Monday, November 7, 2011

Grief Among Friends

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by.

I feel the need to post more thoughts about the loss of my beloved lesson horse Ruckus, so I hope you'll indulge me while I continue to work through my grief. For those of you who haven't read my blog before, this post will make considerably more sense if you read the two previous ones first.

I had been talking with my riding instructor about doing lessons on a different horse for some time before Ruckus died. It wasn't a matter of me not wanting to ride him anymore, but rather, it was a matter of wanting to learn new things on a different horse. Ruckus had served me well over the years, but if you want to broaden your scope, you need to experience other temperaments and personalities. But Connie has a full-time job, a husband, and a young child to care for, so fitting me into her already-busy life took some doing.

During the same time that Connie and I were in talks about lessons on another horse, I was also keen to do a trail ride on Ruckus before winter arrived. I tried to do one or two trail rides a year, as a way to mix things up a bit: while Ruckus was entirely predictable in the arena, taking him out of his comfort zone and walking around neighboring fields always presented a bit of a challenge. I never knew whether he'd startle over some unfamiliar feature of the landscape, and that uncertainty served to keep me on my toes. Connie and I had done a trail ride this past spring, and I was itching to do another. Unfortunately, Ruckus's untimely death put paid to that idea.

In the mood to move life forward a bit from my grief, I scheduled a lesson on Charlie Horse for late this afternoon. I was looking forward to it. I've ridden Charlie several times and found him to be an enormous challenge. While Ruckus - who enjoyed going as fast as you'd let him - required a certain amount of rein, Charlie is the exact opposite: the rule of thumb is to stay completely out of his mouth and maneuver him solely with your legs. Because of that, I was keen to have Connie teach me how to be quieter in the saddle. It's no good treating every horse the same because they simply aren't. What works for one won't necessarily work for another. And I wanted more than to just ride a horse who would tolerate my mistakes; I wanted to learn not to make any.

The sky was grey and leaden, and it began to rain as I pulled up the driveway. I spent a few minutes grooming Charlie before tacking him up. At my request, we were doing an English lesson, with English tack. I'd taken a few English lessons, several years ago, but generally, I much prefer Western. I always feel naked, sitting on that tiny English saddle! But if I was going to move forward, out of my grief over reliable Ruckus and all our Western lessons, then this was the way to do it: on a different horse, with different tack, and a different style of riding.

The lesson went well enough, in spite of the constant feeling that I was mere milliseconds away from making an unscheduled dismount. The main problem seems to be that, unlike Western saddles made with suede, an English saddle is made with nice smooth leather. Since my riding britches are a nice smooth cotton, there's nothing to provide any grab or friction. It took some doing to get accustomed to clinging more tightly with my legs, but I managed it after a fashion.

After a considerable amount of posting around the arena, Connie urged me to try loping. At first, I resisted - that darn saddle was just too slippery for my liking! But after some encouragement from Connie, I gave it a try, and found, to my considerable surprise, that Charlie wasn't nearly as bumpy at the canter as he was at the trot. By the end of the lesson, my confidence on Charlie had improved considerably, and I felt satisfied that I'd gotten my money's worth - and then some - from the lesson. I dismounted and walked Charlie back to the cross ties, where I relieved him of his tack, then stalled him so he could eat his dinner.

It was then, as Connie closed up the barn, turning off the lights and casting one last glance around the stalls, that we started talking about Ruckus. I'd been wondering about her relationship with him, given my impression, over the years, that Nicky Naylor was actually her favorite. As it turns out, Nicky placed a close second to the first horse Connie had ever owned, a horse she'd had since the age of ten. The subject of his final days came up, and it was then that Connie told me the things that are generally just between friends.

In the gathering gloom of dusk we stood, watching the rain falling outside as Connie detailed Ruckus's sudden colic. Quietly, she talked about her hopes for his recovery, based on the fact that he showed no signs of pain or suffering. She talked, too, about how the vet dashed those hopes when he explained that when the gut twists, it acts as a nerve block, so that the horse doesn't feel pain, even though Ruckus's intestine was, by then, already dying. She shook her head as she said that she simply couldn't make the call to put him down, that it was her mother, Wendy, who had to say, "It's time."

Connie's voice broke as she described walking Ruckus out to the back of the pasture, and her eyes welled with tears as she repeated to me the last words she had spoken to him before he was euthanized. She told him how much she loved him. She told him that he was perfect. My own eyes welled up then, and the tears spilled onto my cheeks because I knew without question that those were the exact words that I would have said to him. Connie and I stood there together in semi-darkness, sharing our grief as she shared details that would never be shared with the barn urchins. Those details were simply too personal, too painful, to explain to youngsters. I'm grateful that she shared them with me.

There are those people in the world who are callous enough to believe that all animals are alike, that if you lose one, it's a matter of simply replacing it with another. And there are those people in the world who, like me, are animal lovers and who, like me, understand the monumental loss when a beloved critter dies. It takes with it an enormous force of personality, just as any human would, and leaves behind a painful void in the lives of those who loved it.

When Ruckus died, he took with him an extremely genial personality, one given to occasional silliness, a fondness for snacks, and a love of running as fast as his rider would allow. He forgave the children their multitude of mistakes, and he trod carefully when they were on his back. He was safe and reliable with me, as well, and he never once put me in any danger. His loss is a huge one, made all the more searing because I never got a chance to say good-bye. After four weeks, my mind still refuses to accept the unacceptable.

So while I enjoyed my lesson on Charlie Horse today, the good vibe was tempered by the knowledge that I'll never be able to do a lesson on Ruckus again. It's not just a new Now that I have to adjust to, it's a new Future, as well, one that won't include my beloved "handsome bubby." Right now, that's just too much for my heart to accept.

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, I urge you to spend extra quality time with the animals in your life, and please be kind to all the critters!

P.S. Please leave a comment so I know you were here! Thanks!