I was much different when I was younger – Indeed it was an altogether different story. I craved the speed and feeling of power. I knew no fear. It was all guts and all glory.
Deep in thought
The town was all abuzz because the rodeo was here. Horses, action, broncos, roping, etc. A single girlfriend of mine was asked to go to the rodeo on a first date with a new guy she had met. She had never been to a rodeo before and her date enthusiastically encouraged her to go. It was a highlight of this guy’s life so she agreed and went with him. I saw her the next day and asked what she thought, expecting the usual replay of action-packed memorable moments. The reply I got from her is one that I will never forget and has caused me to rethink my opinion of some of the events. Her reply was simply: “I just wanted to cry”. So many of the animals used were terrified and exploited for it. There was pain involved with whips, ropes, spurs, harsh bits and rough hands on animals that had no choice but to participate. Most of all, she couldn’t stand to watch the calf roping segment of the show. It broke her heart to see those babies running for their lives only to be savagely roped by either a leg or the neck and thrown down and tied, all the while thinking they were about to die. More than one of them limped off when released. Some of them entered the arena already limping most likely from practice runs. She never went out with that guy again because she knew that they were miles apart on some very basic core issues. She could never be attracted to someone who thought it was “FUN” to treat animals that way and think nothing about how they felt. It is not a game or a sport to them and to most of us who attend these events, they are dispensable. We just get another one when and if they get injured. A broken leg? No problem. Shoot that one and bring on the next. How can we humans be so calloused when it comes to animals? Is it because we just don’t want to spoil our entertainment to acknowledge that they feel fear, pain, grief, terror and affection for each other? She taught me a good lesson that day. She spoke with her heart and wasn’t afraid of how silly or over-the-top that guy or anybody else thought she was regarding her humanity toward the animals used in this widely accepted tradition. She has since died of cancer. As valiantly as she fought that battle, I admire her most for standing up for those rodeo victims. She was willing to endure ridicule for their sake even though she had no personal connection to any of them. She is one of my greatest heroes.
Or maybe it’s because dreams get buried in sleep – They only can reach me when I breathe her scent deep.
I spend the majority of my horse-time with my youngster. He is 5 now and we have so far to go yet. I love him dearly and wouldn’t trade him for the world. However, when I really need an understanding ear and a sympathetic heart, it is my mare, Guilty, that I turn to. I realized that more than ever last week when I had to put a beloved dog down. As soon as I got back home, I just had to get to Guilty. I wanted to bury my face in her neck and take in that intoxicating smell that only she has. Guilty has the best horse smell of any horse I have ever had the pleasure of smelling. Guilty is my 23 year old smoky dappled buckskin quarter horse that I couldn’t get a nickle for but wouldn’t trade for a million bucks. She is just that kind of horse. Over the years, in my darkest hours, it has been her shoulder I have wept into and her back that carried me to a place of tranquil peacefulness.
My Go-To Girl
As I look back, I remember her soothing more than one broken heart over the loss of a loved one – two or four legged. I counted on her to support me as I took my first tentative steps without crutches while leading her with one hand on her shoulder. She broke up my boredom and gave me joy while I brushed her while recuperating from a broken ankle. Guilty was the only horse I trusted wholeheartedly to take that first “back in he saddle” ride to rebuild my confidence. Once again, last week she proved to me what a great friend she is. With tears streaming down my face from saying goodbye to “Jeff”, I saddled my trusty steed and let her carry me into that secret private world only we share. The day was a perfectly beautiful crisp and clear autumn day. The sky was azure blue with just a few white fluffy clouds. As we rode in silence along the path by the lake, I felt the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. I focused on her steady stride, filled with purpose and solid, beneath me. The rhythm gave me strength and with every step I felt the pain of my loss easing as I became of the natural order of things- one footfall after another. Yes, I will still miss my dog. That won’t change. What has changed is the utter dismay I felt. I am not alone. I have my friends to help me through my valleys in life. Life goes on – with or without us – one day at a time. Or should I say; one hoofbeat after another.
There’s no need for more discussion – The final decision has been made. There is no more hoping and praying – There are no more barters or trade.
Today is the day that Jeff made his ultimate journey from this world into the next. I had been clinging to every shred of hope but couldn’t deny it any longer. It was clearly time and I had to muster my strength and make the appointment.
Jeff in his better days
We spent our morning as usual with Jeff along side of me as I did the morning chores. As the time drew near, I got ready and called him to go for a ride – one of his very favorite things. I felt like I was betraying him as he excitedly tried to jump in the car. My heart hurt as I saw him fall backwards, lacking the strength needed to push himself up. I gently picked him up and placed him on the seat where he sat next to me. I brought a Lunchable with me so we could share our last meal together on that sad ride. As we drove along, I reached over to pet his sweet head several times. Every time he felt my hand on him, he would raise up his head and press into my hand and look directly at me as though he too was trying to memorize my touch. The reality set in hard when I pulled into the parking lot and it was all I could do to lead him coaxingly to his death. As we waited in the office, he was nervous and tried to hide his face behind my legs. I selfishly begged him not to be scared because I could not bear it if I thought he was terrorized. As if he understood me, he suddenly settled and lay quietly at my feet, in essence calming me. Finally, the door opened and the vet searched my eyes to be sure I was ready for this. I nodded and they scooped him up and laid him on the table. I held his head and looked into his trusting eyes as he slipped away without protest. I thanked him for choosing me to be his human all those years ago. I asked his forgiveness and hoped he understood how much he was loved and that I would be looking for him. When I felt the life leave him, I kissed his face and closed his beautiful brown eyes for the last time. I brought him home to bury him here on the farm that he so dearly loved. This is where he belongs. On the ride home, I thanked God for giving us “Jeff’s” and every other creature that we can love so dearly. I am grateful that I get the connection between humans and animals and can experience the beauty of it so richly. As much as it hurt me to be the one to make the decision and follow through with it, I know I did the right thing. But even so, the loss is real and painful. I bear that pain proudly because without it, I wouldn’t be one of the lucky ones who knows the boundless joys of loving – and being loved -so completely.