January 23, 2020
This morning I walked out to feed the horses. When I don’t see them, I always call, “Come, Spud!” and Spud would come running and bring the herd. If the horses are there, they each have their own little ditty and joining them with a little song in the morning is a part of my day. If I put my arms around Spud’s neck, he’d squeeze me back with a big hug. If I stuck my head over the fence, he’d grab my nose with his lips. That may even have been the best part of my day because it was impossible not to have a smile on my face.
Today I opened my mouth to shout, “Come, Spud,” and felt an icy chill overcome me as I was again shocked with the realization that Spud isn’t here anymore. Today didn’t start with Spud’s happy face. Today didn’t start with a glimmer in his eye and a big yawn that just said, “I LOVE life!” Today I fed seven piles of hay instead of eight. I caught myself feeding the eighth and stopped, overcome with sobbing.
Loss is tough. In one moment I feel cold and empty. If I think of my time with Spud, I break down crying. Other moments I feel completely lost. I stand here not knowing what to do. I don’t feel like eating but I know I should. I’m too exhausted to stand but I don’t want to sit. I have work to do but I can’t focus. I feel compelled to honor him in some way and putting thoughts of him aside to accomplish tasks seems disrespectful. Every once in a while my mind wanders and then I’m slapped with the realization that Spud is gone and I’m in disbelief. Then there are moments I relive the nightmare of yesterday morning, when Spud was tragically struck on the highway and killed. Those moments hit me like a freight train, and they hurt. Damn, they hurt.
If I slept more than fifteen minutes in a row last night, I’d be surprised. I finished a novel. Countless times I read until my eyes wouldn’t stay open but as soon as I put my book down and closed them, I’d be wide awake – like some malevolent entity was shoving images and thoughts of the day into my head and I had no control over it.
I wish there was a switch I could just turn off my brain for a while. I wish there was a knob I could turn down the intensity. But there isn’t.
Our herd is down by one. Yesterday pasture-mates stood together, heads hanging low. I stood with them, both seeking and offering comfort. Spud took care of the herd in that way.
Spud was unique. Although horses are all acutely empathic, Spud acted on what he picked up from other horses and people in ways that I find hard to believe. He’d be there for me if I was down. When I got out of the hospital after a couple of weeks, he guarded me and wouldn’t let another horse near. You couldn’t help but smile at his smile and laugh at his antics. He was attached to our herd leader, Ty and was his protector. They were always together. I had sometimes thought of what a mess Spud’s world would be when Ty, 11 years his senior, passed away. I never thought it would happen the other way around.
These horses have been with me for years. I live with them. I work out of my own ranch so they’re always nearby. I spend many hours just hanging with them. I learn from them that way…but it’s more than that. We commune. We share. We play, enjoy the sun and grass and snow. And because of that, we’ve formed bonds tighter than I ever have with people. They are family in every sense of the word. Maybe they’re more than that. They’re honest and have no hidden agendas. They’re immune to greed and selfishness. They are shining examples of how to be human beings. Spud was always a bright ray of sunshine. Spud understood me. Some of you that have been clients or friends for a while know that our legal business name used to be Spudhorse. The last four digits of my phone number are 7783. SPUD. My phone is named Spud. I have network hard drives that are named Spud. There is a reason for all of that.
Now, it feels like there is a big, empty black hole all around. I know life goes on. I know I have seven other horses and every one of those is just as special to me. I spent the better part of yesterday and today with them.
But Spud had something about him that was just, well, more. An awareness and intelligence that made me think he was the product of some unique genetic twist that caused his intellect to be above most other animals. I learned to honor him for that; for his sensitivity and complexity. I learned how to converse with him. I learned how to bring him peace when he was anxious. God knows he did that for me. I wish everyone could have met Spud. But in a way, everyone does. Much of my teaching is based on what I learned from Spud. And I guess in that way, he’ll always be a big part of Amazing Horse Country. And a part of me.
I’m in no way looking for sympathy. I could feel sorry for myself but that won’t bring him back. I could feel anger at the person who hit him (who never stopped) but that won’t bring him back.
I’m writing this because my mom said, “You should write about your loss. It might help you.” She’s right, as always. It does help sort though things. It does help to just put it all out there.
I hadn’t intended to post this. It’s personal. It’s my job to inspire; to energize. To help you connect with your horse and really enjoy what they have to offer – because they offer so much.
I’m posting this for one reason: If you’ve worked with me you’ve heard me say that we open communication with a horse when we’re open and honest. When we let down our defences and set aside pretenses and ambitions. When we focus on the moment, not our perception of the past or expectation of the future. When we’re ourselves; not pretending, not acting. I wouldn’t be legitimate in my profession as a clinician or horseman if I didn’t do that myself. Every horse I work with – including all of your horses – have a place in my heart. In order to be open and honest it has to be that way. I have to be that way.
When I hear from clients that their horse has passed or having struggles, that pulls at my heart strings because I really, truly, care. And I also understand how you feel. I know what loss is like. I’m a real person. I also understand that grief is normal. That doesn’t make it easier though.
Last week I had a conversation with a friend of mine, outlining some ideas for our podcast. My little motto for it is “educate, entertain and inform.” So, part of the podcast will be set aside as a venue to share our horse stories. Your stories. We all have them. Some make us laugh. Some make us cry. And they all are an example of how horses touch us. How they become intertwined in our lives. How they allow us to be better people.
I take comfort in the fact that every ride on Spud this winter has been fantastic and better than the last. I was so happy for him; our riding gave him (and me) great peace and I can’t ask for more than that. I can’t help but relate this to the human world. Sometimes we leave things on a bad note; we depart without peace. We don’t have to; it feels so freeing to clear up misunderstandings. It only takes a couple of words to make someone feel good about themselves. And we feel good in turn.
I’m trying to get through the day by feeling Spud with me. Following by my side with his smile and that sparkle in his eye. Like I always felt when he was by my side. And Spud, you will ALWAYS be with me. You showed me how to be a better person. You taught me about horses, particularly the anxious ones. You taught me about compassion, understanding, honor and what peace really is – and how it feels to be a horse. You were the glue that held this herd together. And thus a part of you will be with all of us. God blessed the world with your life, and you shared that gift by bringing smiles and laughter to many people.
Thank you, Spud, for being a spud.