Beautiful, beautiful girl.

Two and a half years ago, my girl’s dearest dream came true when she rounded the corner of the stables at her riding school and met a very special pony. A pony of her own.  She couldn’t speak for half an hour; lost in a thrall of wonder and joy. It was the beginning of such a beautiful friendship. This is her on that day, the picture was later used for the cover of the Horse and Pony ‘Ponies’ mag.

We’ve just had the vet out to see our beautiful girl. Her leg has been swollen and not responsive to ice, poulticing and wrapping. She looked at it, grimaced a little and got the ultrasound machine. After looking at the ligaments from every angle, she started her next sentence with
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news…”.
I swallowed, hard. She talked about how the type of injury was the sort of thing they usually see in high performance sport horses, that it is often career-ending. Our mare had injured her check ligament in the paddock (probably reliving her heydays with all her galpals).  The vet showed me on the screen the big hole in her ligament.

Then it was time for a thorough check up. And more bad news; her melanomas have spread into her face and through her gastointestinal tract. She is not a young filly, our girl. This year she’ll be 25 years old.  The treatment for her leg injury means six months of penning, treatment and rehab. There is no treatment for the spread of the melanomas.  She won’t be flying around like the fiery showjumper she is, anymore.

We are faced with having to weigh up that beautiful pony’s future.  To make the hardest decision of all. How do you know if euthanasia is even right? How do you explain that sometimes, that is the kindest path, to a kid who loves this pony with all of her being?  I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way. I’m talking to her about how responsibility means making tough decisions sometimes; about not letting her beautiful pony suffer longer, about letting her go with the dignity she deserves, while she is in a happy place, surrounded by love. And in between I’m fighting back the helpless sadness of this mothering task and wondering how on earth we will say goodbye.

I want to shield my daughter from the sorrow of it all, but my arms can’t hold it back. This pain we feel is as much a part of living as the air we breathe. It’s as much a part of loving, as the happy times. So often I’ve had to say to my kids: the cost of great love is the grief we must shoulder when we lose our loved ones.  When the sadness of loss overwhelms us: it is proof of the depth of our love, of how lucky we have been.

Lyndsay-pony (elsewhere on this blog referred to as Lulu) will always be a special part of our family. The gifts she brought us when we were lucky enough to become hers will be treasured forever. There is no forgetting a beautiful girl like that.  She hasn’t just made my daughter’s pony dreams come true, but mine too. I don’t know how we are going to say goodbye when the time is right, but we will. We will find a way that is respectful and kind and beautiful.  I hope that the rainbow bridge really is there. I hope we’ll cross over one day and find her there, waiting to wuffle into our palms again and push her beautiful big head up against us.  I know my Bee will want to twist her fingers through her mane again and whisper secret pony murmurs into her grey ears.

Until then, sweet girl, we will just miss you with deep gratitude.  Thank you for making our lives so much better.  I’m so sorry we can’t fix you and I wish with all my heart that you could stay with us.  Be free, Sweetness. Go run into the bright sunshine and let the wind fly your hair.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful girl.

 

 

Horse Heaven

Yesterday, a pony died. A special pony… the ‘best friend’ of Bee’s pony.  It was septicaemia that got her. She was sick, she was taking medicine. Then she was gone.

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Trina was a darling pony. A grey, like Lulu.  Trina was the pony I loved the most when Bee started at her riding school. I would watch Trina with awe as she sped around the jumps in the arena, flying over each hurdle with gusto.  She liked to go fast.  In horse years, she was a young lady.  Old enough to know a bit about the world. Young enough to still flirt with speed and enjoy the challenges of competition.  I would watch her and dream that one day, Bee might have a pony like her.

When Lulu came to be Bee’s pony, she joined the main herd. There are two groups out where the horses live. The ‘top paddock’ sport horses, and the general herd, which is made up of owned ponies and school horses.  It’s a sizeable herd and Lulu took a while to find her place in it. When she lived on the property previously, she was a top paddock mare.  I think she remembered that and didn’t much enjoy the comedown.  Horses are herd animals and develop strong bonds. They need each other. And breaking into a herd you don’t know must be akin to moving to a new city.  Lulu was sad, and drifted around on her own, or waited at the gate, for a few weeks. Then, after a while, we began to notice that Trina had become Lulu’s special friend. They ate together, drank from the bore together, and could always be found near each other when they had to be caught.

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When Trina got sick, Lulu lay down beside her in sympathy.

And now Trina has died, Lulu must surely wonder what has happened to her dear companion. Do you think she knows? I hope she does. I hope she understands that Trina isn’t feeling sick anymore. I hope there is a horsey kind of statute of limitations on grief and that Lulu won’t suffer this loss for too long. And I hope she will find another special friend soon.  It must have been so lonely out there last night. Her horsey heart must be sore.

