Maple with Heather

23 years with Maple and it’s time to say Goodbye

As I write this first line I haven’t actually said good-bye yet.  Tomorrow is the big day.  Maple seems ready, but I won’t ever be.

I’ve joked with people that I’ve known her longer than I will likely ever be married.

I first saw Maplestreet across a crowded herd of horses in the snow… and it was love at first sight!  I had no idea which horse we were there to see, but I told my mom that I hoped it was that dark bay in the middle with the star.   When the man put the bridle on her head I was delighted.  I was 12 years old.  She was every thing I could ever dream about and then a 1000x more than I ever expected.

You couldn’t pay me enough to jump on that same horse now!

heather_nelson_liberty_training_maple_ruby_lake

Maplestreet at six years old in 1993.

At the time I was young and impressionable.  When my instructor told me to mount up I did what I was told.  That first ride jiggity

jogging down an icy driveway on a four year old race horse was my first crazy ride of many.  But I wouldn’t do it differently.  Because Maple taught me to RIDE.  Like stay on over a 1000 lbs of bucking and squealing joyful horse kind of riding.  I don’t recommend this approach though.  Especially if you are 12.  And you’ve only ridden for six months.

maple with loic

Maplestreet with my cousin, Loic in 2013

 

 

Here we are 23 years later and Maple has BEEN THERE. DONE THAT.  The only people who ride her now are toddlers.  I can lead her around knowing that she will take care of them.

She still likes to make a little squealing school girl sound when she canters.  She loves to go fast!  Her bloodlines go back to Man O’War.  She was bred to be sporty.

Our first show season was a disaster.  We got eliminated for jumping out of the dressage ring, (but we jumped back in because we were keen).

We were thrown out of English pleasure for nearly running over the judge.  Then we nearly ran over the crowd watching (they should have left us in the ring where we could do less damage).

Maple bolted in our first eventing clinic.  We were learning pacing on a race track.  She was just doing what she thought was right.  She wasn’t retired from the track for being slow!  (I watched a video once of her winning a race before she was mine.)

On the day of the horse trail I was eliminated many times over.  I was determined so we finished the course anyway.  Perhaps they would have pulled us off the stage with a cane…if they could catch us.  The crowd burst into applause as we galloped across the end line, likely in relief that they didn’t have to witness anything gory.

maple at the classic

Maple and I jumping in 1993

But we got the hang of it.  And soon we had so many ribbons and championships that I didn’t know what to do with them all.

Maple was a force in the show ring.  She was especially good in hunter/jumper and hack.  She had beautiful rhythm and my nine year old brother won the children’s hunter division with her.  He was small for his age and looked like a little jockey on her back but she knew what she was there to do and left the racehorse antics out.

We had fun exploring the trails and even outran a young grizzly bear that decided to join our trail ride in Prince George one day.  (That story is for another time).

Maple has a few quirks.

  • She throws her head exactly THREE times after you put any piece of tack on her.
  • Her tongue doesn’t fit in her mouth and always spills out the sides.
  • When she sees me coming with a halter she always pees since she doesn’t know when she will get back to her pen.
  • She paws and would dig a hole to China if she didn’t have rubber mats.
  • She doesn’t leave the yard if she is left out.
  • She won’t cross a barrier of any kind to escape her paddock even if the other horses are out.

I count on Maplestreet to tattle on the other horses in the middle of the night if they have escaped.  She always tells me if they are up to no good with a whinny that startles me out of bed and out into the dark in my pyjamas before I even know what I’m doing.

We were partners for so long that we had a lot of trust in each other.  I remember leading her down a trail and coming upon a gigantic puddle.  The puddle had a single 2×10 board laying over it acting as a “bridge”.  I started to cross the water on the plank. I looked behind me and Maple was tight rope walking with one hoof in front of the other to cross exactly as I was.  Half way across she fell off of it into the water.  Her four legs just didn’t fit on a single board, but I laughed at her trying to copy me.

I have learned so much with Maple.  Inside I have to make peace with the times that I didn’t treat her as well as I would now.  We each have to do that because our first horse is a powerful teacher.  Those first horses deserve hugs and applause for their patience as they bring us to the trainers we are today.

I’ve thanked Maplestreet for all she has contributed to my life.  She taught me to feel and communicate while riding and training.  She assisted me in running my business and teaching beginners to ride in her older years.  She raised up two foals, one of which was her granddaughter.  I still have both those horses and I’m grateful to all Maple taught them.

Maple with her family

Maplestreet far right, her daughter, Whimsy in the centre, Granddaughter, Extra on far left

 

Maplestreet will forever be in my heart and every time I look at her family I will be reminded of her.

I would love to read about your first horse and what you’ve learned in the comments below.

Thanks,

Heather

P.S.  Maple is gone now.  Her last day was a good one!  The day was filled with treats and a golden September sun in the pasture with her family.  Thanks to everyone who has given me your thoughtful words and your hugs and your gifts.  Maplestreet had a lot of friends!

Comments 11

  1. Hi Heather,
    I’m Maria. You have helped me acouple of times by email.
    Thank you very much for sharing your beautiful story. I feel so sorry for you. Seing how your horse leaves is a hard thing for you to see. Was she ill? 23 years old is not too much at all for horse.
    I’m sure that she has had a wonderful life at your side and now is galloping and jumping at her best. Sure that she is very proud of you and her daughters too.
    All my love for you and Extra and Whimsy.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for your kind words Maria. Maple was with me for 23 years, but she was four when she came into my life so she was actually 27 years old. She had four health conditions that I’m aware of that were affecting her quality of life (and a couple suspected conditions) and as she got older she often chose to stay in the barn alone rather than join the other horses on pasture.

      I feel confident now that she is free of her body and kicking up her heels again.

  2. Oh Heather, I didn’t know when I stopped by Friday, maybe that’s where the earrings came in. Love you and I send blessings and honour to Maple <3

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      Author

      Thanks Barbara. I thought you were there when we were talking about it at the CTRA dinner or I would have told you on Friday. I love the earrings though!

  3. Hello Heather, So sorry,…saying good-bye to a ‘heart’ animal like Maplestreet (even when it is time) can be SO difficult ,… for you and your family. Maple sounds like such an extraordinary horse,…. who, in your company, had a ‘life very well lived’,… a ‘shaping’ kind of life (how fortunate you were to have each other!). Take comfort in knowing that your ‘good-bye’ is to her is in her physical form only,…. in knowing that she will always be present in your heart,… in your spirit (and,… take comfort in believing that she is just on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge). Warmest Regards, Corinne

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      Author

      Thank you for taking the time to write Corrine. Yes, it was very hard, although it was time. I feel her with me still. 🙂

  4. Heather, Thank you for sharing the stories of your life with Maplestreet. She was a character, wasn’t she? Although we all hope for the ‘perfect’ horse, it’s these types of horses that make the best stories The stories that books are made of. The stories that will not be forgotten. I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful friend.

  5. Heather, you write so descriptively. I could feel her as I read this and had to stop for awhile as the tears were blurring my vision. I remember how amazing the two of you were together, especially at that horse eventing trial. Both of you were very brave and endearing. Maplestreet was an extremely special horse with you, your brother, tiny children, as well as, her stablemates. Watching the two of you was a wonder to behold! I miss “Babyface”.

  6. Feeling sad for your loss and knowing that it will be my turn one of these days to say good-bye to my horse – of course sooner than I would like it to be.
    You wrote a beautiful good-bye to your trusted friend – thanks for sharing.
    You are very brave, Heather. My love goes out to you and all your animals.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you Lindy. It will be hard to let your boy go one day, but you will know that you gave him lots of love and an excellent home.

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