Chasing the Sun

I brought this little horse into my life with so many grand plans.

When we started, I had a reserved horse who didn’t seem to have a whole lot of faith in his human counterparts. I can’t believe how quickly it came, but we built a bond stronger than I could have imagined in a very short period of time. I was greeted with a nicker as I walked up to the fence this morning (which is something he has not done since the day I brought him home). His eyes were soft, his ears were pricked, and when I went to get him, he lowered his head into the halter. I stood with him for an hour or so before the vet came, running my hands over his coat and scratching all his favorite itchy places. I sat in the aisle in front of him, and he did his best to get as close to me as possible. He alternated between nosing the ground for any lost crumbs from the granola bars I was feeding him, resting his muzzle in my lap as I rubbed his head and ears, and wiggling his top lip all over my head and face, pausing only to prick his ears at the sound of my laughter. His sense of humor never failed to delight me and his slow transformation into this lovey, mush of a horse was one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced.

When we started, I was sure that we had a bright riding future ahead of us. Trail rides and hunter paces and swimming in the river and bareback strolls down the road and beach rides and maybe even some CTR if the opportunity presented itself. It only took a second to bring that crashing down around my feet…but it also only took a second to turn that around and fully enjoy our relationship for what it was. I took a lot of pleasure in simply turning him out on the lawn and letting him graze, watching him happily stuffing his face with as much grass as he could get. I spent more time scratching his itchy places to get happy pony faces out of him. I allowed him to get away with things that I wouldn’t have ever allowed otherwise (he loved to rub his head on my hip, for example, and thats usually grounds for a quick reprimand). He made me laugh with his sense of humor and his patented head tilt. He made me love him more when he sighed heavily and leaned his head into my chest, just because. He made me become a better horsewoman and animal owner by forcing me to think outside of the box during this last month to make sure we could still enjoy our time together.

When we started, I was still a little broken from losing GP. I still miss my old man horse, but Image’s quiet and consistent presence in my life helped me repair the last few cracks. Those cracks will always be visible, as things that get repaired are never truly the same, but that’s okay. Those cracks have knitted enough to where they no longer cause the same acute pain they once did. I know now there are a few more that will take time to heal. It won’t be today, and it won’t be tomorrow, but in time, those cracks will fuse too, and I will be stronger for it all.

When we started, I hadn’t ever fathomed that the end to our story was going to come so quickly. But, life is life and here we are. I held his grain bucket in my lap last night while he ate, my forehead pressed against his, tears streaming down my face, trying to commit his scent to memory as best I could. I took him down to the field to let him graze, and laughed my head off when he flagged his tail and let out the biggest buck I’ve ever seen when he realized he was “free” (on the end of a lunge line). His glee was glorious and heartbreaking in the same breath. My beautiful, wonderful little black horse whose body had betrayed him…the indignity of it all was stifling.

Love Me In Focus, aka Image, a 2001 Tennessee Walking Horse gelding, was laid to rest peacefully at 10 AM this morning. He was told over and over again just how much he is loved, by so many people on this planet. I was in his eyeline until his very last breath. It is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever done, and for those that know me, my list of “heartbreaking things” is longer than it should be. I miss him so much already, and it makes my breath catch in my throat when I realize I won’t go to the barn tomorrow and see him. Just as I wasn’t prepared for life without my crazy red horse, I’m not prepared for life without my silly little black horse either.

The lessons learned here could fill an entire book. The most important one that I can pinpoint right now, amid heartache and tears and the fog of exhaustion, is to never, ever regret a decision that brings happiness into your life. Our story was so short, but in all of my sadness, none of it stems from regretting bringing him home. I was so scared that I was going to fail this horse in one way or another that it never occurred to me that something completely out of my control would separate us. I am so, so, so happy I put aside all of my reservations and became his person. Instead of paying attention to the clouds of doubt and insecurity, I chose to chase after the sun that hid behind all the negativity. There is no getting around the fact that the way things have gone sucks. That’s the simple, ineloquent truth. However, the sum of all of the parts is so much more beautiful than the epilogue.

