Early in our marriage, when our oldest daughter was a toddler, we purchased a horse named Charlie.

Whitehurst marci
Freelance Writer
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can foll...

Charlie Horse.

We thought his name was funny, although we did consider changing it. He was only 4 years old at the time he entered our family. But, as we got to know him, “Charlie” seemed to fit. Plus, once a toddler loves a name, it’s pretty hard to change course. (In fact, we once had a black cat named Sapphire.)

Since Charlie was young and needed some extra training, he was a one-man horse for a while, at least for riding. But the horse pasture butted up to our backyard, and our daughter loved Charlie. She’d run in the backyard, and Charlie would crane his neck down over the fence to let her rub his nose. As our other kids came along, Charlie would do the same for them. The kids would “feed” him over the fence – and by feeding, I mean they’d pick long blades of grass and hand them to him. He loved it. We’ve never been the type to give a lot of sweets to our horses. They get grain, but we’ve never given apples or the like. But you would’ve thought those blades of grass were cookies.

As the kids got old enough, each of them had turns riding Charlie. We had another horse that our oldest daughter learned to ride on, but Charlie became the go-to for the kids as they grew. Our son learned to ride on Charlie.


Now, this isn’t necessarily interesting – I mean, if you ride horses, you have a horse you learned to ride on, right?

What makes this interesting is Charlie’s personality. Charlie was the equine version of Walter Matthau. If there could have been a horse adaptation of Grumpy Old Men, Charlie would’ve been the star, especially as he aged.

He was never mean, per se. He was … particular.

He tolerated me, as if he knew I brought his favorite people into the world, but he didn’t like it when I rode him. Our middle daughter could hop on him bareback and he wouldn’t care. He seemed to smile.

Our son spent many days in the saddle on Charlie. Charlie taught him how to move and chase cows – he took extra care of our son because, unfortunately, my son’s allergies didn’t allow long stints in the saddle without his eyes swelling. We had to be (and still are) very careful what times of year he can go near the horses and be in the fields. But Charlie seemed to know. He was so careful with him.

But if another cowboy came near, he’d walk away.

Get caught by a stranger? I think not.

Of course, we didn’t let him get away with his shenanigans, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try with people he didn’t care about. Or horses he didn’t care about.

When she was about 8 years old, our middle daughter decided she really wanted a pony. We tried for nearly two years to talk her out of it, but she was adamant that because she was short, she needed a short horse. We warned her of ponies and their attitudes. She was sure she’d be fine.

And she was.

My hubby found an older pony that needed a home for a while. When Oreo the pony came to live in our pasture, Charlie wasn’t so sure about him. He established his dominant pecking order rank right away, but he never did care for Oreo. That “horse” could’ve jumped off a cliff for all he cared.

Oreo wasn’t with us long, just long enough for our daughter to understand about a pony’s attitude and for my hubby to pull his own stunt and show up with him for a branding.

Charlie never made a dent with the pony, but throughout the years, Charlie taught other horses how to be a horse.

Last year, Charlie started losing weight.

He’d already become gray and started looking older. After all, we’d had him over 20 years. Yet when he started losing weight, we knew his time was approaching.

Sure, we floated his teeth and gave him extra hay and grain – he’d earned a place in our pasture as long as he was kicking. Then, he developed bumps and masses all over his body. We couldn’t keep him comfortable or get him to gain weight. His time came this past fall.

It was hard to lose a horse that had been with us through so much. He’d moved with us, grown with us and watched our kids grow up. But, boy, are we glad we had him. We have so many memories.

I usually like to find humor in ranch life because, let’s face it, we need it. But this is a tribute to the horses – and other animals – that help us in our ranching life. Thank you, Charlie Horse.