About seventeen years ago, I first set foot at Hoofbeat Ridge, a small camp in southern Wisconsin for a Saturday afternoon riding program. I would later spend my college summers working there as a camp counselor and horseback riding instructor but on that day I was the new girl. I’d loved horses for years in the watching My Little Pony and devouring all the horse fiction I could find –Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series, Saddle Club, Black Beauty, and Virginia Vail’s Horse Crazy series — sort of way. That humid summer day I was assigned to ride Boldly Go for my first ever ride. (He’s at Hoofbeat in the picture at the top of this post)
We’ve all been told first impressions are important. They have a tendency to stick with us. My first ride definitely stuck. That sunny day I rode Boldly Go down the hill in Ring III. I didn’t know how to steer, how to get a horse’s head up out of the ever-tempting grass or how to make a horse walk. My instructor, Darcy, was very patient as Boldly Go and I ended up in the grass again and again. It was exhausting using my legs to try and get Boldly Go into a working walk, to even get him to move at all. Class ended and I didn’t know if I wanted to come back again. It wasn’t easy being the newest and be almost a teenager. I knew for sure that I didn’t like slow, stubborn Boldly Go.
Over the next couple of months, I did keep coming back for Saturday riding lessons. Sometimes I would end up with Boldly Go if I was the last to sign up for my class or if I missed a week and he was the one who was left. Over time, I slowly learned how to ride and I learned more about him. I learned that he sang when he trotted (This singing was more like a constant groan). To my surprise, I learned he used to be a show jumper. I knew to use my legs to motivate him out of slow gear. I learned to canter him (and remember the endless circles and restarts on the days that didn’t go very well).
After my class moved into English and then into cavaletti, Boldly Go became my favorite horse at Hoofbeat. I’d bring him treats. He’d be my first request for class instead of who I got stuck with. I’d hear people put him down for being slower and rush to defend him. There was a feeling of triumph whenever I could canter him without having to use a crop.
The first time I got to out to the cross country course to jump, Boldly Go was my horse. It was amazing how taking him outside the barn or arena and heading toward the course would change him. We could be having the putziest warm up, go through the door and then he wouldn’t want to stop moving. Ears high, legs springing, he was ready to go. He wasn’t setting speed records, but it was obvious he was excited to be out there.
That excitement didn’t mean that things went perfectly. One of my early times out there, we were headed toward the tiger trap jump. I didn’t have everything together and he just stopped in front of the jump. That let me practice my emergency dismount because otherwise I was going over the jump without the horse. Other times I did better and we sort of clicked as we went over the course Mary, the instructor, would map out for the class. I relished the sense of flying over the jumps and cantering onward.
I went off to college and was thrilled to be asked to work at Hoofbeat’s summer camp. Working at camp brought me many joys. At the end of one summer, I took my final ride on the cross country course with Boldly Go as the jumping program was retired. I’m happy my final memories of jumping came on my favorite horse, riding with some of my fellow staff members. He was my partner for some end of the summer trail rides as well. The camp director would lead and many different resident and day camp workers would join in. Sometimes I think there were over 20 of us out enjoying the beautiful sun and trails.
Other trail rides were special too. One time Boldly Go would not cross a spring/creek so I had to hop off and lead him across. Another time, I led a trail on him (a relative rarity as his speed normally put him near the end). I dragged a bareback trail once with him as well when helping with the RITs (Riding Instructors in Training).
I think one of my favorite rides with him ever came at a Christmas Camp session. While we were waiting for the next batch of kids to come up the hill to the barn to ride that cold day, some of the staff and I put on a small bareback riding demo for the kids about to go down the hill. I got to claim my very warm, very fuzzy Appaloosa friend.
Teaching kids to ride Boldly Go was a bit of an adventure. One girl thought his singing while he trotted meant he was going to die, so I had to calm her down. Another girl worried he’d fall asleep on her. He was part of one of my favorite classes ever one Equestrian week – two horses, two staff members, two girls riding. Boy, did he get a work out then. Boldly Go hated getting crowded in the ring. I remember reminding people to cut across the ring a lot near him, and I remember dashing to help facilitate said cutting across. I would get touchy at kids who wanted a crop first thing on him and would push them to get him going on their own. My last full summer at camp it seemed he would even respond to my calling his name in class.
I loved Boldly Go the way I suppose many love an underdog. I wanted to cheer when some of my campers would also fall in love with them. I never went as far as face painting his name on me in his honor as one girl did, but I made a t-shirt in his honor. When I tried making an alphabet book about horses, he took the cover and the first page.
He grew older as all horses do. He began to get cataracts on his eyes. I remember the vet showing us that one afternoon in the barn. When Boldly Go left Hoofbeat, I was crushed. My favorite horse was gone. There was no way I could care for a horse, not with being just out of college with loans (not to mention no place for one). Still, it had been one of those vague what-if fantasies. There also had not been a good-bye, no closure.
However, that’s not where the story ends. I learned from camp where Boldly Go had gone. I wrote a letter and exchanged a few emails with his new owner Kim. Then one winter day, I was able to go visit, along with my oldest camp friend Jenni. It was awe inspiring to see Boldly Go and how well cared for he was. He was very happy in his pasture. Getting in a farewell, seeing him again, was wonderful. From that visit I have some photos that my friend Jenni took as a poster from an unbelievable picture taken of Boldly Go in a photo contest. (If you are in Wisconsin and ever need photography done, check out http://www.kimkuhlman.com/ . On the rotating slideshow on the home page, checkout the second or so picture in the rotation and you can see a snowy Boldlygo).
I got busy with teaching, graduate school and a number of family health issues. Horses took an exit from my life other than memories and helping some friends with horses in their novels. His name followed me as I joined a number of online communities using his name. Most people assumed I would pick the name Boldly Go because I loved Star Trek. It had nothing to do with the Federation and everything to do with a special horse. Then one day a camp friend linked me to Boldly Go’s page on facebook! It was great to see him vicariously (and order another poster of him).
I learned a few days ago that Boldly Go recently had to be put down. He would have been 35 this month. He had a long, full life and a very happy retirement the last several years.