When it came time to say goodbye to my dressage mentor, a trainer that I’d ridden with several times a week for five years, she cried. I was surprised. I knew I would; she’d changed my life. But I was a bit flattered that she cared that much. By the time I got to the end of the driveway, I came to my senses. She was saying goodbye to three of us, and the tears were for the two with hooves in the trailer. Now I have her job and I think of horses I knew even briefly, decades ago. Horses who have passed through my life leaving a gift with me; I’m blessed by their uniqueness and by the good fortune to meet so many. I remember horses. I think we all do.
Two horses dear to me died this week. I didn’t own them. I just thought I did.
Damien was a massive Percheron stallion. Okay, he wasn’t a stallion but standing next to him gave that indelible feeling, his pride and self-confidence shone. He was nothing short of regal. I’d been hired to get the herd of rescue draft horses and donkeys ready to be loaded on a huge semi-trailer transport for a long-haul move. Think gangplank onto an ocean liner. It was scary, and some of the herd would be extremely challenged by it. But I knew who would go first. In the weeks of work with the herd, he was the horse I understood from the start. He was the one who had the courage to lead. It’s been years ago now, he must have been quite elderly. Go on ahead now, Damien, we’ll catch up. I’m grateful for the part of you that will always be here in Colorado.
Lou was a horse I met online. He was in New Zealand, living with a couple of donkeys and a truly kind, funny owner. Lou was handsome, a deep chestnut. The stoic sort with the kind of backside that you wanted to rest your head on. He was the perfect Lou of a horse. Just Lou. He arrived with a fair amount of baggage from his past. Who doesn’t? But he became curious, and he loved a good debate about a halter. He was engaging once you proved a few things about yourself. Maybe not the easiest horse, but the easy ones don’t set a hook quite this deeply. At 20, perhaps he could have stayed longer, but sometimes I wonder about horses like Lou, who have carried more than their share in the past. I wonder if when the fighting stops and the anxiety leaves, once they finally know they’re home, if they feel safe enough, rich enough, to let go. No more worries, Lou. And never forgotten.
Why mention them? They are not the only ones I miss. These horses were not elite, they didn’t have walls of ribbons, legends written, or even progeny. Hardly any of us knew them. They were ordinary horses. As if there was ever such a thing as that.
It’s been a year of death like every year is. Common as it is, each passing has a ripple effect. We share condolences and we certainly cry. Horses are worthy of mourning; the rest of the herd agrees. In the immediacy of the death, all that’s visible is the hole they have left. We can only see what we can’t see. Sometimes the passing is slow and sometimes lightning quick. We say it’s always too soon, words trite on our tongues. We remain a bit arrogant as if we can change the law of nature; as if death is an indicator of our personal failure. It just isn’t. There is no shame in living a life of negotiated twists and turns. They are not so unlike us. All mortal bodies will come to rest as souls fly free.
A horse’s life, all his precious days, is so much more important than the small moment of his death. We do horses a disservice to focus on his limitations, a chronic health issue, or the wishes that did not come to pass. Most of all, it’s impossible for his last hours to negate the truth of all the days that have come before. At first, we cry because we think they have left us but when we catch our breath, we see them out of the corner of our eye grazing with a ghost herd. Our ears atune to the muted beat of hooves, the scent of their skin wafting on the breeze. They travel easier now; no old joints, no trailer needed. The hope of oneness becomes true at last, just behind our eyelids. Not trodden upon, we’re carried lighter than in life. Now running with our childhood ponies and all the others, a herd unbound by time or place. Let their memory might be their finest gift, for they are never out of reach.
We have an involuntary love. We cry for our own horses and for horses we’ve met or seen photos of, or dreamed about. We also cry when we see weanlings flinging their legs in all directions at once, or when we see a courageous ride. Tears well at their intelligent soft eye when we first notice that we’ll probably outlive them. We think we each own a part of all of them and we do. We have paid in so many kinds of currency. Honestly, us crying about horses is not a special occasion. Even us old cranky horsewomen get things in our eyes coming in from the night feed. It’s the time nickers can be heard from those who have walked on. Parts of life might be hard but loving horses is the easiest task of all.
