Two very elderly horses died in the past few months, their owners near adjuncts to their recognizable and well-loved mounts.
Some of you may remember Tipper and Magic, who made their marks on trails and in the show arenas, doing it all, from western classes to cross-country jumping to packing into the back country. They were equally as good as teachers to dozens of students who learned the pleasure of riding on their backs.
Their owners grieve, a feeling I know well from losing my beloved equine friends one at a time. Probably a good percentage of you can empathize, having shared your lives with horses that trekked with you into the mountains and carried out you or an elk; that trotted around with your children or the neighbors’ kids on their backs.
My own lifelong affair with horses began with a mean, little range pony. His assets? He was a palomino and he had four legs. When he was in the mood, he could run barrels as fast as any horse around. When he wasn’t?
Well. I can’t count the times he embarrassed me, his bucking bouts coming when I least expected them, a few times in front of the rodeo grandstand. Which is why there wasn’t a Fourth of July after my 11th birthday that I didn’t ride injured.
Our conflicts weren’t a one-way street. Occasionally, he had a legitimate grievance. Like a morning after a big party with our living room still littered with glasses and beer bottles, many only half empty. Someplace I’d read that horses like beer, so I got Kotah’s grain bucket and emptied the beer bottles into it.
Seeing me with the bucket, he met me at the corral fence. Not looking, not waiting, he dropped his nose thinking to grab a large bite of oats. A moment later, blowing hard, he stood eyeing me from the other side of the corral. It took weeks for him to forgive me. Maybe not so much for the beer but because I laughed.
Did I love that ornery, stubborn, cussed pony? Did I grieve when he died? Excessively. Not only did he hear all my secrets, he carried me away from the trials of my teen years, packing me out of town and into the mountains. He was a true companion, the two of us reaching a slow and painful accommodation.
It maybe helped my attitude that his purchase price and all his care came from my labor ... 25 cents/hour babysitting. To say that I was heavily invested in him is an understatement.
All of which is to underscore how deep and complex our relationships with our horses can be. Most people understand the intense sorrow of losing a beloved dog. Not so many see how the death of a horse can be as traumatic. Yet, our horses share and shape our lives in ways that no other human or animal can. And, yes, we do grieve when they’re gone.