Hoofprints on my Heart

Baby had been so peaceful and happy for the few weeks before Christmas – she has been eating – well, like a horse! Loving her lucerne and always so pleased to see me. Ears forward, eyes bright, nodding her head. We have had some truly beautiful moments and I have cried a river of tears at the prospect of a life without her after 12 magical years in which she turned my life, and its direction, on its head. One night, she lay, with her head in my lap, and we talked, I sobbed, she shed tears and we shared our love. One night I sat back to her belly and reminisced and shared our thoughts and feelings. She was, without doubt, the most beautiful girl in the world.

But 10 days ago her Horse Herbalist herbs ran out and she went downhill. She had a Bowen treatment on Thursday with the instruction ‘kill or cure’ (because I could feel the sand of time running rapidly out for us both). And then she really started to be in pain. Instead of looking happy her eyes were stressed and fearful and sending out a silent plea. On Saturday night (22nd) when I fed and washed her down, it was clear that she was in pain and so the decision was made for the following day. Life never proceeds as planned, though.

I took Ged’s swag over there, planning to spend a last night under the stars with her, talking, crying, sharing, reminiscing. But when I got there she was lying down, her breathing was so laboured and she was gritting her teeth and holding her breath at the pain. It was clear that cancer was ravaging her. Only anyone who has ever seen that in another will know what that was like. I texted Ged to bring the gun, please.

He took a while, sorting a sleeping Ben out, and then came. By that time, she was up, and eating. But I think she used food as a distraction from the pain, there was a desperation to her hoovering. I never wanted him to shoot her while she was standing. I didn’t want her to crumple. So he went back to bed and I waited and watched and talked. There were so many things I wanted to tell her, I wanted to talk though my memories of her life. I wanted to thank her for being so amazing. I wanted to beg her forgiveness for the times I had shouted and lashed out, for the times I hadn’t understood her, had forced her or made her frightened. I wanted to say how amazing it was that I had always been able to ride her in just a rope halter, how beautifully she did her Parelli circling and sidestepping, and share with her the memories of how the two of us had learned to do all that at Kangaroo Valley, spending hours and hours together. She had said to me recently that her favourite time in her life was when we were living at Kangaroo Valley. I thought that was because she, like I, loved living next to the Grippers so much. She did, but it was because she got to see me and be with me so much, all the time, we were always in each other’s vision and never far from the other’s thoughts. That was why KV was so amazing. She loved me so much, it took her death for me to realise the enormity and selflessness of her love. Typical of me and my family, I was always focussing on the things that were ‘wrong’ with her and our relationship. I failed to fully realise the depth and breadth and wonder of it. The marvel of a love and friendship, a true partnership, the miracle of a relationship with a horse.

But I couldn’t tell her any of those things, because all I could feel was her pain and I just wanted that to go away. I didn’t want her to hurt, I wanted her to be happy. My dead Grandmother had directed me, during the week, to read once more the book she gave me when I was a small child ‘Ludo and the Star Horse’ and once I read it, I knew I had to let Baby go. Granny Morton died a very slow and painful death in agony and she wanted me to put Baby out of her pain. So once she lay down again, I called Ged, and he came like a shadow in the night. The shadow of death.

I kissed her and walked away. It wasn’t peaceful, she was not peaceful, and I walked to the car and screamed out my pain. I heard the gun cocked and then the shot and my friend, my best friend, my first Baby, was gone. I waited until Ged said I could come, howling like a wild dog, into the blackness. When I went back to her she was at peace. She was so peaceful. And she was gone. She wasn’t in that body that I have loved so much, any more. I stayed for an hour just stroking her, as if trying to imprint her in my hand for ever more. As if I needed to. I told her all the things I wanted to say then, trusting she was there with me in spirit. And I realised, too late, just how much she had loved me. She had loved me enough to mask her pain for me so I could complete my own process and let her go with love. She had waited patiently for me to be able to let her go, to make the call, to allow Ged to do what he had long felt he needed to. He didn’t want to do it. He was crying too. But we both had to do the right thing.

