It was love at first sight! This kind of love can only happen with two beings that have a pretty functional notion of who they are, what they want, and what they need. Honor, respect, integrity, honesty and a clear sense of self are words that come to mind. Of course, these ingredients are necessary in any good relationship. There must also be a willingness for each to explore who each person is – their true selves – and accept themselves and the other, quirks and all, while accepting the need for growth and change.
In life, there is no greater gift than knowing and being known.
Leroy was all of the above. He was everything I ever wanted in a guy.
He was not only brilliant, he operated out of a high level of practicality and common sense.
When I first saw him, my breath was taken away with how unbelievably handsome he was! He stood tall – very tall – and proud and held his head in a clear, “I know who I am – can you meet me with who you are?” position. His self-pride was not arrogance. It was just a fact. It was not defiant or a challenge to me. It was a statement of truth. It was an offer – a possibility – an invitation to know and be known.
He was my kind of guy.
I could see that under his beautiful buckskin colored skin, he was fit, trim and had muscles to spare. Again, these were not arrogant muscles. These were matter-of-fact muscles ready to deal with whatever presented itself – no bragging – just the truth. Everything about him exuded clarity and honesty with a dash of humor. And, to add to the picture, a long, black forelock hung rakishly over his long, sensitive face which, again, offered the possibility of some fun, intrigue and challenge.
And, to top it all off, he had the most beautiful butt and legs I have ever seen.
I confess that I have always been a butt and legs person. I like strong legs and a substantial butt in my beings. I’m just not sure skinny legs and a flat butt can be trusted and they are, with me, immediately under suspicion. I am more of a “defensive line” person when it comes to butts and legs.
A good butt is a thing of beauty in my book. Leroy’s quarter horse butt and legs told me that he could be counted on for quick starts, sharp turns and instant stops when needed and if I stayed with him, he exuded skill and safety. I thought I was up to the challenge.
I believe that when we eyed one-another, we both felt up to the challenge of a long, meaningful relationship, which we have had. Never has either of us questioned our love for each other even when separated from one another for long periods of time. I have always overseen his care and seen that he was well cared-for. And, I have always known that we were and always will be connected.
For all his physical beauty, it was the loving kindness in his eyes that sealed the deal for me. It was a kind of tenderness that pulled me in which I knew was the real McCoy and he gently expected the same in return. He was magnificent in body, mind and spirit. Yet, he never flaunted or denied that reality.
Leroy was a legend in Peace Valley, Montana where he lived his entire life. His prowess as a cutting horse was legendary among the ranchers. With a good rider and a reliable practice of telepathic communication, his ability was mythic. In fact, even with a bad rider, he always knew what to do even while simultaneously trying to keep the proverbial bag of sand in the saddle. Some people call a rider like this as setting up there like a “forked stick.” All the rider had to do was stay in the saddle and recognize that Leroy knew more than he/she did and things went very well. He deftly cut out the right calf for branding, picked up the strays and generally maintained order as the herd was taken to and from summer pasture. When he was “working” he was a “no nonsense” kind of guy.
He obviously loved his work and took pride in it. I loved that in him.
Whenever work was in front of him, he serenely and with great dignity accepted it and just – did it. Nothing was “beneath” him or too much for him. He always magnanimously adjusted to whatever life presented to him and did his best. It was just that simple.
Oh yes, sometimes there was a bit of a sigh and it was always followed by an “OK let’s get on with it” – and get on with it, he did.
Leroy was a Montana horse in the true sense of the word.
At one point a former “family member” who believed she had some “ownership” in Leroy (who could ever possibly “own” a being such as Leroy?!!) decided she was going to move him out of state (she felt she had the right to because she had been doing some of his care). I was so distressed with the idea that the issue had been occupying much of my waking hours. She had even threatened to “steal” him when no one was around! I was simply NOT going to let this happen. He was a Montana – Peace Valley horse. I was almost afraid to leave Boulder Hot Springs for fear of his being “stolen.”
During that time I took some furniture that needed repair into a nearby town. I was so distressed, I told the owner of the shop – a lovely man – who I had just met, about the situation. He immediately understood that it was “wrong” for Leroy to leave Peace Valley. He said that he had a ranch up in the mountains and tomorrow he would get his horse trailer, go pick up Leroy and take him up there until “all this mess blew over.”
As he said these words, tears came to my eyes. I felt so relieved and understood, and I knew I had made a lifetime friend. Our bond was so complete that now his son does all my furniture refinishing and upholstery work. The crisis did blow over and sanity prevailed. Leroy was going to be in Peace Valley until he died. As he should be. He was a Montana horse and his days needed to be lived out where he “belonged.” And, because of Leroy, I had a new lifetime friend and “family.”
One of the other things I loved about Leroy was that he often knew more about the person on his back than that person knew about themself and Leroy adjusted accordingly.
When he had a child on his back, he was the essence of gentleness. One time, I was there when someone was leading him around with a little boy on his back. Suddenly, the little boy fell off under Leroy (a long way to fall). When the boy fell, Leroy was taking a step and had one foot in the air. He patiently stood there on three feet with one foot in the air until the little boy was extracted from under him. Leroy never even wobbled.
