In tribute to the Peace Pony, Count of War
“By twos! Forward at the gallop!” called the sergeant.
Count and I raced up the wooded slope among the 50 or so other horses. To our left, cannons roared, shaking the ground while smoke billowed through the trees.
“Ware wire on the left!” I called. The woods had been logged and were full of old barbed wire, downed trees and rotted stumps.
“Right into line!” shouted the sergeant above the boom of the guns. “Draw revolvers! Ones and threes, fire and fall back!”
I fired off a round at the blue-coated skirmish line coming over the hill 50 feet in front of us. Count spun, and we galloped back 20 paces and wheeled to face the line again.
“Return pistols. By the gallop on me!” We wheeled left and took off up the next hill in a pack.
Suddenly, Count stops dead in his tracks. Something’s wrong.
The other horses are flying past us. I look down. Old rusted barbed wire is wrapped around Count’s hind legs up past his hocks.
Before I could think, I dropped the reins on Count’s neck, slid to the ground and rushed to his hindquarters.
How was I going to get him free? What if he was badly hurt? This was Count!
This was my baby!
Slowly, I began unwrapping the wire. There was no blood. No gaping torn flesh. Only a small scratch about an inch long.
I got the wire free of one leg and, with a soft touch, asked Count to lift his other foot as I pulled the rest loose. I threw the wire into a pile of rocks, breathed a sigh of relief, jumped back into the saddle and galloped off to rejoin my unit. Count was fine.
This was our first experience at what Civil War re-enactors called a tactical, and we were having a blast.
Every horseman or woman holds in his or her memory that special horse. A horse that stands above all the others. A horse that, in our hearts, can never be replaced.
For me, that horse was Count of War.
Count and I had some amazing adventures. He was 4 or 5 years old when we rode that tactical.
While lots of people say their horses are bombproof — I’m talking cannons. I could literally take Count anywhere — including New York City — and I never, ever had to worry about what he would do.
Count was an unregistered thoroughbred. I purchased Count’s mother as an unbroke 2-year-old, and trained her myself. I buried Countes at age 31, and miss her to this day.
Count looked liked his great grandsire, Swaps, a bright chestnut with an off–set star and white hind pastern. At times, from just the right angle, I could see Man O’ War in his head and neck. Maybe it was just his proud carriage, or maybe it was my pride.
I remember times when we would be saddled up and waiting for the start of a battle reenactment. I’d always dismount because I learned in Pony Club to dismount and rest my horse’s back when we were standing for long periods of time. Count would beg for the trail mix I brought to snack on, and would eat half my stash.
We rode courier in the 135th Gettysburg re-enactment. The general sent us for ice for the troops.
“Hunter. Go bring back as many bags of ice as you can carry,” he commanded.
Count walked quietly past 100 cannons, packing ice across his withers.
I used to take Count to church with me for the blessing of the animals. He would walk through the double doors, up through the narrow aisles of folding metal chairs and stand quietly as the band played and dogs barked. It was amazing to share the energy of that incredible horse amidst the celebration of spirit and song.
It was Count who charmed the people, kept me company and assured my safety during those long months riding to New York. I didn’t know I was going on a Peace Ride when I named him Count of War.
Count passed away two years ago at age 30. He was my “War Pony” and the “Peace Pony.”
In his memory, and in memory of all the horses that never won the Kentucky Derby or the Triple Crown, who never jumped in the Rolex or showed at Devon, but were still loved and treasured, may these words pay tribute to them all.