Last Sunday Ace died. Ace was Jennifer’s good horse, her once-in-a-lifetime horse.
Last winter we had to feed him special feed. We knew this day was coming sooner rather than later, but it was still a shock. Ace was a special horse and will always have a special place in our hearts.
When Jennifer and I started dating she was working on a ranch training horses. I don’t know how many horses she started, but it was a lot. Then when we got married Jennifer started working for a rancher at Anthony, and one of her jobs was breaking his colts. She rode a lot of colts in those two years, but Ace stood out from the beginning.
The first day she had him in the round pen she threw a saddle on him, and he took it in stride. Jennifer then got on him in the round pen on that first day, and again Ace took it all in stride and never offered to do anything but what Jennifer wanted him to do. She took him out of the round pen and rode him in the pasture on the first day. From that time on, a bond was formed between rider and horse.
We bought Ace. I am not sure how long we had been married – somewhere less than a year – and Ace would be a fixture with us for the next 23-plus years. I wish now that I had a log of how many hours and miles Jennifer and Ace put in. He was her partner when it came to move and gathering cows, but more importantly he was her therapist and safe place in this world.
I am not a horse person, but even I could recognize that Ace was special. He loved people and he loved to work cattle. Each morning he would meet you at the gate because he loved his grain – that and he wanted his ears scratched and his neck rubbed. He was always willing and eager to work, no matter what the job was.
Of course, his favorite job was anything to do with cows. The cows seemed to know it, too. Often they didn’t even challenge him.
Reflecting on the two decades I got to watch Ace and Jennifer work, I cannot think of a time that they did not catch the cattle they were after. This summer I watched them go after three pairs that had escaped through a flood gap and bring them in in the dusk. Two weeks before he died, Ace and Jennifer gathered our cows off pasture.
Then there were the kids. If we had someone come by with little kids who just wanted to ride a horse, we would catch Ace, saddle him up and lead them around the yard. I am sure that wasn’t his favorite thing to do, but he never acted sour and was always gracious about the giggling and kicking.
Ace raised both of our kids, they both learned how to ride on him, and we never worried a minute about if they were safe. It was Ace’s job to make sure they were, and he didn’t let us down. Again, I am sure it was not his favorite job, but he took it in stride and just bided his time until he and Jennifer went after cows again.
The one thing I am absolutely sure he did not like was 4-H horse shows. But again he took them in stride and did everything he was asked to do – even though you could tell he did so grudgingly and was eagerly awaiting the trailer ride home to quiet pastures and cows.
Anyone could do anything on Ace. I know because I was the anyone. Even I could do anything on him.
The past couple of years, Jennifer had commented that she needed to get another horse. Ace was slowing down and wasn’t as sure footed as he had been. Even though his body was letting him down his heart was still there, and he gave Jennifer everything he had. I am quite sure that only he and Jennifer could tell.
Lately I could tell that the time was getting short and that each time they went out Jennifer’s heart ached for her friend. The end came swiftly, and I guess that was good – kind of like tearing a bandage from a wound.
He got sick on Saturday. Jennifer doctored him, and we thought he was getting better. That night we checked on him and he looked at us bright eyed, but now I am pretty sure he knew it was the end and was just trying to take care of Jennifer one last time.
I am not going to lie, I bawled like a baby as I hauled him to his final resting place. It is a shady spot in the pasture with grass all around – a spot Ace would have found.
I ache for my wife because Ace was truly her once-in-a-lifetime horse – her partner, friend and confidant. I guess I do find solace in knowing that at least they had a good, long run together. Horses will probably come and go, but there will never be another Ace. Rest in peace, old man.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.