Cute As A Button

Cute As A Button, or Buttons, was an indescribable horse. He was a faithful school horse right into his last month and could always be trusted with the very beginning students. Buttons taught many people valuable lessons about riding and remained a patient teacher throughout all of his life.

I met Buttons almost 8 years ago when I began riding. Like so many others, he was the horse to whom I was first assigned. I gradually moved on to other mounts, but something about Button's personality appealed to me, and I found myself drawn to him. He became my favored lesson horse and taught me more about life and love than I can ever describe.

Buttons was a challenge to ride, and an even greater challenge to care for. He'd often buck before proceeding to the trot, and no one could get him to do a flying lead change. He hated to stand on the cross ties and detested the saddle even more - he would pin his ears back, lash out with his tail, and make a general stink about the whole process. I gradually learned of his behaviors and through trial and error found ways of making the experience less of a hassle - putting the saddle pad on first without the saddle, and waiting a few minutes before putting the girth on.

There were moments when I was sure Buttons had been sent from Heaven. The first time I fell off of him was headfirst over a jump when he took a huge spot. I landed beneath his feet, but he arched himself over me, spun around and came to a halt standing directly over me. On a hot summer day toward the end of a lesson we set out for one more course of jumps. The heat was too much for me and as we were cantering towards the first jump everything froze and blackness began to enclose my vision. I could feel Buttons beneath me but couldn't move my hands or legs to tell him to stop. I choked out a barely audible "ho," and immediately Buttons came out of his canter to a walk and then a halt. The thing is, instead of slouching down and falling onto his front end as he usually did, Buttons moved his back end downward and slowed down as if on his tip toes - something I've never seen him do elsewhere. I stayed in the saddle through his awareness of my distress.

Through our 7 years together our bond only grew. When walking out to the paddocks I only had to whistle and Buttons would come running. He would follow me anywhere with a slack lead rope - I often thought that I didn't need the rope at all, though I never tried it! We took dozens of trail rides and Buttons surprised me by pulling off numerous flying lead changes out there. His canter was a wonderful rolling gait and passing alongside fields of wildflowers on him felt like sheer magic. He flew.

This special boy saw me through many of my teenage years. I had begun riding at age 10, and he was the one I ran to when the world collapsed around me. For many hours he stood patiently in his stall while I wrapped my arms around his neck and cried. He would press his chin into my back in a "horsey hug" and I felt like the luckiest person alive.

When I had to have surgery on my wrist, I couldn't ride for a few months. I groomed him with one hand for weeks, then my instructor suggested that I get on Buttons and just neck-rein around. No one knew if Buttons would neck-rein - he'd been trained in English - but I soon discovered that he would respond to the slightest movement of my good hand. During this time Buttons never tossed at the reins or pulled away from me - he was absolutely perfect.

I still remember a day towards the end when I turned Buttons out after a trail ride. He started bucking and playing, then began galloping around and around his paddock for sheer joy. I took a picture and not until I developed it did I realize that the sunlight behind him made him appear to be descending from Heaven. In it he appears young and joyful, just as I want to remember him.

Buttons died on July 7, 2003. That day I had come down to the barn in a rush, and it wasn't until I went to clean his stall did I realize how sick Buttons was. He had been off for 2 weeks, and the vet had been called down a few times. Going into his stall he shied from me and I realized that he couldn't put weight on his front feet and was leaning against his stall wall uncomfortable. He gradually came to recognize me but wouldn't take the treats that I offered him. I pet his neck and spoke to him for a while, then sat outside his stall crying.

Once my instructor arrived I had to leave. I hurried to my tack box, got my things, and walked out of the barn - I never said goodbye. To this day I regret that. Somehow it never occurred to me that Buttons wouldn't make it through.

My friend, Amy, came over at 8:30 the next morning to give me the news. It had always been agreed that if anything were to ever happen to Buddy, she would be the one to tell me. After his death I stopped riding for almost a year. It was too painful - I'd walk outside to the paddocks and whistle, out of habit. I'm hoping to go back soon.

Buttons gave me so many memories and so much love during those 7 years. I never had papers to him, but it was known that he was my boy. I think of him now, galloping around in Heaven, and am reminded of his grace and unbelievable heart. Three years ago we entered a costume class as Pegasus and Hercules. I'd made large cardboard wings which I hung over his shoulders. As he pranced into the ring his movements made them flap up and down - it was perfect. The wings now hang on my wall - he has no need for them now. He's more than earned his real wings.

Below is a poem that I wrote for Buttons a few years before his death.

Together We Fly

The very sight of you is enough to make my day.
You always heal my heart, but you need no words to say.
You have never hugged me; I've never held your hand,
But your quiet presence lets me know you understand.

I never have to ask for help - you pay it no heed.
This is why I run to you in my times of need.
We take our walks together as the day comes to a close
And I whisper to you secrets that nobody else knows.

I lean upon your shoulder, so much stronger than my own,
And if I'm lost within the world you'll carry me back home.
Even as you know me so, you don't know my name,
But still you listen as I talk, lacing flowers through your mane.

I owe you all my happiness - you're everything I know!
I'm not sure I could carry on - please, promise you won't go!
No one else knows of this bond - it's something they don't feel,
But you're what I depend on - you teach my heart to heal.

The times I spend with you are when I know I'm truly blessed.
Of all the rides we've had together, the ones I enjoy best
Are our sunset rides along the trail, passing beauty by.
On your back you give me wings. Together we shall fly.

Paige Cerulli

Dedicated to Buttons.
You are loved so much.
You gave me my wings and taught me to fly.
I'll never forget.

Button's Support Group Honoree page.

Cute As A Button is also featured in
our Hoofbeats In Heaven painting.

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