It’s been a year to the day since I lost my friend, Spud.
I’m not sure about the quote, “Time heals all wounds.” I think what time offers is an opportunity to allow us to develop strength and mechanisms to manage those moments when loss crashes over us like a wave. We can choose to think about meaningful moments we shared and those things about our friend or family member that made them unique, special and dear to us.
A Herd Protector
Spud was the herd protector. He would chase away anything he considered a threat. He stood by our herd leader, Ty, through his journey of healing. When Chip was growing up, he’d let him play, but not get out of hand. When a new horse entered the herd he’d ensure they stayed far away from the core group until they’d earned the right to approach.
His level of awareness amazed me. I recall returning home from the hospital years ago after surgery. Spud knew I was sore and wouldn’t let another horse (particularly playful Chip) near me. It was not uncommon for him to leave the herd to find me if he felt anything was out of order; even staring at the house and calling until I came out. He would lead me to what was bothering him, be it a closed gate or an injured horse.
Sometimes I never figured out what he wanted. Maybe it was just my company, because on those occasions we simply hung out together and he was content. Maybe he felt the herd was complete when I was there. I’ll never know. But what I do know is that I felt content, perhaps even complete, when we were all together as a herd.
Spud seemed to care more about those around him than he did about himself. I’ve never seen such elevated thinking in a horse. I feel honored to have been able to learn so much from Spud. He was a thinker, and when I finally learned how he thought and why, it really opened my eyes to the incredible capability of the horse’s mind.
In the days after Spud was killed, I retraced his steps in the snow, over and over, lost in shock and disbelief. I found moose droppings and tracks. I have no doubt about what happened.
I’ve seen moose on the property a few times. They can jump the barbed wire fence. But the new fences I’ve put up are five feet high. There was a portion of temporary fence I had set up that was comprised of two runs of 1.5″ electric fence tape on steel t-posts. It was – as far as electric fence standards go – solid.
But not for a moose being chased by a horse. A moose that saw the only way out was a small corner where there were no fence rails. It took that option and Spud stayed on it’s heels. Right onto the highway where he was eventually struck by a vehicle.
Spud died doing what Spud did best. Protecting his herd.
I will be honest in saying that I’ve struggled daily over the past year as the scene of finding my dear friend lying lifeless on the highway invades my conscious. My worst nightmare come true. There are moments when I think, “I can’t believe that really happened.” Time is allowing me the opportunity to learn to manage that. To accept it.
There are times in our lives when we feel loss, sorrow or frustration; an unavoidable part of being human. A unique part of being human, though, is that we can recognize when we’re feeling down and reframe our thoughts. We can make choices. I’ve found it particularly helpful to honor those we miss. For what they’ve given us; how they’ve changed our lives. What they did for others: family, friends and community. I have many pictures of people with Spud, all with huge smiles. He just did that for people. He was very giving.
We reside in what we call Relational Horsemanship. It is a unique style of horsemanship for many reasons. There are several words that are derived from the word, relate. Relation. Relating. Relational. And relationship. In our practice, a positive, nurturing relationship with a horse is a foundational element in every equine pursuit from recreational to competitive riding and driving. We create success through positive, enriching progressions that create mutual trust and confidence.
Relational Horsemanship is also about honor. Whenever I help a horse through fears, see real trust in their eyes, see a client and their horse soaring together in an incredible relationship, I hold honor for the horse. No other animal has done what the horse has done for us throughout our history. A prey animal that can trust a predator and step up to the plate to athletic greatness in even exceptional circumstances. We must honor them for that.
Spud was my teacher. A mentor for horse psychology. And in order for me to learn, I had to journey down a path that caused me to question everything I’d learned about horses. He helped me discover what I needed to develop in myself in order to be a leader. How to let go of some of the human that causes us to struggle, and how to be more of a horse. How to be honest, open and vulnerable…because he was all of those…for me. I continue to honor Spud through both my professional and personal endeavors with horses as I pass what I learned on to all of my clients and students.
The tough part about being relational is just that. We form relationships. We form strong bonds. We realize great understanding. In order to truly explore a relationship, we need to open doors, let down our guard. Be vulnerable. In doing so, we can truly find connection. It is a miraculous, beautiful thing. When that connection is suddenly severed, we struggle, understandably.
Is it worth it? Yes, without a doubt. What we realize out of a relationship is something that defines who we are. How we think and view the world around us. How we act. How to persevere, be strong and smile. No matter what happens, we always have that.
I know that Spud is in a great place now. And when I feel the horror of that morning (a year ago now but as clear as yesterday) approaching or when his absence is weighing on my heart, I also feel a calming hand on my shoulder. Someone saying, “It’s OK.” And Spud, standing radiant in the sunshine, smiling.
I thought a lot about Spud today. A good friend of mine dropped by and we spent the afternoon on horseback in the sun. He rode Bailey and I was on Ditch. Ditch shares some commonalities with Spud: anxiety and insecurity. What Spud taught me has been instrumental in restarting Ditch. And today was a test of the relationship we’ve built. We rode all over the property and through the trees. Ditch didn’t miss a beat. He had a few questions, but it was clear that his trust in me is greater than anything we encountered. A beautiful, yet practical relationship. A gleaming ray of sunshine on what could have been a cloudy day.
January 22 – In Honor of the Horse
I wrote the section below last year, a few days after I lost my bud. When I read them, I feel Spud again; who he was and what it was like to share space with him. I’d be honored if you took a moment to read these words. I hope they help you reflect on those horses and people in your past that you honor.
I have a Wall of Honor in the Amazing Horse Country classroom. I want to thank everyone who has contributed artwork to it. It is a fitting tribute to those horses that have changed our lives.
And at Amazing Horse Country, we’re setting aside this day, January 22, to honor the horse.
I’d be honored if you set aside some time to go spend a moment with your horses. Not to work, train or ride. Simply exist with them, and feel a completeness in your herd. Think about what they mean in your life. And smile.
You can click on the video below to watch it.
What is it, about a horse
That allows them to trot their way
Into our hearts
And become a part of us?
There are many things:
Their innocence. Their honesty.
Their ability to trust without judgement
And and believe in us, a predator.
Their calming energy
In a trying moment.
The laughter, joy and light
They infuse into our lives.
Their ability to give us wings
So we can soar like the wind,
And take us places
We couldn’t otherwise go.
A human and horse can connect
In a unique way that only
Humans and horses can.
Horse-people understand this.
Our horses touch us with their fears,
And inspire us with confidence.
They reveal to us the meaning of peace,
As we share with them a passion.
When God created the horse
He took the most beautiful elements from
Everything He’d envisioned
And put them together in a perfect fit.
He gave them a soul and a big heart.
He gave them the ability to heal us,
And touch us in ways
No other living thing can.
The horse was gifted to us
As a test of our humanity:
An offer of grace, beauty and athleticism,
In turn for our openness and compassion.
Horses shape us as people, teaching us
The merits of being soft and having patience.
We learn how to communicate.
How to listen. And how to understand.
When we lose a horse, we feel a profound loss.
A connection built from something
Stronger than friendship and deeper than love
Has been broken.
But we only need to close our eyes
To feel the warmth of their breath.
A brush of whiskers caressing our cheek.
The tickle of a soft muzzle. A quiet nicker.
More than our experiences and memories,
The courage, exhilaration, pride, comfort and camaraderie
We shared with them remains a part of us,
Dedicated to Spud
You will always be with me, my beautiful friend.
And one day we will race again through green pastures.