The time frame around a holiday dedicated to the things we love found my heart bruised, not once, but twice. There weren’t little pink and red hearts gayly floating around in my world on Valentines Day. Instead, I was looking at two huge graves in our pasture while a winter storm blew snow over the freshly heaped up dirt.
I’d be lying if I told you I’m a quick heal. Please forgive me for sharing my grief. I did try to come up with a different topic, one that would be cheery like a gingham tablecloth graced with a bouquet of daisies. Sorry, no can do, its just not in me right now. Truth is, the theme of this article is actually spot on appropriate for people of the soil … farmers & ranchers. I’ve been given a fresh dose of the downside of animal stewardship.
Before I get into my ordeal, I must tell you once again how wonderful my farmgirl sisters are. Lisa called and later gave me a card that lifted my wilted spirit. Anita called and brought me a heaping sack of garden potatoes from her cellar. Michele called and she cried in our conversation before I did. Donna came over with an armful of red-tipped white roses. They felt my pain and walked into it with me. They didn’t minimize the very real heartbreak I experienced, which can sometimes happen because some folks just don’t understand that losing a beloved pet rips a piece of your heart out.
To try and cheer myself up, I had a little impromptu farmgirl get together. I wasn’t up to planning a craft activity. So, we just visited and caught up with each other. It turned out to be what we all needed and enjoyed. As busy as all of us are, another activity wasn’t the kind of therapy we needed. Downtime … to sit and relax was just right. Wine, finger-food, candle light and soft music.
Now, for the other shoe.
In my last blog article, I wrote to you about losing our dear mare, Bluebelle. A few days after she passed, my husband and I noticed the other horses standing over her grave … almost like they were having a service of their own. A few days after that, it was obvious that Dolly (my beloved soulmate horse in the photo at the top of this page) was ailing … and it was not the usual colic. Long story short: Dolly did not want to be in this world without her best friend. She was dying of a broken heart. She walked with her nose practically dragging the ground. To see such agonizing sorrow in my otherwise spirited steed crushed my own spirit. She was inconsolable. She would whimper a nicker to me and I swear to you it was a weeping version. My effort to comfort her did nothing to stop the inevitable. She just wanted me close to her while she sunk deeper. After a visit to our Vet, I had to make the decision to mercifully end my equine best friend’s life. Our veterinarian came to our house after we got home. My husband had readied her grave … right next to Bluebelle. Dr. Vigil gave Dolly “Sleep Away” while she stood next to Bluebelle’s still fresh grave. My sweet horse went down slowly, at peace. She needed help to leave. She was determined to go anyway, I just wanted her to be able to do so pain-free.
An hour earlier, I had time to say goodbye and to tell her how grateful I was for all the wonderful things we shared. I prayed over her. I cut a hank of her mane to save in an envelope. I wept out loud into her warm neck … knowing soon she would grow cold in the earth. She turned her neck toward me several times and in her eyes I saw that she knew she was leaving. I wanted her to somehow know how much it hurt for her to leave me, but that she had my blessing. Walking away from her was the hardest thing I have ever done. I thought I would drop to the ground, but my feet kept moving. My husband insisted that I go to the house and that he would stay with Dolly and the Vet … when she helped her quietly leave this world. I thought I should to stay, but I couldn’t make myself do it. I wanted to remember my lovely horse as I had known her for over 20 years … full of the joy of life, full of salt and sugary spice, full of herself and full of opinions, full of sass and playfulness, always alert and *always* the leader of the pack. She was an Alpha of the first order. She was a natural born leader and a perfect one – she was not merely bossy, she was the caretaker, the watchful guard, the law, the peacemaker. She was much more than just another pretty face. Expressive beauty, equine grace and plain old get down & dirty TUFF will be what I’ll remember always. Always.
Dolly and I learned how to be cowgirls after we married a rancher. It came easier for her than for me. She took to stock work like a duck to water. No surprise there really since she was bred for it. We both knew we were finally where we were meant to be. Neither of us felt content being trail riders. 99% of the wealth of talent inside my horse didn’t come into play until she was in her own element. Her confidence and enthusiasm for ranch work gave me confidence to embrace it like she did .. with gusto. Our motto was, “Let’r Rip Tater Chip!!”. It isn’t easy fitting into a whole new lifestyle, a new crowd and learning a very challenging job in your mid thirties. I had doubting days, I didn’t know if I could weather some of the more difficult tasks … while Dolly didn’t know that she couldn’t! She was Heaven sent at the appointed time. She was mine while being formed in her momma’s womb.
