As your horse becomes older, you may find that your relationship changes, it evolves. For me, despite the fact that, at 35, Jack is not the horse he once was, I feel far more protective of him, committed to making certain that his health and well-being is always foremost in my actions. He has Cushings now, his coat looks like an old worn out blanket with tufts of hair where he has rubbed his itchy skin, symptomatic of the syndrome. He has poor bladder control and his teeth are so worn that he can no longer eat hay. It sounds awful but, with the help of some good soft food, plenty of fibre and three meals a day, he has kept his weight and he never fails to trot up to the gate whickering for his food.
I am grateful that he is at home and not on a yard full of people. Grateful, because I know for sure that he and I would be judged. I would be ‘told’ that he should be put to sleep, put him out of his misery! But, there is no misery, he is a happy horse. He has no idea that he is no longer a poster pin up horse but he is still handsome to me. He and I will know when it is time for him to go and we will make that decision together. He is 35 now, 35! I can’t believe he is still with me, it is incredible!
A couple of months ago, I found myself overwhelmed by the look of relief on Jack’s face when I discovered him in a field not his own. There looked like some disruption by his gate – one of the dopey farm helpers probably herding sheep through or something and somehow let Jack out. He is usually in a two acre field but now found himself at the top of a hilly nine acre field. He looked lost and confused, staring over the wall into the distance, unsure of quite what he was supposed to do next. Then he saw me coming up the hill….
He was so, so, so glad to see me.
He shoved his big old head into my hands and whickered as I gave him a carrot and told him not to worry. I had his back. I have always had his back and I always will. I put his head collar on and asked him to follow me.
As I led him back up the hill, he followed me stiffly; oh he was so stiff (clearly he had been charging around). He needed a rest, and a carrot, every now and then as we slowly made our way across the field, but it was a steep hill back up to his paddock and he found it hard. The connection between us in these 20 minutes or so left me wrung out with emotion. He seemed to be inside my soul and I knew what he was trying to tell me. I literally hurt inside, like a big ball of emotion bursting through my body and soul. 28 years of a shared life, it was like we were one and he was telling me how much he loved and appreciated my gentleness and understanding. He was telling me that today he was tired and that, one day, he would be too tired to carry on. It wasn’t time yet, he would make the spring but we both knew that the next winter, either he would make the decision or I would have to.
Jack depends on me – he is a bit deaf, eyesight not so good and needing routine like he never needed it before. My big strong dark bay horse is a little grey old man now. He has shrunk in his body and aura, but the essence of who he is still calls to me because he remembers the fun we had, the battles of strength and personality, the happy days of glory and winning and the days when we just weren’t on the same page.
Back in his own field, a nice warm lunch and some anti- inflammatory powders and he was soon back to normal within 48 hours, but I know we’re getting closer to the time to say goodbye.
A 28 year relationship, sometimes rocky, frustrating and difficult as cruel, judgemental people berated him (and me) as we struggled to bond in the early days and his educational progress was challenging to say the least. For the first few years, I had to stand up for him when others told me he was a crap horse and would never amount to anything. But we had the last laugh because we grew together, succeeded from the platform of our bond and my belief in him. For a time, we were unbeatable, not because he was a super talented horse and I was a brilliant rider. I never thought of myself as anything other than an adequate rider but what we had was nothing to do with skill, it was everything to do with the relationship.
We had a relationship that people envied. I couldn’t help that, it was a part of who Jack was and a part of who I was. It was two halves of a jigsaw coming together because together we were one unit and we couldn’t help it if people around us didn’t like that because they didn’t have it with their horse. We were insular, we were self-contained and we didn’t seek advice from the usual horse channels. We still are all of those things. We only need each other to be whole. He depends on me and I continue to protect and take care of him as he edges ever closer to the long gallop to the sky.
Jack was my first horse and he will be my last horse. I’ve been so lucky to have shared my life, for so long, with such an incredible character. He has been, and continues to be, the best teacher of life………
Healing Horses ……