A Moment of Grace
In June 2008, I lost my dad with cancer. Two days prior to dad’s passing, my horse Danny was diagnosed with secondary laminitis in his back feet – caused by Cushing’s syndrome – and, a few weeks later, I folded a business partnership one year into its infancy.
Like a spooked horse, I shied away from the obstacles coming at me and I refused to carry on until someone [my inner self?] gave me the courage to turn and face my truths. I wanted to rip off the strong bit that was holding me back, and throw down the heavy saddle that was strangling my life force. Like a beautiful white horse, I wanted to gallop through the sea, playing with the surf, embracing my energy and playfulness of being. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be free. Don’t we all want to be free?
For three months I nursed my laminitic horse with a military precision. At one point the vet was ready to throw in the towel, the general consensus was that I was wasting my time with a horse that would probably never ‘come right’. Those dark wet days, spent hunched over, poulticing, bandaging and duck taping my horses stinking, abscessing feet were some of the worst I can remember. My smile had slithered down a drain cover. I was bitten all over by the bugs of frustration, confusion, anger and pain. Some nights I just collapsed on a bucket and sobbed my heart out. But I never gave up – though I often felt like it.
Danny was on anti-inflammatory drugs for two months. Each time I tried to wean him off, he became unsound again. I avowed to myself that if he hadn’t turned the corner within three months, I would have to let him go. Strangely, after the initial stages, Danny always seemed surprisingly cheerful, even when he was clearly uncomfortable. When the laminitis first struck I had asked him why it had happened and he replied that he wanted me to take more notice of him! He certainly got his wish!
He had always been a weird horse
Before he came to me, he had been shut in a field, on his own, for two years, at the back of a nightclub. Apparently some nights he would escape and visit the club. He likes people.
Danny knew nothing about life – but he had a cunning plan! Right from the offset it was clear that he his mission was to teach me stuff that I clearly didn’t know enough about. Spooking, kicking, fear issues, phobias, rearing, bucking, throwing me off, saddle issues – you name it, he gave it to me and then some!
Day after miserable, wet, dark day passed, I woke with a brick the size of Africa in my heart. The pointless death of my dad, ate away at me like the cancer that had robbed him of his life. Trudging the 100 yards down to the stable block, each morning, wondering what would greet me. My heart would drop down to the depths of the underworld if Danny was less sound than the day before, which, in reality, happened a lot. My body was stiff and sore and my mind felt broken.
One horrible grey evening, I was bent over, my back screaming in pain, pouring rain trickling into my eyes and ears, as I fought to hold a hind hoof up. Three times a poultice slammed down onto the ground. Danny couldn’t help it, he was in pain, but I felt my anger rising. I stepped away with hopelessness in my heart, dark, without hope and a constant feeling of loss. But, as I backed away and stopped, just for a moment, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. Feeling the vibrancy and heat of this energy travelling from the top of my head, down to the roots of my feet, I acknowledged that ‘someone’ was trying to help me, attempting to reassure me that everything would be OK. Would it? Silently, I simply absorbed this wonderful feeling. Then I looked back at Danny and told him that he needed to help me to help him, and he did.
Gradually, against all expectations, the abscess healed. All four of Danny’s mangled up, rotting frogs shriveled up and died and, as the old sole crumbled and broke away, it was replaced with beautiful new smooth white horn underneath. The farrier – who has been like a rock throughout – told me these were positive signs, and continually reminded me of the progress we were making.
It’s a long story, but at last we turned the corner – together.
Slowly I weaned him off the anti inflammatory drugs and little by little he came sound. Calculating the risks, I started to put him out in the starvation paddock for short periods, starting with half an hour and building up to all day over a period of a month. He stayed sound, so I began walking him for ten minutes initially, and we were soon walking several miles a day in hand.
One special morning, I took Danny for a walk up the road. It was lovely to feel him huffing alongside me. Listening to the soft clump of his unshod hooves on the concrete, I walked with my left hand cupping one of his ears, and marveled at how he moved, with only the slightest hint of direction from my hand, when cars need to pass in the narrow lane. We stopped to talk to an old lady and her grandson. Danny snuffled the little persons face with such curiosity and gentleness, and we all laughed.
When we returned back to the field, I stood with my hands in my pockets and watched as Danny and his bossy little pal, Toady, grazed contentedly side by side. The day was bright, sunny & warm; there was a gentle breeze lifting my unwashed hair, and my old horse Jack stood by my side munching at the bit of grass he had just begged me to give him. Cassie, my old dog, lay flat on her side sunbathing, and Ellie, my young dog, sat throwing her new red ball in the air. She had successfully managed to chew off the string and was celebrating!
At that moment, everything was perfect. Any worries I had in my life simply disappeared. This precious beautiful moment was all I had, and indeed all I wanted. I felt the clock of my life stop. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to move. I closed my eyes and listened to big old horse teeth munching on grass, the late summer birds, an insect whizzing round my face, the dogs playing, the farmer moving hay in the barn, tractors in the distance, a child playing in a nearby garden. It was wonderful. Thoughts drifted into my consciousness about how happy I could be, if I could recreate every single moment of my life in this way.
It was a strange feeling; like a quiet jolt from within, a little like an out of body experience. One theory I have is that my poor beaten up old soul was desperately trying to escape from the burden of my physically drained body. My crumbled mind wanted a break from my constant depressed state and chose to go take a stroll around the countryside on its own – in peace, without my chatter J That, in itself, I accepted as a message, from my horse hungry and freedom loving soul.
When something wallops us hard in the place that we call our heart, we must, simply must, grab that message and run free with it. I knew that the time for grieving was over, or at least was easing off now. I knew that I must put my foot on the pathway to embrace the future of my work with horses by helping people to learn how to connect with their horses in a way that surpasses the normal human-horse relationship.
Nothing is as important as that one individual moment. Your life is made up of millions of these moments, but how many have you missed? How many have you allowed to slip away? How many regrets have you had that you didn’t spend more time with a loved one, a pet, a friend? How many times did these thoughts create change? Not many I suspect, because that is human nature.
Treasure those moments that, for sure, you might never experience again. Experiment, and take the slip road off the fast lane of your life. Ask yourself, ‘what would happen if I stopped, and allowed myself simply to be?’ Don’t go looking for the answer. Just wait. It will come to you in its own time. When it does, which it will if you are patient, you must honour it, honour your life and your soul. And of course, spend more time with the horses!
Danny lived for almost two years after this horrendous episode. I never rode him again as we discovered, through X-rays, that he had bad arthritis in one of his front hooves, which may explain why I spent more time on my back on the floor than in the saddle. The vet diagnosed that the laminitis was caused by Cushing’s Syndrome. I treated him with herbs and natural remedies and he did very well during the time he had left. In the end, his immune system was failing, causing other issues and he grew very depressed. But, until that point, he had lived his life as well and happy as any horse could.
Healing Horses ……