My eyes keep leaking, because this pony business has made me even more of a sook than I was before.  I can’t bear the thought that one day, Lulu too will cross the rainbow bridge.  I don’t know how horse owners can cope with that sort of grief.

Rest in peace beautiful Trina.  You will be missed by so many. I really wish you could have stayed in the paddock with your girl, Lulu. I bet she does too.  Because there is nothing that makes the heart feel more secure than being able to hang out with your best friend.  I know that when it is her time to go, she’ll be welcomed into horsey heaven by you. Because that is the kind of friend you are, until then Trina, remember our girl Lulu, she loved you very much. X

Life Lessons from Lulu

It’s been a week since Lulu came into our family.  She is a horse.  She is the horse I said we would never own, the horse that was way out of our budget, the horse that was a dream only and very unlikely to ever come true.  Until the phone call came saying that she existed, she was available.  Our daughter’s riding coach, Alex urged us to just do it.

But I’m not well enough to help!   I thought.
“She’s a beautiful pony with an excellent background”, said Alex. “She’d be great for Bee”.  I figure when an experienced horsewoman tells you that, it is good to listen.

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We agonised for half a day.  Thinking about our budget, our girl, how hard she has been working towards her goals as a rider.  How hard she has been working in general.  When finally, the budget was worked out and a decision was made, I called Alex.  “YES!” I squealed, barely understanding the magnitude of that one small word.   She called back with what I felt sure would be confirmation that Lulu was ours.  But the news was far more devastating.

“She was sold half an hour before we called them back”, Alex groaned.  The bottom dropped out of the cloud of happiness I was perched on. I decided it mustn’t be the right thing.  Decided the timing must be wrong.  Decided it was a sign we should have said, no.  Who are we, anyway, to even think we could be part of the horsey world?  Our daughter, maybe, but us?  We’re clueless!  My insecurities herded all my hopes back up into a tight little knot and locked them away again.

Two weeks later, Alex texted.
“Lulu might still be ours, I’ll keep you posted”.  And then, all of a sudden, she was.  Her new owner sold her to us.  Alex had called and made a case; the new owners must have had a soft spot, because they agreed to let us have her. She was ours. The money changed hands.  The pony was on her way. The plans for the big surprise were underway.  Somewhere deep inside of me, my own little girl heart swelled up with joy.  Lulu was already wound tightly with my heartstrings.  My buried hopes began to creep out of their hiding place.

When my daughter met her pony for the first time, she was rendered speechless.  Not a sound came out.  She walked over to her, took hold of the lead rope and gazed up into that beautiful pony’s big brown eyes.  She didn’t even ask her name, just stood in quiet awe, looking at that big grey girl.  Her own horse. When she had gathered herself.  She croaked out ‘thank you’s, to Alex and to us.  It would be half an hour before she could tear herself away and wrap her arms around us.  Snuggled into her Dad’s chest, all she could breathe was “I have my own PONY”.  We let our tears gather across her warm blonde head.  Her dreams, our dreams; so closely entwined.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Lulu is cared for by Alex at her stables.  Bee heads out there three times a week to exercise, wash, groom and feed her.  I was so worried that my illness would make supporting Bee with her pony, impossible. But it isn’t. It’s just like anything else.  I have to pace, I have to prepare. And then, when we are there together, I have to push through. But the payback from that beautiful pony!  It’s worth every effort.  She is the relief of joy when it all seems too bleak.  She is a velvety muzzle and a kind eye. A warm reassuring flank.  A wise girl, teaching my girl, and I, lessons we will never forget.   She brings much more than she takes. We did the right thing. Here is what she taught me today, our first day out with her on our own.

