Triangle B
Tennessee Walking Horses
Millarville, AB   Canada

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Banner was a big palomino Belgian cross gelding who spent his winters in a nice big pasture beside the railroad track east of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. The first time I saw him, though, he was in his summer quarters: a big corral with a minimum of feed. His tendency to become dangerously fat in the summer made it necessary to separate him from the green grass. His owner was very careful not to take any chances on foundering any of her equine friends, so her two mares spent their summers in a nearby field with plenty of shade but a minimum of grass. Dorothy told me that Banner was broke to drive but she preferred to ride her young mare.

I was boarding my horses with Dorothy’s elderly parents at that time. Dorothy lived with them, helping her Dad manage the farm and working full time as well. She enjoyed riding her Anglo-Arab mare on the nearby trails and participated in trail rides all over the prairies. She was a great riding partner and the two of us did a lot of riding those first few months of our friendship. We even had matching female dogs; tough minded little lap dogs who, when left to their own devices, would get into all kinds of mischief. Their favorite activity next to gopher hunting and cat chasing was rolling in nice fresh cow pies. That accomplished, they’d appear at the door, proudly sporting smelly green streaks from nose to tail!

Late one hot afternoon I was tacking up for a solitary ride when Dorothy’s mother came over to the corral gate. She was dressed up, having just returned home from the city. Her purse dangled from her arm as she leaned against the gate. “ Dorothy has cysts,” she said and started to cry.

“Oh?” I replied inadequately, not knowing what she meant and not feeling comfortable about asking questions.

A week later I went for a ride to a neighboring acreage to show off my horse to another friend. She asked about Dorothy’s health but I didn’t have an answer. Kindly she told me that Dorothy had cancer and had been given three to six months to live. I was stunned.

Another week went by. I had lots to think about. After the initial shock wore off, I had erroneously assumed that Dorothy and her parents would want to left alone. But as the days wore on I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

Finally my horse board was due to be paid. As I went to the farmhouse with my cheque Dorothy’s mother saw me through the window and met me at the door, whisking me inside for a cup of tea. At that moment I realized that I had been protecting myself from sorrow. The comfort of friendship, no matter how new, was what her mother needed. Dorothy, being quite sick from chemotherapy treatments, said hi from her bedroom and quietly listened to the conversation in the kitchen.

As the weeks went by, Dorothy’s mom made sure I came in for tea nearly every time I came out to ride my horses. We moved the tea party from the kitchen to the living room to be closer to Dorothy’s bedroom. That way she could sip a little tea and make comments from her bed. Before long Dorothy was painfully dragging herself to the couch to make sure her mom and I got our stories straight!

It was fall before I saw Dorothy out in the yard again. She had temporarily lost all of her hair due to chemotherapy so she had acquired an attractive auburn wig which she tied on with a scarf. Apparently she considered it to be some sort of hat, functioning only to keep her head warm. When she strode into the house she would untie the scarf and toss it, wig and all into the “mitten box” by the door.

Meanwhile the big yellow horse waited for some action. He always looked expectant, like a horse wanting a job. Three months had come and gone. Dorothy looked pretty good to me so I suggested we go for a ride.

“No, I couldn’t possibly…”

“Then how about a drive ?”

“Oh I don’t think…”

“I thought that big yellow horse was a good driving horse?”

“Well he is, but I couldn’t put the harness on him”

“I can, if you tell me how”.

“But I wouldn’t be able to drive…”

“I can. I used to drive our pony!”

( Dorothy’s mom said nothing during this dialogue but she looked like she wanted to dance with glee.)

Half an hour later we were in the shed with the big yellow horse. Banner stood patiently while I climbed up on a five gallon pail and slung the (heavy!) harness up on his back. Dorothy wasn’t so patient. Soon she was standing on a pail on the other side of him fussing with the harness and firmly telling me how to do it right. She made no comment as I clumsily hooked Banner to the buggy and climbed up beside her.

Remember I offered to drive? I never did say I drove well! It was too much for Dorothy. We squabbled like siblings all the way down the long driveway as she “backseat drove”. When I got down to open the gate that would let us out onto the dirt road she took the reins and refused to let me drive again. Banner trotted merrily along the route that Dorothy chose. I quietly sat back and enjoyed the ride. It occurred to me that Dorothy had reclaimed not only control of her rig but also, somehow, her life.

Today more than twenty years later Dorothy and I live far apart but we still exchange Christmas cards, talk on the phone and see each other occasionally. She still lives on the same farm. Now she rides a Tennessee Walking Horse on as many trail rides as she can each summer. Dorothy also provides support and encouragement to other cancer patients. She is happy to do it, knowing what a lonely trip it can be.

Brenda L. Baker ( aka “Silver” )
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

This was first published in the Walking Horse News.

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