I love jumping. Sophie loves me. Sophie hates jumping. I love Sophie.

Sophie is a foundation American Quarter Horse mare. Her coat is as red as the Virginia clay we trek across. She is smarter than most men I’ve dated, and one of the most vocal horses I’ve ever known. From the fence line, she stalks our shadows through the window and hollers when she is hungry. There is no escaping her charismatic attitude, large ears and bright eyes. Even the cowmen like her.

“Dats a good horse. I like dat horse.”

I admit, I never knew Sophie was such a gem until after college.

She was purchased as a mount for my mom. Being a chestnut mare, she had a knack for jigging the entire duration of a trail ride – not the best for a mom with a bad back – so Sophie unofficially became my mare.

I liked how hot she was. She was nothing like the kick-along rides at camp. I would breathe the words “walk on” and she would stride out. With a Western foundation she side passed, turned on the haunches, turned on the forehand, and turned on a dime.

With all her tricks and spunk there was one thing she detested: jumping. I thought she’d take to it like a duck to water, but each and every time we’d confront a cross rail she’d put up a fight. So at 16 years old with an ambition to compete in hunt seat, I placed Sophie in the back field with my old pony.

I bought a green hunter that I rode 5 to 6 days a week. Sophie contentedly nibbled on grass and watched from the sidelines, always ready with a soft nicker when I entered the barn.

I went to college, my hunter was sold, and Sophie stayed on the farm. Like the boy next door, she was the horse in the field that I had never considered.

In college, I competed on imports and snazzy thoroughbreds. At home, my 15.1 hand Sophie seemed like cornbread and gravy next to the haute cuisine warmbloods at college. I dabbled in dressage, interned at an OTTB retraining center, and attempted to wedge my foot in the horse world door. The November after I graduated college, I was burned out. I’d had enough of the horse world politics, show world drama, and unyielding glass ceiling.

I returned to my parents’ farm with Sophie in her field, her mane tangled and winter coat bristling. I didn’t ride for three months, and the only interaction I had was feeding and occasionally grooming my mare. She seemed to appreciate the attention, eyes alert, but softened with age, her ears pricked forward in anticipation.

“Why don’t you ride Sophie down to the river?” my mom asked. “They’ve built some new houses and the ride might do you some good.”

I didn’t protest, and fished out an old pair of jeans from my drawer and headed to the barn. I whistled, and she came trotting to my call. Her expression seemed to ask, “Today?”

“Yes,” the words ushered from my mouth. “Today, Sophs.”

Her stride was short, but steady and stable like the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon. She hadn’t lost her sass, flicking her head to indicate her desire to gallop. We careened through corn fields, stormed up banks, and waded in the river.

You can’t put a price on a horse that knows you. Knows your hopes, your fears, joys, stresses, or needs. After 12 years, Sophie knows me. She may not know the derby course or the dressage test, but she knows when I need to ride away from life for a moment. She knows when I need to sit and have her close. She knows I will never ask anything dangerous of her.

Most of all, she knows she is my heart horse.