Amateur Hour

How Do You Explain What It’s Like to Lose Your Best Friend to Non-Horsey People?

©Roger H. Goun / Flickr CC by 2.0

I lost my best friend a couple months ago.

Dutch and I were a team. From the second I sat on him, I knew he was the one. I believe in love at first sight. I fell in love with my husband over 26 years ago on the spot and knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. I had the same feeling when I saw Dutch.

I had been looking for a sensible, reliable horse to take me around low hunter and jumper courses for about six months. As you can imagine, I sat on every type of horse—from “quiet” off-track Thoroughbreds to retired grand prix jumpers—and nothing clicked.

Then, one day my trainer and I went to visit a hunter/jumper barn that had an 18 hand KPWN for sale who was ready to start jumping down. I stand five feet tall so we thought that there was no way I would feel comfortable on an 18 hand ex-jumper.

While I watched the trainer ride him, I was awestruck by the horse’s presence. He was a striking liver chestnut with four white socks and a white blaze. He floated over the ground and over the fences. I couldn’t wait to get on.

When I did, I knew instantly. This was my once in a lifetime horse. How do you explain this feeling? It is indescribable.

This shouldn’t be the horse for me—he was too big, too powerful, yet, there was a gentleness about him. I knew he would not only teach me so many things, he would also take care of me. I was passed taking risks. As a mother and a wife, I need to guard my safety while at the same time following my passion.

Dutch and I spent the next five years together. Barely a day went by when we didn’t see each other.

Dutch
Dutch

There were months during this time when we just spent time walking together when he was sidelined by a couple injuries. Each time he came back healthy and ready to go back on the trail on in the show ring. After his last injury at the age of 20, I decided to retire him.

I rode him a few times a week—sometimes in the ring and sometimes we just headed up the trail. He was always willing and accommodating, never minding if we were alone or with friends.

Dutch took to his retirement like a fish to water. He would sleep late in the morning sun, wake for a lazy breakfast and spend the rest of the day keeping an eye on the ranch. Kids loved to be around him because he was so big yet so gentle. Children could pick his feet out, brush his sides, and get lots of kisses just for doing so. He also had a soft spot for cats and would let the barn cat sit on his back or play in the grass alongside him while he grazed.

I never imagined my life without him. I thought he would live out his days sunning himself in his paddock, taking long naps and indulging me the few times a week I tacked him up so I could experience that feeling of having so much power under me.

That is until the day a couple months ago when he exhibited some colic like symptoms for the first time since I owned him.

I sent him to the hospital immediately and even though the discomfort he was experiencing from a displaced colon righted itself in a week without intervention, he never recovered from the trauma. He developed one condition after another until he succumbed to a heart attack a week later. I spent hours in the stall with him in the intensive care unit just sitting while he paced around uncomfortably, always stopping when he passed by me so I could reach up and pat him.

When I got the call he passed away, I knew my life would never be the same. The hole in my heart will never fill. The loss hits me at strange times—no longer just at night when the air is still and dark but in the daytime when the sun is strong with the promise of a new day.

How do I explain to my co-workers the reason why I am having a “bad” day? How do I explain that the loss of my horse is like losing my best friend? How do I put into words the loneliness I feel every time I go out to the barn and see his empty paddock?

I understand what it is like to lose a pet. I have lost two beloved dogs in the past three years. More holes in my heart which will remain unfilled.

But losing Dutch is so different.

The bond between horse and rider goes to another dimension. The trust between horse and rider is unique. I knew that whatever situation I faced with Dutch, he would take care of me safely. I’ve lost my friend, my confidante, my partner. As the days pass, I don’t miss him any less but I am starting to remember the life we shared and not the life we are missing.

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