Great love stories possess a few ever-present components; there’s a cute meeting, there’s a honeymoon period, and there’s a boy and a girl. While we equestrians understand love stories, there is nothing more heartwarming than a once in a lifetime horse. We find a horse in a field, maybe in a barn, at a show. This horse comes into our lives, leaves “hoof prints on our hearts,” and we are never, ever the same.

I met Token while I was a working student for a trainer in my hometown. When I walked down the barn aisle the first day that my trainer moved her horses to that particular farm, he was resting with his head over the stall door, his ears pricked backwards in mild disenchantment. “What a cranky gelding,” I thought. My distaste was evident at first; I sat on his back attempting to make some sense of him. I bet you can guess how well that worked out… As the days came and went, I had a lesson on him every day and we built our working relationship. When spring came, we moved all of my trainers horses to her farm. Token was happy to be home, and his crankiness began to wane. Every time my car pulled into her driveway he would leap out of his stall and into his run-in, whinnying his hello. My heart swelled.

Now, I come from a hunter-jumper background. Dressage and I haven’t always agreed; but did dressage ever teach me. When my trainer mentioned that Token was part of the IHSA and IDA programs at her college, I was eager to get him over some jumps. Lucky for me, my trainer agreed and I piloted that little 15.1HH Morgan over some of the highest jumps my 15 year old self had ever seen. With unparalleled enthusiasm, Token soared over jumps raised to 4’0”ft. Have you ever felt like you’re flying? If you have, you can imagine the way I felt that day. My parents came to watch, and my trainer’s husband smiled through the tears in his eyes because he realized that this is what his little horse needed to do. When my parents announced we were moving, my heart began to splinter and I spent every waking moment possible at my trainer’s farm, grooming my secrets into his coat and sharing quiet moments. Can you imagine how amazed I was when she told me that her husband had agreed to give Token to me?

Token moved to North Carolina with me and my family, becoming my confidant and closest friend. This little gelding who had survived abusive beginnings, solitary life at a college, and being shoved aside for something taller, more beautiful, and talented became my champion. I had always felt pushed aside, secondary. We found each other. He brightened when he saw me, and he still pinned his ears at anyone else who walked past. We broke speed records in our jumper classes, and won our Children’s Equitation at rated shows. We would bring him back to the stabling area, pour a beer into his feed tub and my father would share pretzels and beer while they watched the mares go by. The little Morgan horse was given to me in exchange for a Dunkin’ Donuts flatbread and a Mountain Dew. I, for sure, got the better deal.

We retired Token from showing a few years later, but kept him active by taking him on trail rides. When he was finally settled from his cranky “I still think I’m a stud” phase, my parents could even ride him.

You know the moment when you feel the world change? I walked into the barn to see Token seizing on the ground, his legs straight out. It was in that moment I knew something was irreparably wrong. When Token was given to me, we determined that if he came down with laminitis again, we would euthanize him. Unfortunately, the vet concluded Token had laminitis again.

At the end, it was my choice. We could retire him fully and let him live his days in a dirt pasture to keep him healthier, but in my heart, I knew that wasn’t the right choice for my proud horse. He would never be happy living in a roundpen; he needed to gallop pastures and kick his legs up in the air. I can say with all of the conviction I have that this was the right choice. Everyone who had loved him came to see him, bringing sugar cubes and beer and pretzels. The morning came and went, and I kissed his velvet nose for the last time before we walked him to peace. It is at the end of the day that these animals’ lives rest in our hands, and I owed it to my great love, my one in a million, to see to it that he was given the respect he deserved.

Great love stories touch your heart and remind you to count your blessings, or hope for your own future Every time I sit on a horse, every time I see a bay gelding with a star and ears pinned, I cannot help but smile because somewhere, another girl is looking into the eyes of a horse just like him, and finding solace, peace, and a great love.