This one, this sweet, love of my life…
I’ve had him since the day he was born. Mom says it was in 1990. I don’t remember. I’m not a date person. I know I was young. We raised each other, he and I. I’ve had so many blessings in my life, but he’s the one I’ve probably thanked God for the most. My Friday night date for the last 25 years…my four-legged boyfriend whom I affectionately call “my skinny white boy.”
It’s funny how love and gratitude can make you cry.
And it’s funny how you can grieve something before it’s gone. He’s still here, and I love who he is—he is perfect—but I miss who he was, too. Just as I love who we are together, he and I, now, but I also miss who we used to be. I miss the days when it was just me and him, riding off into the sunset alone, for hours on end…when he could run and jump as if he had wings that never grew tired, when he was the only horse I needed. Age is catching up with him. With both of us, let’s be honest, but it’s catching up with him first. I love my new guys, but they aren’t him. How can they be? I didn’t raise them. They didn’t raise me. Even if I were to have another horse from the day he was born, it will never be the same. If nothing else, it won’t be the same because 25 years have passed, and I’m not the same child I was when he came to me.
I’d never trained a horse. He’d never been trained… God knew I needed a sweet, gentle boy—I was so ignorant. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I figured I had to get on him at some point, so I did. He took one step forward, turned his head and looked over his shoulder at me and that was it. He didn’t understand anything I asked, but he was eager to learn. He never bucked, never reared, never argued with me about anything…well, except for water—but he’s an Arabian. “There’s no water in the desert,” my horsey friends used to tell me. And even his “arguing” was just a gentle, silent refusal, which was generally relinquished if I just told him, “Good boy! You can do it!” I swear I’m telling the honest truth. I could try to force him all day and he’d just stand there and take it, not moving a muscle. But if I encouraged him, and spoke kindly to him, he’d nervously muster up the courage to do it (cross the creek or whatever it was). Anything to please me.
He’d get terrified if someone else got on his back. Literally, he’d tremble with fear until I convinced him it was OK. But he would walk through fire (and even water) if I asked him to. We went to college together. Travelled from Texas to California (and back again) for a summer together. Moved to Colorado together. I’ve known him to get depressed and stop eating because he was injured and I wasn’t riding him. It was the first time he’d ever seen me ride another horse. People thought I was crazy—“horses don’t get depressed”—but I knew what it was. I took him out to ride for a few minutes…his leg swole back up a little, but he started eating again. Even now, we have to watch out when I travel because he seems to colic when I’m gone… I guess you could say he’s attached… but so am I.
How many relationships do you have in your life for 25 years? Some. How many relationships do you have in your life where you take care of someone for 25 years? Less. Even your children move out of your house and go on to live their own lives at some point… but for more than 25 years now, I’ve cared for him daily. That’s a lot of history.
I don’t know why God does what He does, but I’ve often felt that Flash was a gift. That God knew that I would be alone, so He gave me this perfect horse…one so perfectly suited to me, the way I ride, my temperament… He knew I wouldn’t have a husband or children, so He miraculously provided for me to keep this horse by my side all these years. So I would have something to love and care for. One of God’s great mercies to me.
We still go ride. He still loves to jump and jumps any and everything I can find. It’s probably best I don’t have the big 5+ foot jumps available that we used to soar over… bareback… I’d be tempted to see what he could still do. But there is a place nearby with some decent cross country jumps (probably nothing over 3 feet). He flies over them all.
He still loves to chase horses in the mountains when we go on the Sombrero Horse Drive every year. I take him for half days (still a good 15 miles or so), and “lighter” days gathering horses, but he’s always dying for more. The other horses are dragging at the end of the day and he’s still skipping, just raring to go. Amazing. But he’s getting older. And though he may want to do more, his body can’t. If nothing else just because he loses too much weight. The struggles I have to keep weight on him… It can take me months to put back on the weight he loses in just one day. So, because I can’t keep the weight on him, I can’t ride him enough to get him in the shape he needs to be in to do the longer rides. Or to be in the shape to run like he used to. And there’s other things too, like his joints are stiffer, especially in his back end. He’s not as comfortable to ride as he used to be, he jolts a bit now and then… I understand. If someone were to ride me, they’d say the same thing about my movements, too…my knees are getting stiffer, my stride a bit harsher, less springy. It happens to us all.
