At eight years old, Pride's Tribute laid dying at the A&M clinic. He was suffering from colic and had to have intestines removed. He would never be the same, the vets said, he would never recover. Boy, did he prove them wrong! Thirteen years later, he remained alive and well. Perhaps Tribute wasn't a big fan of Aggies. But my personal opinion is that he was not ready to leave this earth yet. He was stubborn, proud, and never willing to give up without a fight.

Julie Young bought Tribute when he was just a young stallion. She trained him and owned him for the majority of his life. The pretty blonde and her pretty golden sorrel became a popular duo at the horse shows. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, they won their share of blue ribbons. Seven years in a row, they competed in the Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee and placed in the Top 10 every time. Julie and Tribute had a very special bond; she could merely think about cantering and he would do it. Tribute had many near death experiences throughout his life, but always overcame each obstacle. Prior to his surgery at A&M, he was at a horse show in Oklahoma. He showed signs of colic, but swallowed his pain and won Julie both the preliminary and the championship. He was just that kind of horse; he was stoic and never let anyone down. The belt buckle won at that show is a reminder of his bravery. When Julie and her husband, Billy, decided to move to Arizona in 2003, she decided that she could not take Tribute with her. He loved green grass too much and would not adjust well to the desert-life at his old age. Julie decided to give her best boy to a very close friend and fellow horse lover, Jody Balfay.

Jody, my mother, had grown up around Tennessee Walking Horses and was delighted to be the new owner of such a special horse. With her aboard, the golden sorrel gelding with the flaxen mane and tail made a come-back at the nearby Walking Horse shows. It was not uncommon for people to come up to her and ask, "Isn't that Julie Young's horse?" My mom jokes that Tribute was like Elvis-everyone knew who he was. Often, people would say hello to him, but not speak to us at all! Jody and Tribute were very successful at all of the shows and continued to increase his blue ribbon collection. Our family was not well-known; we had no trainer and came from a small town. However, as soon as Tribute stepped out of the trailer, people knew that someone important had arrived. Also, being in his late teens, Tribute was much older than the other horses he competed against, but his spirit and pride made up for his age. He came into my mom's life at just the right time. He made her feel beautiful and important, she says, even though she often thought she wasn't. This was a feeling I soon came to know myself.

At age fifteen, I began to ride and show Tribute. In February 2005, at the Marshall horse show, Tribute delivered a timid and frightened young girl into the show ring. I merely sat still and held on to the reins and he took care of me. He performed perfectly and even parked out automatically in the line-up. The girl that he carried through her first victory pass, with a beaming face and ribbon in hand, was changed forever. Tribute and I became a popular sight at the horse shows. People never failed to compliment us (specifically, him) when they saw us in our shiny turquoise attire. It was not uncommon to see us sitting and relaxing in the warm-up ring (often eating peppermints) while the other competitors frantically practiced and got instructions from their trainers. However, when it was time to show, we were all business. Tribute won me a wall-full of ribbons. Specific ones that I am proud of are the Big D Youth Country Pleasure Championship and the State Fair of TX Youth Country Pleasure Championship. At the end of 2005, I was named Reserve Youth Rider of the Year for our association and Tribute was named Reserve Gaited Horse of the Year.  I continued to show Tribute through his 20th birthday. I will never forget the birthday party we had for him at the Nacogdoches horse show. We had a special cake made with an action shot of us and Tribute even wore his own birthday hat.

Tribute turned 21 years old in 2007 and I became a senior in high school. My mom showed him in the Marshall show during the summer, where he won a first place in the Trail Pleasure Canter class. And in September, he won two more blue ribbons at the State Fair of Texas. Needless to say, it was one of the biggest shocks of my life when I received the phone call on November 25th and was told that Tribute had passed away from colic.

However, upon reflection, I realize that it was the right time for Tribute to go. He knew he had fulfilled his purpose on this earth. Julie was even able to visit her Tribute one last time during the summer. It was clear that he had not forgotten her. She rode him across our pasture and he did everything (from cantering to lead changes) perfectly. He changed the lives of three women and, with many blue ribbons under his girth, definitely went away in style. His pride would not let him become old and crippled nor would he allow some vet to put him to sleep. Most of all, he would never allow himself to be a loser. He died a champion.

There are many things that I will miss about Tribute: how he smelled, his love for peppermints, the way he insisted on only backing up precisely three steps no matter how hard I tugged, the way he let us dress him up (giant sunglasses, birthday hat, and of course a Santa hat for Christmas pictures), the way he waited with his head peering over the gate until someone came to feed him, his big brown eyes, but most of all his kind heart.

Tribute will forever be remembered by Julie, mom, and I, and also by all of his friends at the horse shows. I will continue to proudly wear the belt buckle with his name on it that Julie gave me and it will remind me of what a special horse he was. Though someday I might show again, it will never be the same as it was with Tribute. He was my first horse and my champion; he never let me down. And though he is gone now, his legacy will remain and he will walk on in the hearts of those who knew him forever.