If the day ever comes when we look at a horse and are not knocked back and brought to tears by the sacred blessing of knowing them, it’ll be time to quit. Or it could mean we’ve died already and gone off to the Big Pasture ourselves.
Until that day, we are blessed with their memory but more than that, blessed with seeing a part of our horse in every horse. We have come to float in an infinite sea of horses as vast as the sky, our own life’s blood vibrantly intermingled with theirs in every wave of light, sunset through to sunrise. We couldn’t lose them if we tried.
Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward
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53 thoughts on “Part of Your Horse Stays Behind”
“Parts of life might be hard but loving horses is the easiest task of all.” And it always will be to the very end!
Thanks, Anna – no one has ever said it better than that.
Thanks, Maggie. It’s why you still “have” horses.
Beautifully stirring. Thank you Anna.
“All mortal bodies will come to rest as souls fly free”
Something in my eye again; funny, it worked its way up from my heart. And the poem is one that grabbed me from the first time I read it, now years ago. Thank you, Anna, for taking me deeper than I knew it was possible to go.
It’s beyond me, Susan. But thank you.
I… I….Thank you, Anna, for putting something so hard into words. I’m sorry for your and the owners losses, we all feel their pain.
There is a herd of us following their herd… thanks, Linda
Losing them never gets any easier!!
No, but knowing them is worth it. Thanks Sally
It was my privilege to know Damien and his amazing people. I can just imagine the two of you working together to get that little herd up here. All but one of that original herd are now love and light. We honor them with our grief, but even that is a cold comfort. Thank you for your mention. I know it will mean a lot to V and C ❤️
It is a privilege to know them and their owners…They are the best of us. Please give Tuesday a scratch if you see her.
Thanks for putting this in print! Your words moved me to tears & made me think of all the wonderful, and not so wonderful, horses who have shared my life & dreams.
Thanks, Susan. We’re the lucky ones.
Oh Anna, your words are so eloquently sorrowful, beautiful, and hopeful. My dream of Heaven is filled with horses.
Amen to that. Thanks, Rose
You bet we hurt when they leave. It’s a deep agony coming from the soul. Even the tears couldn’t find release. When my sweet old man passed two years ago at 39 years, I had been walking with him outside, through the night ,after a camera check showed him being restless in his stall. I walked with him until my little Cocker puppy who was following, started to whimper to go back to bed. It was a beautiful warm night so I let my other horse out to be with him, and went to bed. For awhile. When I woke an hour later and went back to check him, I found that he had passed, waiting at the gate for me. While I’m grateful I didn’t have to be the one to “put him down”, I don’t suppose I will ever come to terms with not being* there when he died.
Maybe he wanted to spare you that… Best wishes, Betty.
So absolutely perfect. Thank you for reminding (not really necessary) how magically these creatures are. So thankful that they tolerate me and add so much to my life, past and present.
Yesterday I sowed wildflower seeds over her grave. Just days ago we said goodbye to River, the sweet paint that came to us nine months ago. She had spunk, that girl, outliving neglect, and injury until she landed here. I spent more time nursing her these past months than I did all the other horses combined. In the pain of goodbyes, I’ve often thought “Never again.” But it’s a lie. We can no more give up our love for these creatures than we could give up breathing. There’s a big empty space in the barn this morning.
River is one of those horses that I have never met but I thought of her just recently. They all leave us but I am so happy that she had her time with you. That she got to know a human like you. Bless River on her way and bless you for your humanity.
“We couldn’t lose them if we tried.” Cathartic following the loss of my appaloosa mare. Thank you, Anna xx
Appaloosa heaven right here. Best wishes, my friend.
Thank you Anna, when it’s time for my soul to fly free I hope it’s to be with my ghost herd. Every one of them has a place in my heart, and I wouldn’t lose the time I had with them for anything. The pain of parting, raw as it is, is the price we pay. There’s definitely something in my eye after reading your beautiful words.
