Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Happiest Horse on the Planet.

My parents started a business in the summer of 1976 in Estes Park, Colorado.  They offered guided trail rides on horseback through Roosevelt National Forest.  My sister now runs that business, which grew to two locations, as well as managing a large herd of horses for a children's camp.  My parents own and operate an incredible campground, run an AQHA breeding program and a herd of grass-fed longhorn cattle, and every fall their ranch becomes a hunting lodge (of sorts). All together there are approximately 500 horses that my family cares for.  I do laundry, change diapers and pick up dog shit.  Someone had to be the voice of "the people".

This summer will mark the 36th summer in business in Estes Park. Between the two stables, there are approximately 120 well cared for and much loved horses. Through out the years, the stables have been served by many wonderful horses with some pretty amazing stories. Look for my collection of children's books.... It may be awhile, I still have to write them.... and illustrate them.... and publish them..... Hmm.

One of my favorite livery horses of all time was an old appaloosa named Casper.

30 years ago, my parents purchased a big white horse called Casper from a neighboring family in our small Iowa town.  Although there were no papers, they were told he was 18 years old at the time of purchase. He worked for 20 summers at the stable in Estes Park, putting him at the ripe old age of 38 when he retired. Casper was about 16.2 hands tall (for you non horsey folk, one hand equal four inches and you measure at the withers, which is the top of the shoulder where the neck meets the back.)  He stood tall and strong, although he was rather narrow with quite large feet and a huge head.  His color was like a "flea-bitten grey", but his appaloosa breeding was apparent in his pink spotty skin on his nose, under his belly and around his eyes.  He really rather resembled a large gangly goat, and was pretty unimpressive to look at, as horses go.  But Casper was special.  Casper was the happiest horse on the planet.  He loved his job, and every one (including the other horses) loved him.  He was the perfect trail horse.  He was never cranky, never tired, never ate grass and he was always was excited to go.  In fact, every time the horses would line up for a ride, Casper would try to speed walk to the front of the group, so that he could be the leader.

Because of Casper's towering height and endurance, he was selected to carry some of the larger "passengers".  For the first 12 years or so, Casper's only disappointment in life was to walk at the end of the line, as the guides were first, followed by the small children . Yet Casper never tired. He never had a cinch sore, a back sore or even took a lame step.  He always had strong eyes and a strong mind.  He was as steadfast as they come. Only because of his increasing age, he eventually "graduated" to carrying children.  He was the biggest horse in the barn wearing the littlest, tiniest saddle.  But with that tiny saddle, Casper was granted his wish- he got to walk at the front of the line.  The satisfaction and pride bursting forth from this old horse, who was filled with so much love and strength and who finally got to be at the lead, was enough to bring a tear to your eye.  In fact, I am tearing up as I type this.  I can still picture him, his domineering height making all the children who rode him look like tiny birds perched on his back.  He would stand at the front of the line, waiting for the guide with his head high and his ears pricked forward, just happy to be there.  Happy to go.  Happy to do his job.

At the age of 38, Casper was still in perfect health.  He officially "retired" from the livery business and moved into the position of "babysitter", which is honestly what he did at the stable.  This time, instead of tourists, Casper was to babysit weanling foals out of the breeding program.  He was assigned to a number of babies who had just been separated from their mothers.  Casper's job was to give them a sense of security, be their companion and teach them respect at feeding time.  Casper was like their live-in nanny or their daycare provider. Anyone who mentors youth, must enjoy them. They must be patient, tolerant and consistent.  Casper was all those things.  Casper always had all of his pupils standing quietly at feeding time.  No one was allowed to bite or kick or he would make them stand away from the bunk.  In fact, Casper's only downfall in his new profession was becoming overly attached to his young herd.  When it was time for them to move on (to trainers, new pastures or new homes), Casper would be penned with the other "mentors" on my parent's ranch.  He was the only one in the group that would whinny for days for his young friends.

Because part of the breeding program is raising Quarter Horses to sell, potential buyers would often look at Casper's group of weanling foals.  He always greeted the shoppers at the fence, and would stand proudly between the people and his herd, so that people would have to gaze at him.  My mom would always lovingly tell his story and his age, to every person that looked.  Casper was alert, sweet and strong to the end.  I believe that his love of his work and his zest for life kept him alive for so long. Casper died just last week. According to our records, he was 48 years old.

47 year old Casper spreading some love.

Casper two years ago with one of his favorite people.


  1. What a beautiful horse. To be honest we were never allowed around horses...so I have a small fear. My brother was killed by a horse when he was 3...so my parents have instilled that fear into me. I hope to someday conquer that fear.

  2. Crystal- Casper was the kind of horse to help people get over their fear of horses. So sorry about your brother. That breaks my heart.

  3. I love him so much because of this story! I wish I could have known him.

  4. Awww, what a sweet guy! Your whole family was blessed to have him around.

  5. I remember feeding Casper with The Sister one time and marveling at his spirit. So sorry he is gone and so wish we had a magic potion to keep the good ones around forever and to make the awesome ponies grow with their children. :)

  6. I grew up riding as a young kid. I love horses with a fiery passion. What a beautiful horse and amazing story!!