Coming to terms with the sudden loss of a horse is painful. Annie's death leaves a ragged hole in my heart. A long time ago I knew a big mountain of a biker who could knock out full grown men with his bare hands if he wanted. When his old dog died well past the age of seventeen, that man grieved like a little boy, his big heart broken. His buddies teased him as much as they dared, but I never did. I knew exactly how he felt.
I sent Annie away for training, thinking I was doing right by her. She was a young horse and could conceivably outlive me. She could easily outlive my physical ability to take care of her. I wanted to give Annie the best chance to be someone else's horse in case it ever happened that I could no longer take care of her. An untrained "grade" horse like Annie would not be valuable to anyone but a kill buyer. I knew her better than anyone, so I should have trusted myself to teach her the things she needed to know. I doubted myself, and thought a stranger would know better how to handle and train her. I knew it was her nature to fight against force. I knew she would do anything asked of her willingly if she just understood what it was you were asking her to do.
Saturday when I visited my friend Kathyrne, I shared my anxiety over Annie enduring the ordeal of learning to stand patiently and safely tied. "But, she needs to know to stand tied. It might save her life someday," I said out loud. And that was a true statement. Had Annie stood patiently tied in her pen, she would still be alive.
Accidents happen. Against our best preparations and intentions, accidents happen. Annie is not the first and certainly not the last horse to mortally wound herself against the will of human beings. There was no malice, no negligence. No one intended for this to happen.
At home, Annie was the first to hear me calling those horses in the pasture. "Come horses," I shout. I drag the syllables out, knowing it will carry even against the wind. Annie was always first to hear and raise her head. Even if Ginger was not inclined to come all the way back to the barn for a mere peppermint or a carrot, Annie would set off at a trot and pick up speed. She was beautiful when she ran, her long mane and tail streaming behind her, and her big sturdy legs covering ground as easily as breathing. It was a game to see who could come thundering up to the barn the fastest, especially in cold weather. Annie always won those races. I learned to stand close to the barn wall to avoid being stampeded by rushing horses.
Unfortunately, Annie was always faced with Ginger's jealousy, her vicious bites and mean kicks. They had reached an uneasy peace accord in recent times. Ginger was finally convinced that Annie did not need to be pounded on and brutalized every single time, and had resorted mostly to merely threatening with bared teeth and flattened ears. I was hoping that when Annie came back from school, Ginger would be so happy to see her that she would not be mean to Annie any more.
But they were friends, and Ginger is still sad that Annie left. I wonder if she knows that Annie will never come home now. One sunny winter day two years ago, I watched an exchange between those two mares. They came to an agreement that Ginger could lay down to sleep in the sun and Annie would stand guard over her. This is normal horse behavior but I had never seen the negotiations before. Annie stood quietly and faithfully over Ginger while she slept. I assume Ginger would return the favor, but you never know.
Annie was friendly and curious and always ready to go. Both horses would put their heads into the cab of the truck to pull out anything they could get their teeth on so they could drop it to the ground. It was great fun. Anything new I might leave on the ground in the corral got the same treatment.
Annie would actively solicit for brushing and fly spray. Her hair was the softest horse hair I have ever felt. Her mane was luxurious and her tail reached the ground when she first arrived but the cockle burrs took care of that in no time. Her greatest joy was to play in the water tank, creating a giant splashing until most of the water was gone.
If I put something unexpected in her feed tub, she would rapidly pull her nose in toward her chest, like a little kid making a face over spinach. It always made me laugh. When she first came here, she was not spoiled like Ginger. She did not know that apples and carrots were delicious and meant to be eaten. She did not even know how to eat out of my hand. Once she got a taste of peppermints, that all changed. A peppermint was worth getting pounded by Ginger. Annie and I learned how to trick Ginger, but it was never easy hiding anything from Her Majesty the Queen.
I could put my hands over Annie's nose and shake her head. She knew immediately I was playing. I do not think she enjoyed that as much as I did, but she allowed it. After all, I was the supreme giver of peppermints. She was not a happy being when she first came to Spirit Creek, but she became happy living here, even with Ginger. She loved to chase the old Dukenator around, and could have killed him easily, but she never laid a hoof on him. Horses can kick with exacting accuracy. If she really had not liked Duke, he would have been a dead dog. She never tried to bite or kick me. She would knock me over sometimes when I was bending down at the feed tub, always in the snow or mud, but it was not malicious or dangerous. It was just a gentle shoulder against my hip and it was a horse joke. Just like you know when your best friend is teasing you, you feel that same energy from a horse. Ginger, on the other hand, has no sense of humor whatsoever. She is far too serious and busy being the boss to joke around.
I can not speak any more about the last time I saw my little orphan Annie. It is too sad and brings a lump to my throat. It seems as if there should be a better reason why Annie is gone instead of just an accident. But, as my son said to me once in exasperation, "Mom, everything does NOT have to be a big spiritual deal!" And he is right. Horses come and go. Human beings come and go. Accidents happen. Life happens. Death happens. As with every loss in my life, human or animal, I wonder where now is that spirit I loved so dearly? Does Annie still exist, or has her sweet horse spirit resolved back into the infinite pool of horse energy and I will never see her again? Will I never feel her heavy head resting on my shoulder again? Do I need peppermints in my pockets when I leave this world? I surely hope so. But I do not know.