Going the Full Heart Distance: Saying So Long


It’s deep fall here on our farm. Most of the leaves are gone; Canada geese are on the wing. Each morning there’s a thin shell of ice on the water tanks. Local horse-people know the season change in Colorado can be extreme. The barometer goes nuts for a few weeks, temperatures dance wildly, and we keep a special eye on the elders. My Grandfather Horse usually has a veterinary emergency every fall, but not this year.

Trigger warning: The peaceful passing of a well-loved horse.

Our story started with a foolish decision: I bought a colt who wouldn’t let me touch him. In my lifetime of horses, I have no explanation for why this scruffy Appaloosa colt hooked me as deep and true as he did. Breed shows, trail, reining, jumping, and finally dressage. We had a good thirty-year run; all of his life and half of mine. Maybe it was giving him such an infinite name; there was no telling where my spirit stopped and his began.

The Grandfather Horse had a rough summer. Chronic arthritis controlled his movements–even on warm days. His knees wobbled and even collapsed on him sometimes. He had a collection of tumors; the largest one had grown to ten inches. I asked a kind vet for a consult; I didn’t need a diagnosis. It isn’t a crime to get old.

I was told that the thing most likely to kill him wasn’t even the condition that caused him the most daily pain. The management options were exhausted. Of the three possible outcomes, two were brutal. The vet left and I languished in selfish thoughts, intense memories, and the inability to verbalize anything.


Then I practiced saying the words out loud, like a spoonful of poison a day. A week later I called for the appointment to euthanize Spirit. I got some of the words out.

I chose a day at the end of September; far enough off that I could torture myself with doubt, screw up my courage, and say a last, best, thank you. For half of my life, he was my only constant. I wanted to hold steady for him now.

Then he made it easier for me. Don’t you hate that? There was a strange incident that left him disoriented and out of balance. After that day, his eyes were dimmer but we doddered on.

Thirty years; closer than kin. Readers and clients sometimes lament that they wish, for the sake of their horses, they’d known me thirty years ago. Spirit would be the first to tell you I was no prize. It was always him.

As our horses age, we continually lower the bar when thinking about their quality of life. We know they’re flight animals but we mitigate their lameness with supplements and injections. We want to believe they don’t miss running. As teeth are lost, we make mush for creatures designed to graze 24/7. We keep them safe from younger, stronger horses in turnout. When they can’t move enough to stay warm in winter, there are blankets. Eventually, the bar got so low that he was a shadow of the beautiful gelding who changed my life.


Looking at the Grandfather Horse, well, Nature would have taken him a decade ago. Truth: I became more afraid of a painful midnight blizzard emergency than I was of losing him. There were no better days ahead. I knew he’d given me everything he had, and I’d done the same; now there was only this one final kindness.

The day before our appointment, I stayed in the pen with Spirit and our family horses. It was a golden day, Spirit reeked of Showsheen, and the curry was as warm as his old heart when I finished. I took hundreds of photos. He looked miserable in most of them; his eyes were almost closed and he only moved a few steps all day. But we were all together.

Some of you knew him, and some of you befriended him here and through Stable Relation. Thank you for sharing my Grandfather Horse with me. There’s nothing special about death. What matters is how we live–celebrate that.

On the last morning, the family horses had breakfast together. Spirit wandered away from the herd, stood in the sun, and dozed. I stayed close, not that he noticed, and kept my breath matched with his, treasuring each inhale.

We’ve been thrown some curve balls over the years, but I won’t ever regret a single moment with this horse. Not even this one.

Spirit had no fear of vets or needles; I didn’t need to hold him. So we shared an apple, in the way that we always did. I bit off a piece, sweet in my mouth, and gave it to him. The vet began the procedure and an instant later, Spirit was free. My first feeling was relief. It went well. No fear or suffering. I felt like I’d saved him.

“Let the pain wash over you. Don’t fight it, feel it. Let your tears free. Cry without judgment; it’s just a different kind of breathing.” I wrote that years ago; horses taught me to believe in emotional honesty.

