WALTER AND HIS HORSE
Walter Riley was getting old. He was starting to feel aches and pains more often and he knew that his time on this earth was limited.
He and his wife Barbara ran a Western riding school on their farm for many years. They had retired from the business about six years ago but still lived on their ranch.
Two years later, Walter lost his wife after a painful bout with cancer. Even now, he grieved for her every day. The pain of losing her just wouldn’t go away.
The only real companion still with him on the ranch was Shadow, his quarter horse. Shadow was born there and had been part of the “family” for nearly twenty years. Oh, Walter had plenty of good friends and acquaintances, but Shadow knew him better than any of them. It was as if they could talk to each other without saying a word.
Shadow was also getting old but Walter was sure that his sidekick would outlive him. After all, he still loved to run around the pasture and kick and buck when he felt frisky.
Walter worried about who would take care of Shadow after he was gone. He loved his horse and wanted to make sure that he would be cared for whatever the future held.
He thought about asking his married daughter Jenny to take Shadow, but he knew she was busy with her family and work. She didn’t really have the devotion to horses that he and her mother had and, besides, she lived a day’s drive away. She didn’t come to visit very often and Walter thought they had grown apart.
Walter started looking for a suitable home for Shadow, a place where he would be loved and be able to live out the rest of his life with the dignity that he deserved. He asked several of his “horse friends” if they had any ideas but no one had any suggestions. Times were tough and very few were willing to take on another mouth to feed.
Then one afternoon as he was walking through his pasture he noticed a little girl at the fence looking at Shadow. She was about seven or eight with blond pigtails and she was standing with a tall man who must be her father.
Walter walked up and asked, “How are you, folks? I am Walter Riley and this horse is named Shadow. Is there anything I can do for you?”
Sarah’s father, John Battle, smiled and said, “I am trying to find a horse for Sarah here to ride. She’s had lessons but I really can’t afford to buy a horse.”
“Walter replied, “Well, Sarah, how do you like Shadow? He’s getting old but he would be very gentle for easy work like walks and trail rides. Why don’t we put you on him and see what you think?”
When she smiled, Walter led Shadow with his new friends in tow to the barn. There he helped Sarah put on Shadow’s bridle and saddle and readied him for riding. Little Sarah was smart and a quick learner.
Once saddled up, Sarah walked Shadow around effortlessly. She was very comfortable with Shadow and the horse was immediately at ease. After about a fifteen minute riding introduction she smiled and said, “Daddy, can we get Shadow?”
Her dad said, “Well, let me talk with Mr. Riley and we’ll see.”
With that, they headed back to the barn so that Walter and Mr. Battle could talk. Sarah said she could remove and clean up the riding gear while they talked.
Walter liked the little girl, but for some reason he had doubts about her dad, so he decided to be very cautious. He wasn’t quite sure what concerned him. Maybe it was the nervousness of Mr. Battle or his difficulty in making direct eye contact.
He suggested that Sarah come over to spend time with Shadow over the next few weeks and if she was still interested they could then try to work something out.
So each Friday for the next month, Sarah and her dad came by for the afternoon. Sarah was very attentive during her visits and it was obvious that she loved horses. She always brought a treat and Shadow looked forward to seeing her.
After the fifth visit, Walter told Mr. Battle that he thought it would be ok for Sarah to have Shadow on a loan agreement basis. If, after a long term trial, things continued to work out, he would consider letting her have the horse. Walter said he would bring Shadow over to his property the next day with a simple agreement.
Now Walter wasn’t looking for money, but he would insist on loving, quality care for his equine friend. This was simply an arrangement on a temporary basis to see how things worked out. Anything beyond that would be discussed later. That settled, they shook hands and Sarah left with her dad.
Walter spent several hours that evening in the barn with Shadow and his notebook. He was writing up some notes to put in an agreement. He wanted to make sure that if something went awry that Shadow would be protected.
The next afternoon as promised, Walter arrived at the Battle’s farm with Shadow. The place looked pretty good, but he really wanted to check things out. John Battle showed him around the property and where Shadow would be kept. There was a decent fenced pasture, but somewhat limited grass, and a small two stall barn building which was adequate.
John told Walter that they had bought the farm two years ago and had never had a horse on property before. Walter asked several questions about feeding and care and, being reasonably satisfied, he brought out his typed agreement.
