I have always had animals in my life. It has given my life a joy and a richness that is beyond measure. Many of my best times have been because of my animals. That also means that I have suffered loss because of them leaving too soon.
What is too soon? To me, if they do sooner than I do, it has been too soon. Unlike house guests and fish that starts to smell after 3 days, I could always use more time with the animals I love.
I started losing pets young. My dog died when I was seven and I remember throwing myself on his body and thinking I wanted to just stay there the rest of my life. (Seriously, that was my reaction. I was inconsolable). Somehow my mother got me to bed that night, but I was forever changed.
In retrospect, every loss I have had with pets has moved me to a higher plane. We are here in this world to learn, it is a school room, and we come together with our teachers for each grade. Many times for me these teachers have been my pets. I know this, because when I look back years later, I see the lessons that I couldn’t see when they were happening. I see the growth that I have made as a person, the experiences I have had because of those lessons
In my early twenties, I had 2 horses die in one year. I had never had a horse die on me before. In fact, I had sold my childhood horse at 18 because the thought of him dying when I owned him was too much to bear. I wanted to have the picture of him living his life forever somewhere with another kid.
When I got out of college, my parent shipped out my other childhood horse to Arizona. He hadn’t been raised in the desert, colicked on sand and died. I didn’t even know that could happen. Sand colic wasn’t an issue in the Midwest. It came out of the blue. I felt responsible, and ignorant.
Then I bought a new two-year-old. She was a little green minded, and the trainer sent her home to me to trail ride her for a while. I had taken her out for a ride, and while going under a tree, the saddle slipped. When I went to straighten it, it slid all the way off and I fell off too. When I hit the ground my horse jumped and I let go of the reins. She ran out on the pavement and broke her leg. The police put my horse down in front of the neighbor’s house while their child was asking them why everyone was crying. My horse’s hoof was only connected with 2 inches of skin, and she couldn’t even move out of the middle of the road. To make it one of the worst days of my life, it also was my boyfriend’s birthday.
I had promised I would take him to the most expensive restaurant in town for dinner. When I called him, he said I would still be upset no matter what, and that I had promised him dinner. I sat with him in a five-star restaurant, tears running down my face the entire meal. Meanwhile he told me it was a tragedy for him because I would always remember his birthday as the day my horse was killed. He was right, I still do.
After these two incidents, I was having dreams that I got another horse and it died, causing me to have a mental psychotic break and end up in a mental hospital. I had that dream repeatedly. The girl who had grown up with horses was scared to have a horse at her house because she was worried she would kill it. It was one of the darkest times in my life.
Thankfully, I had friends. My girlfriend lent me her horse to ride and take care of. It was a retired race horse, and we would run full out in the wash without a care in the world. It taught me to trust myself again. I realized I could spin it as “I had lost 2 horses in one year”, or “I had lost 2 horses in 15 years”, both were true. It came down to that brass tacks decision that all animal lovers are faced with at some time: do you want to start again? Do you want to continue having horses (dogs, cats) in your life?
I realized I want to learn something new. My neighbor raised Paint horses, and I became enamored with them. I bought a horse that could be competitive as a two-year-old in Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle. Her name was Magic. It felt like she was, because she brought me back to life. She won several futurities in both classes. At first I kept her at my neighbors, because I didn’t want the responsibility of her care (or the blame if she died).
With the new adventure of the show ring, I quickly forgot about my pain of losing the previous two horses. It didn’t make that pain go away, don’t get me wrong there- but it did provide focus for something new, something good in my life. I found that I liked showing horses.
After Magic hurt herself kicking a barn door, I bought another show horse, one that was capable of doing more classes, becoming an all-around horse. I bred Magic and she had babies that I showed. My second horse Corkscrew won me two reserve world championships in Western Riding, a class we had only done twice clean before competing at the world show. I was having an exhilarating experience, showing all over the western United States. I watched Magic’s babies grow up and showed them, winning halter futurities and more riding classes. I learned jumping, trail, in fact went up to showing in 14 different events. I moved out of Novice Amateur and into Amateur.
All because when I came to the point where I could no longer trust myself with a horse, my girlfriend trusted me with hers. Then I remembered that I loved horses, and didn’t want to live without them. My story could have ended after those two deaths, and I would still be feeling the pain and guilt of failure all these years later without the joy the new horses gave me in my life as a balance. The new lessons that I learned with the subsequent horses.
I am talking about owning horses, but it is the same thing with dogs or cats. Every dog I talk to comes to their human with a purpose. They come to love us, help us grow spiritual, emotionally and physically. When one of them dies, you can say that is the end of it. It hurt too much, I can’t stand to own another pet. However, the reality is as long as you are alive, there will always be more to love.
Many of the dogs I talk to that are chronically ill are excited to talk about the new body they can come back in, what they want to do with their owners in the next lifetime, how soon they will be back. (Cats tend to tell me they will return as cats, dogs like to muse about returning as different dog breeds).
When a pet dies, remember that you are still alive. There are still more adventures to have. Those adventures don’t erase the grief; it will still be there. I still love and sometimes miss those two horses I lost all those years ago. But when I look back at the past thirty years with horses, those losses are minuscule compared to the joys I have had. In fact, one of the joys is that one of those horses came back reincarnated as Magic’s baby and is my horse today, right now, standing out in the barn behind my house. I believe we love our pets so intimately that we recognize them when they return to us in new bodies.
If you believe in reincarnation or not, there is always more to love. As long as you are alive, that is the reality. Along with the fact that the Universe has your back, and will send you who you need to be your teacher next.
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