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Remembering Lt. Worf

Michael Hillman

In Pastor Wadeís sermon "Do pets go to heaven," he asked, "what do you believe heaven is like?" Does anyone really know? For me, I can't imagine a heaven without plants nor can I imagine one without animals." Those words have given me great comfort over the past six months as I watched my horse and best friend, Lt. Worf, succumb to his disease. The students at last summerís Trinity Vacation Bible School were last to sit on his back.

Worf and I competed in the equestrian sport of Three-Day Eventing, considered the ultimate test for horse and rider. It encompasses three separate tests: dressage, cross-county (steeplechase), and show jumping. Unlike other sports where only the humanís will and body are working against the clock, Three-Day Eventing is the sport where two minds and bodies have to work as one, and to win an event takes a true partnership between horse and rider.

I remember clearly the first time I saw Lt. Worf. I was looking for a horse I had hoped would take me to the Olympics. His build, tall and lanky, were confirmation flaws that caused me to rule him out as a suitable horse. But something in his eye caught my attention. It a was kind, almost sad eye. Without a word passing between us, I nevertheless understood him. "Give me a chance and Iíll not disappoint you." A little voice inside me told me he was the horse I had been looking for. So I took a chance a bought him.

On his first night on our farm, I entered his stall and while brushing him, made a deal with him. "Over the next couple of years Iím going to ask a lot from you. Iíll put you in some tough situations while training and competing, but please trust me that Iíll not ask you to do anything you canít do. If you do everything I ask, in return, if anything should ever happen to you Iíll take care of you, and youíll get to live out your life in retirement on the farm wanting nothing. Given his excellent performance over the following years it was clear he found that offer much to his liking.

Lt. Worf took to Eventing like a duck takes to water. Willingly forgiving my amateurish mistakes. He always tried to understand my commands, even when I wasnít sure what I was asking myself! I never failed to end a ride and not notice a Ďsmileí on his face, as if to say "I know I did good," which in fact he had.

He loved to jump, and he put in beautiful Dressage tests, the combination of the two quickly propelled him into the top ranks of the sport.  However, my Olympic dreams with him were ended in 1997 when he incurred a knee injury. Having already held up his part of the bargain, it was now my turn. It took three surgeries and a year of convalescence before he was finally able to walk pain free. A small price to pay for a lifetime of memories.

As it turned out, Lt. Worf liked retirement as much, if not more, than competing. He grew fat of lush green grass. He got to watch the new horses work while basked in the sun. After each ride, I would see him huddled with my newest horse, and I would always smile at the thought of Lt. Worf giving the new guy some pointers.

I thought that was the pattern the rest of Lt. Worfís life was to take, but God had other plans for him, including giving young ridersí confidence and making children smile.

While officiating a show one day, I happened to meet a young girl who had lost all confidence in her riding, and was on the path of losing confidence in herself. Becca wanted desperately wanted to ride but needed a horse that would take care of her. A horse that could rebuild her shattered confidence. She need Lt. Worf and he was only too happy to oblige.

As I watched them approach their first fence, I saw Becca Ďfreeze.í Worf sensing Becca fright, carefully jumped the fence and afterwards halted himself slowly, turned around to look at Becca as if to say: "Donít worry I know what Iím doing. Just pay attention to me, and Iíll teach you how to do it." After that jump, Becca began to trust again, and now sheís one of the leading young riders in the country.

While Worf repeated this act of kindness over and over again for many lucky girls, the one Iíll remember most is the day he carried a little girl afflicted with cerebral palsy, to her first and only ribbon, and a blue one at that! Her life was lived in the shadow of her sisterís riding. Having wanted to ride herself, her parentís approached me about using Lt. Worf to fulfill that dream and I said yes.

He resisted years of training to gallop and jump, and moved as if one who was carrying nitro glycerin. Every step he took was measured as if to ensure his precious cargo never lost her balance. He put in a beautiful dressage test from memory, and as he walked around the cross-county course, carefully stepping over every fence, I could see the little girl's smile from across the field. As her mother and I watched, tears welled in our eyes. Her tears for her daughter and mine for Lt. Worf.

Unknown to me at that time, it would be the students at last summerís Trinity Vacation Bible School that would be last to sit on his back. Over and over again the kids would line up for another chance to ride, and over and over again Lt. Worf would drop his head and allow the children to pet him after their ride. Bubbling with glee, they then raced to the back of the line in hopes of getting another ride. To an outsider it probably looked like pandemonium, but to Lt. Worf and the kids, it was pure joy. Lt. Worf loved to serve.

A few weeks after the summer camp, Lt. Worf coliced. During the surgery to correct the colic it was discovered he had as extreme a case of Inflammatory Intestinal disease that had been witnessed by the surgeons in some time. A extremely painful disease, he apparently had been suffering from it from some time, yet had never showed any signs of discomfort. He coped, just as he coped with his painful knee. In hindsight, his willingness to go on helping others is spite of his pain was in part why he was so special.

It would be impossible to count the number of kids Lt. Worf has helped over the past few years. And while he didnít accomplish what my original dreams were for him, he taught me may things, not the least of which is that God has many ways of bringing joy to us.

Lt. Worf also taught me looks mean nothing, rather itís what one carries in his or her heart that matters. He taught me that helping another accomplish their goals is more rewarding than focusing on myself. He taught me to take what God gives me, even if itís pain, and live my life to the fullest. Most importantly, he taught me to trust in Godís will and remember that while life may not work out as I have planned, God has a reason.

While I cried at his death, I was comforted in the knowledge that in Godís hands I know Lt. Worf is safe, and for the first time in years also free of pain. Do pets go to heaven? For me the answer is yes. God didn't make such a wonderful horse for nothing. Worf, like all living things, brought a smile to Godís face when he created him. I thank God for the time he gave me with him, and look forward to the day when once again we will gallop through never-ending fields of green.

Read other horse related stories by Michael Hillman