Hold On
Lulu is a big pony. I am a big girl, and my girl Bee is all wiry muscle.  But the strength of one horse outflanks both of us easily.  In her paddock, Lulu was accompanied by four really big sporthorses. Tall, elegant horses with lots of muscle.  After Bee slipped the lead rope through the ring on Lulu’s collar, they came galloping up towards us in a show of frightening intimidation. They all converged on the gate, and Lulu, at once.  The horses began to circle and agitate, Lulu was feeling spooked as they pushed her into the corner.  My mother-vision saw trouble (you know, that fast forward reel of all the things that could go wrong? Those horrifying action shots all mothers watch in their mind’s eye?) ….  Bee let the lead rope out, but held it firm, taking quietly to Lulu.  The horses thought better of staying, turned and took off again.  Lulu remained. If Bee hadn’t held on, she’d have been running the length of that paddock playing chasey.  Hold on.  That’s what I learned from Lulu in that moment.  It might seem like the circumstances are stacked against you. It might seem like nothing is going to turn out right. Like the scary dangers, way bigger than your knowledge of things, might all come to fruition.  But hold on.  Hold on to your hopes for wellness, hold on to your hope for treatment, for answers, for more medical research.  Then, when the scary stuff abates, you’ll be hitched to your dream and ready to ride.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Look where you want to go.
We were bringing Lulu up from a lush grassy paddock where she had been holidaying with her horse buddy Spiderwings.  She didn’t want to leave all that delicious grass behind, certainly not without any of the others.  I guess if I was a horse, I would have preferred to stay there with my buddy, too!  Leading a reluctant horse along a country path is impossible if her will is stronger than yours.  Bee and I, together, struggled to take her along the path. She turned five times, pushing us away so she could head back. Eventually, Bee took hold of her lead rope with steely determination. “This. Way.” she said firmly to Lulu.  Then she lifted her gaze to where  she wanted to take her, and began to lead. Lulu followed, just like that.  Whenever Bee’s gaze wandered, Lulu would try to go back. But when she kept her eyes on her destination, Lulu let her lead.  So it got me thinking.  I know my purpose, but I can’t fulfil my purpose if I don’t have my eye on my destination. Thanks Lulu, for showing me something about how to move forward.  I’ve been floundering a bit lately, wondering if I truly do have something useful to say here on my blog. I think I do.  But I’ve been looking down, sinking in my doubts.  The only way forward is that I must lead myself, eyes up, one step in front of another, heading to where I want to be.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Work Hard
There is much that goes into a short horse ride. There’s retrieving the horse from the paddock. Easy peasy, (huh)! There’s actually getting her from there to the stables.  Then there is tacking up.  My nine year old heaved the saddle across to the arena fence with a grin on her face.  Saddle blanket, saddle, girth strap, stirrups, bridle, reins. Check, check again. Finally, satisfied that it was all on correctly, Bee climbed up onto the mounting block and swung her leg over Lulu.  They exercised in the dusty arena, in full sun, for an hour. I watched them with wonder from the cool comfort of the car. They are new to each other, but there is something good happening between them. There is trust.  Security.  They’re taking it slow, feeling each other out.  Getting it right. Bee holds herself with greater poise, she leans in more often to murmur lovely things to her girl, Lulu. Then, when it is all over and most kids would collapse into a chair and gulp down some water, asking for food; Bee takes Lulu to the wash bay.  Can you imagine what a big job it is for a kid to wash a pony?  She does it. I ask if she wants a hand, “No mum.  I’ll do it”.  After washing, there is spongeing, taking off the excess water, making up the feed, feeding, packing up, putting the summer blanket back on, and leading back to the paddock. She eventually climbs back into the car.  She’s tired.  But her face is glowing.  I ask her how she feels, “Satisfied,” she says, “I’ve seen my girl, I’ve had a ride, she’s all tucked up.  It’s feels good”.  And I see it.  Hard work feels good.  I think about how the type of work I do has changed.  I work at words now. I smile at the thought of how satisfying that is.  Lulu, you remind me.
If I want to feel better, I need to work hard, in whatever ways I can.

Connect
Over the years, I’ve met lots of horses.  Since Bee first dragged me into the world of pony obsession, we’ve watched her infatuation with many, and I have harboured a few pony-love-flames of my own. I’ve spent time snuggling with all manner of horse personalities.  Nick, Star, Jonte, Candy, Dougall, Scooter, Mellow, EightBall, Billie, Pretty, Brio, Ace, Beau and now, Lulu. Each one of them has given me gifts when I connect with them. Solace, empathy, compassion, peace, inspiration, kindness, warmth, love.  Horses are so generous with the clueless parents of their riders.  I have been greeted with such grace and always I come away with wonder. Today, as I quietly freaked out at wilful Lulu on the country path, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even said hello to her before we wrenched her from her buddies to follow us. I hadn’t taken the time to connect.  Bee had, though. And it was Bee she followed.  Half my size and twice as compelling. I took this lesson from that moment: Take the time to connect with the people (and animals!) in your world.  You will be surprised by the gifts their presence will bring, and the things you may learn from them in the connecting.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

What a day.  What beautiful lessons to be learned.
Thanks Lulu, thanks Bee for letting me learn from your pony.

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Have you been feeling overwhelmed and afraid about the circumstances you face?
Hold on.
Have you been feeling like you will never make it to where you want to be?
Look in the direction you are going.  And lead.
Have you been floundering about how to achieve your dreams?
Work hard.
Have you been missing the beauty life holds, right there, just out of reach?
Connect.

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All the photographs in this piece, except for the first, were taken by our friend Be Couper.  You can find her work, on a range of subjects, here.