Shannon and Paleface

Shannon and Paleface

I’ve had the privilege of being around horses my entire life.  I started riding as soon as I could sit up on our old half-draft horse, Paleface. My first horse, Charlie, was actually a pony. Somewhere between a mini and a Shetland, he was a tiny brown and white pinto, quite ancient in years. I remember my first broken arm. I was 3-years-old. Charlie shook, and I fell. A picture of me in a cast looking very angry is still displayed in my mother’s hutch. After Charlie, there was Popcorn, an adorable 12-hand-tall Pony of America.

Shannon's first broken arm

Shannon’s first broken arm

But the first horse that stole my heart was Sparkle. She was a poorly mannered, 14-hand-tall mustang mare that my family bid against “the killers” to save. There was nothing I couldn’t do on Sparkle. We ran barrels, we jumped. Often my friends would pile on and we would ride her three and four kids at a time. I broke more bones doing stupid things with her than I can keep track of.  I recall attempting to “trick ride” like the professionals we saw at the rodeo. That particular episode ended with another broken arm.

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. The Southern California economy in the 1990s left many out of a job, including my father. We eventually lost our little farm, and my parents’ marriage dissolved. Despite it all, including numerous moves across the country, I managed to keep Sparkle. I worked odd jobs in the neighborhood and saved birthday money from relatives to buy tack and supplies. At age 13, I saved enough money to buy my first saddle.

But Sparkle was aging, and as I got taller, she seemed to get shorter. We had our fun, we ran our runs, but the ole girl was just about ready for retirement. On June 29, 1998, before she was officially turned out to pasture, she gave me one last great gift, a beautiful little Tobiano colt named Apache.

Shannon, Sparkle, and little Apache

Shannon, Sparkle, and little Apache

Bred from my aunt’s champion Tennessee walking horse, Medallion’s Apache Gold was my first registerable horse. His spots and gait allowed me to register him as a Spotted Saddle horse.

Having my very own colt to break was like something out of My Friend Flicka. I spent all summer with him. We were inseparable. Oh, how I bawled when I had to leave my aunt’s Tucson ranch for school back home in California.  Eventually, I was able to get Apache back to California with me, and after high school we both made the trek back to Tucson for college.  Sparkle has long since passed away, but I still see bits of her in her son. For 14 years Apache has grown alongside of me. He has seen me get married, have children of my own, and acquire other horses. But no matter the changes in my life, Apache will always be my buddy.

I once heard a quote: “Bread may feed my body, but my horse feeds my soul.”  They touch our lives in so many amazing ways and leave little hoof-prints on our heart.  Yes, I remember my first horse. You never really forget.  Then again, you never really forget any horse. Whether you’re 6-years-old or 60, there’s just something about them that feeds your soul.

By Shannon N. Sommer, Vail, AZ