Here we are on our first solo ride. She let me think I was a horse trainer. She was 3 and I was 35. The only time I came off during those early rides is when I slipped off trying to open a gate. Only a fool would have attempted to train a horse when all you know about the topic would fill a thimble. But, I didn’t know I had no business training a horse and she didn’t either. She forgave my ignorance and we read the How-To together. We truly loved each other and we found our way. She’d let me know when I made mistakes, but she did so without hurting me. She never hurt me, not once in over 20 years. However, she spared me injury a thousand times over!
Below: Here we are many years later, she was 20ish and I was 50ish. We were, by then, degreed professionals. ‘Been there, done that’
The breeder from whom Dolly was purchased told my mother two weeks earlier that Apple Pi Dolly Rose would probably be the best fit for my personality. But, neither my mother nor the breeder ever said a word to me. Odd. While at the horse farm, in the middle of a friendly herd, I sifted through nearly 40 possible choices. While I looked at this one and that one, a pretty little filly kept tugging at my sleeve from behind. I didn’t know, but she did and when I finally took notice of her … the deal was sealed and she owned me from that moment forward. Only weeks afterward, did my mother tell me about what the breeder had mentioned to her. Yes, amazing, I agree! There was no human intervention or introduction. Dolly simply took it upon herself to make the sale. That folks, is a fact. Here we are that very afternoon in 1991, moments after we agreed that I was to be her person.
A little while later, a dear friend taught us to drive in one afternoon. Dolly thrived on doing new things. Nothing rattled her. She thrived on pressure and challenge.
Dolly was a model hostess and babysitter. She was incredibly intuitive and very intelligent [as horses go] … more like a dog. When training her early on, I had to move a lot faster with her to ‘keep up’, which is definitely not the norm. Since she had a very assertive nature, it would have been easy for her to take advantage of a novice trainer. I’d ridden all of my life, but training is whole nuther ball game.
I am not a roper, just never had the desire to learn. So, Dolly was not a roper either, however, my husband roped on her at brandings many times when they were short on ropers. Dolly had never been officially trained for it. She just took everything in stride and figured things out on the fly. Now, if you know ANYthing about horses, that is NOT how you should do things! #1, it is stupid and you shouldn’t get away with it. But, this horse was an anomoly. Absotively, posilutely. In one breath, she could be a fire breathing dragon toward a cow and then you could put a baby on her and she’d tip-toe around like she was carrying fine china. My husband would brag on her when he’d heard enough from old blowhardy So & So about their wonder horse that wasn’t a wonder.
She was fearless, even as a young horse. One time, when she was two (I’d just gotten her weeks before), we went for a walk, right before she was under saddle. A neighbor’s five Newfoundlands came bounding out of their property gate and while Newfies are thought to be friendly giants, this brood was not. They surrounded us and it was going to be ugly.
About the time it looked like one dog was ready to lunge at either my horse or myself, Dolly jerked the halter rope out of my hand. I figured she’d take off. HELL NO! She went into battle mode and the shrill scream that came out of her was like nothing I’d heard before or since. She went to striking and kicking and snapping her teeth like an equine warrior princess. She diverted the dog’s attention away from me. Just then, the owner came out and yelled at the dogs and fortunately they obeyed her command to return. No one was injured. It only lasted a couple of minutes. I know that a dog would have been killed if the encounter had lasted any longer. When my horse and I walked home after that, she was not upset, as if she’d been afraid. Oh no, she pranced on air like the victor she was … and she nudged my arm several times as if to ask, “What’dja think of THAT??!!” Yea, I’m crying now, but she made me laugh out loud so many times. She was a corker with a heart as big as a train car.
When it came to working cows later, it came as no surprise that Dolly would never take a backward step from a cow. She was invincible and that kind of horse will always put itself and you in the right place with a cow on the fight. So, they save you many times over because they’re so much more in tune with the body langauge of another animal than we are. With bulls and grouchy cows, she was a crocodile. With baby calves, she’d nicker and gently bump them along with either her knee or her nose. She loved any kind of baby … be it human, horse or calf. During calving, we worked around lots of newborns – moving pairs just as soon as the baby could get around good, Dolly would ‘come to her milk’. The smell of a newborn was like fine perfume to her.
