. Gardner’s. When I got a hold of him and explained my unusual situation, he told me he was good friends with Kathy, and he was happy to fill me in on Cheyenne’s past five years.
Kathy had a divorce and had to sell her farm, including Cheyenne. A man in Alberta bought her, but later sued Kathy because she wouldn’t work for him the way he wanted. He also beat her, which broke my heart. The judge dropped the charges when Kathy brought witnesses like Mr. Gardner to explain that Cheyenne was well trained, and any problems the man had with her were horsemanship issues, not problems with the horse. Cheyenne ended up going to Kathy’s brother in Alberta. This was good news, I thought. I was sure that Kathy could convince her brother to sell Cheyenne back to me. Mr. Gardner, however, explained that Kathy’s brother had sold Cheyenne to another man in Alberta, and he didn’t have his contact information. I would have to wait until Kathy got back from Cancun (the reason she hadn’t been answering her phone or at her house) to ask her. I thanked him for his time, and began the wait until Kathy came back to Canada.
Just a week ago I received a call from her. She was thrilled that I still thought of Cheyenne, and that I wanted her back. She promised to look into it, and to contact her current owner. I would have to wait a while, but she would get back to me. I imagined what the homecoming would be like, how good it would feel to wrap my arms around her sturdy neck and give her a long-awaited hug. I imagined leading her back into her stall, laid fresh with clean shavings, her nameplate still on the door. I would make her a warm bran mash, the horse equivalent to a delicious and healthy porridge, and fill it with chopped carrots and sliced apples. I could rub her velvety nose, and scratch that spot between her ears that she likes. And most importantly, I would love and care for her in her old age, providing her with every comfort during her twilight years.
Kathy called me yesterday, and I could tell from her voice that none of these things would come to be. The man who owned her now was not interested in selling her. His daughter is looking after her and riding her through the trails by their house. Kathy thanked me again for my interest in our beloved horse, and assured me that the man would contact us first if he ever decides to sell her. I thanked Kathy and we wished each other a Merry Christmas.
As happy and relieved as I am that Cheyenne has a good and loving home now, I can’t help but feel disappointed. The adventure of finding my childhood horse is over now. I know where she is, I know who owns her, and I know she is loved. What else can I wish for? I’m glad that she’s safe, and am grateful for the years I got to spend with her.