I brought the family herd into the pen after the vet left. Nubè was curious and quiet, while Clara was frightened, flagging her tail and galloping arcs around him. Edgar and Bhim were stoic. Eventually, everyone made their peace. Little Arthur, Spirit’s goat, stayed longest. He laid down by Spirit’s back leg, as I sat by his head, holding vigil until the truck came for his body.

A cut this deep has a purity about it.


I’m sorry to share this; there’s no shortage of sad news already. My voice has an aching squeak; it’s taken a month to write this eulogy. Everything I say sounds trite and superficial. The words feel insignificant, like an out-of-focus snapshot. I’ll live in the shadow of this horse for the rest of my life. If I’m lucky.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the Rainbow Bridge. If it gives you comfort for loss, take it to heart. As for me, I hate the idea of all my animals waiting for me. Besides, I think horses might be Buddhist. I hope he’s gamboling through a pasture, on brand new wobbly legs, catching the eye of another horse crazy girl who has a lot to learn. I’d wish him another life just like this one.

Mostly, I’m overwhelmed with bittersweet gratitude. I knew he never belonged to me. He was always part of something bigger than my tiny, conflicted life. I had to leave my puny-sad-self behind to keep up with him. It was the best trade of my life.

Go the distance.
Do it with grace or do it ugly,
because some days
that’s what your best looks like.

It only matters
that you go the full heart distance.

Thank you for all the kind thoughts for my Grandfather Horse over the years.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “Going the Full Heart Distance: Saying So Long”

  1. You can’t know how much this means to me. I pray each day to have courage to do the right thing when the next time comes. Full heart, yes. Not always well done. Saying good bye and helping them cross over is the hardest thing to face whether expected or sudden. I keep praying.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss but also so happy you had so many years with the Grandfather Horse. Helping the old ones go is both hard and good – each time I have had to do it I feel like I’ve become more deeply who I am. Even in their leavings they teach us.

  3. I understand your pain. I had my Appy gelding for 26 years. I bought him as a yearling and our story parallels yours so much. Rather than comisserate your loss, I would like to congratulate you for your wonderful shared years. I hope your heart heals soon. Namaste

  4. Best part of this eloquence?
    “Spirit was free”
    some part of you knew about this day when you first named him.
    What a team — the teacher and the student.

  5. Thank you for this. I just lost a horse last weekend, rather unexpectedly. First horse I have had to go through this experience with. She was older and had a hard time moving. I can now see the blessing of her being free from pain, but it’s still hard. I wish you peace.

  6. Hello Anna – I feel your sadness and your appreciation over all the miles. You had a wonderfully blessed time together.

    Tess J E of Eaton

    Sent from my iPhone


  7. How incredibly sad I am for someone I never met at the loss of a horse I never knew. I hope I have your courage when I need to face the same decision. Goodbye Grandfater Horse. I will miss you.

  8. Anna, I don’t have the eloquence to express my sadness, but I’m full of the joy of my memories and grateful that I got to share a piece of his life.

  9. Never apologize for telling your story. My heart goes out to you. 30 years is a long time to spend with someone. It’s awfully hard when they’re gone.

  10. My deepest condolences offered with a gentle hug. Because I can do little more than make pathetic mewing sounds (which don’t translate very well), I’ll simply share a favorite:

    somewhere, in Gods own space
    there must be some sweet, pastured place.
    Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow;
    some paradise where horses go.
    For by the love
    that guides my pen
    I know great horses
    live again.

  11. Thank you for sharing this with us. I read your blog every Friday morning at my desk, as a reminder to breathe and live in the moment, and today I opened it up and my heart sank. I kept reading anyway. Today the reminder was especially dear.

    Thank you for sharing, for letting us all love him along with you, and for making us all better horse people.

  12. I Loved You Best

    So this is where we part, my friend
    And you’ll run on, around the bend
    Gone from sight, but not from mind
    New pleasures there you’ll find.
    I will go on. I’ll find the strength.
    Life measures quality, not its length.
    One long embrace before you leave.
    Share one last look, before I grieve.
    There are others, that much is true.
    But they be they, and they aren’t you.
    And I, fair, impartial, or so I thought,
    Will remember well all you’ve taught.
    Your place I’ll hold, you will be missed.
    The neck I stroked, the nose I kissed.
    And as you journey to your final rest,
    Take with you this . . . I loved you best.

