As a youngster, Katherine Perry didn’t expect much from others. Shy, quiet, and perhaps somewhat uncertain, she was neither spoiled nor coddled.
In fact, by the time she was in her early teens, her spirits had turned more melancholy, as entry into the teenage years were initiated first by sadness, so difficult at that age, and then by grief.
Overwhelmed by the sudden death of her grandfather, the one in the family she felt the strongest bond with, her daily life became a dark place for a 13-year-old.
“My grandfather had been my best friend and my biggest supporter,” Perry recalls. “When he died suddenly, I felt confused and alone.”
As she struggled to hold her despair at bay, she also started a job at an Ontario barn near her home, mucking stalls and working hard so she could take riding lessons.
Amid the scent of sweet hay and the musk of horses, she would finally take a deep breath and relax a little. “The barn,” she says, “was a better place for me to be.”
After three years had passed Perry finally decided to share a piece of that happy place with her parents. “I wanted them to come see this cute new school pony who’d just arrived,” she recalls.
Her parents, it would turn out, saw far more than that.
Race name: Velcro
Foal date: April 25, 1997They saw a daughter who pulled herself out of her grief to work hard for the privilege of riding a horse. They saw a girl about to turn 16 who had demonstrated she could be responsible.
And they had a surprise for her.
When she entered the barn on Jan. 16, 2005, everyone stopped and looked at her.
For, waiting down the aisle, in the far stall that had always been empty, was an ex-racehorse named Velcro. And he was hers, a gift from her parents in recognition of all the hard work and dedication she had devoted to horses.
“I didn’t notice him at first,” she says. “I’d dragged my parents to the barn to see this cute, new school pony we’d just gotten. While I was showing them the horse, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the stall that was always empty had a horse in it.
“And there was a sign on a piece of poster board and a bag of carrots near it.”
Every set of eyes followed Perry as she walked slowly toward the stall, and few were dry as they watched the young lady begin to comprehend that the horse looking back at her with liquid brown eyes was hers.
Velcro, a bay brown with a face accentuated white star and snip, was hers to ride exclusively, in a “free lease” arrangement, until such time that she could save enough money to purchase him outright.
“He was the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen. And he the most bombproof horse I’d ever known,” Perry says. “One of my best memories is of hacking down the road, alone, bareback, in just a halter. All of a sudden I heard a strange noise.
“I turned to look and was horrified to see this pickup truck with a tarp flapping from where it had come untied. I figured we were done for. But Velcro just kept calmly walking on; he was completely unfazed.”
Perry and Velcro went on to enjoy schooling shows and jumping small courses, but their time together was brief and not without interruption.
Months after Velcro was presented to her that night in the barn, Perry was badly injured in an automobile accident when a drunk driver hit the car in which she was riding.
She sustained a broken hip and was warned by doctors that she should not ride.
After going long months without riding, Perry was finally helped into the saddle so she could at least sit on her horse again. Despite the pain of her injury, those moments together were some of their best.
“What I remember most is how incredibly careful with me he was,” she says. “I couldn’t hold on with my legs because of my injury, so I held onto his mane, and he walked so slowly with me. I’ll never forget how careful his steps were.”
Memories like these make her feel so good about the wonderful five years she had with her great ex-racehorse. Sadly, Velcro was euthanized on March 17, 2010 after a long illness.
In the years since she lost her grandfather and Velcro, Perry tries to focus on the moments they shared together, and not so much on the loss.
“This may seem like a sad story, but it isn’t,” she says. “I’ve learned that just like people, animals are here for only a short time, and then they’re gone. Velcro came into my life when grief was consuming me. In a way, he saved me.