Soooo many memories she gave me. In addition to being a cadillac ranch horse, she had seven beautiful babies for me.
One of the most memorable and touching moments was “The Kiss”. My nephew, Zachary, lived with us for four summers. Like all kids, he loved swimming, but we don’t have a pool handy. However, a clean stock tank filled with fresh water will do in a heartbeat. So, it was. The younger horses and he invented a game similar to bobbing for apples. They bobbed for a boy! They would snorkel in the water up to their eyeballs until they located him and up he would come with a splash. Then the game started all over again.
One day, he decided to bob up out of the water and kiss Dolly. As matriarch, she was above playing with him, she just kept an eye on the goings on. Zach popped up several times and smooched her on the mouth. Then, surprisingly, she licked him! She decided to play along with the child who so adored her. How she figured out that licking isn’t really a proper kiss, I’ll never know and unless I had witnessed what happened next, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Even better, I had my camera! About the 6th time Zach popped out of the water and smooched her, Dolly tightened her mouth, puckering up just like we do … and she gave him a real kiss! Here are the photos to prove it.
She Was A Wonder Horse. 100 kinds of wonderful and I was blessed a thousand fold for the lessons she taught me. I knew it while she lived. Now, as I pour over old photos … I weep and marvel at just how many things we experienced together. The “onward and UP WORDS” part of this writing assignment is this: The good Lord promises that the BEST is yet to come. Admittedly, I can’t wrap my brain around all of that, but I’ll stand on the promise in faith and I know it will be so, based on all that I’ve already seen. Animals have been one of my greatest faith teachers. You just have to be a keen observer and listen a little closer. There is so much there for those who take the time to tune in.
My sweet equine soulmate rests with her best friend now. Neither of them lingered so long that they were ancient and feeble. One week they were in fine flesh and robust … and the next week they were gone. We didn’t have to watch them deteriorate in old age. I am thankful for them … and for myself. At age 23, although they were elder mares, they both galloped over the rainbow bridge rather than needing to be carried. I choked up thinking how delighted Bluebelle must have been to hear her dear friend’s greeting whinny when she arrived. My sweet girl is in the most beautiful meadow imaginable and reunited with the friend she could not bear to be without.
I know these things to be so. The Good Book affirms the dearest hope of pet lovers [in several verses]. So, take heart if you have doubt and have grieved the loss of a beloved pet. They, along with our human loved ones, wait for us.
Dolly and Bluebelle lived together all of their lives. They’re buried just as you see them in this photo taken several years ago … standing, facing east … together. I long to see them again on the other side and to show them to my Grandpa – my horse mentor. He taught me what to look for in a good horse. But, I live in the here and now and their passing was the end of an era for me.
Apple Pi Bluebelle and Apple Pi Dolly Rose.
Now, the good news. Oh my yes, there is a silver lining! My dear friend, Linnea Sidi, told me three years ago that she had bred a sister of Dolly’s to my stallion [who was also out of sister of Dolly’s] … and the resulting filly was so much like Dolly that she named her ML Meadowlark Dolly Rose. Linnea told me that I needed to own her. I resisted for 2 years. The short of it reads like this: We met this past summer and it was all over. She came home with me since there was logic in replacing my aging mare. The obvious choice was a filly named after her! So, without further adieu, here is “Apple” as of yesterday, she is going to be three. Apple is just as Linnea claimed … full of herself, sweet as honey … and like her namesake, a lover of apples.
This entry will be my last blog post in which Dolly and I are together. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you. She lived up to the legend of the Morgan Horse – one of many in her breed to do that. She deserves more than a private farewell. She was the horse every horse-lover dreams of finding, a once in a lifetime horse. And, although I’ve been bragging without remorse about her, I can’t brag about picking a Great horse. For you see, the plain truth is, she picked me.
So, where does a farmgirl go when she sees the door close on an era in her life? Well, onward and upward, thats where. The next phase of my ranchy farmgirl life has swung wide open. I believe it will be good, over all. If you take those first few steps into the next chapter with an attitude of gratitude, you’ve already put your best foot forward. So, here I go. Oh, I’ll leave you with this thought in mind. Disappointment will surely be a part of the following chapters, but where crying fails, humor can help see you through. Until next time, Happy Trails, my friends!