When I was 3 years old, my dad had me on the back of a horse. While I don't remember any of those horses, I do remember one of my first horses. Her name was GOAT. It wasn't until July 1, 2021 that I had to say goodbye to my best friend.
GOAT's name is an acronym given to her by a cowboy named Mista Morris. It stands for "Goes Over Any Thing." On trail rides, you wanted a horse who wouldn't hesitate to cross a thing. That was her. She carried me over fallen trees, across ditches, through ponds, up and down cliffs. She carried me safely, every ride and every time. She was THAT horse. People knew her name. GOAT was so fast too. My little flea bitten grey Arabian raced other horses sometimes on the trail rides. HA! I specifically remember how my dad, Mista Morris and a few other equestrians would brag about how great of a horse she was. I remember being so afraid to let go of the saddle horn sometimes. She was that fast and I was still learning to be a confident rider. On one trail ride in Hoffman, NC there was a long sandy dirty path. Everyone wanted to run down it. And we did. I was holding the saddle horn as a cowboy rode past me. He looked back at me and said, "That horn don't blow!" Don't ask me why those words changed things for me because I do not remember exactly. But I did let the saddle horn go and galloped right on down the path. Full of confidence and freedom. GOAT and I really grew as a team after that.
I was in elementary school when GOAT was given to me. Over the years, I grew taller and naturally outgrowing this horse. But there was no way she would ever leave my side. She was my best friend! If I had a bad day at school, I would spend time with her. Hugging her neck. Grooming her body. Telling her everything about how I felt. I loved being around her more than other kids. We had a real bond. She knew me and I knew her. Which is why I made the decision to spend the rest of my life loving this beautiful mare. Even my 4 years in college I never went long without spending time with her. Some people sell their first horse or retire them when they become seniors. I think I gave GOAT the best retirement plan. I simply changed her job according to her health and willingness. While I felt too big to ride her, I began using GOAT to teach kids how to ride.
In my opinion she was the perfect candidate to teach the little ones. She's patient. She's willing. She likes kids more than adults. And I knew everything about her. Her quirks. Where she would go if she got out. How she would react in certain situations. I knew her because we grew up together. I think she loved this job as much as I did. We were a great team. I knew how to teach kids to be comfortable on the back of a horse. She knew how to keep them calm. Aside from being a certified horse girl, my background is in childcare. I have also been told I am naturally a teacher. I say that because I met a lot of kids and parents who were afraid of horses initially. But after a session with GOAT and I, they were hooked. Some kids didn't even want to get off. They would literally cry. I would get text from parents for the next few days and sometimes months about how much their kids missed me and GOAT. It was absolutely heart warming to have my childhood horse teach other kids how to ride. She was used during our 4H meetings too. Youth members learned parts of the horse, how to lead, how to groom, how to halter a horse and more. We even gave free rides to youth in the community every once in a while. All from the sweetest and most patient GOAT. She was the ultimate kid friendly horse.
As I mentioned earlier, GOAT's job changed as I saw fit. After doing lessons for a while we shifted a bit. Most of you know I started a nonprofit called Saddle Up and Read. It was in 2017 when I saw a need to increase the literacy rates in NC. Of course GOAT was by my side.
The picture to the left is from one of the first reading sessions. This little girl read to GOAT for an entire 30 minutes. Stressing it was 30 minutes because her mother said she doesn't read that long at home! Take a moment to just look at how relaxed GOAT is. Kids have had many precious moments with her. Providing safe, fun and educational experiences with horse is my number one priority. GOAT knocked it out the park every time.
She wasn't just good with kids either. We made a visit to a retirement community in Durham, NC to celebrate the Kentucky Derby with them. So sweet!!
I could type forever about her so I'll stop there and start with what happened. June 26, 2021 I had spent the entire afternoon with GOAT. I gave her a bath. I told her I loved her. I was singing songs to her. We were just hanging out like we normally do. The next morning my dad called me saying they think GOAT was showing signs of colic. Colic is a term used to describe belly pain in horses. Signs of colic include, but not limited to- pawing at the ground, lying down and getting back up frequently, sweating, and flank watching. I wasn't around when this was happening. I was 30 minutes away waiting on my daughter's hair appointment to finish. In those hours I couldn't be by her side, I felt extremely worried. When I finally arrived at the barn, my dad was with her. He had been walking her around and checking to see if she had a bowel movement. I stood by her crying because I've actually never seen GOAT hurt. In the 20+ years we have been together, she's never had a severe injury or illness. It was a lot for me in that moment.
After walking her for a bit and getting her cooled off, we didn't see any more signs of colic. However, she wasn't in the clear. I called my veterinarian but he was out of town. He gave me a few instructions over the phone but because he couldn't physically exam her, there were limitations to what he could do. I called the equine hospital next. The only way they could see her was if I trailered her in. That was not an option because the horse trailer is so hot and it was already hotter than hot. I think it would have made it worse considering she was dehydrated and sweating. So I called an emergency equine hospital. They were able to come out 1 hour later. That entire experience with them was not a good one. There was still no diagonses on what was wrong with GOAT. And those particular equine vets just kept telling me, "I doubt she'll make it through the night." The next day, GOAT was still here! She was drinking water on her on but still not completely in the clear. Once I received her blood test results (which I unfortunately had to call to ask) I sent them to 3 different equine veterinarians. Each of them told me what they meant and what I should do.
I am extremely grateful to one equine vet who advocated for me and my horse after telling her what happened. She text me almost every hour. She provided comfort. She provide insight. She made me feel like she was doing everything she could do to make my horse feel better. I am also grateful to my dad, the boarders at the barn, and a 4H mom who all did everything they could to make GOAT comfortable. They took turns checking on her, hand walking her, cooling her off, and just being there. I am grateful to the influx of love and positive vibes that came once I made the announcement on Twitter and Facebook.
My sweet girl GOAT passed away on July 1st, 2021.
It didn't really hit me until later. I will make another blog post about grieving the loss of a pet. But for now, I want to celebrate her life and impact. GOAT was indeed the greatest of all time even though that's not what her name stood for. She even made a positive impact on internet strangers. Everyone loved her. I'm incredibly happy I was able to spend this much time with her. I wanted 1000 years but this 20+ has felt like it and some. If anyone wishes to send a card or letter, please send it to Caitlin Gooch PO Box 1525 Wendell, NC. Visit saddleupandread.org to donate books to Saddle Up and Read. She would love knowing more kids are getting books.
To GOAT, my very best friend. My heart horse. My baby. I love you.
Thank you Kayla Dennis who made this beautiful drawing of her. I will cherish it forever.