This is a guest post from my husband Steve.
After several months of declining health, Rio (Pepper) made a quiet exit and moved on to greener pastures. When we moved to Colorado and Rio came into my life he graciously agreed to show me the ropes on mountain trail riding. I think it’s safe to say that I learned more from him than he did from me. We rode many a ridgeline exploring the next valley. Both of us enjoyed wandering the trails and mountains. We were NEVER lost.
In his prior years Rio was in a movie, The Postman. He carried many a rider and was lucky with owners as far as I know. I don’t know of a single person that treated Rio badly but then Rio never treated a rider badly. He made many friends and was always fun to ride. You did need to understand that Rio had one motto. “Let’s go now, and I want to be in front. The rest of you try to keep up with me.”
He put up with costumes and stuff hanging off him that was unbecoming to a horse of his dignity. Suffered with grace. He could strut his stuff.
Before I put someone on Rio for the first time, I always said Rio will take care of you. He might challenge you to slow him down because he did want to go. But you don’t need to worry about him getting you in trouble and if he turns back and asks, “Do you really want me to do that”? You should think seriously about what you are asking. Even riding up the side of a mountain on a trial with snow and ice, I wouldn’t worry.
He blessed many lives and brought smiles to kids and adults alike. He made indelible memories and time spent with him on trails will always make me smile.
When we decided to get Steve a horse, I asked him what kind of horse he wanted. He didn’t know. I didn’t know what kind of a rider he was, but I did know his adventuresome and risk taking personality. I had a feeling that a low key horse would not be a good fit.
I found an online ad for a Paso Fino, the same breed as my Maestro. We have a term in the Paso Fino world, we love to see first timers demonstrate the “Paso Smile”
That “Paso Smile” is what I saw on Steve’s face as he came back from his trial ride on Rio. That smile never went away.
We would joke about trying to find Steve and Rio on a ride. One minute they were with the group, the next minute we would look up and see movement on a ridge line, and there they were. Rio with his ears pricked as he carefully picked his way over rocks and around cactus. He hated cactus. Smart horse.
If we came across an obstacle or an area of the trail that caused the other horses to balk, we would call for Steve and Rio to take the lead. I don’t think I ever saw Rio refuse Steve anything. He might turn and look at him with an “are you sure?” look, but if Steve was sure, Rio trusted him enough to go ahead. He truly was Steve’s heart horse, and the love was mutual. Rio was never an affectionate horse, he would stand to the side as others came up to us. Unless Steve was there. If Steve was around, Rio would quietly approach, sometimes with a nudge. He never did that with me. Just Steve.
As Rio got older, and I got a younger horse, we felt that it was best to put him into semi retirement. He became our “guest horse” that we put friends on when they came out to visit. We trusted him that much. Riders did have to know how to slow him down, but that is all. He took care of the rest.
Rio was in two parades. Our friend Beth Calhoun rode him in both. I don’t think anyone would say that Rio enjoyed them, but he did his job beautifully with quite a bit of the equine equivalent of eye rolling.
He didn’t get the point of going in circles in an arena. Neither did Steve, so that worked out well.
And then Ann Piscopink came into his life. Ann needed a horse to trail ride, and we offered Rio to her to use. I saw Ann change from a tentative, distrusting rider to someone confident enough to take the lead over a scary bridge when the rest of us were dealing with balking horses refusing to get close. I saw her ride on the side of mountains with her eyes squeezed shut, because she knew Rio would take care of her. I saw her gallop hell for leather on that little horse, both of them having a blast.
Rio’s last trail ride is a perfect example of who he was. We went into the mountains, it started snowing and our group were riding a pretty scary narrow trail that was unfamiliar to all of us. Have I mentioned that Ann is scared of heights?
There were several times that my heart was in my throat on that ride. Think narrow, rocky, icy trail with a long steep drop off. A misstep would be a disaster. Ann vocalized her fear frequently and vocally (she was not the only one btw) but Rio just kept carefully picking his way on the trail. He took care of her, as he always took care of his rider. He kept his cool and his focus and did his job.
As we walked inside yesterday after our vet put Rio down, we were sad but confident that we did the right thing for our Rio. No more pain.
At the end of the day, I think that the best gift we can give our animals is the knowledge that they are loved. With Steve holding him, Rio passed. And he knew without a doubt that he was loved.