On Tuesday, November 26, 2019, I lost a very dear friend of 25 years. My beautiful buckskin mare, Carebear Charlee, passed away around 4:30 pm that afternoon. It was a beautiful Fall day to be her last on earth, and I was right there with her as she took her last breaths.
She was a senior Quarter horse, around the age of 30, so I had been worried about this impending moment for quite some time. Over the last couple years, she began to lose her eyesight and slow down a lot. In the last six months, she started losing more and more weight.
That Monday afternoon, after she had her grain, she waited for the other horses to return to pasture, and then, with a look, beckoned me to her.
The funny thing about any horse, but especially Charlee, is their emphatic ability. Throughout our entire relationship, she always knew what I was feeling – fear, anger, sadness, excitement, happiness – and I could easily feel her emotional inclinations as well. However, she was way more sensitive to me.
That day was no different. She came up for grain just like any other afternoon and ate fine, but stood there afterwards as the other horses left. When I walked up to her, as cliché as it sounds, I could tell she was starting to say good-bye. Her eyes had lost their sparkle. Her head was hanging lower. As I spread my fingers through the hair on her shoulder, I could feel it. I immediately went to my husband, Robby, who was working nearby, and told him she would be gone within the week.
At dusk, I went out and covered her with her blanket and kissed her good night. Morning came, and I saw her standing in the pasture. I was, honestly, surprised. I thought she may pass during the night, and I would rather see her pass in the pasture than die in a horse stall. But there she stood.
When the morning chill broke, I went down to her, took her blanket off, and scratched her favorite spot – between her two front legs. Her eyes closed in relaxation as I scratched. When I stopped her eyes opened with a look of thankful comfort, and after lingering for a few minutes, I walked back to the house.
Throughout the day, I noticed her shifting her weight back and forth more and more, her back rounding, her head dropping. I called the vet, and he said he would be there within the hour. Bless him.
When he got there, we talked briefly about her condition, but ultimately, I knew the outcome. As she stood there, looking and feeling more and more frail, I hugged her head, let out tears and whimpers, and verbally indicated to the vet it was time. I kid you not – no sooner did the words leave my lips that she collapsed to the ground. Eyes closed.
I fell to her as did the vet. He immediately began sedation to make sure she wouldn’t suffer any longer. As he plunged the drug-filled needle in her neck, she gently opened her eyes one last time. Looked at me, and then lowered her lids for the last time. Soon after, she was gone.
I hugged her head and wept harder than I had in a long time.
I hadn’t ridden her in years, and truth be told, she was a butthead a LOT of the time, but I loved that horse. When I was a kid and my parents were fighting, I would saddle her up and head out into the big pasture away from the drama.
When kids were picking on me at school, and I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere, I would saddle her up, and we would go jump the creeks. (She always got a kick out of that.)
Her and I rode together in a lightening storm rounding up 75-100 head of cattle by ourselves when my dad didn’t believe we could. I’ll admit, I didn’t quite believe we could either, but we did. Together.
And boy, could she work cattle. Anyone who knows a good cattle horse knows how their ears move and twist when they get in a herd. Man, she was a fierce cattle horse.
She taught me a lot.
Perseverance. Communication. Self-Confidence. Believing. Hard work. Dedication to a goal. The ups and downs of friendship. Trust, and sometimes, the lack thereof.
She taught me to fight for what I believed in and to have the self-confidence to realize my way might be the right way even if everyone was telling me it was wrong.
I grew up in a world where you were supposed to conquer a horse. I never liked this thought. My dad always told me that a horse can feel everything you’re feeling. He was right… especially about Charlee. So, I thought, if a horse can feel what you’re feeling, wouldn’t they respond better to respect instead of forced fear or aggression? The more I rode based on my own theories and the less I listened to everyone around me, the better I connected with Charlee and the more she rewarded me. (Human communication is, of course, much the same. Humility goes a long way in communication.)
We weren’t always patient with each other. We fought. A LOT! But I guess that’s what family does. You disagree. You fight. You move forward. You love.
She also taught me a lot about trust. Charlee was never a very trusting horse. It would sometimes take FOREVER to catch her when I wanted to ride. She knew a halter in my hand meant a saddle, and a saddle usually meant work. She didn’t like to work. But when I saddled her up and she figured out we were heading to the big pasture, her ears perked forward, her eyes got wide, and her speed increased. The more quality time we spent together, the more trust developed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she taught me how to cultivate a healthy relationship. In our best summers of riding, she began actually coming to me when I went to catch her. (And believe you me, it took a loooong damn time to get there.) And in that, she taught me the value of a well-cultivated relationship, the work it takes to get there, and the achievement when two living things trust each other enough to work together. And even more valuable, when two living things trust each other enough to spend quality time together.
Any other horse owner will tell you – having a close, deep relationship with a horse touches your soul. My Carebear Charlee was my friend. She was there for me from my awkward childhood through marital separation.
As much as I’m in shock that she’s gone, I couldn’t have asked for a better departure for my friend. It was a beautiful day, family was nearby, and even her last colt, Fritz, was in the pasture next to her as she left this world and went to horse heaven. Our family farm lost a staple that day, but her memories – the good, the bad, and the hard-headed – will surely live on forever.
Here’s to anyone who had special animals in their life, but more specifically, here’s to those who had a horse. These animals are big enough to easily kill us anytime they want, but they allow us to ride them, to dance with them. That kind of friendship touches your soul like no other.
Good-bye, my sweet buckskin baby. Good-bye, my Charlee Horse. Good-bye, Carebear Charlee. I will love you forever, and one day, we will jump those creeks again.