Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hoofbeats on a heavy heart

Cavalla with her last foal, Cornflakes
I love my horses, I am an otherwise sane working mum of two with a busy job on a monthly magazine but I am hooked on my horses. Maybe it's genetic I don't know, my lovely mum thinks I must be a throwback to some wild ancestor who had horses running in her blood. She shakes her head gently at me and sighs as if its all slighly bewildering this love of mine .
I am starting this blog on a sad note though as I had to have my old competition mare put down this week after 17 years of enjoying each others company. I wrote some words down the day she died and perhaps it was that that made me start this blog.
She was leader of a herd or horses that I have built up and bred over the years. From them I have learned a massive amount about how horses integrate and communicate. But most of all she was my favourite.
I bought her to show jump with when she was a just-broken five year old. I learned far more over the years from her than she ever did from me. While we were jumping she looked after me when I couldn't see a stride 2ft in front of me and her joie de vivre carried us both through to jump courses I never thought would be possible. She retired injured at 9 years old but because I am lucky I was able to keep her on our small farm and I started breeding the odd foal from her.
At one time I had 11 horses, which for someone with a young family and busy job on a monthly magazine was a little crazy. Now back down to a sensible number of equines, five, (my husband considers two to be too many) I thought I would blog over the next few months on how life goes with them all. They range from my stunning old 16-yr-old showjumper Modetia, to her gorgeous rising 4-yr-old daughter, Coco Pops (number two son choose that name)
But first some words I wrote on losing my beautiful old girl Cavalla, which I dedicate to anyone who has had to stand beside a beloved horse at the end.

That Bloody Foot!
As the vet walked into your stable, I put my hand on your head and whispered for one last time.
'Ssshh its alright, you'll be ok'. But of course you weren't. Ever suspicious of that veterinary smell, this time you were right, you had cause for alarm because he meant you quiet harm. Yet you let me settle you as I had many times before, smoothing that forelock over your eyes. 'Sshh' I said and the tears rolled slowly, silently down my face.
That foot let you down, that bloody foot - still we had nine years more than they predicted these vets with their needles and pessimism. They didn't factor in your toughness and grit, that you were head of the herd here and not ready to quit. With shoeing and care you enjoyed many more years – even finding your forte as a mum with foals at your feet. In fact you enjoyed this so much you'd even take young ones that weren't yours - guiding them with maternal nips..
What I learned down the years with you is that it isn't the training and winning that counts, not really, not to any real amount. It it time shared and enjoyed in the company of an old friend, it is the feeling of pride in knowing you've loved such a horse and in turn are loved in that equus way that says feed me and care for me, keep me warm and safe, don't shout, don't hassle me with whips and spurs for I have something deeper to give you than that. At the end of the day, after all these years, it's not the rosettes that I'll miss it's the quiet time with my arms round your strong neck, you nuzzling my back for a shoulder scratch or ruefully watching you canter away, more glint in your eye than an old horse has a right too, as you pretend once more that your youth has returned and you're scuppering my plans of a hack or a jump just because you can, just because you feel high.
Down the years we galloped in fields and on beaches down grassy lanes over wild heather reaches. We trotted and cantered around the arenas straight planes. We jumped over ditches and fences and poles. But most of all we became friends you and I. A mutual understanding grew over 17 long years that in the end made it all harder to bear that that one bloody foot was to end it all.
With the sound of the vet slamming his door, the restless scraping of hooves, the quieting hand, spinning gentle lies, then a crash to the ground and the world became still.
All has stopped for you my old friend but I'll never forget all you gave me and taught me. To make me feel better I dream that that foot is now sound and you are running wild on far away beaches, your head again high, your summer dapples gleaming as you gallop by.
Old friends are by nature the best and the worst to let go of when you face that test.

To my horse Cavalla

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