The world is gently but determinedly flowing into the next season; all of life appears to be taking stock and either making the commitment to the harsher season ahead, or quietly letting go. The days are warm but not hot, the hours of light are waning, and the lushness of summer is becoming brittle.
This month marks the end of two lives I had the honor of sharing for close to twenty years. Nelson, our first pony arrived On December 18th in 1994. He was what so many little girls dream of finding on Christmas morning. The perfect size, just big enough to run with the horses but small enough that a child of seven or four years could hug and groom him. He taught two little girls about responsibility, love and determination. When those girls grew too big for him, he spent his last years living in horse-paradise at the end of a dirt road at Road’s End Farm. His world of admirers extended beyond political borders as each summer he taught a new group of girls the bonds of horse and human.
Nelson left this world on September 13th. The vet estimated he was close to forty years old. He had spent his summer running with herd, marching around the lesson ring and cantering down the dirt roads and trails. At no point was he ill or in pain, he just knew the winter would be too hard to survive.
This afternoon he was waiting when I said good-bye to my mare of seventeen years. I met her in July of 1995 during a vacation to Arizona that included a week of adult riding camp. Never had I entertained the desire for a gray Arab mare. Everything was just wrong about the combination: tough to keep clean, reputation for flighty behavior and notoriously bitchy attitude. As I walked to the corrals the first day for my Introduction to Training a Young Horse class, I was struck by the presence of her. She stood quietly next to the trainer. She was regal, stunning, and obviously aware of herself. By the end of the week, I was trying to figure out how to come up with the enormous sum of money that would make her mine.
I left Arizona without her but couldn’t stop thinking about what it would mean to have her. Her purchase price was equal to a new car, she would have to be shipped east for an additional fee and we were in the middle of trying to buy a farm. Later that year, in November, I took another trip west to the ranch. I knew she was still for sale. In fact, the owner, Bazi, had refused several offers for the mare. She told me she knew I would find a way to have her.
I felt a strange combination of nauseated and elated when I signed the paperwork. So much money that I didn’t have was put on a monthly payment plan. I was committed for the next three years – just like a car payment. The mare had lived her entire life in Arizona; shipping her to New England in the winter would be a shock. We were in the middle of selling a house and buying a farm so I decided to leave her there until March.
She arrived, gloriously outraged, during a lunar eclipse on the Ides of March. When the cowboys driving the truck and trailer opened the back door, she took one look at the snow and ice, then turned back around as if to say, “Nope, not my stop.” The men joked that she had been a fun transport. I had bought and shipped to her a lovely wardrobe for travel that included various weight blankets, shipping boots and tail wraps. I had also paid for a full back stall where she could ride in comfort without having to be tied. It meant that at every stop along the way, to pick up and drop off horses, she had to be unloaded. This wasn’t a bad thing as she could stretch her legs. The guys had gotten to know her quite well. She had immediately trashed the shipping boots – too cumbersome. They said she was happiest in the lighter blanket and had made that quite clear by tearing the others.
I babied her, wrapping her legs, worrying over every cut and bruise. She remained aloof to other horses except those times when her hormones raged. Then it was the ponies she most desired and flourished her attentions upon. We learned to ride side-saddle together, to fox hunt and to flow through a dressage test with grace. Together we struggled through deep snow, galloped through glorious leaves and even raced down a few beaches, though “water that chases you” is tough for a desert horse to reconcile as fun. She tolerated other humans but she was always know by two monikers: The Barbie Horse for her extensive wardrobe, and Mom’s Horse. She chose me as much as I had thought I chose her.
Her registered name was Al-Marah’s Playful Gypsy. Playful is probably a stretch, but she and I shared ten barns in seventeen years so the gypsy part is appropriate. Where ever life took me, she happily followed. The most enjoyable were the years on our own farm in Lunenburg. Tons of ponies, tons of guests to fawn over her and acres of lush pasture. Where we ended up, at Mountain Lane Farm, is the only other home to come close to that period of happiness in our lives together.
Winter is coming. She is telling me her body is failing. I need only look in her eyes and know we have to say good-bye. So today we took the walk together, the sun was warm and the wind rattled the leaves. I told her all the stories of our life. I thanked her for her loyalty and love. When it was over, I sat by her head, stroking her cheek. Her skin was warm and soft. Her lovely big ears, so beautifully shaped with the tiny curving tips, began to cool. Nothing will change until I stand up, I told myself. I can hang on to this moment for as long as I sit here. Then I just knew, there was a handsome Christmas pony waiting for her and she was gone.