I got to own an incredible horse who brightened up my life. I shared my heart with him, and, I hope, he shared his with me. That, in itself, is amazing.

Rest easy, my sweet, silly little black horse. Here’s to chasing the sun.

“You said, remember that life is
not meant to be wasted,
We can always be chasing the sun.
So fill up your lungs
and just run,
But always be chasing the sun.”
Chasing the Sun, Sara Bareilles
‘Cause I have sent for a warrior,
From on my knees, make me a Hercules.
I was meant to be a warrior, please 
Make me a Hercules…

Busy, Hot, and Summer Colds

Last Saturday was such a blast. I honestly wasn’t expecting to have so much fun being in front of the camera instead of behind it. I was a bit nervous all morning during my last minute errands — I had to run to Dover Wellesley (coughandSmartPakcough…I live 10 minutes from the SmartPak retail store and 15 minutes from Dover Wellesley…yeah, I’ve got it good when it comes to tack shops!) and pop in at a family gathering before heading north to the barn. I got there and two of my coworkers, L (who has been mentioned here quite a few times) and M had showed up to be ground grew. M is another coworker (actually, my neighbor to the right!) who only recently joined our little department of 5. She is funny, kind, and quick with her comebacks. She reminds me very much of all the good parts of my mother, so we get along well! She was a hairdresser when she was younger, so she offered to come fix my hair for the shoot. I gratefully accepted her offer, because my idea of “getting my hair done” is getting the split ends cut off!

I pulled Image into the barn and was pleased to see his “special” suit (many people deemed it his SuperSuit, a la The Incredibles!) had done its job. He seemed a little sad when I took the hood off…I have a strange critter! I made sure everything was clean and brushed out, and gave his toes a quick sweep with some hoof polish. I haven’t ever used real hoof polish before, so I wasn’t prepared for how much it was like human nail polish! I had just purchased the bottle at Dover that morning, and it quickly went from me, all the way down the line to Barn Owner L to try and get the blasted thing open. Well, M must have loosened it just enough…because when Barn Owner L put all her might into twisting off the top, it kind of went…well, it went everywhere. M’s toes got bathed in it and L wore it all over her hands. Oops! I took the bottle back and immediately had it all over my hands as well. I quickly painted Image’s toesies, and went to wash off the polish…hah. Hahahaha. Yeah, that didn’t work so well. Fortunately, my hands were not super visible in most of the pictures!

Once Image was squared away, M dragged the mounting block into the aisle, plunked it in front of Image, and motioned for me to sit. I had wrestled (yes, wrestled…it was SO hot that undressing and redressing should’ve been considered an Olympic sport!) into my top at that point, and looked a little silly. I had this gorgeous, flowy top on…and a pair of black Danskin shorts. Snork!

Image was immediately concerned with what M was doing with the stuff on top of my head. He blinked a few times, and reached out towards me. I batted at his nose. He was only discouraged for a moment — before I knew it, he was inspecting my face with his muzzle and twitching his upper lip on my head. M waved at him reproachfully, as he was jeopardizing her braid work. He persisted. L eventually got up and shortened the cross ties, much to Image’s chagrin. He had us all laughing, the goober!

“I can help!!”

The shoot itself was a lot less nerve wracking than I thought it was going to be. I wasn’t worried about my horse looking cute…because seriously, have you seen him?! I also wasn’t worried about Kate doing her job, because she is fabulous at it. I was worried about ME! I’m not the most photogenic creature. I tend to make weird faces and hold really awkward, stiff poses. However, Barn Owner L followed us down to the small, unmowed side yard that a neighbor graciously allowed us to use, and proceeded to prance through the grass like a gazelle to hold Image’s attention. I found this highly entertaining…so, with my attention on L’s shenanigans, I looked much less tense and like I was actually having fun! I WAS actually having fun, so it worked out well.