The agreement called for twice daily feeding, an adequate supply of hay if grass was unavailable, and in-stall boarding during cold and stormy weather. Any medical requirements would be discussed with Walter prior to initiation. Further, the document made it clear that no money was involved in their transaction and that ownership was retained by Walter. Lastly, Walter reserved the right with notice to visit Shadow and to take him home if he desired.
The two men signed the agreement, shook hands, and then Walter gave the reins to Sarah. She was really excited and it did the old man’s heart good to see a happy child.
Fortune, however, did not shine on Walter soon after the transaction. About two weeks later he had a major heart attack and was hospitalized in critical condition. His daughter Jenny came down to be by his side and said she would be there as long as necessary. She took care of his home and property and visited him every day.
Being very strong and determined, Walter recovered amazingly fast. He was released to go home after three weeks but was told to take things easy for a while. Jenny would see to that.
On the way home from the hospital, Jenny asked her dad where Shadow was staying. Walter told her that he found a little girl who wanted a horse to ride and he had taken Shadow to her on loan of an indefinite period. He explained about the agreement and said he was glad that Shadow would be loved, especially now that he had been ill.
Seeing that Walter missed his friend terribly, Jenny suggested that they pay Shadow a visit. Walter beamed approvingly at the idea.
A few days later, Walter and Jenny visited the Battle farm. As they drove up the lane by the pasture, Shadow was standing under a small tree by the fence looking forlorn. He had lost a significant amount of weight and the light was gone out of his eyes. The pasture was bare of grass and there was no sign of water or hay available. Walter was appalled.
Before going to the house he went out in the pasture to visit Shadow. Shadow walked over to him and showed in his eyes his love for Walter. Walter told Shadow that he would get him back home just as soon as he could.
Shadow looked at him as if he understood what he was saying and even whinnied a little and nuzzled up to him. Before leaving, Walter gave Shadow several carrots and a couple of sugar cubes. He also filled a nearby large bucket with water. Lastly, he gave his special friend a big hug.
Arriving at the Battle house, Walter and Jenny went to the door and knocked. John answered the door slowly. He was dirty and disheveled and smelled of alcohol. The house was unkempt and there was no sign of Sarah.
“John, what has happened to you?” asked Walter. “Where is Sarah and your wife and why aren’t you taking care of Shadow?”
John literally broke down in tears and said that he had lost his job; his wife had moved out and took Sarah with her. He was obviously a broken man.
“Walter, I’m sorry but I don’t have the resources that I used to have. I am now all alone with nothing to live for. Sarah is the only thing important to me and she is gone.”
Walter replied, “Well, I’m sorry for your misfortune, John, but I can’t let Shadow live like this. I will come back with my horse trailer and pick up Shadow shortly.”
When Walter said that, something snapped in John’s mind. It was almost like a transition to a mad man, a regular Jekyll and Hyde routine.
“No you won’t, Walter,” he said. “The only way I will ever get to see Sarah is if Shadow is here. At least her mother allows her to bring carrots when she comes. I will do whatever it takes to see her. ”
“But John, our agreement was that you could only borrow Shadow if you took care of him. He is turning to skin and bones and I won’t let him be tortured to a slow death.”
Suddenly John reached behind the door and pulled out a double barreled shotgun. He pointed it at Walter and said, “You get off my property and don’t come back. You can’t have the horse back. Shadow is Sarah’s horse, not yours.”
Seeing that John was not stable, Walter grabbed his daughter and they left quickly. He knew that he couldn’t reason with John in his current state and that both he and his daughter could be in danger. He would, however, be back for his horse.
When they got back home, Jenny called the Sheriff’s office. Deputy Johnson said that he would make a visit to Battle that evening and for Jenny and Walter to stay away until he contacted them.
Walter was beside himself. What had he done? His closest companion was suffering and there was nothing he could immediately do.
Jenny told her dad to go lie down and rest. She would call him when she heard something. After all, he didn’t want to aggravate his heart.
Jenny then called the animal rescue center and explained what happened. She gave them the Battle address and was told that they would check things out first thing in the morning. If the story checked out, they would take Shadow to the shelter until the issue was settled.
As Walter rested in his bed, he asked God to help him. He didn’t want to hurt John Battle but he wanted to make sure that Shadow was returned home for his safety and care. He asked God to keep him strong, yet patient, and to lead him to the right course of action.
Now at peace, Walter finally drifted off to some much needed sleep.
