Rosie In My Pocket

by Dianna Dandridge-Rystrom

The summer passed quickly for everyone associated with the Rolling Hills Stables. Everyone knew that by fall Kelli and Dana Canton would be gone to Tennessee to begin their dreams of raising and training their own horses. With each passing day everyone who worked at the stables or boarded their horses knew they were one day closer to needing to find another place for their horses.

Rolling Hills Stables and the surrounding 200 acres of meadows and riding trails had been sold. The sale called for the property to be vacated by September 1. The new owners had no plans of keeping it a riding facility. The stables and barns would be mowed down for multiple duplexes. The arena would become a playground for one of several new housing developments. There would be no more horse shows for children. The riding therapy group had ended for lack of a facility.

Kelli grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Summers had been spent with her grandfather, working his beautiful gaited horses in the lush green hills of northern Tennessee. She had always known she wanted to work with the horses, but living in the city had made it difficult.

Dana grew up in the Texas woodlands riding his old gray mare across the meadow to the next door neighbor's home and back again. Like Kelli he knew horses had to be in his life.

The two met the summer before their senior year in college when they both took a position as therapeutic riding aids at a camp for handicapped kids. Dana was finishing up his student teaching as an ag-instructor. Kelli was completing her horse management classes.

They celebrated their graduation with their wedding. Dana took a position as an ag-instructor at a two-year college. Kelli took the job of barn manager at the Rolling Hills Stables.

For six years Kelli had managed the stables. Ordering sawdust and cleaning stalls when there were no children waiting for riding lessons. They jumped at the chance to acquire six quiet, well-handled horses and work with the handicapped children.

Kelli was always amazed to watch children who couldn't walk and barely speak light up when given the chance to pet a horse and then ride one.

Cap was the first horse they bought. He was a big sorrel and white paint horse. His owners said they thought he was about 15, but didn't know a lot about him. They had purchased him for one of their kids and when the kids lost interest they decided to sell him.

Cap was quiet and gentle and had never been known to shy away from anything.

Dulce was next. Dulce was just as quiet as Cap, but not anywhere near as big. She was the color of cream and had the endearing quality of reaching out and holding onto visitor's shirts to keep them from leaving.

There wasn't a lot to be said about Herman. Herman was just Herman. It didn't matter if he was ridden one day or seven. He was always ready to go as long as it was at his pace. He would walk you to the gate and back. He would walk with you around the arena and he would walk you back to the stable. He would walk. That was it.

Tadpole was a 17 year-old gray who liked to play in the water and thought everyone else did, too. Hence, his name. If there was a puddle in his path, Tadpole would make as big of a splash as possible. Everyone, at one time or another, got splashed when he went to get a drink. It was all good fun to him. He was a good riding horse and most of the kids liked his playfulness.

Tipper was a dark bay that had been a rescue horse at one time. The people who rescued him gave him a good home for more than ten years. Then some financial problems hit. One of them lost their job. The other one was diagnosed with a major illness. Something had to go. They donated Tipper to the Rolling Hills Stable for the purpose of helping the children.

Tipper always welcomed anyone who came to his stall, but he always had a sad quality about him, like he was waiting for his real owners to come get him.

Then there was Rosie. Rosie had some high-sounding name on her papers from the Quarter Horse Association, but everyone had always called her Rosie.

As a two-year-old Rosie was trained to run barrels. She did it well. She liked bending around that last barrel and stretching out for the run home. She had taken her owner to a number of rodeo finals and had the ribbons to prove her worth.

Then one night, coming home from a rodeo, her racing days suddenly ended when the driver of a pickup ran a stop sign and plowed into the trailer. The impact knocked the trailer off the hitch sending it rolling down an embankment.

When the rescue workers cut her free there was talk about putting her down because of her injuries. But her owner wasn't having that. She was going to give her horse every chance.

Months later Rosie was walking again, but she would never again curve around the barrels and stretch out reaching to cross the finish line. Her owner kept her as a brood mare until she heard about the work that Rolling Hills was doing for crippled and handicapped kids. She agreed to let Rosie go to Rolling Hills on the condition she never be sold and that when she was too old to do any good, that she be put down and buried.

Unlike Tipper, Rosie always seemed to be happy. She had long since accepted the fact that she couldn't run. But now she had children around her every day. Sometimes they brought her good things to eat, maybe a carrot or an apple. Sometimes it was peppermint or sugar. She liked the way their tiny hands stroked her neck. She loved to hear them giggle when her velvet soft lips would take the treats.

The one thing all the horses had in common was they were good with children who needed some special attention. Kelli and Dana would plan special trail rides for the children who came to ride.

They would pack a big picnic basket and take the special kids out for an afternoon. Usually it was just on the backside of the property. They would ride over a few rocks and down by the creek, just any place that would let the kids know they could ride outside the arena.

The pace was easy and slow. The kids always enjoyed the day and the horses liked getting away from the stables.

Don Kellogg, the owner of Rolling Hills, was getting to old to keep the stables and when the development company offered to buy him out, he thought it was a good time for him to quit.

He told the company that he had to have six months so that all the boarders could find new places to keep their horses. During that time, Kelli's grandfather passed away and left his place to her along with the last of his horses. The timing couldn't have been better.

