It was late November. Back in Switzerland, 13 years ago.
The weather was crazy. We had a huge snow storm that night. I just got married a week prior and my husband and I spent the weekend where I grew up to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was the night I lost my best friend…
I grew up in a big house. Or better: There were kind of two houses. I grew up in one of them. The other one was attached to it and had a 3 bedroom apartment upstairs, which was usually rented out for the ski season and sometimes in summer as well. Downstairs used to be a garage.
Then the family, who used to rent the apartment no longer spent their vacation at the place I grew up. We got horses and downstairs changed into a stable with two big boxes for them. I “grew up” and decided to move into the apartment upstairs of the horses. I loved it. I was independent but still not paying rent, just helping out wherever my parents needed help. And I was close to our horses.
Gosh, I loved my mare. She was Arabian, pure bread Egypt Arabian. Look-wise not a show horse, as her head was a bit heavy. She was beautiful to me. In the beginning she was everything else but easy to handle. But I loved her and we got there. We worked together and we got there. She was my partner in crime. I got her when I was in my early teens and, boy, did she help me through those teenage years!
She was my rock, my love. She was there for me when I was down. Going for a ride with her was either beautiful or a disaster, depending on my mood and on hers. In whichever way, it always made me think of something different than what was bothering me 🙂
I was never into show jumping or dressage although that was what I grew up with. And when I discovered Endurance (or Long Distance) races, I knew I found what I was looking for. It was just the ideal sport for me and my mare. I loved it and so did she. It was just something different to sit on such a powerful animal and compete in what is basically a marathon. Or get off and run next to her to make her recover slightly for the distance which was still ahead of us. It was just the two of us. Together, bonding.
So many times, that I was just leaning on the fence and watching her. Trying to handle pressure I felt from school or whatever you deal with as a young girl. So many hours sitting in her box on the floor, watching her eat her hay. Just being there. With my friend.
Don’t get me wrong. I had great human friends too. But a relationship with your horse is something very special. And I guess everyone who has a horse or rides horses can relate to this. They don’t talk back at you, but if you are in a crappy mood, they will let you know that it is not okay as well… 😉
I spent hours working her, gaining her trust, changing the way she was “programmed” from the normal “iron fist” way to a softer way (Pat Parelli, Alfonso Aguilar). Do you have any idea, how great it is, to ride a horse without anything? No saddle, no bridle? It is just a magic feeling. Especially if the horse you are riding like this was difficult in the first place.
That night in late November, after we came back from the birthday party, I heard a noise in the stable. I could always hear them from my bedroom upstairs but this was different. Too much, too intense. So I went back down. Only just put on a sweater and some track pants. When I entered the stable I knew right away. She was covered in sweat and she was stressed. Her box looked like a tornado just went through, which was unusual. She had a colic. And she must have felt bad already for a while. I put a halter on her and took her outside to walk her. It’s what you do to prevent that they lay down and roll over, which can get dangerous for them because the stomach can turn. And you really do not want that to happen…
I screamed at my husband, who for whatever reason decided to come down as well, to go get my mom, as I knew I would need some help from someone, who knew what to do (and as much as I love my husband, he would not have had a clue then). I knew it was bad. I’ve never seen my mare like this.
We walked in the snow storm. I wasn’t cold. Probably because I knew how bad it was and my adrenalin was high. My mom got a blanket for my mare and we covered her up. Then she called our Vet, who was also a friend of ours. He had spent so much time with our horses and he saw how my mare developed into a great horse. He was close to all of us. He lived a 15min (under normal conditions) away from us. But that night was crazy. I still don’t know how he made it over to ours in such a short amount of time. But he did.
Or maybe he didn’t. It was about 3am when he arrived. I must have walked her for at least an hour already. And it was hard. I could hardly stop her from lying down. And we got to the point where I could no longer keep her from lying down. So she did. And I held her head. I knew. I could see it in her eyes. She was a fighter, she always was. And she never gave up. Never came even close to it. But that night was different. I could see, that she no longer could and no longer wanted to fight it.
The Vet came back to check her again. She was lying there, still. Not trying to roll over. Just lying there breathing hard. And I knew. I knew because of her, because of the way she looked at me. I saw it in his face. My mom was there and I knew I would not get him to be honest with me if she would be there. Because she wanted to hear something different. So I asked her if she could go and make some coffee for us. To my surprise she did not argue and left us. My husband was trying to calm down the other horse.
And so it was just the Vet, my mare and I. I looked at him and said to him: “You know me, you know my mare. Now if she would be yours, what would you do right now?” I knew he loved her too. He looked at me and his eyes were watery. He said: “Her stomach has turned. The next clinic they could try surgery on her is an hour away from here if the roads are clear, which they are not. She would not make it. If she would be mine, I would let her go…” I only nodded and he knew I agreed.
He told me that he did not want to shoot her. He said she did not deserve that. He said that he wants to give her an injection but that he wants to at least double up on the amount to make it quick and to be sure. But he had to go and get some more at his place. He gave her painkiller and promised me to be back asap. I was hoping he would be fine driving under those conditions again…
And so it was just my mare and me again. In the snow. It was so calm. And for whatever reason I felt warm. Although it was freezing. So while I was holding her head, I started talking to her again. I was thanking her for all those wonderful moments. For what she gave me, the person she turned me into. All those moments we shared together. The difficult ones and the beautiful ones. The times she did not wanted to do what I wanted her to do and the moments she surprised me. The canters, the walks, the pushes with her nose. And I told her that it would be okay. That, if she wanted to let go, she could. That it would be okay. I told her, how much I loved her.
The Vet was back and he gave her the injection. And she fell asleep, calmly. Head in my hands and peace in her eyes. I kept kneeling there, holding her head, leaning my forehead against hers, her nose in my lap. I don’t really remember, if I actually heard our Vet tell me, that she was gone. I just remember feeling his hand on my shoulder and that he got up and got me a jacket and then left me. I don’t know for how much longer I was kneeling there. I just remember that suddenly I let go too. I was not moving but my tears started flowing down my cheeks. She was gone and so was a big part of my life.