Tuesday, 11 September 2012

"He knows when you're happy. He knows when you're comfortable. He knows when you're confident. And he always knows when you have carrots."

This might sound obvious, but pets are a subject that will divide a room; those who have owned and loved an animal, and those who haven't. 

Most people can empathise with the crushing weight of loss when their friend goes through a break-up, or when someone close to them loses a family member, or receives some shocking news. We know what to do, what sympathies to offer. 

But with pets, the bond is closer - and not many people really get it unless they've been there. It's a relationship that happens almost entirely on a one-on-one basis; the walks, the training, the clearing up, the feeding, and it happens 365 days a year.

And never has that complete trust and bond been more acute - or, indeed, more important - than between a horse and it's owner.

I was 16 when I bought my first horse after 10 years of lessons, loaning, and hanging around my sister at the stables trying to bag a ride on hers. It was the second equine addition to our family. 

Huge, imposing, lively (translated into horse speak: "not a novice ride"); a handsome beast who held his head high and - much to the despair of my rear end - preferred to jog rather than walk. Not being the tallest girl in the world as a teenager - or ever, come to think of it -  the words "pea on a mountain" were a common utterance at shows, and it was often suggested that Velcro would be a good extra for my saddle when we took to the showjumping or cross country course due to the sheer power and height in his jump.

We spent a lot of time together, me and him. Summer days, winter nights, Christmas Day, and days when ice froze the water buckets and fingers felt like they'd never be warm again. I fell off, I got back on. We'd set off on ambling hacks around the London suburbs, I'd swear at drivers who came too close to us and hold softly spoken, entirely one-sided conversations while his ears flicked back and forth in response.

He waited patiently while I travelled as a 19 year old, then came to university with me. He slowed his fast pace when friends and boyfriends "had a go". Eventually, when the time came for me to return to London, he stayed. My replacement was taller than me, but had my name. She took over his care, but he remained mine.

Last week, I rushed up to see him after getting an email saying he wasn't well. By the time I arrived, he seemed brighter than I'd expected - and even after a while apart, his head flew up and he marched over to the gate when I called his name. I fussed, hugged and advised on what to do. I fed him copious amounts of carrots, took photos and reluctantly left him a couple of hours later, chomping away on his dinner, reassured that he was on the road to, if not improvement, then at least a graceful retirement.

So it was a bit of a shock when, two days later, I got an early phone call from the stables telling me that he had died, suddenly, but naturally, in his stable that morning.

Not everyone will be able to understand that strange little connection owners have with their horses, the best I can explain is this: losing your horse after twelve years is a bit like saying goodbye to a very old friend.

Sometimes it's unexpected, occasionally it's for the best, but it's always sad. And on some level, I think everyone can probably relate to that. 



20 comments:

Sprinkled Words (former Miss Milk) said...

I'm so sorry. :(

Blonde said...

Horses are so much more than pets. There's a bond there that's different to dogs and cats. You're right: it's like losing a friend - and one that had such a huge part to play in your life.

I'm so sorry, Jo. xxx

Amy said...

I'm sorry for your loss. It seems like you had one very happy and very loved horse there, though. Rest in peace, lovely horse.

Cynical Scribble said...

Sorry to hear that Jo.

Rachel said...

De-lurking to say I'm so terribly sorry... Being a former horse owner before moving to Blighty, I can understand what you're going through. They are so much more than pets x

nuttycow said...

Oh :( sorry to hear this news Jo.

Sophie said...

I'm so sorry, the loss of any pet is heartbreaking. My first pony broke her leg and was put to sleep nearly 20 years ago and i still miss her. The wonderful memories live forever though. My horse is 27 now and I dread the day when all isn't as it should be. Huge horsie loving hugs to you xx

Breeza said...

3 eI'm so sorry for your loss. Sorry doesn't cut it, but it's the only word we use it seems. I know it's heartbreaking and I know how you feel. x

Redbookish said...

Oh Jo. I'm crying a bit for you here. I had my main old boy from the age of 6 (when I was14) to 25 (him). He wasn't my first horse but my first grown up one, and we grew up together. Although I had other horses to work as I grew up (our max at one point was 8), he was my first & main love. I still dream about him, and I had a horrible drive with my father up to our friend's country property where the old boy was retired, after news he'd been lamed & couldn't graze. This meant he needing putting down as he wasn't hand fed there. Worst drive of my life thinking about how I'd tell the vet to do it. But he cantered up when I called his name, and died naturally in his sleep, curled up by the lake, a couple of years later.

Laura Jane Williams said...

Oh, no. I have no wise words, just a virtual hug and the offer of thinking strong restorative thoughts for you.

I'm sorry for your loss.

x

Brennig said...

It's difficult to comment on any post on this topic, and I have held back for a reason.

When Beech broke his near-fore leg, ten years ago, I was ready for the inevitable loss. But it didn't come. Improved surgery and aftercare meant my lovely boy could continue - albeit as a happy hacker - past his all-too looming eighth birthday.

Two years later the escalating onset of an untreatable nervous disorder meant I had to decide when he should die. I am still in bits, just over seven years on, over this decision.

When the vet came to put Beech to sleep I stayed with him. As he sank in to dozing stupor and then fell to the floor, my heart broke. When the last of the drug was administered and the vet pronounced him dead, I still stayed.

The specialist came and winched Beech's half-ton carcass in to the ambulance. I stayed with him. They left me alone in the ambulance. I knelt down and patted his cooling skin. I told him I loved him and that I would miss him. Both true, still.

Four days later a beautiful mahogany box, with some of Beech's ashes inside, was delivered to me. It had a brass plaque with his racing name on it. I kept that box for a couple of years and then, with the permission of Lord Hylton, I took the box to the highest point of Ammerdown Park, and buried my boy at a place overlooking where we had hacked and schooled for years.

There is nothing I can say, dear Jo, to make the pain less, or to make things better for you. Horses are special creatures, as you know. We just have to be grateful that they give us such quality time; and live with our memories.

x

Agent said...

I'll be honest, I've never understood the attraction of horses and horseriding.

But I know how much losing pets has affected me, so regardless of the type of animal it was, I can imagine the effect that that phone call would have had.

My condolences.

Ellie said...

As the others ... I am sorry. Hugs.

theperpetualspiral said...

Oh Jo, I'm so sorry. xx

We create such strong bonds with our pets, they become part of our lives that many people don't understand and never will.

Mud said...

As a former horse owner myself I thoroughly understand and send huge hugs. No one who hasn't been bitten by the equine bug can really understand the bond you can have with a horse. I still miss mine hugely.
xx

London-Lass said...

Sorry about your horse, Jo :( I've never had one (though did nervously ride one at a village fete at the age of 5 after winning the ride as a top prize in tombola) but totally get what you say about the significant bond you can have with an animal.

Anonymous said...

Your blog always seems to be relevant to things that are going on for me too. Not horse related but we had to put my cat of 12 years to sleep last night and it's hard to explain to people who haven't had pets just how hard that can be.

Kat said...

I've just seen this after coming back to catch up on your blog. Oh Jo!

You write so beautifully about his character and all the fun you had together. I'm terribly sorry for your loss and glad that he went peacefully.

Ren said...

This made me so sad - I'm really sorry. :( Animals become part of the family and it is heart-wrenching when they die. People who don't own horses, dogs, cats etc.. just do not understand. x

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Thank you for the comments on this, they inspired a fair few tears even now weeks later reading over them. Horses -and indeed pets in general - are just something different. X

 

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