I've been trying to brainstorm for this post for a very long time and I'm at a loss of what to say.
It's been a long time since I've needed to figure out what to say about something so incredibly important and meaningful to me.
The death of a horse is so strange and awful and confusing. To look a horse you would think he was invincible, immortal...and to know him, only more so.
Then to look at a horse who's been through hell and back, who's not just seen but felt the merciless hand of more hate and anger and disgusting outright unprovoked cruelty than you can possibly imagine, and lived through it, even if only by a thread...then think that he could really actually die one day, something on earth could be the end of him one day, it's a weird feeling.
He may have been a shell of a horse when we met him, and he may have never recovered, but I don't think I will ever meet a stronger horse than him. Years and years later you could still see the whip scars all over his body, but you didn't even need to see them to know, all you needed was to look in his eyes. It was unmistakable. And the fear in him, every muscle in his body tense, shaking, head to toe, eyes wide, but even worse, that look of acceptance, when you could see him brace himself and drop his head and all of the life would leave his eyes and his mind would shut down completely, no fight, no flight, anticipating the beating he was so used to receiving if he did one little thing wrong.
But despite that, despite everything, he was still willing to try his best for people and finally even to trust, maybe not completely but nearly, to latch onto somebody and bury his face in their arms when he was afraid and feel hope to maybe be protected from harm.
He came from his hell into a questionable home, people who cared for him but didn't understand him, couldn't help him. That was when we met him. My mom was terrified of horses, and she was trying to learn but she was still just so nervous and jumpy and distrusting of them. I was riding my horse at our new stable and she called out for me to come, "Look at this horse, do you see that?" I thought certainly something was just wrong with him or something, I asked. She said no, just did I see that, in his eye. I looked. "Poor old guy..." Those eyes made you want to cry. I think my eyes might have teared a bit.
We would reach to pet him and he'd back away, suspicious eyes. We would hand him carrots and he would cautiously take them, then back away again. Always full of fear. I looked at his stall plate. "Look, he's for sale," I said, joking. I was joking.
Time passed and I helped her out and we worked with him. He was so sweet, so kind and gentle, just so scared, so full of fear, and in the right light with his sleek summer coat on you could see all of those scars, all down his sides, all over his chest and his hindquarters. The first time I caught him in that light my eyes went wide, and it was all I could do, just hug him. It's not that I was shocked, it's just an unreal thing to see when you know how thick skinned a horse is, how hard it is to break their skin let alone leave scars that would last for so many years.
It was clear my mom had fallen in love with him. I watched an amazing relationship beginning to form, they both would get so fearful but they both were learning to trust, they just had this understanding, it was amazing. I kept trying to convince her to buy him, what if he just got sold to some random person or worse, and we might never see him again. We even heard talk that they would consider selling him back to who had him before. But she didn't have the means just yet, there was no way it was going to work just then. Maybe soon, but not yet.
But just as things started to fall into place and we could make it work, his owners couldn't wait any longer. He was sold, and his fate was implied. I knew exactly what had happened, I could feel it, but she doubted it, she still didn't yet have the means to buy him, she wanted to believe they wouldn't do that and he had a good home. But I could feel it.
I remember so clearly the day before he was getting picked up, since he now belonged to the new owner we weren't supposed to handle him anymore, but how could we respect that? I remember rushing into his stall and throwing my arms around that big warm neck and holding onto him like I was never going to let go and crying into his fur for a very, very long time. I remember telling him I was sorry, I didn't want this for him, it's not right, and I would do anything I could to help him, he deserved better. He deserved so much better. I don't know how I pried myself from him when I knew what was going to happen to him after I did. I wanted to wait there and insist that they couldn't have him. But really, in reality, what could I do?
The second he left I felt ill and I couldn't sleep through the night until this was made right. I begged and pressed for us to go out and try to find him, to go drive by the place he had come from and try to find their number, ask them if they have him, offer to buy him back for more, just get him out of there. I just knew he was there. It took something like two weeks to track him down. When we called we were informed that they would be glad to work something out and we were lucky that we called just then because he was going to be headed out "on the truck" (code for to a slaughter house) that weekend, and we had called on a Thursday or Friday if I'm not mistaken.
