Saturday, February 5, 2011
Last week, I had to say goodbye to my horse partner of nearly 19 years, Tequila. At the age of 30 something, she died the way she lived - playing hard and giving it 100%. Some people called her a rescue horse but in fact, I'm pretty sure it was she who rescued me.
Our relationship wasn't always an easy one. I think it was actually mutual disdain at first sight. As a working student at a local riding school, I typically got to ride all the psychos in exchange for my working student hours. I opened her stall door and she came lunging at me, ears back and teeth bared. After recruiting a friend to hold her while I tacked, riding wasn't any easier. We had the "run" and "run like hell" gaits down pat but anything else was questionable at best. (And remained so for months on end.) But this was a gymkhana class, not some hunter eq thing, and when I pointed her at the barrels it was pure magic. A few days later, pole bending was even better. Her manners were still atrocious, but I was undeniably hooked.
I think our rocky start quickly turned around when disdain became mutual bitchy respect. Soon into our partnership she tried to dump my ass, but riding western at the time I merely got "weaned" on the horn (use your imagination, you'll figure out what it means). Shouting, "I saved your life and I can send you back" like a maniac, she paused and behaved like a lady thereafter. Well, for about 10 minutes but it was enough to teach me about this communication thing. The bond grew until not that many years later, all I had to do was think about turning or changing gaits and she'd pretty much do it. It's a connection I fear I'll never share with another horse - can there ever be another quite like her?
About this time in a blog is where the writer is supposed to share some insight on coping with loss. Sorry to say, I don't have much wisdom to share in that department. After going to the barn to take care of her 5 days a week for 19 years, there hasn't been a day since she's been gone that I haven't started to schedule my day around those visits only to realize she isn't there anymore. I drove down the road that I took to the barn the other day and was suddenly lost, having no idea where anything was if I didn't start the journey from the barn. There's a whole community of people at the barn that I'll never be a part of again. She was my anchor (and I mean that in a good way), she gave my life center and balance right from the start. A friend commented that losing her horse was like losing a spouse. I'm sure people who have lost spouses (ones they liked anyway) would disagree but I will say I feel completely adrift without her.
I started writing this blog as a way of expressing that grief, a catharsis for me even if no one else read it. In the process, I started thinking about all the things I remember about her and I woke up smiling this morning for the first time since she's been gone. So if I do have any wisdom to offer maybe it's to focus on all the gifts these wonderful animals give us in the short time we're blessed to have them in our lives. My favorite was her sense of humor. For instance...
There was time I worked for an hour to get a flying lead change - something I knew she could do because she hit every change doing pole bending. I finally got it, only to have her swap it back a stride later. Or in dressage class once when I asked for a shoulder in and did a piss poor job apparently. After struggling with it, she gave it beautifully, as if to say "you mean this?" then promptly stopped. The message was clear. "Yeah, when you learn to ask for it correctly, then I'll give it to you."
The times that all I had to do was give her a slight twitch of the rein and she make a ferocious shark face at an on-coming rider who was rudely riding too close in the arena, whip lazily cocked in our direction. She quickly got the game and seemed to enjoy scaring off the hunters.
The time someone asked me if she was a Paso Fino when she was being an exasperating nut on the trail. How that grew into her slowing herself down from the canter to the walk when passing other people, then picking up the canter again a polite distance away. Somewhere between those two was the time she took off at a gallop on the trail before I'd quite gotten up in the saddle. There I was, clinging to her side like Spiderman before finally getting all the way in the saddle and bringing her under control, only to be chastised by other riders for galloping at them. Like it was my idea!
The way she'd behave differently with each of the four moms, a feat that stunned animal communicator Lydia Hibby so much that she devoted an entire chapter to her in her book.
How she helped me grow as a rider, putting up with my one-lesson-a-week beginner hands and seat with the patience of Job. Looking back, it's a miracle that I survived it. I doubt very many horses would have put up with the things she did, including riding in reindeer antlers. I know I would never have become an eventer if not for the courage and thrill-seeking she inspired in me.
The way she smelled. And yes, I'm vain enough to say I think we both loved the attention of people commenting on how beautiful she was, the last time being just the day before she died.
The "thumbprint of Allah" that friend pointed out on her neck, a pretty rare thing for a horse that isn't an Arab. Sadly, that friend has long since passed away too. Maybe she's with Teq now, grooming her up for me. It's a nice thought, but I'm kind of hoping for that reincarnation thing being true. Because if there is another horse out there for me, I'm going to look for one with that same slightly wicked twinkle in their eye.
Mostly I remember how she loved to run and finally thinking about her makes me smile. To steal from Bob Hope a little, thanks for the memories Tequila, you were the best.