Friday, March 28, 2014 is very pleased to welcome our new blogger, Rhonda Hoskins Arza. Rhonda is a trainer, mother, wife and rider who brings her heartfelt experiences to this blog in a way that so many of us have felt but haven't found the words for.  We hope you enjoy reading her insights and let us know what you think.  Everyone has a story to tell - what's yours?

Young Prince Taj

by Rhonda Hoskins Arza

Though I wrote this some years ago, this story keeps showing up in my life in new ways with more animals that are somehow spiritually connect to me. As I become more and more aware of the gift that was Taj, I feel more connected to the people and the animals that surround me now.

         In 1992, while living downtown, I scraped my last dime and bought myself a horse.  He was a beautiful three year old, 18.0 hand thoroughbred whose registered name was “Young Prince Taj”.  He was a statuesque, grey, handsome fellow, whose largeness was in correct proportion to his features.  Taj had many amazing personality traits.  He was always entertaining me with his intelligent, though na├»ve character.  He was known to escape under his stall guard by spreading his front legs as wide as he could, and he would then slip underneath.  Some mornings we would even find him wandering around the parking lot, just feet from the busy intersection where the stable was.   There he would be, just ambling along, inches from certain death, and he would calmly wander over to me with the innocence of a newborn pup.  Being raised in the city, Taj was an amazing connoisseur of garbage.  He loved to eat donuts and hot dogs, and drink soda from a can.  He could even sip from a straw. 

         Unfortunately for me, these were Taj’s only valuable attributes. As much self-confidence that he portrayed while not under saddle, he lacked the minute you placed your feet in the irons.  If anyone attempted to board the nervous horse he would stand and tremble with fear or move side to side with erratic tension.  He would sweat profusely, and his white fur would quickly darken from the nervous lather that he would display.  I always knew he had had enough when the area around his kind worried eyes would turn midnight black.  He stood tall and stoic, trying with everything he had to be brave and obedient, but the stories in his fearful eyes always showed themselves when he was ridden.  Somewhere in life he had had a rough start, he trusted no one and it was my project to try to rehabilitate the gentle giant.  With limited success I realized that his main lot in life was to be my really expensive, impossible to sell, pet. 

Having lived my childhood in the horse showing industry I had learned at an early age that horses were too expensive to be pets if you wanted to succeed as a competitive show rider, so you had to be prepared to say goodbye to beloved horses over and over again.  As a junior rider, I had owned and had to sell five or six different horses by the time I was seventeen.  As a professional, I thought it would be fun to buy myself a project horse that I had no intention of ever selling.  He was to me the one horse I could really get attached too, a soul mate, and the horse companion that I longed for.  Taj quickly became the pet horse that I had never had, and he needed me. 

         As the years went on I found myself looking to start a family, and sadly I realized that keeping a pet horse was not possible for me any longer.  The board and vet bills were more than I could handle with a young family, so in 1997 when our son Ryan was born, I set out to find the right home for my beloved Taj.  He needed a special person who understood him; a person who would love him unconditionally the way that I had.  I asked no money for him, no amount of money could equal what he had meant to me, what we had meant to each other. 

         I searched for several weeks, and a lot of people were interested in the free horse. I turned down countless inquiries until the right person came to me.  A kind, soft spoken, gentle natured woman named Joyce came to see Taj.  Joyce lived on a beautiful farm in Barrington Hills where she had three or four boarded horses, but she longed for a pet of her own.  He was so beautiful, had such a fun personality, and impeccable ground manners that she did not seem to be bothered by any other baggage the horse may have had.  Joyce was the perfect fit for Taj. 

         As the trailer hauling Taj pulled down the long narrow driveway at Joyce’s farm there was a giant banner hanging from the trees that said, “WELCOME HOME TAJ”.  When he entered his new safe haven there were a hundred balloons hanging above his stall, and a huge red bow hung from the bars of the stall door.  Inside his new stall there was an abundance of healthy treats of carrots and apple slices.  His city home treats of hot dogs and soda pop would now be a distant memory.  Taj was on to a new life, a better life, full of fresh experiences, and the relief of knowing that he would never have to worry again.  It was a gift I was relieved to be able to give him, a gift I owed him.  I was now blessed with peace of mind, and ready to shift my maternal instincts to Ryan, my new found love.  I never looked into Taj’s worried eyes again.
On a fall day in 2003, I was approached by one of the boarding clients at our stable.  She told me that she was excited because she found a wonderful home for her horse.  A woman was purchasing her mare as a companion horse as her previous horse had died.  Although some time had passed, she was still heartbroken, and she was hopeful that the sweet big mare might help put her grief behind her. 

         The boarder called me the next morning and said that the woman would be picking up her mare, and that she had forgotten to place the halter on the stall which had been delivered for her to send on the horse.  We were having a schooling show that day so I was extremely busy running in circles throughout the facility, but I agreed to get the halter from her trunk and put it on the mare.  When I opened the trunk, I found a leather halter that had been slightly worn with a fancy triple roman engraved brass plate that read, YOUNG PRINCE TAJ.  Alone in the tack room, I slumped down on the wooden trunk and grasped the enormous halter with both hands.  As I ran my finger over the name plate, it occurred to me that this was his way of letting me know where he was.  I gained the kind of clarity that one only hopes to receive.  It was at this moment, that my knowing heart felt the enormity of the occurrence.  It was at this moment, that I knew that Taj had finally come home.

         With the bustle of the day I never got to speak with Joyce.  She tried to find me when she realized that it was indeed the same Rhonda that had given her Taj all those years earlier.  She instead spoke to my husband and told him that Taj had died two years earlier of complications from colic.  She also told him that he lived a beautiful life.  He had spent many beautiful days grazing by Joyce’s side while she puttered in her garden, following her from place to place on her property like the loyal pet that he always was.  She told him that Taj loved to swim with the other horses in her pond, and how she would watch them play in the mornings through her picture window in her kitchen while she sipped coffee.  Most of all, she expressed how much she cherished having his gentle spirit in her life, and how much she missed him. 

         My decision to give him to Joyce had been right, and the peace I felt knowing how the last years of his life were spent was such a gift.  We had had a connection that was so strong that words could not express the peace he brought me when by no coincidence he let me know that he was not of this world any more.  It was as if he was telling me that he understood and appreciated the gifts I was able to give him, that I had given him Joyce, and that he, in his quiet way, stands by me still.  I received so many gifts that day, but the most important gift, the gift that I most longed for, the gift that had so long seemed unobtainable to me, was the most precious of all gifts; The gift of faith.