    My heart is broken for you. I found this poem the day my heart dog passed. I thought it appropriate for this moment. I have no words that can ease the sorrow of this moment. Know that I grieve his passing with you.

  13. “Going the distance…” was a lovely way to end spirit’s farewell Blog. Peggy and I have a feeling of fulfillment to have spent a wee bit of time with him. I, too, always picture our four legged love ones running around their favorite places and then just holding them in our arms.

  14. Fragile Circle

    “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own,
    live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached.
    Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.
    We cherish memory as the only certain immortality,
    never fully understanding the necessary plan.”
    Irving Townsend.

  15. You were able to say goodbye which in my heart and soul is the right thing to do no matter how painful. For me I lost my beloved horse Nick two months ago when he was found dead in the pasture. I couldn’t even talk about it let alone write the words until recently. It was the most horrifying thing I have ever done to walk from the car to the back pasture to see my love gone. I sat for a long time petting and talking like he could hear me. It was a the hardest thing I have ever done but deep down I know I did the right thing. God bless you and your decision. An illness and hurt horse is hard to deal with. My Nick had Heaves which caused all sorts of issues and time after time he would recover from a viral infection. You just never know.

    Right day to read this thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    • Oh Lora, so sorry. That is a horrible find, indeed. I’ve lost horses in stress, and yes, this “appointment” made the unbearable somewhat better. I honor your loss. And agreed, very hard to talk about. Thank you.

  16. My heart is heavy and sad for you. Having to make this decision a number of years ago (hearing “Oh, she has a lot of years left” and having to reply, “No, she really doesn’t”) was not as hard as I thought but was heartbreaking nonetheless and even the vet saying “You haven’t failed her. Arthritis does whatever it wants.” was small comfort. Memories don’t really fill in the hole that’s left in the heart, but they make the edges a little less jagged.May your years of Spirit memories fill your heart, forever. And his shadow will surely shelter you.

    • Like arthritis is an easy thing… not at all. It’s an invisible (to some degree) thing that, I’m convinced, causes depression and long term stress. So hard for horses… Thank you for this comment,and I send the same heartfelt wishes to you, and your mare.

  17. You were a gift to each other. Willing to learn. Willing to share it all. Giving it all for love. There is no better way to live. In my sadness for your experience of this last month, I celebrate the choice you made 30 years ago. It was obviously amazing for both of you. And the gift you are to us all readers matters more than you know. Thank you Anna. Keep smiling.
    Big Canadian hug.

    • Thank you for saying it, it’s the choice 30 years ago that matters, we all knew how it would end eventually. Thank you, Francine. 🙂

  18. One of your most profound posts for me was one in which you said to BREATHE – to keep that calm, measured breathing through EVERYthing that tells our animals that all is well. I’m not breathing that way right now, after reading this and too easily putting myself in your shoes, in your pain. It seems superhuman to do so, but I have vowed to try when that time comes, as it is the last gift I can give my loved ones. Thank-you, and Grandfather Horse, for your many lessons and inspirations; I hope the jagged edges are starting to be less sharp.

  19. When you lose someone you love, Your life becomes strange, The ground beneath you gets fragile, Your thoughts make your eyes unsure; And some dead echo drags your voice down Where words have no confidence.

    Your heart has grown heavy with loss; And though this loss has wounded others too, No one knows what has been taken from you When the silence of absence deepens.

    Flickers of guilt kindle regret For all that was left unsaid or undone.

    There are days when you wake up happy’ Again inside the fullness of life, Until the moment breaks And you are thrown back On to the black tide of loss.

    Days when you have your heart back, You are able to function well Until in the middle of work or encounter, Suddenly with no warning, You are ambushed by grief.

    It becomes hard to trust yourself. All you can depend on now is that Sorrow will remain faithful to itself. More than you, it knows its way And pull and pull the rope of grief Until that coiled hill of tears Has reduced to its last drop.

