Have you ever had a pet that just reached out, grabbed your heartstrings and never let go? I know I did. Big time. His name was Range and he was a big boned, roman-nosed chestnut horse. Saying goodbye to him in the fall of 2011 was heartbreaking for me. But it taught me some value lessons…
Cool wind rustled the dry, dead leaves under my feet. I gripped my horse’s lead rope as I led him down the dark trail. This sad night was time to say goodbye to my beloved friend. Range had colic. I winced remembering Dr. Steve’s face when he informed me of the severity of Range’s case. I knew this was a part of horse ownership, but the reality of it had never truly crossed my mind before now.
Ever since a little girl, owning a horse had been my dream. I read every equine book I could lay my hands on. I drew pictures of them, watched them, and rode whenever an opportunity presented itself. The walls of my room were covered with the latest Horse Illustrated posters. To my future embarrassment, my stick horse and I would race imaginary Indians in my backyard woods. The countdown was on to my tenth birthday: the age for me to obtain ownership of my dream.
“Look, Dad! Look, Mom!” ten year old me ran into the living room, newspaper in hand, to show my parents my discovery. I eagerly watched as they read the advertisement for a Tennessee Walker, “perfect for a younger rider”. My heart raced with excitement when Dad smiled and promised to call.
It was a memorable day when I first saw Range. The tall, chestnut gelding watched me with kind eyes as I approached to stroke his glossy coat. From that moment I knew that this was my horse. Seeing how gentle Range was, my parents heartily answered “yes” to my silent pleading. All of my previous reading came into play as I brought my new horse home and became responsible for his daily needs. I learned firsthand about horse behavior, routine, veterinary and farrier care, and riding. Range was a patient teacher. His quiet personality helped me to ride confidently, even after many bumpy falls. I promptly learned to keep my seat and read his body language to prepare for a possible spook. In no time, I was galloping bareback across the clover fields with the summer breeze whipping through my hair.
But horses aren’t just riding and fun. They are expensive. From farrier to hay costs, I was expected to shoulder most of the bills. Although my parents were very willing to help when I came upon financial need, they expected me to put forth effort and take responsibility for my pastime. I began working at my uncle’s dairy farm two to three days a week, milking cows, feeding calves, and helping with regular farm chores. Getting up at four in the morning to milk was not the ideal wake-up call for a soon-to-be teen, but I began to enjoy the feeling of achievement at the day’s end. In addition, I took on babysitting and yard work for neighbors to support my hobby. Through these part-time jobs, I acquired new capabilities. Milking mastitis into a quarter bucket, recognizing medicinal plants in the pasture, changing diapers and burping babies, mowing lawns, and buying the right chemical class dewormer became new know-hows.
At the age of fourteen I undertook a give-away mare. The unpolished, sassy attitude of this Arabian gave me a new challenge. All that Range had taught me, I now sought to instill in this fiery horse. Although it took time and persistence, Roja learned to respond to the bit with a soft mouth, obey the commands of her rider, and become genteel in her ground manners. Roja was now my main mount while I considered Range to be retired. Although Range was still rideable, he was past his prime. At the age of twenty-seven he was showing signs of his increasing age. Withers, ribs, and hips were becoming more prominent even while being fed weight-gain supplement. Dropped grain lay undetected beside his feed bucket. His movements became slower and he preferred to spend his days resting in the sun. Seeing the signs of age, I began to wonder if he’d make it through another cold, Wisconsin winter.
September arrived. And with it came that dreaded day. Coming home from work, I found Range lying down and unwilling to stand. The pain in his posture was unmistakable. Immediately, I knew. Colic. The word itself twisted my heart. I choked backed emotions as I called Veterinarian Steve; I ended the call only after assurance of his speedy arrival. Light was beginning to fade as Dr. Steve’s truck pulled into the driveway. His prognosis was just what I feared. With no gut sounds and a high pulse, Range’s condition was severe. The feared monster of all horse owners had pounced. Considering Range’s seniority, I knew the chance of a full recovery from any surgery would be slim and the thought of him going through more pain was unquestionable. The only other option was to humanely put him down. This was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made. Range had been my horse for seven years now. He had gently taught me so much-especially the value of hard work and dedication. Knowing that time with him was coming to an end, I couldn’t hold back the tears.
We had reached the end of the dark trail. From the barn, Roja whinnied, understanding that Range would not be coming back. With my heart in my throat, I kissed Range’s velvet nose one last time, and whispered goodbye to my dear friend.
3 Things I learned from losing my Horse:
- I had not been nearly as sensitive I as should have been with people who had previously lost a pet. Before I didn’t really understand why people would say losing their pet was like losing a human family member. Pets are not humans, but they are gifts from God. Now I realize how animals bring so much joy to our lives and become so special to us. When their short lives end, it is painful. And that’s ok to admit and grieve.
- When there is suffering, stay present. Don’t push your pet away when things get tough. Be loving and be responsible. A godly person cares for the needs of his animals.
- Acceptance the loss of your pet does not mean you’re forgetting them. Moving on doesn’t mean you don’t care or remember them with love. I have gotten past the pain and grief of Range’s death, although I still miss him. Allow yourself to move on when the time is right
Have you lost a pet that was close to your heart? What lesson(s) did that hard time teach? I’d love to hear your comments!