He was dropped off the next evening. We had arranged a time for the exchange and come early but when we arrived he was already dropped off and the jerk was waiting outside with his truck and trailer all ready in position to leave as quickly as possible. We didn't get the chance to see Buddy before we gave him the check, just confirmed with the BO that he was there and then made the transaction. Jerk couldn't drive away fast enough.
Buddy was standing nervously tied to a post, alone in the dark in a hideous, shabby halter and lead, no resemblance to the nice, fully intact one he was sold with. He looked like he hadn't eaten two bites the entire time he was gone and he was lame as I've ever seen any horse. Beyond that, he was absolutely horrified of absolutely everything everywhere, not an ounce of exaggeration. He looked at us as though he had never seen us before and we were there to hurt him. We were careful and gentle with him and got him settled in. It was so relieving to know he was safe, and no one could hurt him anymore...but it took months to undo the damage that short time there did.
He would barely touch food for weeks after arriving back. He had constant diarrhea because absolutely everything made him so nervous. My mom kept at it and stuck with him, eased him back into regular routines, reminded him that it was okay, and that now it would always be okay. Finally he started eating like normal and acting more like he used to, and the lameness subsided a little bit but after that it never improved completely.
After awhile I tried working with him a bit...tried to get him used to normal horse things, like ropes and whips moving near him, I didn't want him to have to live with that fear, I wanted him to learn that it was the person on the other end that mattered and that we weren't going to hurt him with them, I was very determined, but it never improved even he slightest bit. I also tried to get him used to being ridden. No matter how regularly he was ridden, he would still always go tense and shake when he saw the saddle coming and prance nervously for the first few rounds before calming down. Every time he was ridden it didn't take long for him to calm down and then he'd be fine (as fine as he ever was), but the stress it put on him to get there was enough that he was only ridden a handful of times after I stopped trying with that. He never did trust me anywhere near as much as he trusted her, either, so once she didn't need as much of my help I let them be.
Over the years I watched her become a very respectable horsewoman I have even sought advice from a few times which I would never have anticipated before. I've been able to entrust her with the care of all of my own feisty little demons even at their worst. I've seen her develop an impressive level of horse sense and an increasing actual desire to really ride and move forward with horsemanship, and it's all been because of Buddy who simultaneously became more and more confident and just a little bit more normal. He never did settle down completely, but he settled as much as was possible for him, and it was a truly beautiful thing to see them. Towards the end they moved over to our friend's stable and continued working wonderfully together.
But he was old, and it was only a matter of time. He started that slow decline and we all saw it. I went out to see him one day and he could barely walk, and I gave her the talk. We'd talked about it a lot, but this time it was pretty clear it was it.
So we all came out early on an unseasonably clear, sunny morning and showered him with cookies and treats. I braided his tail and mom cut it. I stayed with him as everyone went about sorting everything out and kept it together for the most part, knowing I needed to be strong for both of them, but before the vet arrived when I had a moment with him all I could do was wrap my arms around that big, inviting neck again and bury my face in his fur and cry for him, but any of us could only be so sad when we were just so happy for what we'd been able to do for him. This was what he deserved, he didn't deserve to live his whole life in pain only to be thrown on some truck with a bunch of other rejected horses and die such a horrible, loveless way. He deserved to learn what love and friendship and trust were, get spoiled and loved on and pampered by someone who understood and cared for him and only meet with people who would love him, and spend the last hours of his life being loved on by familiar people who he trusted and go peacefully in a grassy field with soothing voices in his ear.
I've never really seen death before, so it was the strangest place to start, to see the strongest example I could meet of the strongest animal I know lay down and go cold.
Later we released a balloon in his name and we all watched it go for a long time. Everyone eventually lost sight of it except for my mom. It drifted so slowly all the way up that everyone was watching it for a pretty long time, but she was there probably about twice as long as anybody else was, just watching the sky in silence as it floated gently, gracefully into heaven.