I was still pretty jazzed up, and Image was certainly feeding off of that. He’ll stand stock still all day long for the most part, but he was a wiggly, fidgety mess. I’m sure having a field of grass under his face didn’t help, on top of the dreaded bit being in his mouth. I eventually switched him over to his rope halter to make him happier. Goofy horse!

I still can’t pick a favorite!

I am so thrilled with the pictures themselves that I have a hard time picking a favorite. Kate got them back to me, and I sat at my computer with tears running down my face. She captured exactly what I was looking for: the bond between the two of us, that grew very quickly and was much stronger than I could have ever imagined. I am so, so, SO glad that I did this, despite the fact that it was a million degrees out that day and

He and I have both been heat wusses this past week. I’ve been up to the barn more often than I expected to be, as L needed some help feeding. That, obviously, meant lots of hose time for the both of us. He stood there with his ears flopped out to the side with the water running off of his face. It sucks being a black horse in this weather!

I had picked up a bag of Brittany’s Bran Mash at Dover last weekend and decided a hot day was a good day for a soupy mash treat. Image stood, untied in the aisle, his head stuffed in the bucket without any indication of coming up for air. He was blissfully happy and made sure he was wearing a good amount of it as well as ingesting it!

Of course, Annie the Goat thought she should have some too. Image loves his Annie, so this happened:

Goofy critters! They couldn’t really stuff both their heads in there at once, so Image would take a mouthful and let Annie have some…and then nudge her out of the way so he could have some more. He was so gentle with her, even when she protested by headbutting his nose (I admit, I nearly fell over laughing when that happened!).

I’m back up in northern MA house sitting now, so I get to see him as much as I want. I am fighting an annoying summer cold (I tend to get sick when I’m stressed…ugh!) and I sound kind of terrible. I spent most of Saturday asleep, between tending to my first charge of the weekend (an adorable, tenacious Corgi by the name of Cooper) and moving on to my second house (three horses, two dogs, and a few kitties). Sunday, though, I went out to the barn to meet up with K, a coworker of mine who wanted to meet Image. I didn’t think anything of it as I “led” him from paddock to barn. I have a lead rope with me, but I hardly ever use it these days. Image quietly follows me, his nose at my shoulder, and sets himself up on the cross ties when I ask. K, on the other hand, thought that it was adorable that he ignored grass and all other temptations to stay by my side. I doubt it’s anything more than good manners, but it made me feel good to know that someone else got to see just how lovely he is.

I know Friday is going to approach quicker than I want. I still have so much to sort out in my own head about the entire situation. I’m honestly unsure how, exactly, I’m going to handle things on Friday. I haven’t ever done this before. I know, at the very least, I’ll keep it together until after he’s gone. The rest of it, though? I don’t know. I feel like I’m “prepared”…but can you ever truly prepare for something like this? I’m not sure.

So. I’m just going to stop thinking about it and enjoy the next few days as much as I can, even if it’s just like today and all I did was stand in the paddock with him and rub his forehead until he dozes off.

Isn’t She Lucky?

That’s what I imagine every person on the planet is saying when they see these pictures.

Only someone with a lot of luck would be blessed with such an amazing horse.

Then when they find out how many amazing people I have to support me and how much love I have in my life?

Well, they must think I’m the luckiest person in the world.

I sure as hell do.

Friday Entertainment

Image got a Bath today. Not a bath…a capital “b” Bath. I don’t think he’s ever been so clean in his entire life. I’ve never scrubbed a horse so much in my entire life! He was caked in mud (unlike him; he’s usually pretty clean!) after all the rain we’ve had, so it took two good scrubbings to really get all the dirt out of his coat. Then, of course, I concentrated on his mane and tail. Mr. Stinkerpants has managed to rub a chunk of his mane out on something (grumble), but hopefully it won’t be too noticeable. Once I had rinsed all the suds out, I attacked him with coat conditioner and mane and tail detangler. Then, it was into the barn to drip dry for a little while. He happily hung out with me, occasionally snuffling me for cookies or plunking his head in my lap for cuddles and scratches, while he dried off. At one point, he smushed his nose into the crook of my neck and wiggled his top lip around. It tickled like crazy and I’m not sure what he was after, but he kept it up for a good minute or so while I giggled and batted at him. Every time I pushed his nose away, he’d smush it right back in there. He was so reserved when I first brought him home that it’s still surprises me sometimes that he’s turned into such a lovey mush of a horse!

