Everyone who reads or writes here has chosen to enrich his or her life by sharing it with an animal. Therefore, all of you have known the pain of losing that companion, whether horse, dog, cat, or anything else. At a certain point in your life, your heart is like a Swiss cheese - full of holes that these amazing creatures have left upon their departure. And many times you will have wished, in that heart, that they could all live as long as you will.
Yet, you know that the last act of love - to let one go rather than see him suffer, to yourself be left behind again - while the most difficult act, is the right one. It is our burden as the human companions and caretakers of those others who offer their love and trust for so small a return.
I met Cheyenne (registered name Shaundo Le, with Naborr and Bask behind him I was told, but having never saddled a piece of paper, I didn't care) in 1991. He then belonged to a former spouse, but I began riding him and working with him and something clicked, as things often do with horses and people.
What a beautiful, proud, spirited, courageous and incredibly intelligent horse Cheyenne was, and in 1991 a huge pain in the butt to catch, saddle, and ride! He had not had a great deal of attention what with all the horses my spouse had collected. First, I got rid of the spade bit and replaced it with a rubber snaffle, an act of faith rewarded by Cheyenne's head coming down, his back rounding, and his joy at "going" re-doubled.
That horse would take me up a mountain, down the other side, and up another, with huge Arabian nostrils flaring, ears perked, and lengthy overstep like a piston chugging the day long. He tried his hoof at dressage and actually won a few ribbons, though he mainly was there to sight see. He found he liked carrots, kisses on the nose, and being told how wonderful he was. He was a ladies' horse from nose to tail and disdained even to notice a man who approached him.
When spouse and I split, he told me to just take Cheyenne, as they hadn't ever gotten along very well (two type-A personalities...).
Over the years, Cheyenne and I became best of companions. Fortunate to always have him in one "backyard" or another, I loved hearing him talking in the morning, seeing him stride up to visit, and nickering goodnight. As he aged, I did ride him less, especially after he developed Cushing's disease about 5 years ago. But the Cushing's was well-managed, and he enjoyed going up and down our back road, supervising the neighbors, trotting alongside the freight trains as they raced by. He loved the little green pasture, the neighbor's cats, the pushy magpies who napped on his back.
My current spouse and I plan to sell this place and move back to the Northwest in 2013, and my vet said that, as Chey was doing so well, there was no reason he could not make the move in his usual calm style. I looked forward to five or six more good years with him, at least.
Man proposes, God disposes.
This winter in Utah became a hard one, suddenly and with no warning. Still, Cheyenne held his own, until the morning of December 20. He was not at the fence when the dogs went out, talking about his breakfast. He was in his stall, a place he never cared to go unless he was eating. I coaxed him out, and with his head hanging, his breathing rapid and great distress in his eyes, he barely wanted to move, and my first thought was colic.
My vet came, and felt something up inside Chey. I took him in immediately for an ultrasound, which showed a huge tumor in his abdomen, nearly blocking the descending artery, so that the blood roiled and backflowed. The artery might burst at any time: "time-bomb" my vet said, and looking at one another in sadness, we knew the time had come for the final act of love. A horse almost 30 years old would never survive surgery, even had surgery been a viable option.
I cried. I hugged my dear old horse as he stood quietly, knowing also, as they always know, and wishing for the pain and sickness to be over. At the last moment, before the needle, Cheyenne raised his head, his nostrils flared, and a light came into his eyes such as I always saw in them at sunset - a luminous, thousand-yard stare. He was seeing, I pray, the far, beautiful country awaiting him, where he would be healed of sickness and again trot up mountains and blow triumphantly at the top. There! he would say, surveying the conquered terrain, There!
The barn and pasture are lonely and snow-bound - no hoofprints, no manure. The water trough is drained and the feeder is empty. Someone is coming on Sunday to buy the leftover hay. I will not search out another horse companion until we re-locate.
I look out of the back window every morning and night, imagining Cheyenne there. One day, I will look from another window and see that far, beautiful country for myself and he will be coming to greet me, with my other companions who have gone on ahead.
Thank you, Cheyenne, for everything, and hasta la vista.