On a warm May afternoon in 2017, Amy Taylor nervously scanned the driveway at Shady Side Farm in Eads, TN.

She was looking for a sign: a whiff of dust from the road, the distant rattle of a hitch. Something to indicate the arrival of a pickup truck with a horse trailer in tow, and with it, proof that a harrowing search five years in the making had finally come to an end.

When the moment did arrive, the tall, handsome, bay horse that backed down the ramp sniffed the air anxiously. Though he seemed healthy and well cared for, the gelding had long since lost his show-ring shine. His mane was so long it concealed the entirety of his neck, and his coat was badly sun-bleached. On the gelding’s left hip was a marking Amy had never seen before; a large, ornate brand featuring the initials, ‘DW’—one of two he had received over the years. But as she studied the horse’s tired face, Amy saw that the dark, intelligent eyes peeking from beneath his forelock were the same.

All images courtesy of Amy Taylor.

“I walked him around the barn and put him in the cross-ties so I could groom him a little,” Amy says. “I was starting to brush his forelock when St.Martin dropped his head into my arms [and let out] a huge sigh of relief.”

Literally and figuratively, it had been a long trip for St.Martin (“Martin” for short), who had traveled hundreds of miles from his most recent home, a 100-acre ranch in Indiana, to western Tennessee. But his journey back to Amy began long before that.

“In that moment, we both knew we had found each other,” she says.

Once upon a time

Now 27, Amy Taylor is an amateur rider who works as a physician liaison for Pinnacle Medical Solutions, just across the border in Mississippi. Like many young professionals just starting out in their careers, she doesn’t get to horse show quite as much as she would like to. But Amy is deeply appreciative of her current situation.

“Growing up, my mom sacrificed everything to allow me to ride. It was pinching pennies just for me to be able to do the local ‘A’-rated shows, and maybe a few [rated] shows out of town,” she says. “I applaud her for how much she gave up for me to ride, and to rub elbows with other children who came from much more privileged households.”

At 14, Amy accompanied one such friend on a horse-buying trip to Debi Connor’s farm in Ocala, Florida. “I thought of it more of a great opportunity to get experience,” says Amy, who wasn’t there to shop, but was thrilled at the chance to spend some time training with Connor.

While there, one of the many horses she sat on was a four-year-old Dutch Warmblood with floaty gaits and a standout disposition. The horse’s name was St.Martin, and after jumping some gymnastics and a few courses, Amy realized she was smitten.

“I rode about 10 horses every day while I was there, and some [of them] were older, and probably considered more fancy than Martin was, [but] something about him stole my heart.”

As it happened, St.Martin had been bred by FarmVet founder and Franklin, TN-based equestrian Christian Currey, who had sent him to Connor’s farm to be sold. When Amy returned home, she begged her mother to reach out to Currey to see what could be done.

“[Being] the amazing horseman that he is, Christian worked with my mom to make it possible for us to purchase Martin. He got to Memphis a few weeks later,” she explains.

Although Amy was young—and Martin younger still—the pair began working with Phoebe Sheets in Germantown, TN and set about building their partnership in the hunter ring. They first competed in Pre-Children’s classes, eventually moving up to the 3’ Children’s division, and graduating to the 3’6” Junior hunters during Amy’s senior year in high school.

It turns out, her intuition had been correct: the pair clicked, and during their six years together, Amy’s love for the gelding only grew.

“Martin is absolutely the funniest horse I have ever been around. He has such a big personality,” she says. “Grooming, tacking up, or just walking him on a lead rope, he is always trying to lick me, or mess with my hair, jacket, or phone.

“When [we’re] riding, he is not afraid to put me in my place. Sometimes, I mess up at a jump, and he is quick to let me know that I can do better. He tries his heart out for me, but he is also not afraid to stand up for himself, which is a quality I also have and admire.”

After graduating from high school in 2012, Amy went on to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, nearly six hours away from her home near Memphis. The expense of college made boarding a horse impossible, and Amy and her mother followed through with their predetermined plan to sell Martin to a good home before she left.

Amy continued to keep tabs on the gelding, however, and during her sophomore year, was concerned to learn through Facebook that Martin had been sold. Not long after that, she discovered he had been donated to the equestrian team at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio.

“I reached out to Otterbein’s Equestrian coach at the time and told her my history with [Martin] and let her know that if he didn’t work out with them, I would gladly take him back,” says Amy.

The college student was told, due to privacy reasons, that although Martin had since moved on from their program, Otterbein could not share the new owner’s contact information. Amy was devastated by the dead end but understood her predicament.

“As any horse owner knows, when you sell a horse, you are not guaranteed to ever see or hear about them again,” she says.

In a vision

Two years had passed since Amy had contacted Otterbein, but although St.Martin was still very much out of sight, he was far from out of mind.