When Jenny checked in on him, she smiled and was pleased that he was resting comfortably.
Early the next morning Deputy Johnson came by. He said that it was clear that John Battle was in distress and that the horse needed better care. Jenny told the deputy that animal rescue would be checking things out that day.
Deputy Johnson then told Walter he could swear out a warrant for his arrest as that would be the quickest way to protect Shadow. Walter would ultimately be able to get Shadow back but he would first have to go through an animal cruelty hearing. The hearing officer would want details on how the horse was loaned to John Battle in the first place and what kind of agreement was in place. This could take several weeks.
After much soul searching, Walter went to the courthouse to swear out a warrant for John Battle’s arrest. He explained in detail what had happened and he presented a copy of the agreement that the two men had signed.
The Clerk of Court said the warrant would be served that same day. He was also told that after the arrest Mr. Battle would be held in jail until a bail hearing could be arranged. If at that time Mr. Battle could not afford bail, he would be held pending trial.
Later that day Deputy Johnson called to say that John Battle couldn’t post bail so he was being held. He said that Shadow had in fact been picked up by animal control and was being cared for. Walter and Jenny could visit him anytime.
The deputy also told Walter that Battle seemed very remorseful and that the jailers would be watching him closely. They were concerned that he might be a threat to himself.
Walter and Jenny talked long into the night about Shadow and the situation. He told Jenny that he should never have loaned out Shadow but he just didn’t know what would happen to Shadow if something happened to him.
Jenny looked deep in his eyes and said, “Dad, why didn’t you tell me what you were thinking? I know how special Shadow is to you. I would care for him if something happened to you. I know that having him with me would be having part of you.”
Walter was choked up and replied, “I guess I just didn’t want to bother you and, besides, you really didn’t like horses very much when your mom and I were so wrapped up in them.”
Jenny said, “Don’t be silly, Dad. I always knew that horses were part of your life. I like them also. It’s just that I wasn’t interested in competition. So when you get Shadow back, just know that you don’t have to worry about the future.”
Walter thought about what Jenny had said for a moment. He couldn’t believe he had been such a fool. Jenny wanted to take the worry out of his life.
Walter walked over, gave Jenny a big hug and said, “Ok, I guess that settles that. Now what are we going to do about John Battle.”
“Give that problem to God, Dad,” she said. “He will show you what to do.”
Walter went to sleep that night thinking about things, asking God for help in doing what was right, and thanking him for Jenny and her love for him and Shadow. He slept very well that night.
The next morning when he awoke he told Jenny that he wanted to go and visit Shadow and then visit John Battle in jail. She thought that was a great idea. They called the animal shelter and a nice lady told Walter she had been expecting to hear from him.
When they arrived at the shelter, they immediately noticed Shadow. He was in an open air fenced area with a small shelter for inclement weather. He looked better, whinnied when they walked up, and nuzzled both Walter and Jenny.
Walter opened the bag he was carrying and pulled out several large carrots and some sugar cubes. Shadow was all attention now. Walter took his time feeding and petting Shadow while whispering in his ear. He let Shadow know that things would be ok and he would be home soon. He also told him that he would be back every day until he came home.
With that, Shadow looked at him and actually shook his head in a “yes” motion. If there was any doubt that these two understood each other it was put to rest here.
Now came the hard part. Walter and Jenny said their goodbyes to Shadow and headed to the county jail.
On their way, Jenny asked, “Dad, what are you going to say to Mr. Battle? He is in pretty bad spirits.”
“I’m not sure yet, Jen, but I will know when I see him,” Walter replied. “I prayed and thought about this all last night. I want to be of help if I can be as long as Shadow comes home.”
Jenny was proud of her dad and she smiled at him. He really did have a big heart and he would never deliberately hurt anyone.
Walter asked Jenny to wait at the front desk while he had his visit. He wanted to handle this in private.
As he walked into the visitor room, Mr. Battle was seated at a steel table wearing an orange jail jumpsuit. He looked awful and was also surprised to see Walter.
Walter said, “John, I’ve come to see you because I’m worried about you. I didn’t want to hurt you but I didn’t know what else to do.”
John replied, “I know, Mr. Riley. I should have told you right at the beginning that my wife and I were having trouble. I just thought that if Jenny had Shadow it would help to patch things up.”
