Part of living with our wonderful four-legged friends is facing the day they leave us behind. We can not refuse to have animals to avoid the pain of the day we lose them. Whether they choose to die on their own or they need our help to make the transition, we owe them the dignity and, if possible, our comfort and love at the time of their departure from this plane of existence. There is nothing more heartbreaking than holding your beloved friend while they take their last breath, but it is a moment that we owe them, to ease their fears, and the opportunity for a final farewell. These pages are in memory of my departed four-legged family members, my immortal beloveds.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
And you shall see that in truth you are weeping
For that which has been your delight.
"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 choose to live no other way.
We cherish memory
as the only certain immortality,
never fully understanding
the necessary plan."
from "The Once Again Prince"
by Irving Townsend
and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it
suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. He remembered dying, and that the dog
walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was
After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight. When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like Mother of Pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side.
When he was close enough, he called out, "Excuse me, where are we?"
"This is Heaven, sir," the man answered.
"Wow! Would you happen to have some water?" the man asked.
"Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up." The man gestured, and the gate began to open.
"Can my friend," gesturing toward his dog, "come in, too?" the traveler asked.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets."
The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog.
After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road which led through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.
"Excuse me!" he called to the reader. "Do you have any water?"
"Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there". The man pointed to a place that couldn't be seen from outside the gate. "Come on in."
"How about my friend here?" the traveler gestured to the dog.
"There should be a bowl by the pump." They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it.
The traveler filled the bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog. When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree waiting for them. "What do you call this place?" the traveler asked.
"This is Heaven," he answered.
"Well, that's confusing," the traveler said. "The man down the road said that was Heaven, too."
"Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's Hell."
"Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?"
"No. I can see how you might think so, but we're just happy that they screen out the folks who'll leave their best friends behind."
To have a horse in your life is a gift.
In the matter of a few short
years, a horse can teach a girl courage, if she chooses to grab mane
and hang on for dear life. Even the smallest of ponies is mightier
than the tallest of girls. To conquer the fear of falling off, having
one's toes crushed, or being publicly humiliated at a horse show is an
admirable feat for any child. For that, we can be grateful.
Horses teach us responsibility. Unlike a bicycle - or a computer - a
horse needs regular care and most of it requires that you get dirty
and smelly and up off the couch. Choosing to leave your cozy kitchen
to break the crust of ice off the water buckets is to choose
responsibility. When our horses dip their noses and drink heartily, we
know we've made the right choice.
Learning to care for a horse is both an art and a science. Some are
easy keepers, requiring little more than regular turn-out, a flake of
hay, and a trough of clean water. Others will test you - you'll
struggle to keep them from being too fat or too thin. You'll have
their feet shod regularly only to find shoes gone missing. Some are so
accident-prone you'll swear they're intentionally finding new ways to
If you weren't raised with horses, you can't know that they have
unique personalities. You'd expect this from dogs, but horses? Indeed,
there are clever horses, grumpy horses, and even horses with a sense
of humor. Those prone to humor will test you by finding new ways to
escape from the barn when you least expect it. I found one of ours on
the front porch one morning, eating the cornstalks I'd carefully
arranged as Halloween decorations.
Horses can be timid or brave, lazy or athletic, obstinate or willing.
You will hit it off with some horses and others will elude you
altogether. There are as many "types" of horses as there are people -
which makes the whole partnership thing all the more interesting.
If you've never ridden a horse, you probably assume it's a simple
thing you can learn in a weekend. You can, in fact, learn the basics
on a Sunday - but to truly ride well takes a lifetime. Working with a
living being is far more complex than turning a key in the ignition
and putting the car in "drive."
In addition to listening to your instructor, your horse will have a
few things to say to you as well. On a good day, he'll be happy to go
along with the program and tolerate your mistakes; on a bad day,
you'll swear he's trying to kill you. Perhaps he's naughty or perhaps
he's fed up with how slowly you're learning his language. Regardless,
the horse will have an opinion. He may choose to challenge you (which
can ultimately make you a better rider) or he may carefully carry you
over fences...if it suits him. It all depends on the partnership - and
partnership is what it's all about.
If you face your fears, swallow your pride, and are willing to work at
it, you'll learn lessons in courage, commitment, and compassion, in
addition to basic survival skills. You'll discover just how hard
you're willing to work toward a goal, how little you know, and how
much you have to learn. And, while some people think the horse "does
all the work", you'll be challenged physically as well as mentally.
Your horse may humble you completely.
Or, you may find that sitting on his back is the
closest you'll get to heaven.
You can choose to intimidate your horse, but do you really want to?
The results may come more quickly, but will your work ever be as
graceful as that gained through trust? The best partners choose to
listen, as well as to tell. When it works, we experience a sweet sense
of accomplishment brought about by smarts, hard work, and mutual
understanding between horse and rider. These are the days when you
know with absolute certainty that your horse is enjoying his work.
If we make it to adulthood with horses still in our lives, most of us
have to squeeze riding into our over saturated schedules; balancing
our need for things equine with those of our households and employers.
There is never enough time to ride, or to ride as well as we'd like.
Hours in the barn are stolen pleasures.
If it is in your blood to love horses, you share your life with them.
Our horses know our secrets; we braid our tears into their manes and
whisper our hopes into their ears. A barn is a sanctuary in an
unsettled world, a sheltered place where life's true priorities are
clear: a warm place to sleep, someone who loves us, and the luxury of
regular meals...Some of us need these reminders.
When you step back, it's not just about horses - its about love, life,
and learning. On any given day, a friend is celebrating the birth of a
foal, a blue ribbon, or recovery from an illness. That same day, there
is also loss: a broken limb, a case of colic, or a decision to sustain
a life or end it gently. As horse people, we share the accelerated
life cycle of horses: the hurried rush of life, love, loss, and death
that caring for these animals bring us. When our partners pass, it is
more than a moment of sorrow. .
We mark our loss with words of gratitude for the ways our lives have
been blessed. Our memories are of joy, awe, and wonder. Absolute
union. We honor our horses for their brave hearts, courage, and
willingness to give.
To those outside our circle, it must seem strange. To see us in our
muddy boots, who would guess such poetry lives in our hearts? We
celebrate our companions with praise worthy of heroes.
Indeed, horses have the hearts of warriors and often
carry us into and out of fields of battle. .
Listen to stories of that once-in-a-lifetime horse; of journeys made
and challenges met. The best of horses rise to the challenges we set
before them, asking little in return.
Those who know them understand how fully a horse can hold a human
heart. Together, we share the pain of sudden loss and the lingering
taste of long-term illness. We shoulder the burden of deciding when or
whether to end the life of a true companion.
In the end, we're not certain if God entrusts us to our horses or our
horses to us. Does it matter? We're grateful God loaned us the horse
in the first place.