“I would have a reoccurring, and very [vivid] dream about him,” she says. “It was always the same. He was stuck in a stall and hadn’t been fed or taken out in months, and I would wake up in a sweat, just feeling [his distress]. I never could shake it.

“Call me crazy, but to this day, I feel like it was a sign from God that Martin needed me, wherever he was,” Amy continues.

The truth was, she needed him as well.

During the same period, Amy had been diagnosed with a severe and aggressive case of Lyme disease. Still struggling to complete her degree, she was prescribed five different kinds of antibiotics, and her weight plummeted to 90 pounds. On many days, Amy says, just getting out of bed could be a struggle. But she pressed on, graduating and moving back home to Memphis to be closer to her family. The reprieve, however, would be short-lived.

One evening, Amy received a call out of the blue from Martin’s breeder, Christian Currey. He and his wife were on a mission to track down all of the horses that had been bred on their farm, as they were starting their own rescue organization and wanted to ensure their progeny were in safe hands. Currey had also tracked Martin to Otterbein College, and shortly thereafter, he had received another unsettling lead. The gelding had been “sold to a cowboy in Indiana,” a vague phrasing that, for Currey, immediately set off alarm bells.

“He said he needed to let me know that Martin had more than likely been sent to a slaughter auction,” Amy recalls. “I broke down in absolute tears. This was the worst possible news I could have ever dreamed. That same fear [became] an obsession to find out where he was, or [to ultimately learn] what had happened to him.”

Amy turned to the Internet and social media, immersing herself in the horrifying realities of horse transport for slaughter in America. She searched for clues at well-known slaughter auctions across Indiana, requesting permission to join every horse-related Facebook group she could find in the state.

When all that led nowhere, Amy recruited her sister Sarah to her cause, and both women picked up their cell phones and began making calls.

“I probably called around 120 different people, leaving messages, anything to get some [kind of information],” she says.

Weeks went by, and despite their best efforts, follow-up after follow-up went unanswered. Finally, Amy received a call back.

The woman on the other end of the line said her name Dena, and her elderly father owned more than 100 acres in Indiana. Dena said more than a hundred horses were living out on the ranch’s pastureland, and told Amy that if she could send a picture of St.Martin, Dena would see what she could find. Another week passed before Amy received a photo back.

“Is this Martin?” Dena’s text inquired.

Amy’s breath caught in her throat. Despite some obvious physical differences, there was no mistaking the distinctive white marking above St.Martin’s nostrils.

“I broke down in tears of joy,” Amy recalls. “He was alive.”

Ever after

Like the best of long-lost friends, in the years since their reunion, Amy and St.Martin haven’t missed a beat. Happily installed at his forever home at Shady Side Farm, the now-19-year-old Martin spends his days grazing with friends in sunny fields, trail riding, and popping around the occasional jump course with Amy at local horse shows, something he clearly still enjoys.

The pair has also amassed a following on Instagram, where Amy openly shares her story about the horse she loved, lost, and—against all odds—found and brought home again. She credits the far-reaching scope of social media for helping her generate leads and is thankful to her sister, Sarah, for the many hours of volunteer manpower required to track Martin down. In fact, Amy’s near-brush with tragedy inspired her to start looking for other horses from her past as well. She is currently searching for information on her first pony, JG Black Magic (more on him in a minute), who she lost track of more than a decade ago.

“It’s never easy when you sell a horse, they become engraved in your soul,” Amy writes in an Instagram post from June 2020. “You go through heartache together, success together, you fail together. [But] most importantly, you teach one another how to trust deeply, [to] have mutual respect for one another, and [to] love another living thing through the good, bad, and ugly.”

Like the title character in Black Beauty, only St.Martin knows the real truth behind his five-year-long ordeal—the good care he received and the bad; the joyful moments, the losses, and the fears. Amy has since learned that while he was in Indiana, Martin was rented out as a trail horse to the Boy Scouts and other summer camps, where he was used in-season before returning to his field on the ranch.

Looking back, Amy is grateful for the care that he received, especially when she considers other fates that could have easily befallen him. Now that he is home, she says, Martin is just the same, goofy, fun-loving horse he always been.

“I think I am the one who [has] changed,” Amy reflects. “I stopped worrying about every distance to a jump, or a missed lead change here and there. None of that matters. [I] stopped expecting perfection. Instead, I’m just grateful for every ride.

©Maggie Stiefvater / Flickr CC by 2.0

Amy Taylor is currently seeking information about her first pony, JG Black Magic or “Magic”, who she identified from an unrelated Flickr photo used to illustrate our recent satire story, Show Steward Gently Suggests That Competitor Stop Cheating.” Amy believes Magic is the black pony with the white blaze on the right, and would now be in his mid-20s. He was originally sold to a rider at Don Stewart’s barn in the early 2000s, but Amy has since lost track of him and wants to ensure he is safe. If you have any information about Magic’s whereabouts, please contact Amy at amytaylor6698@gmail.com.