Learning to Let Go: Pearl

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She arrived at Infinity Farm unceremoniously. We moved a fence panel, backed the rig in close, and she pretty much fell out the back of the trailer. That was good news; they weren’t sure she’d survive the trip.

It isn’t my intention to cue a circle of hand wringing, sympathy is not the goal. If we write heroic stories about champions and lifetime partners, then rescues deserve to have their story told, too.

I’m on the board of a local rescue. We’d picked her up at an auction, malnourished with last winter’s hair matted over her skeleton, and a spine that had both a curve and an arch. The vet thought she was young, perhaps an injured rope donkey. Just guesses, really. She wasn’t doing well at the busy intake barn, so I got the call; I keep the Grandfather Horse’s spot ready for an un-adoptable someone.

She had elegant ears but flat unmoving eyes. She started eating but she drank way too much water. She slowly gained weight but took several long naps a day. She arrived without a name, but she became our Pearl, the living definition of bittersweet.

Pearl hadn’t been haltered and was people-shy, probably with very good reason. But as soon as she had some strength, she was interested in the herd. First, we tried Arthur, the goat, but when he touched the top of his horn-less skull to her shoulder, Pearl tumbled to the ground. Edgar Rice Burro was the obvious choice. It’s been his job to welcome newcomers here for the last decade, putting fear to rest in the most frightened hearts, but he ate all her hay. We gave her run of the yard by the barn with the best grass, but she ended up chasing my barn manager around the tree. She eye-balled Roo, Nickole’s refugee from a therapeutic program, but he pinned his ears, still too grumpy and aggressive after almost two years here.

While in New Zealand at Equidays, Nickole messaged me that Pearl was in trouble. On an icy-cold morning, she’d found Pearl on the ground, disoriented and too weak to stand. Nickole got her up to her wobbly feet and hours later, the vet arrived for a scheduled horse appointment. The vet felt Pearl was too frail for testing, but guessed Equine Motor Neuron Disease. Unsurprisingly, it’s both debilitating and terminal. I asked Nickole to not let her suffer, if it came to that, and I started home.

This is where Cupid comes in. I was feeling sorry for myself at the L.A. airport, sipping wine and voting. The board of directors of the rescue were making some hard decisions. It was late October and we had too many elders. That’s a bad combination for a horse who’s done nothing wrong but get old and crippled, then dumped at an auction. It still gets to me; some of the photos of elders we were making decisions about had Christmas bows from last year’s attempt to find them homes. I messaged them we’d have a stall soon and he came to Infinity Farm.

Pearl had a come-back. Cupid hated everybody, especially the goat. Roo continued to attack anyone if there was a blade of hay around. The anxiety worried Edgar and Bhim, the mini… don’t even ask. My “deplorable pen” was full but at least the price of hay was going up. Bittersweet.

Around this time, Pearl started chasing Bhim, not that she had the strength or agility to do it. He baited her on, and it usually ended with her falling on top of him. Pearl continued sleeping too much, but she convinced Cupid to join her. His knees are both double-sized with arthritis, having the courage to lay down with her was a balm. Now the two of them slept for hours, snoring away. After lunch, Pearl would latch onto Edgar Rice Burro’s backside and he’d tow her around the pen until he was tired. Then everyone had another nap. Eventually Roo was drawn in. The first time we saw him playing with Pearl, then wrestling with Bhim, we thought we were hallucinating.

Pearl stayed in a “veal pen” at night, a run by herself next to Cupid, with too much hay and a couple of servings of my miracle mash. Turned out in the morning, she’d gallop, using her hind legs as one, careening into her friends. By now, she knew we had fingers and when she needed an ear scratch, she’d come at a dead run diagonally, either hitting a fence a few feet away or slamming into us dead center. She had no steering but had gained enough weight to be dangerous. We loved that she felt the thrill of running and playing, tormenting the goat, chewing hunks of hair out of Edgar. We couldn’t take our eyes away. Bittersweet.

She crashed into fences, gate posts, and the side of the barn, hitting hard. Sometimes she’d take a slow step back and her hind would give out and she’d flip over on her back, hitting her head, frozen and dazed. Sometimes, struggling to stand, she’d stagger, flinging herself in all directions until she got hung up in a fence, and had to be rescued. We couldn’t take our eyes away. Bittersweet.

No, Pearl is not a common rescue, adoption was never a possibility, but Roo and Cupid are too normal. They don’t require a miraculous human effort; the more I’ve done this over the years, the more certain I am that we do not heal them. They don’t need special handling, training of any kind, or a fortune in supplements. They need herd life. They need a safe place to live out their days with other horses and donkeys. It takes no special skill; you throw hay and muck. One day a cloudy-eyed, decrepit Appaloosa stands behind you, almost unnoticed. As you turn, you see his eye softer, and not that he’d ever ask for it, you have the privilege of thanking him.

Please, no lamenting for Pearl. Reliving the horrors of abuse leaves a mark on us, energetically. Repeating horror stories only adds to our collective negativity and I’ve never met an equine that benefited from commiseration. They don’t need our thoughts and prayers, or our rage and disgust. They just need a little time at your farm. The herd will do the rest.

Learning to let go of the darkness inside of us is the hardest and best lesson for any of us- elder horses, wayward goats, long-ear misanthropes, or the “gray mare” that cares for them. My friend Elaine says, “I guess when she was fulfilled, she could leave the party.” And it would have been very selfish of us to ask her to stay longer.

We said good-bye on Valentine’s Day. When I was younger, it was a hard day most years. I would long for the relationship I wasn’t having, the hearts I had not stolen. Standing with Pearl waiting for the vet, surrounded by gang of reprobates, each one of us was changed by her cantankerous visit… Letting go never felt better.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

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Anna Blake

73 thoughts on “Learning to Let Go: Pearl”

  1. Oh, Pearl, you doggone heartbreaker… . I’m so happy you had your naps in the sun with Cupid and other friends, your frolics, and the healing of your herd there at Anna’s before you sailed away.