John explained that his wife had been seeing another man and he had been enraged in jealousy. He couldn’t sleep or eat and the last straw was losing his job as the evening manager of the local grain storage company. Now he was in a “real pickle” and didn’t know where to turn.
Walter was very patient and kind. He said, “The first thing you need to do, John, is say a prayer to God for help. He will help you stop drinking and get you emotionally to a position where you can think again.”
And then Walter threw in an offer that John couldn’t believe. He said, “If you get your act together, you and Jenny will be welcome to come out to the farm and see Shadow. She can even ride when she wants and help with chores for him. I just won’t let you keep him on your property.”
John brightened up and said, “Do you really mean it? I mean, I know Jenny would like that and it could help bring us back together.”
“Well, John”, Walter continued. “It’s up to you. Get your act together and then we’ll see if you’ve earned my trust. Even more important, that you’ve regained Sarah’s trust.”
With that, Walter shook John’s hand, bowed his head in a short prayer, and walked out of the room.
About two weeks later the animal cruelty hearing was held and, as expected, Walter was allowed to take custody of Shadow. When Walter and Jenny picked him up he just whinnied and nodded his head as if to say he was a very happy horse. He had sugar cubes and carrots waiting for him at the barn.
Jenny made plans to leave the next day since she hadn’t been home in over a month. She and Walter celebrated Shadow’s homecoming with a nice dinner with Jenny.
During dinner, Walter said, “You know what, Jen. The Lord works in mysterious ways. I think this ordeal has brought us much closer together.”
Jenny replied, “You are so right, Dad. I promise that I will come back to visit more often in the future. I won’t stay away so long ever again. And always know that no matter what the future may bring Shadow will always be taken care of.”
After she left the next day, Walter settled back into his old routine. He took it a little easier on his chores and made sure to spend plenty of time with Shadow each day. They often walked along a trail leading to a beautiful brook and enjoyed the beauty of nature together.
Walter often wondered about Little Sarah and her dad and how they were doing. He had thought about checking on them but wasn’t sure how that would be received, so he left them alone.
Weeks went by, the season was changing to autumn and Walter was at peace with himself. Then suddenly one evening after dinner the phone rang. He was surprised to find out that it was John Battle calling.
“Hi Walter,” said John. “I was calling to ask about Shadow. Is he doing better? Could I bring Sarah over to visit him sometime?”
“Of course, John, I said you could,” Walter replied. “Are you doing ok? And how is Sarah.”
John said he was doing much better, Sarah and her mother had come back home, and he had found a good job with the Cattlemen’s Association. He also said he had stopped drinking and the family was enrolled in counseling and that they attended church every Sunday.
He truly sounded happy and settled and Walter told him to drop by, just let him know in advance so that he would be ready for them. They set a visit date for the following week.
As planned, Sarah and her dad arrived the next week. Sarah ran up to Shadow with a two large apples and held one out for him. Shadow whinnied and took a big bite and drooled all over Sarah’s blouse. She just smiled and laughed.
Walter told Sarah to get Shadow ready for a ride and he went over to talk to John.
“You look good, John. Things must be working out. I’m glad,” said Walter.
“Well, Walter, I owe most of the credit to you and the Lord,” John responded. “I was really a mess and I almost lost my family because of my actions. And I am so ashamed of how I treated you, your daughter, and Shadow. Can you forgive me, Walter?”
Walter smiled and said, “It’s already done.”
And with that, the two men walked over to watch Sarah ride and enjoy some time with her good friend, Shadow. Shadow was just “eating up” all of the attention.
That night when he was alone, Walter received a phone call from Jenny. Hi, Dad, it’s me,” she said. “Can I come down for a long weekend next week and bring Joe and the kids?”
“Of course, Jen, I would love that. You’re welcome anytime.”
“By the way, Dad, have you had any contact with John Battle and his little girl?” Jen asked. “If so, why don’t you invite her out to play with my kids and Shadow. They should be about the same age”.
“Great idea, Jen,” Walter replied. “That is thoughtful of you. I’ll see you soon.”
After the phone call, Walter was ready for sleep. As he lay in his bed, he thought of all the recent events with Shadow, Jenny, and John Battle and Sarah.
He had grown much closer to Jenny, he appreciated his old sidekick more, and he had helped a troubled man and his wife and daughter regain a family life. Not only that, but Walter had experienced first-hand how God’s command that we forgive others can reap huge dividends.
This brought a smile to his face and warmth to his heart as he fell fast asleep.
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