I just can’t say goodbye, but I have to. Why does a goodbye have to be so very painful when it comes to animals?
I feel like I have said goodbye to so very many of my friends lately. And by friends, I mean my BEST friends. My horses.
Once upon a time, it was a given that a horse would arrive to me, a broken soul, and we would fix them up, like training for a job interview, so they could go off to find a new, amazing home. A future for them, and a happy one at that. Goodbye was easy then.
In the last two years, I have witnessed three equine deaths, and I am on the very brink of witnessing another.
But this time feels different. This time, the horse is my best friend. She’s the one horse who arrived with me and I promised her she would never leave. She’s the one horse who, over the past 3 ½ years I have tried and tried and tried to befriend, unsuccessfully it seems.
No matter my approach, be it natural horsemanship, positive reinforcement, clicker training, being kind but firm, or being a pushover, nothing has worked.
I once described her to a traditional horseman - you know the type, old huntsman - who told me instantly she needed a bullet. I was hurt. She’s perfectly fine, she’s just her. And I accept that.
But not now. Now, I don’t want to accept that she’s miserable and angry and has aggressive tendencies towards inoffensive things like rugs, Shetlands, tie-rings, and stables. At this point, when her end is literally just around the corner, I feel that I have failed. Failed to make her happy. Failed to help her see that life can be good, pleasant, and unassuming.
This mare has been with me longer than any other in the last few years, and yet she remains the one horse I feel I’ve made the least progress with. She still dislikes me I’m sure, only seeing my purpose being to feed her and provide fresh grass and decent hay. But the weather is changing, and arthritis is ravaging her old bones. As the chilly nights draw more frequent, her movement is altered, her legs stretch a little less, her hocks no longer flexing like they should. An audible clicking can be heard from her hips from across the field.
But she can’t tell me. And this is the part I am struggling with the most. Why can’t she tell me? “I’m tired. I’ve had enough. Please don’t put me through another winter.” Or even, “Yes, I’m okay. I’ve got time left in these old bones yet. Don’t be hasty, winter might be mild.”
Even thinking about my limited options makes my heart pound and palms sweat, the adrenaline setting in as the sheer panic rises in my throat.
I don’t think I can be strong enough to be there for her but I really owe it to her. She deserves at least that much, especially when I am the one who gets to play god with her life. I make the decision to pull the trigger or plunge the needle. It’s a heavy weight. And what if I’m wrong? What if she would manage? Should I risk it and potentially end up letting her suffer the agony of a harsh frost on her fusing joints? Allow the fields to become muddy so that – should we need to make a quick decision – it wouldn’t even be possible to get the removal vehicles in the field to collect her body.
I lost her field mate in June, the most adorable little pony. She adored him and it was a sudden loss to Grass Sickness. Seeing the agony he was in made one of the hardest decisions in the world a little easier, and as he took his final few breaths I told him to behave himself up in heaven. Even afterwards, once his lifeless body was in the trailer, I made sure he knew he had to be a good boy up wherever he was going to next. I couldn’t leave his side. The decision to put him down was taken out of my hands in the end with him. It was put him down or watch him die in agony. But even then I couldn’t say the words. Although I made peace with his passing much easier than I could with my beloved old mare.
What if she just hates me? What if it’s her surroundings that make her this way?
If somebody offered her a home tomorrow, I’d consider it. The weight of this decision is too much. The constant what if’s have me in a never-ending spiral of second-guessing. I can barely function.
Goodbye is genuinely the hardest decision to make. Especially when that goodbye is to this world and onto the next.
It may well be the last goodbye I ever have the strength to make. This has made me question my durability in the horse world. I care so much more than some I see. They aren’t just animals to me. They are friends, secret keepers, agony aunts, confidents, and the warm breath on the back of your neck when you are sat in the field at dusk crying your eyes out, not wanting to go home.
I will mourn the loss of my horse when the time comes. I will cry over her passport and be unable to open the envelope on its return from the PIA in case they’ve stamped “deceased” all over it. I will keep some tail hair for a bracelet but be too scared to send it off in case it gets lost in the post, too frightened to let go of the tiny bit I will have left of her. I will take nice pictures that I won't be able to look at afterwards because they will break my heart. I will tell my children that it was for the best, whilst forever questioning if I made the right decision. I will hang her head collar somewhere I can always see it, and eventually giggle at her marish ways and memories. I will love her regardless. And there will be a huge whole in my life without her.
I will hug her at the end, harder and tighter than I have ever been lucky enough to do whilst she was alive. And tell her how sorry I am, and hope she forgives me.
Because that’s what we do isn’t it? We do what we think is right, and hope above all hope, that even if its not, they will forgive us anyway. Just like they forgive us all our flaws and mistakes in life, we hope they also do in death.
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