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Jackson and Wildfire

June 30, 2009

There has always been a two-way affinity between man and horse - each providing protection and care only they can give each other.

We learned this on a journey that started 11 years ago on a long drive into southern Virginia to look at two quarter horses we had seen advertised in our local paper. We hoped they would suit us well for trail riding. The ranch owners introduced us to the two – a brown gelding named "Sarge", and an AQHA-registered sorrel Paint mare named IMA Bandits Nickel, called "Nikki" for short.

They were loving, quiet, sound, and fit and we quickly decided to buy them both after a trail ride on the hilly mountainside ranch. We did rename them - we promoted Sarge to Jackson after Virginia’s General Stonewall Jackson, and Nikki became Wildfire (We wanted a horse named "Wildfire" like the song she’d grown up with).

Jackson was born in 1984 in Missouri. He was average size (15 hands), well proportioned, and had a sweet but strong personality. We were told that he was a bit of a ladies’ man and we were not surprised when he immediately took to Wildfire - protecting her in the field and rarely leaving her side.

Wildfire had beautiful markings – her coat was Tobiano – a spotted sorrel color pattern (copper-red) and white. She was born in 1988 in Tennessee and had an all-girl personality. She was small - barely large enough to be classified as a "horse" (14.2 hands) - which is slightly above official pony size.

Wildfire had a sweet disposition but a witchy streak that revealed itself if she was not happy with her current circumstances - whatever they may be. She quickly took to Jackson - and we would later learn that give her a man and some grass to graze, and she was happy!

We brought them home and Jackson and Wildfire soon learned that we were beginning riders - and instinctively they set out to teach us to ride - and that they sure did.

Throughout the ensuing years Jackson and Wildfire took us on many long trail rides - they were always sure-footed and steady in the open field, through the woods, over ravines, and in the valleys. With Jackson leading the way we saw most of the countryside where we live from a vantage point (in the saddle) that few ever experience.

Wildfire followed closely behind and would occasionally give Jackson a sweet "nudge" on his rear just to let him know she was there and was watching every step of the way (or sometimes that he was just being a little too poky for her). With only their instincts as a guide and the harvest moon high above - we often took them out for night rides - giving us the unique feeling of what it must have been like for an ordinary 19th--century traveler to make his way across the countryside.

When friends would visit the farm we saddled up Wildfire, who always took it slow and easy for a child or a beginner and kept everyone in the saddle safe in the process. In the barn she would follow you around and didn’t mind if you wanted to brush, poke, or prod her - she stood quietly and enjoyed it - always with an eye on Jackson to make sure he was nearby.

On the trail Jackson saw it as his duty to lead - but at times he would back off and allow Wildfire to go in front if he wasn’t sure of what lay ahead or if we were crossing water. Feeling reassured he would soon take the lead again.

In the fall of 2005 Wildfire contracted what’s known in human terms as Crohn’s disease - an inflammatory disease of the intestines - but for horses - there’s no cure and little in the way of effective treatment.

Because she was losing weight and not responding to treatment at home, we admitted her to an equine hospital but nothing seemed to help and doctors finally told us it was time for her to come home. Those last few days were difficult - but she remained happy - she had Jackson and grass to graze.

She didn’t suffer but finally on October 27, 2005, we made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our sweet little girl.

The grief was immense. We laid her to rest under the shade of a tree near the barn - along with photographs of the joyful days we had spent together on the trails.

We would soon learn that Wildfire’s legacy would live on - and a sad story had a happy ending.

We vaguely recalled that Wildfire had previously given birth to two foals - one in 1995 and another in 1997. Through the internet we located them - both were registered with the American Paint Horse Association.

Wildfire’s boy - IMA Biscuit Bandit ("Biscuit") was living with a family in West Virginia and her girl - Sportingfield Sable ("Sable") - was on a farm in Ohio. We contacted both families to let them know of our interest in buying either should they one day decide to sell.

Circumstances were such that the West Virginia family decided they would sell Biscuit to us so it was with great joy that we hooked up the trailer and off we went to bring Biscuit home.

A few months later we received a call from the family in Ohio - their circumstances had changed and they would sell Sable to us. Off we were once again to bring Wildfire’s baby girl - Sable - home to be with her brother Biscuit.

Though they had never seen each other, they instantly bonded and now graze together in the same field their mother did years ago - all within the eyesight of Wildfire’s final resting place. We are reminded every day of our lost girl Wildfire - and have the joy of her two babies with us.

Jackson, now 25, is retired and grazes in a field next to Sable and Biscuit - in the company of two other female horses, and we know he is content to have Biscuit and Sable nearby as he often gets as close as he can to them - and they to him.

But without Wildfire, he’s never been the same.

Neither have we.