Kelli and Dana were leaving the last part of July. That left me to care for the few remaining horses and take care of things for the last month or so.

Slowly the boarders all came and loaded up their horses until all that was left were Kelli's therapy horses. She had asked me to stick around and help find homes for these animals that had so much love to offer.

Strangely enough Tipper was the first to go. A couple with two young children, just starting to ride, saw the ad about special horses needing special homes. For the first time in nearly three years Tipper lost his sad demeanor. For some reason he connected with those children.

When they came to load him up, I was surprised to hear him whinny at the kids. In all the time I had known him, he never showed signs of wanting anyone. It was good to know he would be happy.

Cap was the next to leave. He was going to be a young cowboy's first horse. The six year-old-boy would learn to ride on the big paint. His daddy would make sure he learned how to care for the old horse. He too would be happy.

A couple in their early 50s bought Tadpole. They wanted a horse they could ride occasionally and they had a big pond where he could splash to his heart's content.

A little girl with long red curls wanted Dulce, but her mother didn't know if they could afford her. Kelli told me to take any reasonable offer, as long as I thought the horses would go to good homes. I talked to the girl's mother. They had fifteen acres and a small barn behind their house, but not a lot of money. They assured me the friendly little horse would be well cared for. I took $50 for the little white horse and watched as they led her to the trailer.

Herman was a little more difficult to get rid of. Who really wanted a horse that only had one pace?

It was kind of sad to look out in the pasture and see only two horses. I knew the day was coming when I would have to call the vet and have him come put Rosie down, but I was waiting for the very last minute.

Then two days before the new owner was to take possession of the property I saw Cindie Hawkins standing at the fence.

Cindie was a special friend. She was a down's syndrome child whose smile could light up the world and whose tears could melt the hardest of hearts. She had been one of the special kids that took horsemanship lessons from Kelli and Dana. She always made sure that she was the first one at the stables on riding days, so she could choose Rosie. Despite her other difficulties she was a decent rider and she loved the horses.

The two old horses were wandering over to her, so I went over as well. I figured this would be good bye.

Cindie asked why Kelli and Dana had to leave and what was going to happen to the horses?

I told her that sometime adults just have to move where they can build a life. Then I told her the rest of the horses had gone to good homes where someone would love them. There was no way I could tell her that Rosie and Herman were going to be put to sleep the next afternoon. All I could say was I hoped someone would claim them.

"You want to see a trick that Rosie knows?" Cindie asked. She slipped through the bars of the fence and waited for Rosie to come up to her.

Rosie dipped her head and let Cindie whisper in her ear. The next minute, Cindie was giggling as Rosie searched Cindie's pockets for a treat. She finally found the treat in Cindie's pocket.

Cindie turned and laughed and said, "She always finds it no matter which pocket I put it in."

I didn't know how much more of this I could take. I hated the thought of putting Rosie down. To see her making this little girl laugh and knowing I had to call the vet was more than I could stand.

Cindie saw the tears in my eyes and asked why I was so sad. She said she had some treats in her back pack and she would give me one so that Rosie could make me laugh, too.

I smiled and pushed my tears back and told her I would rather watch Rosie find them in her pockets. I watched for a few more minutes and told her I had to finish up my chores.

One of which would be calling the vet. I knew I was putting it off as long as possible.

Finally, that was the last thing to do. I reached for the phone and paused for a minute. There was more than one person laughing. Cindie, her older sister and their mother were in the fence. They were all playing a game of chase with the two old horses. I waved and knew I had to make the phone call or I never would.

As I started to dial the phone Mrs. Hawkins stopped me. "What's going to happen to Rosie and the other old horse?"

I told her what the agreement was with her previous owner and that since no one had wanted Herman, he would be put down as well.

"Isn't there some way that we can have them? Cindie is never as animated as when she has been with the horses?" she asked.

Time was moving on and I knew the vet would be gone in the next few minutes, but instead I had to give the old horses another chance. Instead I called Rosie's first owner.

Yes she knew the riding center was closing. She remembered the agreement.

I talked with her for a few minutes and explained Cindie's love for Rosie. It had to be up to her. I would still make that call if she wanted me, too. She said to give her five minutes and let her think about it. If she didn't call me back then I was to call the vet.

Tears puddled up in my eyes as I waited for the phone to ring. Just as I about to make that dreaded call, the phone rang. It was Rosie's original owner. Cindie could have Rosie on the same conditions.

Mrs. Hawkins said she would be by the next morning with the trailer and take both horses to her pasture.

I closed the office for the last time. Tomorrow I would be back to hand over the keys and collect whatever was left. As sad as it was I was glad to know that all these special horses had found good last homes. I was so glad I did not have to call the vet.

I was there when the Hawkins came to load Rosie and Herman. Now, Cindie could let Rosie find the treats every day.

A few months later I had the pleasure of being invited to a Special Olympics equestrian event. Cindie rode Rosie and another girl rode Herman in a ribbon race. They never got out of a walk, but everyone was happy.

Cindie rode over to where I was watching and asked me "You want to see a trick she can do?" She got off and stuffed a treat in her front pocket. Again she giggled as Rosie searched until she found it.

"Rosie is always in my pocket," she said, filling another pocket with something special.