Best of Friends

Nothing in life takes the place in your heart reserved for a best friend.  You might laugh when I say it is a horse that owns that spot, but if you knew the story behind it, you would know why.  Because, well, there will never be another horse like him…

My brother, Ralph, age 17, was finally on his way home.  For a year and half, he had battled leukemia, and was returning home from Seattle, where he had received a bone marrow transplant from a non-familial donor.  It was a long road to home…paved with heartache, hope, disappointment, strength, love and God’s grace.  We were in the dead heat of summer, guest ranch in full swing, and I was anxiously awaiting my brother and mom’s arrival.  Six months earlier, I didn’t know if I would ever see my brother again, and I had not had the chance to get to Seattle to see him through any of his treatment.  There was family, jobs, and loose ends at home that needed to be watched over, so their coming home symbolized so much for all of us.  Finally, down the dusty road, came their car, pulling into the ranch.  Thank you Lord, they were home!

As Ralph stepped from the vehicle, tears began to flow down my face.  He was here.  Really here.  Pale, somehwhat fragile, weakened from months of chemotherapy, radiation, medication, and transplant.  But he was breathing, alive, and standing in front of me, hat crooked sideways and a smile on his face.  “I’m home, Sis.”

As the summer went on, Ralph became restless.  He had strict instructions to be careful in the sunlight; a weakened immune system left him vulnerable to the slightest illness and bacterial diseases.  The barnyard was the last place he was supposed to be. But Ralph, needed to breathe fresh air, see and feel the world around him, and touch a horse.  During his treatment, his horse had gone lame, and had to be sold.  It was yet another blow.  Ralph loved his horses, passionately.

So, one quiet afternoon lent itself to a car ride to town together.  I had some errands to run for the ranch, and Ralph decided to tag along for company.  We discussed girls, music, and inevitably…horses.  Our conversations frequently turned to the favorite subject.  Confirmation, bloodlines, dreams of owning many, many horses in the future… Stopping at the gas station, we picked up a local paper; flipping to the ranch classifieds first was the usual routine.  The rest of the news could wait.  As I glanced over the horse ads, I came across one that caught my eye.  Everything sounded right in the ad, so we decided what the heck?  One of our favorite pastimes…looking at nags, well breds, and somewhats.  Any excuse for a road trip to look at horse is NEVER a waste of time in our book!  So, errands aside, we set out to horse shop!

We drove along, counting mile markers, and watching road signs.  Finally, reaching the correct address, we pulled in the driveway.  Two chestnut horses picked their heads up, watching us as we got out.  One looking a little older than the other, and a little rougher around the edges, wandered his way to the gate.  The other stayed back, watching from a distance.  The owner came to greet us, carrying a halter with her.  Catching both horses, I asked questions, and looked over the horses.  The younger one, “Cruz”, caught my eye.  Ralph quietly observed from a distance.  I could see his interest was also piqued by the younger horse, and I think the horse was eyeballing him.  As Ralph touched the horse, a grin spread across his face.  The horse turned to sniff at him.  I knew this horse was coming home with my brother.  He had been a college girl’s project at Montana State, and she now needed the funds to finish school.  If we weren’t sold already on his looks, his disposition had us writing the check.  Quickly.  Ralph became the proud owner of a chestnut quarter horse gelding with, two hind socks, and a white star in his face.  We didn’t have a trailer, but assured the lady we would be back that afternoon to pick him up.

As we drove down the road, Ralph was all smiles.  I asked him, “What are you going to name him? Are you going to keep his name?”  Ralph answered, “No. I think he needs a new name.  Something to make him mine.  Do you have any ideas?”  We ran through the usual list of names, but nothing fit.  Finally, I asked him, “Who is someone that inspires you?”  Ralph thought a while, and answered, “Well, I have always been a Dallas Cowboys fan, and my favorite player as a boy was Emmitt Smith.” And so it was… Emmitt was the horse’s name.

We brought Emmitt home that evening.  As we pulled in the barnyard, we were welcomed by Mom, Dad, and the whole ranch gang. Everyone knew what it meant to Ralph to have this horse.  I was able to be a part of something special.  I couldn’t be there for Ralph during his treatment, but I could be there to start a new chapter of his life.  This was a new beginning…

It’s been 7 1/2 years since that day Ralph met Emmitt.  It’s still one of my favorite days and memories. Ever.  Together, they have climbed mountains, guided hunters, chased horses, and led mules.  Somedays, I am not sure which is more bull-headed and ornery of the two.  Occasionally, others are lucky enough to throw a leg over this horse, but nobody gets Emmitt like Ralph. Nobody.  Their relationship is the culmination of strength, heart, and grit. None of which Ralph could not have survived without.  They started a new journey of healing and growing together.  Emmitt gave something to Ralph that no man ever could… A bond that can never be broken.  Hats off to you, Emmitt!

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11 thoughts on “Best of Friends

  1. what a great story. Thank you. My horse died of old age many years ago, and I have never rode again. Sometimes I miss it so much, but age and lifestyle did not let me. So I can relive my earlier days through your stories. Judi

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  2. One of your very best Heather. You know and have shared this journey as none other. thank you for the beautiful job of writing it. Ralph said the other day “Emmitt, you know I'll never part with you.” Thanks Heather Anne

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  3. Thank you all for taking the time to read it, and leave such kind comments. This story was the easiest and most difficult to write. My relationship with my brother is very special to me. Always will be. Thank you.

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