This is what Image thinks of the whole process, apparently.

It wasn’t long until he had dried enough for me to be comfortable to initiate my plan for keeping him clean overnight. I have some errands to run tomorrow morning and a family get together to pop in to, so I really didn’t have time to give him the bath I wanted him to have tomorrow before the shoot. So, I asked my friends at work (it is lovely to work for a tack company!) for a sleazy hoodie and sheet. This is what I ended up with:

He was posing!

Tears of laughter. My poor, sweet, TOLERANT horse…he is so, so good to me. I fumbled with the hood so much and he stood there in the aisle, his head down so I could mess with things, without a halter on. When I finally got everything in place, I laughed so hard I cried. He stood there with his ears forward, looking at me with a proud expression. I had to sit down to catch my breath.

“Stop laughing and give me cookies!”

I hadn’t seen him much this week, so today was a much needed few hours of playtime. It’s funny, because during the week when I’m busy, I think of him constantly but it’s “dulled”, for lack of a better way to put. Then I spend time with him, and my heart just sings because he is funny, lovable, tolerant (oh, so tolerant), willing and smart. He stuffs his head against my chest and heaves this big, blustery sigh: “Oh, I’m so glad to see you. Wait until you hear about my week!”

Today also brought the first real pang of anxiety I’ve had so far for the approaching date. I’ve been a little numb up until now, but laughing and playing with him today (and really, we were playing more than anything else!) made me realize just how much I’m going to miss him. We didn’t get to have the adventures together that I had hoped, but honestly, it makes me happy to just be with him. Just a year ago, I was sure that I wasn’t ever going to be able to love a horse again, so to be so “at home” in his presence is still a bit of a wonder to me. Now that this is real, the finality of it is looming over my head and I’m not sure how the following days will unfold for me. This is all new, unexplored territory so I am taking each emotion as it comes and allowing myself to do what I need to do to deal with it. GP was not legally my horse, and the decision to let him go was not mine to make. I was also not present for the actual deed, as I couldn’t handle it. This will be a very different experience and the uncertainties are daunting, on top of the actual heartache of knowing this huge ray of sunshine in my life is going to no longer be there.

I’m excited for tomorrow, so I’m just going to focus on that right now…time for a little Castle therapy and bed!

Strike a Pose

I’ve spent the past week getting myself reacclimated to life at home. I have a small “side business” of house sitting/critter sitting. It’s fun and makes me a little extra money to stash away for a rainy day. This summer has been insanely busy. I’ve barely been home! I finally got to crawl back into my own bed (which was glorious, except now I have to clean my bedroom after ignoring it for two weeks!) and didn’t have to do stalls in the searing heat in the AM. I miss the snuggly critters, but it was nice to sleep a little later! 🙂

Image is status quo at this point. He has not gotten any worse, and obviously not gotten any better. With everything that’s going on, I have opted not to trailer him out to my friend’s house for this weekend’s photoshoot with Kate Taylor of Polar Square Designs. Kate and I have been friends for quite some time now…I honestly can’t remember when we “met” via another blogging platform. I know I was still in high school, anyway! She is one of my favorite people on the planet and she’s got more talent in her pinky finger than most of us have in our whole bodies. I’m excited and terrified to be on the other side of the camera. I’m used to being the one calling the shots from behind the lens, so I am going to have to do my best to not micromanage poor Kate (who is far more experienced than I am anyway!) and not have a slight panic attack at having the camera on me! Luckily, Image is cuter and should be the main focus in any picture, so that will be my saving grace.

As long as there’s one shot where I don’t look quite this goofy, I’ll be happy!

