Monday, October 31, 2011

In Memory of Ruckus

It's been three weeks since my buddy and lesson horse Ruckus died unexpectedly at the age of twenty. I'm no closer to believing it now that I was then: the mind cannot process what the heart refuses to accept.

I had known Ruckus for over six years, and had just recently begun giving lessons on him to one of the barn urchins. He was not, nor had he ever been, my horse in an ownership sense; in that regard, he belonged to my instructor Connie. But in my heart, I loved him as my own, got annoyed with him from time to time as my own, took him for granted as my own. It is that last which pains me the most.

It was a regular feature of Ruckus's personality that after one of the urchins dismounted, he tried very hard not to let anyone else get on! Even as I held his reins tight, he would side-step this way and that, trying to thwart the next rider's attempts to climb on. In his mind, once a person got off, that was it, he was done for the day! Try as I might, I never could convey to him the idea that he would be done when I said he was, and not a minute sooner! In spite of his best attempts, though, other riders always managed to get on and have a turn.

He was a safe horse for the young volunteers to ride. He tolerated their mistakes well enough, and never put anyone in danger. Sometimes, though, he just didn't feel like dealing with the kids, and at those times, he'd be a little stinky. He'd walk over to the gate where the rest of the children were gathered, and he'd stop there and make the kids figure out how to get him going again. It was always their biggest challenge, backing Ruckus out of the corner he'd put himself into, and getting him back on track. Horses can be like that: sometimes, they like to make you work for it!

He had replaced Old Crazy as the go-to horse for the children to ride. Crazy would play her own tricks on the kids, like turning right when she'd been told to turn left, completely vexing in the process the earnest youngsters who were trying their best to learn how to ride. After she died, the responsibility of conveying the volunteers around the arena fell to Ruckus. He performed his job well over the years, and everyone expected that there would be many more years of riding him to come. That's always the way, isn't it? How often, I wonder, do we make the mistake of assuming that our loved ones will be around indefinitely? It's an illusion that comforts - right up until it shatters.

It is to Connie's credit that, in the midst of her own grief over the loss of her first horse, she made the effort to seek me out and offer some words of comfort. On the evening of the day Ruckus died, as I sat down to lose myself in some mindless television, my phone began to vibrate. The texts came fast and furious, then, three at a time, all twelve of them from Connie, who wanted to reassure me that Ruckus hadn't suffered, that he'd gone to a better place to keep Crazy, Old Mikey, and Newt the mule company. It was clear that her own heart was breaking when she wrote, "I can't stop picturing his sweet loving makes me sad to know I will never kiss that face again." I was, and still am, grateful that she took time out from her own sorrow to reach out to me in mine.

Last week, searching for some way through this awfulness, I asked barn owner Wendy, "Now what do we do?" Her reply, "I don't want to think about it right now," was understandable. Even so, I was thinking about it. My brain came up with a never-ending stream of stupid questions: who will I trail ride now? Who will the children ride? Who will I take my lessons on? They were admittedly selfish questions for which I have no answers. More recently, Wendy announced that she'd be consulting with Connie about using one of the rescue horses as a successor to Ruckus. Whether that idea pans out remains to be seen.

In the meantime, each of us has dealt with our grief in our own way. Connie has a young son to focus on. The barn urchins all posted "R.I.P. Ruckus" on their facebook pages. My own project involved creating a new facebook album called, "In Memory of My Buddy Ruckus," and filling it full of pictures of Ruckus and I together, along with photos I'd taken of him over the years. So much time spent taking him for granted. So little time spent savoring each and every moment.

It is the agony of knowing that I'll never get another chance to savor him that grieves me the most. There will be other horses, other rides, other experiences, but there will only ever be one Ruckus. And while I told him frequently that he was my favorite Ruckus in the whole world, I also blew a million chances to stop and enjoy the moment, to kiss his face and breathe his scent. To stand with him just a little longer, and give him yet another snack. What a careless fool I've been!

While I know that I'll learn from this experience and spend more time with the horses to come, I know, too, that complacency will creep in, as it always does, and I will eventually find myself back here, writing another blog about having taken another beloved critter for granted. It's human nature to blot out the inevitability of death. No one wants to spend time thinking about life after loved ones. It's too depressing.

So for now, the barn is a bit quieter for me. Animals always take a big presence with them when they go. I expect that the void will be filled someday, but not just yet. The urchins have been subdued as well. A shock like this one takes time to recover from. I really hope Ruckus knew how loved he was!

That's all for now, folks. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment so I know you were here. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!


Weff said...

Nicely done :)

Weff said...

Nicely done :)