By Betsy Kelleher
On January 9, 2012, I said goodbye to a special friend. I was glad I had written my December column about Traveller, how I felt a bond with him even though he could no longer be ridden, and how I was determined to take care of him as long as possible. I was amazed at the responses to that column after part of it was reprinted in Going Gaited online magazine!
I knew Traveller might not make it through this winter and I prayed that I would know when it was time to let go. On a Friday, I had taken him out for grass, brushing him and combing his mane and tail as he grazed. Three days later, on that Monday afternoon, I took him out for grass again, and I realized how unsteady he was and how much effort it was for him to walk or stand. That terrible knowing came over me, overpowering with sudden emotion. We had a precious farewell, even though I was quite numb at the time. As the numbness wears off, emotions return.
Only those who love horses can identify with that deepness of feeling for the animal who has given himself to you and for you for a long time. For more than fourteen years, Traveller was the one I trusted most. He took care of my grandkids when they came to ride. My memories are full of our good times together. With two other horses, Traveller was always the preferred ride, as long as he was able to be ridden. After his weakened rear made that a bad idea, I missed riding him more than I cared to admit.
I thought I was prepared for that day, but it always comes too soon. I still relive it all now and then, especially at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. Such a trustworthy horse is a special gift. And I thank God that He entrusted this one to me.
Now that my herd numbers only two, Lady and Rocky can both enjoy the paddock all day, together, instead of taking turns. Rocky is fortunately fast enough and agile, so he can take care of himself when Lady asserts her alpha nature. I knew Traveller didn’t stand a chance to escape from Lady’s aggressive charges.
I can no longer toss out a pile of hay as I did for Traveller and Rocky to share peacefully. Even two or three separate piles of hay still cause Lady too much concern! So I tried something different. Before turning Rocky and Lady out together, I grabbed an armload of hay and walked all over the paddock, throwing out tiny bites here and there and everywhere. I created a place to graze. Takes a little extra time, but it is worth it! I’m hoping Lady will learn to be more tolerant.
When Lady first went out, she walked around sniffing at the ground, following my path of hay without eating anything. Rocky ate a few bites and wandered around, just looking. I’m sure he preferred Traveller’s company and probably misses his old buddy. I remember how Traveller was depressed for three days after a barn buddy died. He was a sensitive, caring boy. But horses don’t seem to dwell on the past. They live in the moment. We can try to do the same.
Lady charged at Rocky a few times, and then began to graze along the trail of hay, leaving him alone. This arrangement seems to be working out, and having only two horses is much less work and expense. Yeah, I’m trying to see a positive side to no longer having my dear old fella. But I still miss his welcoming whinny every morning, something the other two never give me. Lady nickers at me, but it sounds more like an impatient demand than a friendly greeting.
I’m not spending a lot of extra time at the barn these days, and I haven’t ridden while it’s cold. I’m glad Traveller was spared the worst of this winter. But one of these days, I will be ready, and Lady and I will walk down the trail again. And I will ride Rocky in the arena, working with that new bit I recently ordered for his dressage lessons. Grieve and go on. As someone once told me, let yourself cry, and then you shut the door and move on with life. Sounds great, but it just ain’t that easy! The deeper the feelings, the longer it takes for them to resolve into full healing.
The very next Sunday, we sang a hymn in Church that many of us sang as youngsters and still know quite well: Oh How I love Jesus. The words touched me as they never have before: “it tells of One whose loving heart can feel my deepest woe, Who in each sorrow bears a part that none can bear below.” I can’t begin to explain everything that those words meant to me. I can only share that I believe in God’s compassionate comfort and encouragement and His love for His children and their horses. He has used horses in my life many times, to teach me, to encourage me, to challenge me, and to reveal His love. I am so thankful to have had a horse like Traveller, even when he couldn’t be ridden. But I am sure that God can use the other horses in my life. And the hope of future joy does aid in healing.
(Originally published in the February 2012 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)