    Gradually, you will learn acquaintance With the invisible form of your departed; And when the work of grief is done, The wound of loss will heal And you will have learned To wean your eyes From that gap in the air And be able to enter the hearth In your soul where your loved one Has awaited your return All the time.

    John O’Donohue

    On Sat, Oct 29, 2016 at 1:56 AM, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” It’s deep fall here on our farm. Most of the leaves > are gone; Canada geese are on the wing. Each morning there’s a thin shell > of ice on the water tanks. Local horse-people know the season change in > Colorado can be extreme. The barometer goes nuts for a ” >

  20. I’ll add a poem too






    — Edna St. Vincent-Millay

  21. I kissed my heart horse goodbye on a beautiful September day in 1993. We were both 22 years old. As I read your words today, the scent of Alfie’s mane came back to me. Thank you for loving Spirit. Thank you for sharing your grief with us.

  22. I walked beside you with every word, reliving the days leading up to doing the same with my Grandfather Horse, Dusty. May 21, 2011, a day I will never forget, as I know you will not forget your day with Spirit. They are running free, manes & tails streaming, faster than the wind.

  23. Sorry, Anna. There’s nothing really else to say. What a long run you had. I’m so glad you’ve penned the myriad special moments you shared together. I never met him, but I adore him.

  24. Dear Anna, after reading your books and blog, I feel like we are good friends and I am writing this with tears in my eyes. Please accept my condolences. I am so sorry about the loss of your Grandfather Horse.I am glad you had each other. You all loved each other and that is no small thing. That may be the only thing. The older I get the more I have come to believe that the trade off for getting to/past middle age is accumulating loss and coming to understand that life is a journey to love and acceptance. Frankly, some days are easier than others. You did right by him. Spirit has peace. I wish the same for you. Warmly, Patti

    On Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 8:56 AM, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” It’s deep fall here on our farm. Most of the leaves > are gone; Canada geese are on the wing. Each morning there’s a thin shell > of ice on the water tanks. Local horse-people know the season change in > Colorado can be extreme. The barometer goes nuts for a ” >

    • Thank you, Patti. It’s funny; he had to retire so young and we spent more years in that hard reality. Ends up, they were the very best years. I do feel peace of a sort, and that will grow. Like everything else, peace is a work in progress. Thank you for your kind words.

  25. OH, a wonderful horse is the Fly-Away Horse–
    Perhaps you have seen him before;
    Perhaps, while you slept, his shadow has swept
    Through the moonlight that floats on the floor.
    For it’s only at night, when the stars twinkle bright,
    That the Fly-Away Horse, with a neigh
    And a pull at his rein and a toss of his mane,
    Is up on his heels and away!
    The moon in the sky,
    As he gallopeth by,
    Cries: “Oh! What a marvelous sight!”
    And the Stars in dismay
    Hide their faces away
    In the lap of old Grandmother Night.


  26. Anna, once again thank you for being our teacher, showing us the way, expressing your heartache so beautifully. We owe you and the Grandfather horse so much. What lessons to learn…

    • I think I learned more from him in retirement than I did in the saddle… and that’s saying something. Thank you for the kind words.

  27. This post I find deeply touching. And I want to share my own spirit story with you…….I had to put my childhood pony Charlie Girl to sleep after 22 yrs together. She was my soul mate and even though I went on to share hundreds of other wonderful relationships with different horses there was never another as close as that. After a back injury in my forties I gave up working with horses altogether. For ten yrs. During this time I developed as an energy healer and began to be able to hear the animals voices. Three years ago I heard myself wishing out loud that I could have my Charlie Girl back. Shortly after that I met a sweet grey pony who communicated to me repeatedly that she was my childhood pony come back to be with me. So of course I ended up buying her. The last two years have been the most challenging of my life to date and the one thing that’s pulling me through it all is this sweet little grey pony…….animals come back, they will come back time after time, they show up for us in different lifetimes and sometimes 2 or 3 times in the same lifetime, their bond of love for us is just so strong……..with love for you and Spirit

    • In a different sort of way, I think our childhood ponies become guardian angels… glad yours crossed over to this side. Take care, we’re at an awkward age.

