We had finally found our rhythm.
Dancer and I wouldn’t ask more from each other than we could give.
At 62 and 23 respectively, my horse and I had agreed to be peaceful with one another, gracefully growing older together. We both knew we had aches and pains that weren’t there in our younger years, and most days we were content just to enjoy each other’s company.
He was my “handsome boy” whom I’d call in from the pasture. Sometimes he’d amble in from the back 20, other times I’d set out on an adventure to the furthest reaches of the 100+ acre farm where he lived. Always armed with pockets full of cookies and scratches for that itchy place below his withers.
Dancer wasn’t all that particular about his general hygiene, as with most horses. But through the years we both found pleasure in the hours spent with one another while I brushed his face and tail, giving his aging coat a lovely shine.
We led each other in a special kind of dance they can’t teach you in the ballroom. I’d stand at his side and we’d traipse through the arena both on foot, stopping and starting, turning and twirling, in a magical mambo.
Sometimes that’s all we’d do before I loaded up for the long drive home. Other days we’d ride the self-named butterfly trail two or three times before calling it quits. I’m sure those were his favorites.
We competed regularly in the “stand class,” begging for a championship rosette awarded to the “best horse/rider combo that stood in the center watching” other horses be put to work.
Dancer was the best watcher.
He protected me, our home, and our other pets like a trained guard dog. He alerted me to the boat my husband put up for sale at the end of our drive (in his opinion, it did not belong there) and saved my daughter’s Jack Russell from being abducted by a stranger. He wasn’t afraid of anything, he always wanted you to know he kept a close eye on things.
And as for me, well, I felt superior to women half my age. I could throw hay bales with the farmers. I could lift grain bags and drive the manure spreader. He kept me young in mind, body, and spirit.
At one point he lived with me in our small make-shift barn on the nearly three acres we own. Every night when I’d come home from a long day I’d stand at the top of the pasture and yell, “Daaaaaaannncerrrrr,” so he could come up to receive his two (not one) cookie night cap.
Then there was a time he lived nearly four hours away at the barn where my daughter kept her horse. I’d go down to visit and ride twice a month, getting a “two for one” visit with them both. I knew he was loved on the rest of the time by a gaggle of horse-crazy women, but it never made me miss him any less.
In our latter years together, Dancer was back nearer to me, though still a 45-minute drive. And even on those most horrible of stressed out, tired, cranky, I-only-want-to-drink days, I was always glad I made the journey to see him, not caring I made a stinky stop at the grocery store to procure dinner items on the way home.
Then one day I got that call we all dread. The call that you know will make your heart break. The call that makes you wish you had spent just a few more minutes together on that last visit, ridden one more loop of the butterfly trail, fed one more cookie, and given an extra kiss or two.
Now I feel lost.
I feel like I’ve been kicked out of a special club. I deleted all my emails from State Line Tack and Dover. I feel like a voyeur looking at other horse owner’s Facebook posts about great rides they had.
I wake up in the morning, see the weather and immediately consider the riding conditions. In the end, I know that it would have been a great day to ride, because is any day in the tack ever bad?
I worry about him when it rains. When it is too hot. Whether the pasture move to the new green grass that was planned would have been too much for his old constitution.
I wander around wondering what people do when they don’t have horses on their day off—do they just clean the house? Binge watch Netflix? Empty their closet?
I question whether I’m too old to have another horse. To love and learn the quirks of a new one. To create that bond and develop trust, which made me feel safe in the saddle.
The loss of a heart horse is so big. Overwhelming.
People always say, “I know how you feel.” But they don’t. I appreciate the support and understand their desire to say something, anything really, which may make me feel better. But they never can. The hole in my heart is often times crushing and other times manageable. But never gone.
But for him, I will try. I owe it to him and to myself.
For Dancer would want me to love again. He would insist that I jog lazy endless loops in the sand. He would want another horse to dance and trail ride and have its face scrubbed clean. Dancer would want me to sing to my new friend and tell him about my day. Or lean against his neck and cry tears remembering our time together.
What I know is that above all, Dancer was a kind horse. A true gentleman. And he would want me to share my love, patience, and care with another. Because that’s what he taught me.
There will never be enough to say. The words don’t exist to describe what he means to me. If I talked about him for a hundred years, it wouldn’t scratch the surface.
So I can only hope he knows how much I miss him and that I would give anything for one more dance with my best friend.
Dancer, I love you. Thank you for everything.
Read the “before” story of how Dancer came into Jeri Taylor’s life, as told by her daughter Jorna Taylor.
About the Author
Jeri Taylor has been an avid horsewoman for nearly all her life. She used to show hunters, but took a break to follow her daughter Jorna Taylor around the show circuit, endlessly cleaning green stains off of grey ponies as they went in to the ring. These days, she’s happiest on a lazy trail ride or instilling proper ground manners in some unruly beast!