By Shari Lawrence, alumna
I have been lucky enough to experience two great loves in my life. Rocky, my first love, was the greatest mutt. He was a great dog who unfortunately passed away in January 2019 after battling pulmonary cancer for 16 months. I adopted him when I was 16 and he truly lived a great life.
My second love, Merlin, turns 30 in January. He’s a bay off-track thoroughbred gelding with a star that stands just under 15’2 and the personality of a rockstar. My favorite “fun-fact” to share is how we are six months apart in age. Thoroughbred birthdays are typically celebrated on January 1st, and my birthday is July 4th. It is a fun little tidbit that still makes me giggle even now, six years into owning him.
After graduating from Rutgers in 2013 with my BS in Animal Science, I was wondering about the next step. I had so many questions, but I had no answers. What would I do next? Vet school? Med school? Move across the country?
One day, a thought just popped into my head. “I wonder if there is anything like equine journalism?” Imagine my surprise that there was, in fact, a school that offered that exact program and offered a shortened version for those who already had a degree.
My decision to enroll at Wilson College inadvertently led me to my best friend on four and two legs.
Merlin was in his early twenties and had been retired from the college equestrian program. He was labeled as quirky and came with a strict set of rules. At the top of the list was to never, under any circumstances, lead him outside without a chain.
It became an unspoken challenge for students that liked to test boundaries. With the chain on, a snail could run laps around Merlin creating the illusion that he was old, slow, and that the chain was unnecessary. For those of us that knew better, we just shuffled along with Merlin while turning him out and then hustled with the rest of the horses.
The rare few that grew bold learned quickly that once the chain came off, Merlin the “racehorse” was back and he would leave them in the dust, running off to the grass while they were scrambling to call for help. Over time, as Merlin and I bonded further, it became widely known that he was “my” horse, and I would be the one to shuffle along with him during turn out.
I would tell him about my day while we ambled out to his field, feeding him all the extra apples that I had smuggled out of the cafeteria throughout the day. I would sit by his stall and read after class or spend my breaks grooming him. Since my Rutgers courses applied towards the general education courses, the program was only 15 months long. After graduating, I was given the opportunity to adopt Merlin.
At school, he had earned a reputation for being dangerous. He had a wicked buck and, from all the stories I was told, he knew how to get someone off his back. He had been out of work for some time but, once he moved to my trainer’s farm, he blossomed. He was sound, happy, and spirited out in the field. Despite all the stories, he never took one step wrong with me. He was the perfect schoolmaster. He taught me the basic buttons for dressage. He helped me regain my confidence riding to the point where I could hop on bareback and we would wander around the farm together.
We went to horse shows together and even got the TIP award for oldest TB at a show! I could lead him around the farm in just a halter, no lead in sight. When I got my current competition horse, Rossi, I fully retired Merlin because he had more than earned it. He reignited the joy of riding for me, so the least I could do was give him a retirement fit for a king.
He now lives with me on my farm with his mini donkey (Felix) and my Nigerian Dwarf goats (Anderson & Bradley Cooper). I named my farm “Wizard Rock Farm” in honor of my boys. Merlin & Rocky came to me at points in my life when I needed them the most, and that magic continues to surround us even though Rocky is no longer physically here anymore.
I don’t know what made me google the phrase “equine journalism” randomly that day, but I like to think that it was Merlin calling out to me to find him. Having recently turned 30, we are back to being six months apart–and we are forever connected.