  28. Your writing is so beautiful that I could feel the sun on his back and your breath matching his breath. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  29. It’s always amazing how deep the cut is. My boy was 28 yrs old. The actual decision was easy, an old horse with colic the evening of a Wisconsin blizzard, it was the only thing I could do for him. He wasn’t a show horse, no ribbons or awards were ours but he was out of my dad’s sweet arab mare, born in my back yard and gifted to me by my dad on the day he was born. When he died my dad had been gone for five years and it was a huge, wrenching pain to lose that last physical connection to my dad on top of the fact that the beautiful Antares’ Taki Pan loved me without reserve as I loved him. There are other horses here now, well loved horses but none will ever completely fill his space.

    • Your comment gives me a bittersweet smile. I connect memory that way, or even stages of my life by the dogs or horses at the time. These decades-long lives; that is the special thing. Such a grand age, good for both of you. Condolences and congratulations, Sherry.

  30. Your words always so valued, today are eerily comforting. I released my Herd Leader from the painful confines of his earthly existence just over 3 weeks ago. Though I know in my brain this release was an act of kindness; my strangled heart needs more time. I miss his sense of humor, his depth, and I stand in awe of his bravery. He was only 25 and came to me in his teens. I can’t imagine your sense of loss after half a lifetime with Grandfather horse, so I will focus my energy on celebrating the time you shared with him. Sending warm wishes of comfort for your heart.

    • Laurie, my condolences on your sweet gelding… I’m not sure what part time plays. Spirit is the longest relationship in my life… but there was a rescue horse, in my barn for a week, who was euthanized and her impact was huge. When I read your description, it makes me smile a mixed grin. We miss them so much because of letting ourselves be vulnerable to them in the first place. Good for you that you are open to horses; that’s the legacy that he’s left you. What better gift is there? Thank you, Laurie. I’ll miss him with you.

  31. Then he made it easier for me. Don’t you hate that?

    I dreaded it for years —- my first and only horse —, but I only lived it once, and God made it easy for me, and I’m so thankful. A colic after 27 years, (2012) his first, he did not even recognize me in his pain, so letting him go was not a question. I’m so thankful. http://horsecrazyamerican.blogspot.de/2012/11/baasha-al-sherif.html

    I don’t see my loved ones as waiting for me, they’re too busy doing the things they do, but I do think they know when I’m about to join them.

    Heaven is too great to be in a waiting frame of mind.

  32. Big, warm, felt hug Anna. Loosing your best friend and a family member all at once must be so hard to deal with. Writing about it must be of some help towards healing. Thanks for sharing, you are surely helping others to deal with similar dilemma. You cared till the bitter end. Hugs and more hugs.

  33. The photos of Grandfather Horse with the radiant sun shining as an extension of his luminous crown center and radiating from his forehead of Wisdom….. they are so significant, deeply and profoundly depicting what remains… when his form dissolved…what remains.

    The first insight that came to me after being cleansed by(torrential) healing tears was:
    I wonder how her (your) writing will change, now that Spirit and his voice are free from the illusion of being in a separate form… a vast potentiality indeed!

    and I see that light radiating out (as captured by the photos)as not separate from you…

    There was a great snesation of relief in the gift of love that Edna St. Vincent Milay speaks of too.Thank you.

    Also, great joy in the deep deep sincere compassion and empathy you offered each one who shared their story of loss and love. Thank you.

    breathing with you, Anna… and Arthur…and all here, courageously breathing with you all,

    • Thanks for the kind words, Sabina. I doubt I’ll see a change in my writing voice…I haven’t been able to tell the difference in our voices in years. (I think it’s a byproduct of riding up the levels together… but we’ll see.) Again, thank you.

  34. I believe in something similar to the “Buddhist horse” idea. I am sure that the heart horses that grab us soooo hard and so easily have been with us before and will be with us again.

