When I got the call, I was quick to say, “No.” However, with some coaxing I agreed to “take a look.” My best friend was going through a divorce and desperately wanted an outlet. Maybe a horse could help? I took her with me to look at horses. If we could find the right horse for her, I offered to keep the horse with my others and she could pay for its feed and care.
The horse we found was a flaming red color with a bleach blond mane and tail that looked like she had spent too much time at the beach in the wind and sun. Big, kind eyes welcomed us to put our hands on her.
“What’s her name,” my friend asked Mr. Minnoe, Sr.
“Ginger- She’s a registered appaloosa.” My look of questioning prompted him, “I have her papers. I can get them for you.” This horse had no identifying Appaloosa markings. Not one. Ginger enjoyed our coddling and we were soon hooked. My friend took her home to my barn.
Weeks later, Mr. Minnoe, Sr. appeared at my door with the papers. I politely took them, but didn’t think much of it since we loved her despite her unmarkings as an Appaloosa. However, later my curiosity got the best of me and I took the papers out. What were the chances? Ginger was a 1987 foal born at Harold Christensen’s farm in Penn Yan, NY. In 1987, I was a teenager still living at home with my parent’s right around the corner from Harold Christensen’s farm. Every spring I would ride my bike over to see the new foals. My dad was Harold’s veterinarian and would occasionally take me on call with him to get an up-close view of the horses (and dairy cows).
The interesting thing about that era and its relationship to Ginger was that Appaloosa breeders wanted to dual register their Appaloosas as quarter horses. This new breeding inadvertently bred the characteristic markings of an Appaloosa out. Ginger was one of those results. It wasn’t long before horse people complained and the breeding world put the spots back on the Appaloosas.
My friend enjoyed Ginger when she could for the first couple of years, but life happened, she remarried, and moved away. Ginger had become a part of our horsey family and deserved to stay in her geriatric years where people understood and loved her. As the business grew in riding lessons and hippotherapy, I found myself needing another good mount. Could Ginger find a new job this late in her life? With little training, I started using her for lessons with typical children. She was quiet and attentive to the smallest and shyest students. Her response to an anxious situation was a loud “snort.”
In 2017 Ginger, again, changed her job description to therapy horse. Once again, she exceeded my expectations of a retired broodmare. Ginger carried some of our toughest clients with autism. Her connection with them amazed us all as we watched language and self-organization skills being developed. Horse handlers breathed a sigh of relief when they worked with her because they knew Ginger had their backs. Everyone’s only complaint was that Ginger was too slow.
One student, in particular, had a special relationship with Ginger. Her name is Ella. As a larger child, she could no longer ride the pony, Sassy, who had been her mount for 3 years. Ginger was my next choice. Ella was very nervous. It was a long way up for this young heart with gravitational insecurity (afraid of heights). Ella required the tallest part of the ramp and a little extra physical assistance to mount Ginger. Two times around the arena and Ella relaxed. Getting down was another challenge; our mount standing square and quiet, Ella lifted her right leg over the crest (neck) of the horse so she sat side-saddle on Ginger. I “hugged” her around the waist and brought her down as gently as possible.
As the weeks went on, Ella got more confident with getting on and even learned to dismount the typical leg over the back way. She enjoyed trotting for short distances and was beginning to learn how to post the trot (go up and down to the beat). My pride in her accomplishments swelled.
There was one more goal, cantering. Cantering is faster than a trot, but slower than a gallop. On a beautiful early fall day our opportunity arose. Ella was ready. I talked her through it. I promised her I would stay by her side. We eased into the trot and then gave Ginger the cue to canter. It was the smoothest transition I had ever witnessed. I cantered next to her and both of us smiled from ear to ear. She did it. She really did it. It was the #BestDayEver! Ginger earned the gold star that day and I will never forget it. The heart of a child soared because of this beautiful horse with no markings.
(Photo: Kirsta and Ginger at work.)
Fall pressed on and Ginger’s weight began to fall away again. Thirty years of service had taken its toll on her body. Her fistulated rectum oozed smells and sounds that were downright unrecognizable. It was time for her retirement. I had to consider the winter ahead and the health of my prized horse. It wasn’t fair for her to suffer. On November 7, 2017, at 30 years old, I said “good-bye” to my faithful friend who touched so many lives. It was not the good-bye I had planned.
My heart still hurts that her remains did not stay on the farm. I promised her she would never leave her home. But, it was time. I couldn’t watch her suffer one more day.There is one more thing to do… honor Ginger as “Horse of the Year 2017.” I hope her riders will fondly remember the big red horse with wind-blown beach mane who snorted at things that were unfamiliar. The horse with the heart of gold who made her riders feel safe and welcome.
Thank you Ginger, I love you.
Written by Kirsta Malone. Edited and Posted by Greg T. Miraglia.