By Amy Perez
Like many of us, we all have had many teachers in our lives. It starts with our family. Our mother, father, siblings, and grandparents and as we age we continue to receive new teachers in our lives. School teachers are usually what comes to mind first when you hear or say the word teacher. But there are so many others that come and go in our lifetime and I bet that if you can think about it, you will always have one special teacher that has impacted your life more than the hundreds of others that have crossed your path in life. Maybe it was a music teacher, or maybe it was a religious teacher, or possibly it was an animal teacher.
That’s what happened to me…I had the best teacher and he was an animal. I’ve had many animals in my lifetime. Dogs, lots and lots of dogs…each with their own unique lessons that they brought to me and each has a special place in my heart. I’ve had a few horses in my lifetime as well. My first horse was a special teacher, he taught me at the tender age of 7 through the age of 18 how to be responsible. He was with me all during my growing up years until I went to college and I sold him to another little girl so that he could teach her the same lessons of growing up and responsibility. He was a special one…but the MOST influential teacher in my lifetime will be HEMINGWAY. No, not the author, but the horse. My horse. I called him ERNIE. He had many names though…ERNEST, ERN, ERNEST-T. He came into my life after I had raised my two children and wanted to start riding again. He entered at the perfect moment. I had goals to horse show at Upperville, and Aiken and Kentucky with my first horse as a kid, but was unable to achieve them. But with ERNIE, I had the opportunity to achieve those goals in my adulthood.
ERNIE and I were successful in the show ring. He would light up whenever he was in the ring. The judges loved him as did many a spectator. He was famous for his kind, gentle demeanor and his gorgeous jump. The first lesson that he taught me was kindness. Whenever a competitor at a show would exit the ring just finishing their jumping round ERNIE would ALWAYS shake his head up and down as if to give his approval of the round to our competitor and say, “Yes, what a fine round that was!” I still to this day, no matter if I know the horse and rider competing against me and my horse or not, I always take my kindness cue from ERNIE, and say to them “well done, nice trip” upon entering the ring.
ERNIE taught me to listen. Horses don’t speak like humans do. But they do “talk” to us. He taught me to listen when it was time to retire from showing. I didn’t hear him for a while because I wasn’t listening. He was telling me, through his own way, that the jumps were getting harder, his body was getting heavier and his feet were getting a little sore. I wasn’t listening when he told me in his kind, gentle way that he just wasn’t able to be the partner to me that he once was…but he STILL wanted to be my friend and companion. I remember the day that I finally LISTENED to ERNIE. I took his cue, and told him that he would be my forever companion and we would retire from the show ring. He loved his new “job” of his retirement life of walks on trails, and standing in the ring with me watching his barn mates taking lessons and jumping jumps. He enjoyed his pasture time with his friends and quietly moved aside while he watched me grow with his new brother, always seeming to say, “ you can do it mom”
I could go on and on with the hundreds of lessons ERNIE taught me over the 9 years we were together. But the most important lesson he taught me, was selflessness. Having horses in your life is a tremendous honor and responsibility. ERNIE told me last week that he wasn’t feeling well. I listened. ERNIE showed me the way to kindness and selflessness was to send him somewhere without me, to where he would wait for me, but that I would be without him for a time. ERNIE thanked me and we had one last lesson together….how to be without each other. I miss my friend ERNIE so very much. But I know he’s still going to teach me. I know these lessons I learn without him will be perseverance, patience, and loyalty. Until we meet again my sweet friend, and teacher.