    • Maybe, Jenny. In this infinite universe, I hope there is more exploration that that. I expect I’ll find out sooner or later. 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  35. So sorry to hear of your final moments with the love of your life (I’m sure the Dude Rancher won’t mind me saying). There was an elegaic quality about your recent posts which meant that today’s wasn’t a complete surprise. I hope the oceans of tears which must have been wept by your faithful followers will buoy you up somewhat, we were probably all reliving our own losses in your eloquent words. Spirit leaves a wonderful legacy; an accomplished writer who will continue to inspire and educate horsepeople to keep an open heart and mind. Sending love and thanks and trust the other denizens of Infinity are looking after you, Chris

    • You make me smile; somewhere in the process of writing books and blogs, it certainly did occur to me that the day would come that I would put people in this bittersweet place. We lost four special souls here this year and generally, I write in the abstract, as you surmised. It’s always my opinion that we humans are more alike than different, so writing the hard things matters so much. It’s easy to love horses while standing in a field at sunset with a sweet herd. But so many times we have to advocate for them, so much of loving horses is heartbreaking. You know it as well as I do.

      That said, yes, the shared comments have been uplifting. In the beginning I had this nebulous goal that Spirit deserved a legacy. (and all it took was a few years of relentless writing in the wee hours. 🙂 ) Thanks, Chris. Scratch your horses for me.

  36. Thank you for sharing the last, best thing we can do for our friends. I like your thoughts about Grandfather Horse being a Buddhist and passing along that wisdom to another.

    • Thank you, Deb. When Spirit retired, 13 years ago, I thought it was all over. Showing one more time how much I had to learn. I really want to think that desire to know more and do better continues on…in some weird “musical chairs” sort of way. But it might be a fanciful thought, no different than the Rainbow Bridge. I say if it helps mend a wound, go with it. Thanks again.

  37. I love how our horses teach us about grace whether we think we are ready for it, or deserve it, or not. Hugs to you. Hugs to Spirit’s little goat friend, I hope that Arthur is finding his way without his horse.

    • Grace; that’s the word that got away. Thank you Carla, and thanks for asking about Arthur. He’s hanging with the donkeys and finding his way back and eyeing my mare. Thanks.

  38. What a sad but wonderful story of such an amazing relationship.
    So sorry for your loss.
    Thank you for sharing with your readers.
    I’m sure it will touch many hearts.

  39. Thank you for sharing your sad news with us, Anna. He leaves behind a big hole in our hearts, but we are enormously enriched by having shared his life with you.

  40. I don’t know why this post wasn’t in my feed the day it was posted but it was there today. I have not had a horse, only dogs. I know all too well the pain of that final choice for them. Then it’s learning that they aren’t there, not waiting for you to come home, the warm wet nose and happy kisses that don’t wake you. Most of my boys lived fairly long dog lives, the last left on his 15th birthday, I got him at six weeks, so it was just six weeks shy of a full 15 years together. The easiest ones were the ones that left me while i held them, I knew that they were aware I was there, that I didn’t abandon them. I think in the long run that eased the loss for me too, they were in my arms. My condolences on Spirit’s passing to the next phase, whatever that may be, we are not given to know. Blessings.

    • Thank you, Aquila. Between my work and my lifestyle, I’ve been around euthanizing on a fairly consistent basis. I agree that the loss is eased by being there, even as hard as that is. If there is something else to “like” about them…I’d say it’s better without a medical emergency, if possible. The animals are more frightened then, and usually the humans are more stressed… Either way, it’s the price of admission to live with other species, and I will always think it’s worth it. Thanks, and kind thoughts for your old dog. I’ll scratch my 15yr old dog in his honor.

  41. I’m so sorry for your loss – for some reason this particular blog didnt open up for me on the day I received it. Read the one after & realized what had happened.
    You were so lucky to have 30 years with such a wonderful creature – but you know that. Their lives are so short compared to ours – My boy was 28 – he came to me when he was 12 – we had a few colics over the years – one really scary one – an episode of choke(no more molasses treats – my fault) other “dings” here & there – but a good 12 years anyhow. The last day there was no doubt that it was time – all of us realize thats the one thing we must do for all of our animals. As you said – its the price of admission which WILL always be worth it.

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