“One little song—give me the strength to leave the sad…bur[ied] safely in the past…” sing the Avett Brothers. They know that music has the power to heal us when life and loss leave us feeling alone and blue.
Equestrians live with the inevitability that we will lose great companions over the course of our career in the saddle. But acknowledging that fact doesn’t make it any easier when the time comes. In remembrance of all the great horses that have passed on, I offer up these 10 songs to see you through.
1. BRONTE by Goyte from the album Making Mirrors
I begin with a song that perfectly captures the painful decision to let go of a beloved animal. “Bronte,” by Goyte of “Somebody I Use To Know” fame, reflects specifically on this difficult time in the human-animal relationship. And he gets it right: “It hurts to let you go. We will be with you. You will stay with us.” This song provides solace that these decisions can be made in a loving manner that is truly befitting the life of the animal.
2. TIME DECIDES by Trent Dabbs from the album The Way We Look At Horses
A unique struggle that often comes with the death of a horse is the sense that we, rather than natural causes, have made the end of life decision. But really I think it is more like the sentiment put forth by Trent Dabbs: “Time decides.” Ultimately, in one way or another, the time to let go arrives. You just know. So take comfort in the knowledge that you have only given in to the natural course of things.
3. DEATH’S SONG by City And Colour from the album The Hurry And The Harm
The opening line of this song hits me like a brick that the horse is gone: “What becomes of me when you stop listening?” I think in so many ways our horses listen to us—from the complex communication that comes from years of training together, to the more private and revealing conversations we trust only to our horse when no one else is around. And the loss of both can be so profound that it is nothing short of naked sadness. Calling this track anything but “Death’s Song” would be a dishonor to the sentiment.
4. ALONE by Turtles from the album Stars And Satellites
And so after our horse stops listening we are “Alone,” with Trampled By Turtles. This feeling is elegantly encapsulated in this song. The opening is so mournful, like the isolation and denial first felt after the loss. But as the song progresses, we encounter the anger that often follows: “The days and nights are killing me. The light and dark are still in me. But there’s an anger on the beach so let the wind blow hard and wear the falling stars.” It’s not a rational rage, but a displacement of the inescapable sorrow for the moment. We have all been there.
5. SOULS LIKE THE WHEELS by The Avett Brothers from the album The Second Gleam
The answer to the sorrow and the anger is to begin the process of letting go as advised in “Souls Like The Wheels.” I was recently reminded of this simple ditty from the Avett Brother thanks to the release of “Magpie and the Dandelion,” which includes a beautiful live rendition of this fan favorite. It’s worth checking out.
6. ALL SHADES OF BLUE by Gregory Alan Isakov from the album The Weatherman
Gregory Alan Isakov reminds us that it also helps, when “the song left the stable, and they never came home, and there ain’t no forgetting that you’re out on your own,” to find a way to share the weight. People want to help. “Just your smile lit a 60-watt bulb in my house—it was darkened for days. Been thinking you probably should stay.” Isakov spends time with fellow singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile and her horses when composing. I think the influence is obvious in this track.
7. REST EASY by Dawes from the album Nothing Is Wrong
Once your broken heart has mended through music and friends, it’s important to make room for remembrance with this song from Dawes. Our horses are companions we will always love and hope to meet again in a better place. May you rest easy knowing, “even though I only hear you in the whispers, I take a deep breath and I listen to that sound, ‘cause there’s a place in my heart where you can always be found.”
8. HEAR YOU ME by Jimmy Eat World from the album Jimmy Eat World
No playlist about loss is complete without this fan favorite and staple of the Jimmy Eat World catalog. The song was originally written about the tragic death of friends of the band who supported their careers and always had a couch for them crash on when they were on tour. But, like so many great songs, when it was released to the world it became a personal story for each listener.
For me, the entire opening verse sounds like a love letter to a lost horse. “There’s no one in town I know you gave us some place to go. I never said thank you for that. I thought I might get one more chance. What would you think of me now, so lucky, so strong, so proud? I never said thank you for that, now I’ll never have a chance.” It’s undeniable that horses can be our friends when no one else is in town, and that they raise us to be strong and proud. I only hope we remember to say thank you while we still have the chance, and may angels lead them in when it’s time to go.
9. LET YOUR HEART HOLD FAST by Fort Atlantic from the album Fort Atlantic
Now, never fear, Fort Atlantic appears to raise our spirits. “To believe I walk alone is a lie that I’ve been told. So let your heart hold fast for this soon shall pass like the high tide takes the sand.” In time, the pain subsides and the memories become sweet. A horse that you hold in your heart is a gift to be cherished. Be joyful.
10. SUN’S ARISING (A KOAN, AN EXIT) by Phosphorescent from the album Muchacho
And at the close, Phosphorescent urges us, “As dark as I’ve been…be easy.” Let the sun arise on a new day in which you start again. You know what that means—it’s time to start building a new relationship with another horse. You know you’re ready!
Get the full playlist on Spotify here: May Angels Lead You In
About the Author
Marjorie Wilkinson is the co-founder and co-editor of Counter-Canter Culture—a revolutionary online publication intended to unite the equestrians and equestrian-enthusiasts who aren’t afraid to kick up the dust that has settled on the conventional equine lifestyle. She is also a real-life Hollywood music supervisor and the official curator of Counter-Canter Culture’s musical column, 100% Sound.