That memory brings tears to my eyes as I can actually “see” the scene as I write the words and “feel” the fear we were all feeling in such a tense situation. Leroy, in his usual way, was the one who “kept his cool.” I had never seen such gentleness and presence and I was deeply moved.
That’s my kind of guy!
When Leroy had an experienced rider on him, he also knew it. The first time I rode him, with the herd, I was amazed with his cuts and turns. I did not need to think. In fact, it was better if I did not “think.” All I needed to do was be present and “stay with him.” When I did this, we had a powerful, breathtaking, challenging, and transcendent experience. I emerged from these adventures enlivened, serene, and energized. I was with myself, with him and beyond us both. Leroy demanded nothing less.
That’s my kind of guy.
Leroy also supported my tendency not to “suffer fools lightly.” He could not stand “phonies.” One person I knew who had been carefully “trained and groomed” in the skills of a “gentleman equestrian” and considered himself to be “an excellent horseman” decided (without consulting Leroy and to impress the crowd) to do a running mount from the rear. What was intended to be a crowd-pleaser did not turn out as planned. In seconds, Leroy sent this person flying through the air landing in a heap. Nothing was badly bruised but his ego.
I like guys who do not “suffer fools lightly.” Sometimes, in some situations, being dishonestly “nice” sends the wrong message and adds to messes. I came to trust Leroy in all situations at all times. That, in and of itself is a rarity in this life.
He was the only horse I would ever have ridden down some of the steep, rocky mountain trails we went down together. He trusted me to know how to “sit” on these trails and work with him and I trusted him to be sure-footed and careful. We were a team. I like that in a guy.
In his later years, he gave up the excitement of being a cutting horse and devoted his time to caring for his companions and relating to the many visitors who came to Boulder Hot Springs. Many of those who came had never had “a real horse for a friend” before. So his teaching opportunities were many. And his list of admirers and “former students” extends throughout the world.
As I said, because of my work around the world, I could not be at Boulder Hot Springs to care for him all the time. Yet, whenever I returned, I always called to him as we drove in the driveway and was always met with a nicker of recognition and we often “visited” by the fence as we both grew older. It was clear that he as well as I remembered our “love at first sight” relationship. He continued to teach me that a love like ours is always there and it can be shared. It is not possessive. It endures. That’s my kind of guy.
For the last several years, Barb Reiter has overseen and lovingly cared for Leroy and his “companions.” Also, the international Living in Process network has come to know him, love him, support him and learn from him. They have supported Barb and him with whatever they needed. Leroy has continued to teach us all that “guys like him” do, indeed, exist.
Leroy’s care for his companions has been inspirational to see. As each one has grown older, he has not looked for a “newer model” to feed his ego. He, as usual, with grace and devotion, has cared for them.
When Lady M died, he called for help and cried and howled his pain. His feelings of loss were so palpable and so intense they were undeniable and no one there was left untouched. There was no denying what was going on with him and he called forth that honesty in all of us. He modeled what genuine grief is and helped us to remember how important honest loving and grieving are for our souls.
He stayed present and attentive until Lady M was layed to rest in her grave. Then, he paused for a moment and moved on to participate in the next phase of his life.
When we found a new companion, Bitsy, for him (thanks to Lori Norby), he was accepting and delighted. Over the years as Bitsy became completely blind, he took on the job of fulltime care for her. He was her eyes and her protector. No bear, pack of coyotes or wolves was going to get her. He constantly assisted her around the pasture, over the bridge, down to the water and wherever she/they needed to go. He never rejected this last “work” that was put in front of him. What a guy!
On December 29th, 2016 Leroy fell on the bridge and died in the cold Montana night. He had been having more and more trouble with the harshness of Montana winters. There was no sign of a struggle and what I knew of freezing to death is that it is like going to sleep and is, as death goes, peaceful.
As I said, I am glad he does not have to deal with another Montana winter. Lori, who Bitsy owned, after much painful struggle, decided to put Bitsy down, bury her with Leroy and send them on their journey together. Lori knew that Bitsy could never survive on her own. She is completely blind and twenty-seven. Lori explored if she could find another horse like Leroy to care for her and came up blank (who could possibly replace Leroy!).
I usually do not believe in putting animals down and, in this case, I painfully agreed with this decision knowing it was a very painful one for Lori. Guys like Leroy are few and far between and not easily found in Montana in the winter – even in the horse world.
All of us need to send prayers for all who have “lost” a great guy and a sweet gal. Especially we need to send prayers to Barb, Lori, and others at Boulder Hot Springs who will feel this loss acutely.
As I have been writing the eulogy to Leroy, my tears of grief and gratitude have baptized the pages with a blessed gratitude for the opportunity to have shared in the life of such a great being.
My mother always said that “We humans need the animals in our lives. Some of us are slow learners. And, if we are open, they will teach us to be better humans.”
Leroy took that job seriously.
He was and is my kind of guy.