Which brings me back to the strangeness of how you can grieve something before you lose it. Once in a while I feel his younger self when I’m on him. I feel that power he used to have, that eagerness to go, the ability to run endlessly and clear every jump with an extra 6 feet, just because he could, for the sheer joy of flying. But mostly, I feel my sweet, old man that he’s become. Still him. Still wanting to go, but a little more tired. A little slower. More willing to just walk and take in the views. More of the wannabe lapdog that he’s become and less the partner in adventure. Can I tell you how badly I wish I could go back in time and ride him in his prime again? How much I wish I could go back now, knowing what I now know, and see him with these eyes? I wonder what I could have done with him if I’d known anything. I wonder what he could have been if I’d had more vision. Not that he ever could have been better for me than he was. But I just wonder what He could have done. (Just like I wonder what I could have done with soccer if I’d played as a kid, rather than waiting till I was in my 20’s to pick it up.) All that is true, but more than anything, I just wish I could back and feel him again… us again.
Time is a funny thing. It takes and it gives, both at once. It’s taken him from me and yet it’s also given him to me. His vitality has diminished, but in its stead is a rich history between the two of us than could only be gained through time. I miss who we used to be together, and yet, we are even more one than we ever were. When I am on him, he is an extension of myself in a way no horse has ever been. Riding him is like coming home, like being home. It’s not a good partnership, it’s more than that. It’s unity, wholeness, oneness. I don’t know when that happened, exactly, but I do know it’s taken me losing him (not that he’s gone…but losing his youth) for me to realize that it had. Now that I have to ride other horses to give him a break, now, I know it. Every time I’m on another horse I know it, because it’s not him; it’s not the same. Time took it away and gave it to me at the same time. At the same time that I began to lose it, I realized that I had had it.
Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for everything. What amazes me if how often different, even opposite things have the same time—like when something is bittersweet. I know I shouldn’t grieve before he’s gone. I should be grateful! I should ride him all I can and enjoy every minute I have left with him. I do. And yet, I don’t do that enough—amazing how life can get in the way. I shouldn’t grieve, not yet, but how can I not? How can I not when I see him every day, reminding me of how he’s aging, how he’s slowing down? How can I not grieve when I miss him so—who he was, who we were? And yet, how can I not be grateful for who he now is, and who we now are? For the maturity he has, the health and agility and energy he does still have. For the sweetness and understanding between us that’s only come through years of life, of adventure, of love and illness and caring for each other? It’s bittersweet—there it is again, things that should have different times, but so often have the same time.
So I took this picture today…
I don’t know why it touched me so. Perhaps because he has to drink like an old man now. He sucks on his tongue like only old horses do. He’s still beautiful and graceful, but his lips are swollen with skin cancer making him a little puffy if you know to look for it. I guess lots of people would pay good money to have swollen, pouty lips like his… but they make me sad. They are reminders that every day with him is a gift…and that if he has those on the outside, who is to say what he might have on the inside. Maybe nothing. Who is to say. They say all grey horses die with cancer; the question is whether or not they die from cancer.
I also see his scar coming off his eye. That was a scary day. He had already poked the other one out in college. (Well, not out completely – they were able to keep the eye ball in the socket, but he’s been blind ever since.) So the scar—I went out to feed him. It was spring and we’d just had a big snow. He came skipping up the field toward the barn, eager for his food, and his hair looked like a punk rocker—it was pink. “Why is my horse’s hair pink???” As he got closer I saw it was full of pick icicles. My heart started to beat faster… something was wrong. He was acting fine, but something was definitely wrong. Then I saw a gaping wound below his eye…and something coming out of it. As he had recently impaled himself with wood, and I had had to use a razor to cut him open to get the wood out of his neck… I assumed he had somehow managed to do the same again. It turned out to be bone. Somehow he had broken off the bone in his eye socket and it was sticking out of his face. Long story short, we ended up pulling out about a large thumb’s worth of bone. We literally had to stitch up his eye lid—that’s how close this came to his eye—but miraculously, his only seeing eye was unharmed. He’s missing a good chunk of bone, but the only evidence of harm is that scar.
He should have been a pirate.
You know, once I realized his eye was going to be OK, I kept thinking what a mercy it was for him that it had snowed. I don’t know how much blood he might have lost on a warmer day, or how much worse that headache might have been. I also think what a mercy it was for me that he didn’t go blind in that eye, too. A one-eyed horse hasn’t been a problem. But a no-eyed horse? That’s a problem.
So this picture has so much story for me. All the love of 25 years, and the signs of time…of all it has given and taken from us…the bittersweet gifts it’s given us.
Funny how these odd, benign little things can make us cry.