I am ashamed to say that I have allowed her to suffer. That she has had some bad days in the past few months. But she has also had some great days, and has looked really well and healthy and happy. I can see now that I should have been braver and more prepared to ‘bite the bullet’ or let her. But I forgive myself for following my heart to try and heal her, for sharing the time that we both needed to get to know one another again after months of not seeing each other while she was in The Point Paddock. Like all of us, I have made mistakes, but I know that she forgives me and that she, more than anyone, understood my heart and my unwillingness to let this great love of my life, go.

All through my childhood I wanted a pony with every fibre of my being. Horses were my peace. My restless spirit was calmed and my heart healed in their great, gentle presence. I was in awe of them, loved them with a terrible neediness, and was sometimes frightened of them too. But my heart reached out to them and was soothed by them. I was 34 when I first saw Baby. I had to look after her for a few weeks at Glasson’s with a couple of youngsters. She was beautiful, round and solid with dainty little ballerina feet. And there was something of her in me – looking, longing, for someone to love her. We were the same, and so we found each other. And so began a great love story which has changed so many facets of my life and brought me here, to Avalon, and Ged and Ben. She is the Star Horse I wanted all my life.

Baby chose her spot to die, it was under a native tree,(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brachychiton_discolor) with star shaped pink flowers falling from on high at intervals. So she lay down on a bed of petals and was showered with petals where she lay. In the morning I went and placed flowers on her, folded up her old yellow stable rug that she had loved so much and placed it beside her with yet more flowers on it. I cut off parts of her mane and tail so I would always have something of that beautiful body and so I could have some keepsake jewellery made from it. And finally drove away. Ged went over and felled a huge old, dead, tree close by, and built the most beautiful pyre for her – truly a zen work of art. And when Ben was asleep I went over and took down the electric fence, and added all the broken branches and sticks and twigs that had been annoying us over the last few months and more flowers and then I lit a little fire at the base of the pyre, and Ged lit the rest. She burned bright and beautiful, with showers of champagne sparks high up into the air. Everything about her was so beautiful, and she loved, she loved us all, with all her huge heart.

To have loved a horse, to have earned the love of a horse – there is no greater honour in life. To walk with a horse and to know one walks with you in spirit, that is one of life’s richest blessings.

She is running once more in the fields of the blessed, dancing in the Elysian fields, happy, at peace and sparkling with light. We will never forget her. She will always be here at Avalon and at my side. It has been a privilege and a gift to have known, owned, and loved her.

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2 Responses to Hoofprints on my Heart

  1. John Hogan says:

    Hi there,

    This is a hello from an ABC drum reader but I first want to acknowledge the lovely piece above. Just lovely Sophie.

    This message is to endorse your comments on the ABC site and after reading your bio there, to also agree that people are disconnected from the land. I worry about this and I reckon there needs to be a system whereby every family or individual is paired up with a farm or farms that they can go and spend time on every year. Especially kids and teenagers. That would mean many families per farm but imagine what it would do for all concerned – farmers passing on their knowledge and having people to visit on the coast, kids learning about food and life in general and lots of connections being made between cities and the country.

    I’ve spent little time on farms but lots of time in the bush, camping, walking, cycling etc. I would have more of an appreciation for nature than average yet I don’t think I’ve got nearly enough understanding of things.

    Anyway, best wishes and thanks for the Drum article!


    • sophie says:

      Thank you for your kind comments and glad you like my work. Hoping I’ll have time for a lot more writing this year. I heard something yesterday on the radio that said that a hunter gatherer lifestyle was a lot less work than agriculture! So true! It would be easier just to shoot a wallaby every time the carnivores in my family want meat (and much cheaper as they feed themselves) rather than hand rearing the calves, pigs, sheep etc and keeping them sweet with regular food etc. Modern society with everything ‘on tap’ or at the flick of a switch or en masse in the supermarket aisles forces our disconnect. I love your sentiment that every farm should connect with say 100 families – that is what CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) aims to do but it is a hard row to hoe (pardon the pun!)

      We have bush, pasture, rainforest, river and animals of all sorts and shapes and sizes here – we welcome people like you who want to reconnect with food and sustainable living http://www.avalonriverretreat.com.au

      Best to you and thank you for your support

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