My hope as well. Thanks Carolyn
Beautifully written. Moved to tears by this, and memories of horses past. It s so true that they are always with us. Thank you, Anna.
A difficult subject SO beautifully written, Anna! There are several lines that will remain in my mind and heart when I think of the horses I have loved in my many years. They weren’t
even all mine. What a privilege it has been to be left with such wonderful memories in spite of the sadness of loss.
Thanks Jean. I think we both love the herd at Proud Spirit…
I haven’t yet had the privilege of being with a horse when he or she went to higher pastures. I say privilege because it’s the same word I used when I was at my Father’s side when he died. It might sound strange, but that is how I will think of it. Your poem, Anna, is so beautiful and rings so true. It’s just the best way to look at this sometimes inexplicable feeling we have for horses. As if they have always been there, and always will be, before and after. It also reminds me of something I read about dogs once: that humans live longer lives because we must learn to love better, have more patience, be more tolerant, be more giving, etc. Horses and dogs have shorter lives because they already know how to do that so they don’t have to be around as long! Very bad interpretation on my part, but it always made sense to me. I wish all the people that I love could have horses in their lives. They change us for the better and give us something that is indescribable to those who don’t call them friends, family. Thank you for making me consider how I will handle the inevitable death of a loved one when my heart and soul scream in agony. I think the worse thing is that they can’t say the words, “good bye”. We can only see it in their eyes and feel it from their heart. Will it be enough? I hope so. And from your ghost herd, I hear the nickers and neighs of approval for your contribution to the betterment of the bigger herd.
Thanks, Kathy. My ghost herd keeps me on a short lead.
Such a true statement, Kathy – that horses & dogs already KNOW how to love better etc! Of course sitting here crying – again! Which is what I did when I read Anna’s beautiful writing and that poem! But this morning had to take Axel for his morning walk up by the woods – which he considers much much more important than anything to do with the computer! Sorry, Anna
Axel is right.
Maggie, it is my constant goal to spend more time outside than on the computer and when there to be present and use all my senses, lol! Your walk by the woods sounds heavenly.
To Lou who carried more than his fair share, to Damien who helped lead the herd to a better place, and to all the rest who we have known so intimately or knew through the stories of others, until the time that we “catch up,” mind that you do not forget us for we surely will never forget you.
Amen, Lynell. Never.
Profound truth. Thank you for expressing ‘our’ thoughts so eloquently.
Thanks Jan. (love your farm name)
I have tears on my cheek, reading this. Thank you for your eloquence and for all you do.
To those horses I have loved, even long ago, Joey (In Ireland) and many others.
And for Strider, the Hanoverian gentleman, who taught me to be courageous in my autumnal years, now passed but waiting….
And for Jack, who fills my heart, daily, and Simon, his best friend.
perfectly said Anna, as always.
Absolutely beautiful and tears are flowing so well said and touches my heart! Thank you ??
Thank you, Terry
Thank you, always. The feelings so perfectly expressed.
Wonderful, Anna. I have now cried TWICE while reading this essay. Once on Friday, and now on Sunday. .. which means your words have opened my heart yet again.
Top Man, gone 35 years now, is almost as real to me as the geldings standing in my horse pen. The one who died in the flood nickers from the west now and then.
What unspeakable gifts horses give to us. ..and you give us the gift of finding the words that describe the indescribable.
Thank you, Sarah. I think horses give me the words. The gifts are unspeakable and immense and uncontainable…just not like anything else. Or maybe we’re the ones who are special. 🙂
Such a beautiful post, Anna. I have lost two beloved horses within this past year. My Am. Saddlebred mare, Peaches and I were together for almost eighteen years. I have a hole in my heart that she left behind. It is so very heartbreaking losing our beloved horses.
Condolences, Michelle. Hope they start showing up in corners soon…
As I read this beautiful post with tears in my eyes I am getting ready to say farewell to my beautiful girl who has been taking care of me for 20 years. Cushing’s disease and now chronic laminitis have taken her quality of life from her and I know that I have to set her free. She will always be with me, I can never forget her and when my time comes I know that she will waiting for me.
Thanks, Liza, for sharing her with us.