Goodbye to a Horse

In a discussion I once had regarding losing horses I was told, “Sometimes I wonder how we continue to bear loving horses. It seems they have so many ways to break our hearts.”  True enough, but the opposite side of the coin is that they have the ability to fill our hearts with passion, excitement and appreciation for life. Personally, the reward I get out of working with, riding and owning horses surpasses anything else I have ever done.

A good friend of mine called me today after returning from a vacation. She informed me that shortly after her return a few days ago, she lost a good friend: her main riding horse. Her horse had developed an intestinal tumor resulting in a colic. She was rushed to the vet for emergency surgery; unfortunately the surgeon wasn’t able to correct the problem, and the horse was lost.

My friend and I are similar in many aspects when it comes to our philosophy on horses and horsemanship. We develop intimate mental bonds with them. We have the ultimate respect for them as intelligent animals. They are a part of our daily lives and even more than that, they define our lives and who we are.  Our horses provide us with knowledge, incentive, motivation and happiness. They are responsible for our laughter, fun, adventure and so many incredible experiences.

In 2010 I wrote an article called A Life With a Horse. As the title implies, the article is about how horses become part of our lives. In that article I mentioned that the average lifespan of a horse is 28 +/-5 years.  However I know many people who have ridden and are still riding healthy horses in their 30s. Considering that the average lifespan of a human in Canada is slightly over 80 years, the odds dictate that we are going to outlive our equine friends. What really strikes me about these numbers is this:

It is entirely possible to be partners with the same horse for more than 50% of your adult life.



That really is something to think about, isn’t it ? If you’re like most people, you have moved a few times and accept that friends come and go. We lose touch with family that we don’t have daily contact with.? It’s true that a relationship based on daily, personal, one-on-one interaction is stronger than any other. Therefore our relationship with a horse is unique, because the only other relationship that that we can describe in those terms is that with a spouse or child.  And children eventually leave the nest, at least we hope!

And so, while our relationship with a horse may not be as strong as that with a spouse, it certainly has the potential to rank right behind it. Regardless, the horse has the potential to have one of the strongest relationships you share with any other living being.

Unfortunately, due to their shorter lifespan, at some point we will have to say goodbye to an equine friend. That is not easy to do. We have all lost friends and family members…we know what that feels like.

A few years ago, I spent a week riding in the mountains up the Elbow River. On the return ride my mare cut her front leg.  It wasn’t a mortal wound by any stretch, but I did clean it up when we got back to the trailer. While I was doctoring her, a fellow rider walked by and said, “if you love her, she will die.” At the time I thought it was a fairly shallow and insensitive remark. Considering it now, however, it contains a lot of meaning. It could easily be reworded to say, “You have become attached to that horse. If you lose her, it’s going to hurt.”

I am however, addicted to becoming attached to horses. I don’t think I’m alone in this. As a trainer, its part of my philosophy; I strive to attain that intense mental connection when working with a horse. It is in the ability to bring a troubled mind to a state of peace and then go forth with try to produce something tangible, that the horse and I find success; there are many euphoric moments. Horses have an innocence; a method of communication which is incredibly moving and passionate when you open yourself up to it. They have a pure spirit and life that we humans can and should envy…and thankfully can share.

Think about it: a horse is a greater-than-thousand-pound animal that permits us  a born predator – to sit on his back and share his space. Hopefully we are in that space because we have earned it: he trusts us to be there as a true leader. And in being there, that animal gives us speed. He gives us strength. He gives us a passion and an experience unlike any other. On the back of our horses, we fly. We experience courage, trust and partnership. With that and through our mutual learning and our shared experiences we have the potential to develop an intense empathetic connection.One that is special, intimate and unlike the bond we share with other animals and even people.

Thus the horse becomes part of us; we a part of the horse. And in losing a horse, we feel that a part of us is lost too. It’s inevitable. It’s tough. But it happens. The converse, but positive part, is to look at what we gained. What we have learned from our horses, the fun and enjoyment that they provided…how we have grown and changed simply by experiencing the horse. It’s an empathetic and spiritual sharing that, while shaping them as horses, also shapes us as human beings. Thus our horses live on in us through what they individually have enabled us to become.

Nothing can ever take that away; they are a part of us.


RheaYes, horses can break our hearts.

Is it worth it?

Without a doubt.

Because if we, as horse-people, don’t go down that road of exploring a true connection with a horse, we have missed out on one of the most incredible experiences that life has to offer a human being.

Goodbye Rhea.

You will be missed.

Scott Phillips

August 2015

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About admin

Scott has a wide variety of experience in the horse industry including mountain riding, outfitting, training horses and riders, starting and re-starting horses, producing horsemanship webinars and podcasts, running the Canadian Cowboy Challenge and of course, operating Amazing Horse Country. He affectionately refers to his herd of horses as his "kids". Scott has uniquely integrated his horsemanship with a knowledge of equine bio-mechanics and psychology to gain a thorough understanding of these great animals.