  2. Yup, reminds me of my old boy with very few teeth left. He couldn’t eat hay but always stood next to everyone else while they ate.

  3. Hugs to you and Pearl. “You throw hay and muck.” That pretty much says it all, and while it is as simple as it sounds it also includes the profoundness of living with and loving these animals. It’s a life.

  4. These are the stories that need to be told. People need to hear that rescue is hard. You need to be so soft and open to the heartbreak but strong and rational to understand it, to understand the timing and suffering, what the animals really need, and when it’s too much. Never mind the shortage of space, money, and education to honestly and humanely rescue like you do, there needs to be emotional wealth for those who do. Everyone loves a comeback, a recovery, finding something priceless in what others rejected. But I’ve found that for every lovely shiney story, there’s an armful of ones like Pearl. I also appreciate you mention there’s not much benefit in recounting the horror stories or being overly sentimental about the condition of these equines. I can sometimes look hopelessly at the overflowing armful of horse I’m attempting to care for and feel such outrage at the unfairness of the situation from a dozen angles. But that doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all me. Thank you for sharing, for establishing your herd, and for doing the hard, dirty, but vital work.

  5. Pearl left this world with dignity. You made that possible for her, and the others before and to come after. In my own very small way, I follow in your footsteps. Thanks, Anna.

  6. Wasn’t she the beautiful, fragile, fairy like creature I met that day we all had lunch? She had such a gentle presence, I was in awe of her then and will never forget now. Greener pastures Pearl….

  7. Such a loving, caring place for a creature that had never had either before. But Anna, she had both and more in the time she lived with you – AND her own herd to be with. That is what rescue is all about. Giving an animal a place of their own that they absolutely deserve & a life – even for a short time.

  8. As I get older, sitting ON them has become less of a goal, and sitting (or being) with them is more rewarding. Thank you, Anna, for guiding me in that discovery.

  9. I should not have read this at work…now red eyed and teary…Anna you are a priceless gift to these animals facilitating their herd healing, all their healing. Until they’ve bern fulfilled and can leave the party. So well expressed and felt

  10. Rest in Peace, Pearl. Anna, this beautiful post gave me goosebumps and brings a tear to my eye. You are such an angel for taking in these unwanted horses and giving them a wonderful home. I am so very grateful.

  11. Anna, again I thank you. I cried over Pearl, a being whom I have never met…yet have. I see her in my ailing cat, my recently dead parents, today’s colicky horse and all the happy, healthy beings that surround me. I see her in myself and cry not for the loss, but for the love. It is something, isn’t it; when death fills one’s heart instead of emptying it.

  12. I volunteer at a wonderful rescue and for all sorts of animals and everything you say is so true. Thank you for all that you do!

  13. You have totally stolen our hearts with your wise words and observations. Screw Valentines day there is love and romance everyday with our 4 legged friends. Thank you Anna xx

  14. Okay. Some tears. But death is also beautiful. Did you know that deer, at least here in North Carolina, lose their antlers on or about Valentine’s Day? I think it’s the only holiday that deserves real celebration . . . on so many counts. And, now, in remembrance of Pearl. How wonderful that you take them in. May she awaken and be free. . . . a few more tears.

  15. I am so happy for Pearl. This all could easily have ended before she ever knew there was such a thing as a “party”. Love to all.

  16. Simply enough to know that she died finally understanding the meaning of care, safety and friendship. I am teary! I had never thought of myself as a rescuer, but having just made a list of names, I’ve got to eleven. Some were drought relief and went home fat a year later. Most were rideable and re-situated. 3 were grand aged stallions. Never a donkey, we rarely see them here, I think much to my loss, I’d love to know one. Vale Pearl. Thank you Anna, for sharing your work and sentiments with us.

  17. The herd heals, I think that’s true not just for the equines. The herd, whether equine, human, canine, heals us too, teaches us and maybe even comforts us through the inevitable losses. I’m glad Pearl had her time with your herd and you, you blessed each other with the love, care and compassion.

  18. Anna I stumbled upon one of your books a couple years ago. Tears ran down my face as I read it on an airplane ride. I could not stop them. It feels like a privilege to me to have found you and your magnificent gift with words. I am always touched so deeply by your books and your posts. There is so much to learn from your approach. This post on Pearl may be one of my favorites. Just landed for me in such a special way. I have two horses that entered their 20s this year. Just spent a boat load of money to move them to Colorado with me. I don’t understand the mentality that as a horse ages it becomes expendable…sellable…turn over to a rescuable. Bless you for your care of all horses and for letting us all in on the wonder of what you see and experience through the use of your amazing way with words. I will hold the bittersweet lessons from Pearl in my heart. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Wow. I cannot find the words to express how this made me feel. Having taken in so many over the years and humbly found retirement homes for those I could not bear to go through the final gift with, I am moved beyond words. I look forward to reading more of your work and meeting you in New Hamshire this spring.


  20. Thank you for this beautifully bittersweet story. And, especially for the reminder that “the herd does the work.” Love from me.

  21. Given a safe environment, I think that most or even maybe all rescues heal themselves. But being healed doesn’t always look the same. Thank you Anna for having the wisdom to recognize the varied faces of healing, and to put it into words as inspiration for like minded humans who have the privilege of sharing in the lives of these resilient creatures.

  22. As is the natural order in life, the older I get, the more I have to say goodbye to loved ones. Two & Four legged. Giving me a more profound understanding of the saying “it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”. It is true for both the ones leaving as well as the ones left behind.

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