Pony will get (another) spa day tomorrow. Spoiled pony is spoiled. 😉

Let the Rain Come Down

It’s not raining anymore…at least, not outside of my own head. Inside, however, is muggy and rainy. My senses feel dull and my mind sluggish, as if I’m perpetually coming out of a drug induced sleep.

Due to the holiday, my very kind supervisor “kicked” my coworker and I out at about 1 on Friday. I chatted with Dr. McGee all the way to the barn. I played phone tag with Dr. McGee a bit this week and when I was finally able to talk to him, he concurred that outside of drastic, expensive testing that wouldn’t yield a 100% diagnosis anyway, this was the best option. Having the vet on board was what finally settled this into reality in my own mind, if it wasn’t already real enough. It weighed me down enough for me to brave the heat and proceeded to give Image a bath, simply because I needed to be with him. Okay, maybe it was partly an excuse to play with the hose because holy crap was it hot! He stood there and allowed the water to cascade over him…and even went as far to stuff his face in the hose. The water poured over his face and he stood there, ears flopped out to the side, eyes closed with pleasure. It was painfully adorable.

When I brought him into the barn to dry him off and get some coat polish on him (which, I noted sadly, I could put over his saddle area now because there would be no saddle on his back ever again). While he was drying, I sat down in front of him on the mounting block that I had dragged in for that exact purpose. We were together like this for quite some time, his hind leg resting and lower lip drooping. me occasionally reaching up to rub his nose. It’s probably dangerous (or, more dangerous than usual, anyway) to be sitting in front of a neuro horse, but I’ve stopped caring at this point. At one point, he dropped his head down and snuffled my face. I batted at his nose because I wasn’t prepared for the sudden surprise and whoosh of air. He lifted muzzle from my face, and then plunked it on top of my head, his upper lip wiggling around furiously, mussing up my hair. I giggled, as this was pre-muzzle clipping, so it tickled. He paused at my laughter, and I took that moment to lean back and look up at him. His ears were pricked and his eyes were soft. I kissed his muzzle and he lipped my nose in response. It was a moment I won’t soon forget.

Munching grass after his bath.

Saturday, B and her husband came out to see us. It was a bittersweet visit. I adore B and K, because our thought processes seem to match up relatively well when it comes to horse ownership and management. B, only having my words and blog posts to go off of, needed to see Image for herself. I don’t blame her. I would have done the exact same thing. I picked this horse up six months ago with a careful clause of “he’s got issues”, not “he’s a ticking timebomb”.  I’m certain that they had no idea that Image’s physical health was questionable, so this was as big a shock to them as it was to me. Granted, I had an idea that *something* was up…but never, ever expected to be in the position I am today.

Image clearly remembered B — although, it may have been the ginger snaps she was holding! He was quiet — borderline subdued, which is not like him either — as we stood in the barn and talked. I explained everything I could about what the vets had said and what I had been seeing…and, thankfully (which sounds weird, but I was nervous that he wouldn’t have shown them any of his symptoms at all!), they quickly noticed the disconnect between his front and hind end. The two of them had come, I think, hopeful that they would find something that would be able to take us down a different path…hell, part of me was hopeful that they would point out something that I miraculously hadn’t seen. It was both comforting (because it means I’ve exhausted every possible avenue) and disheartening (because now this is REAL) to have B turn to me and say that I was making the right choice. I could hear the sadness in her voice and saw it in her eyes. This was not what either of us wanted for this wonderful little horse.

I know I’m doing the right thing. It doesn’t make it any less painful. I know he’s not well, and is just going to get worse. It doesn’t make me any less sad and angry at the loss of our future together. However, I try not to dwell on any of that and just live in the moment for now.

I will continue blogging, I think, once he’s crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I don’t plan on being horseless again for so long. It feels completely wrong to be doing so, but I am already putting out feelers to try and find my next partner. I need SOMETHING to focus on, to keep my head above water.

So, let that rain come down, for it’ll make a brand new ground: