Today, I cried for a horse. It seems absurd to weep for an animal when people are suffering and dying. He’s not even my own horse. He belongs to a dear friend, but I’ve known him for a long time and I’ve spent many hours in his charming company and I’ve seen him work with veterans and children and he is part of my crew. I learnt to ride western on him and I’ve fallen off him, when he once made one of his trademark quick turns at the sight of some alarming cows and we made everyone laugh.
I knew him like you know a person, one of those people you are always pleased to see. He had a lot of character. He was funny and steady, opinionated and generous, kind and idiosyncratic. He was strong and athletic, but he was gentle too. He was quietly handsome, with nothing flashy about him; he had those lovely, honest good looks that made me smile, just looking at him. He was a boss without being bossy. He had a calming confidence, but he also had a little bit of a wild spirit in him.
The work he did touched lives and changed lives. He worked with people in physical and mental pain, and he brought them relief and hope. He didn’t know that what he did in his life was generous and selfless, he simply willingly did what his trusted human asked him to do. But the people who knew and loved him understood that he was out there, making a difference in the world, and felt admiration and gratitude.
He went in the best possible way. The last sight his human had of him was of his glorious, strong body galloping away up a Scottish field, to greet his herd-mates. He’d had a wonderful, long life, and he’d run his race.
So I shouldn’t really be sad. He won’t be sad. His existence had no sadness in it; I never saw him look dejected for a single moment. He did his work and he took his rest, dreaming his quiet hours away on his high hill, with his great herd, under the benign gaze of the blue mountains and the wide Scottish skies. He was vividly alive – happy, loved, at home in his world – and then he was gone. But all of us who knew him will miss him, because he was stitched into our daily lives, and he had such a reassuring and powerful presence that it felt as if he must be there forever.
I think of my bereft friend. I send stuttering, inadequate words of sympathy and sorrow. I know that when my red mare goes, I shall be beyond consolation. I know about the horse love, and I think I should be able to say the right thing, but there is no right thing. (Every time I mourn someone, I think – ah, now I truly know about grief. I think that I shall be better equipped to comfort those in loss, the next time. And then the next time comes, and I go to my extensive grief encyclopaedia and there are only blank pages. I know this, I think; this is my wheelhouse. But no. ‘I’m sorry’ seems so paltry and trite, although I always end up writing it. I tread warily, terrified of saying something jarring or insensitive. I sometimes ransack the poets, because they all got their hearts broken, one way or another. But even that won’t quite do. And in the end it’s a few, halting lines which sound all wrong and every bit of love I have.)
The great horses gallop into your heart and leave their hoof prints there. They become a part of you. And when they depart, they take a little bit of you with them. But they also leave something behind – the memories of happy days, of smiles and laughter, of that intense, mysterious feeling of connection when you tiptoe up to the species barrier and feel, for a fleeting second, that you can step across and enter another world. They give us humans profound gifts, and the gratitude for those gifts never dies.